The Way It Was


Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.


Circus Day

I’m always glad when I have a photograph to run with one of these columns. It often seems to add something extra to the story. The photo in today’s column, however, is different. It doesn’t add something to the story. It pretty much is the story.

I first saw this photo maybe 15 years ago. It was taken on Aug. 14, 1907, a date that was clearly written at the bottom of the print. It was shot on a day when a circus came to Marysville and was parading through town … in the center of Marysville, at the corner of Fifth and Main Streets.

I was fascinated with the photo, and the size of the crowd. I was also interested in how people were dressed, with women in fancy hats and long, elegant dresses, while the men were wearing suits … in the middle of August. Wow, they got all dressed up to go to a circus parade. There was so much to look at in the photograph that I spent a lot of time going over it.

Then I realized that the day that picture was taken, my future parents were 11 and 14 years old. Surely they must be somewhere in the photo. Kids that age wouldn’t miss anything that exciting.

I went over the picture with a fine toothcomb, looking for two kids who might be my parents. I had seen photos of them when they were young, and I was confident I could recognize them. But I found no trace of them. Maybe they were hidden behind an elephant or a circus wagon.

I was so fascinated by the photo, that I wanted to find out more about that day. So I contacted both the Union County Historical Society, and Dan Behrens at the J-T, to see what they might be able to find in their records. They found quite a bit, and I would like to tell you a little of what I learned about that day.

It was the John W. Robinson Circus, and it came to Marysville several times over the years. According to newspaper reports, it was the best show they ever brought to town. In preparation for that day, a circus train with 41 cars brought it all to the Big Four Railroad Depot on East Eighth Street.

At 10:30 a.m., the parade began at the train station. It proceeded west on Fifth Street. The parade was about a mile long, and it passed through the public square, where the photo was taken. Then it went north on Main Street to Recreation Park, where Marysville Mobile Home Park is located today. That’s where the performances would take place.

It was the largest of the Great John Robinson Shows that ever appeared in Marysville … over 300 performers, and 700 circus people in all. In addition to the ring performances, there were eight elephants, numerous caged animals, a wild west show, a steam calliope, a hippodrome track, two stages and several uniformed bands. It required 10 acres of tenting to house it all.

Perhaps the most spectacular of the circus acts was the “Minerva Sisters,” who hung by their teeth high above the circus rings while they were whirled around and around at a speed of 30 mph.

The performance was so daring, the Tribune reporter wrote, “Someday their necks will be wrung from their bodies.” The Union County Journal described it this way, “It is a very daring feat, and it will probably result in their death someday.” Boy, I wish I could have seen those Minerva Sisters. They must have been something special.

I spent a lot of time studying that photograph, but I never found my future parents. I’m confident that they were there, however. I lived with them for 18 years, and I’m sure they wouldn’t miss a show like that … especially those Minerva Sisters.

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