The Early American Circus: Traveling Menageries
During the 19th
century, farmers in and around Southeast began to invest in a new and unique business venture. This area would later become known as the cradle of the American circus. In, 1793, Englishman John Bill Rickets introduced Americans to the circus at his arena in Philadelphia where trick riding was featured along with clown acts in the same show.
In the 1830's, farmers in Southeast began showing menageries, collections of exotic beasts from far away lands. They soon combined the menagerie show with the acrobatic entertainment of trick riding and these early
circus entrepreneurs began taking their show on the road. This early practice of touring unusual animals proved profitable in the rural areas of the Hudson Valley. In fact, circus entrepreneurs took these wagon "mud"
shows up and down the east coast. By the 1850's American circuses were a big business and they began to travel abroad, bringing back to American even more unique items and animals.
Hachaliah Bailey, from nearby
Somers, Westchester County, brought the first elephant "Old Bet" to the United States in 1796. Bailey exhibited "Old Bet," until her death in 1816. Somers is home to the Elephant Hotel, built by Hachaliah Bailey in
1820-1825. The building served as a meeting place for menagerie owners.