This Wisconsin Town is the Birthplace of the "Greatest Show on Earth"

Wisconsin is not only home to one, but two world-famous circuses – both the Ringling Brothers and the Barnum and Bailey got their start here. While the “Greatest Show on Earth” was initially founded in Delavan, Baraboo is the Wisconsin town most commonly associated with the circus today. A popular attraction in the 1800s and through much of the twentieth century, over 100 circuses were started in Wisconsin. Founded in Delavan, Wisconsin in 1881 following the merge of two older circuses, the Barnum and Bailey’s Circus went on to become one of the largest in the world. Delvan is a small town, but in the 1880s it was the winter home to as many as 26 circuses and their crews, thanks to its available farmland for grazing the animals and timber for heating and building. Did you know – Culture Trip now does bookable, small-group trips? Pick from authentic, immersive Epic Trips, compact and action-packed Mini Trips and sparkling, expansive Sailing Trips.

Huge giraffe and elephant statues commemorating Delavan’s circus history can be seen in the town today. Visitors interested in learning more about Wisconsin’s circus past should check out the Delavan Historical Society Exhibit and Resource Center. Those wanting to pay their respects to those involved with the circuses of the past can do so at the Spring Grove and St. Andrew’s cemeteries, where more than 130 performers and crew members are laid to rest. Juliet, a famous circus elephant, also found her final resting place under the water in Lake Delavan.

Less than a two-hour drive from Delavan is Baraboo, Wisconsin. The Ringling Brothers Circus got its start here in 1884 when five of the seven brothers decided to start a vaudeville-style show. In 1919, the circuses merged to form the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. After a combined 146-year run with its predecessor shows, the “Greatest Show on Earth” closed on May 21, 2017, but the legacy of this legendary show lives on in Wisconsin.

Baraboo’s Circus World is a must-visit for any circus lover. Paying homage to the Ringling Brothers, the museum hosts daily performances and showcases many historical circus artifacts, including 200 beautifully handmade wagons. Until 1918, the grounds of Circus World were part of the Ringling Brothers winter circus grounds and today you can tour the buildings where the animals were kept in the winter. While it’s easy to spend an entire day at Circus World, those seeking even more circus thrills should check out the International Clown Hall of Fame and Research Center, also located in Baraboo. It is the only exclusively clown-focused museum in the world.

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Edit article