Sounds of the Circus

Arriving on the midway of an American traveling tented circus during the 19th and 20th century, one was immediately confronted with a cacophony of sounds, a kaleidoscope of colors and a blend of normal and unusual odors.  Hopefully, the circus lot would be a level green grassy lot that had just been freshly mown the day before.  Most of the time, the midway was covered with tall grass, potholes and muddy areas.

As one moved through the midway, a sense of order and standardization was evident.  On one side of the midway, the towns’ people would see a colorful banner line depicting the sights and sounds of the sideshow.  Directly behind the banner line, the sideshow tent could be seen between and over the banners.  It was the sideshow, the pre-show before the big show, which caught the attention of the people.

One of the most noticeable sounds on the midway was the sideshow talker.  His main job was to lure the towns’ people inside the sideshow tent with his almost hypnotic and reassuring tones.  This “grinder,” “spieler,” or “talker” told about the sites inside the tent.   Next to this talker was a bally platform where free attractions appeared while the sideshow talkers ballyhooed the wonders that where just inside the tent.  These acts were an enticement to get the crowd to buy tickets and enter the sideshow tent.

Listen to an audio clip of a sideshow spieler with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, introducing Senorita Josephine, drawing the attention of the crowd to the banner line and pointing out that there’s 16 big acts, 33 strange people.

Listen to an air calliope. Coming Soon.


Enjoy an calliope. Coming Soon.


Listen to the wonderful sound of the Ringling Bell Wagons. Coming Soon.