National Geographic : 1931 Oct
THE LAND OF SAWDUST AND SPANGLES A WORLD IN MINIATURE BY FRANCIS BEVERLY KELLEY T HOSE of us who still cling to the belief that Noah's Ark best illus trates man's ingenious combination of geography and space economy overlook the fact that right under our noses for the last five decades has moved a complete world in miniature, exhibiting its geo graphical wonders within the confines of a vacant lot, loading itself upon its own railroad caravan, and building a new home in a new town every day. The magic rumble of red wagons and the footsteps of circusdom's spangled bat talions have echoed down the corridors of many summers; yet few really know the phantom white city, a nomadic world of sawdust and spangles, a geographical mar vel and a mystery from beginning to end. In this age of ultrarealism the circus is a last frontier. There is more actual geography within the narrow borders of Spangleland than in any similar space on the face of the earth. From the shores of the seven seas come its citizens, their faces turned toward the open road where lies the winding trail of the big tops. Dainty equestriennes from France and handsome Russians from the steppes ; pink cheeked athletes from Great Britain and Scandinavia; flashing brunettes from Italy, Argentina, Mexico, and sunny Spain; blond Germans with iron bodies; suave, charming Austrians; almond-eyed maids from Yokohama, Tokyo, and Nagasaki and from the seething Land of the Dragon ; sun-tanned sheiks from the shifting sands of Araby; whip-crackers from Australia and hard-riding cowboys from the West ern Plains; clowns, acrobats, aerialists, riders, staff executives and laborers from every State in the Union-all owe alle giance to the transient country of tents. HERE EVER "THE TWAIN SHALL MEET" A game of checkers in the circus "back yard" between a genial young Japanese tumbler, heir to half a million dollars, and an old clown who ran away from his home in the Middle West long ago, lured by the spangled Pied Piper and his steel-throated calliope, shows how the big top draws to gether the ends of the earth. Such is the population of Spangleland, where people from nearly every country under the sun are fed into the hopper of a highly organized machine to emerge firmly woven into the brilliant mosaic of a fast moving performance, subscribing without reservation to the one supreme law of the trouper-"The show must go on." The circus is organized socially, but a trouper's geographical background has nothing to do with his qualification for membership in the circus golf club, base ball team, clown society, women's clubs, or circus chapter of the American Red Cross. Above all else, the population of this nomadic melting pot learns tolerance, and it's what a person is rather than where he came from that counts most. THE CIRCUS HAS ITS ARISTOCRACY Yet the circus has its aristocracy. There are performers who literally have been "born to the show," cradled in the top tray of a trouper's trunk; lulled to slumber by a discordant symphony of snarling jungle beasts, blaring bands, and rain beating a soft tattoo on circus canvas. With the cir cus are persons descended from royalty, university graduates, staff members who spend their winters in their own pecan and orange groves, work for newspapers, or return to school-teaching and to retail busi ness establishments when the season ends. The band plays "Auld Lang Syne" at the closing performance and the vast circus company flies apart like a punctured bal loon. But the siren call of the big tops is all-powerful and each spring finds them following the trail of the red wagons again. Circus people receive a geographical edu cation that might well be the envy of every one interested in broadening his mental horizon. The big show covers thousands of miles in a single season, visiting dozens of States and frequently foreign cities. Historical and geographical America is an open book to more than one circus trouper whose actual schooling terminated with the eighth grade.