Al G. Barnes and His Circus

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Today is the birthday of Al G. Barnes (Alpheus George Barnes Stonehouse, 1862-1931).

Originally from an Ontario Canada farm, legend has it that Barnes started his first show in 1895 with just a pony, a phonograph and a stereopticon. In 1900 he married Dolly Barlow, the sale of whose farm allowed Barnes to purchase several road shows which would form the Al G. Barnes Circus. It rapidly grew to one of the largest tented shows in North America, especially well known for its animals. The circus claimed that they had more animals than all the other shows combined. One act in the show employed 180 horses. The famous lady lion tamer Mabel Stark was one of his stars. He also kept several elephants, at least two of which, Black Diamond and Tusko ran amok on more than one occasion, causing much property damage and loss of life.

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In 1929, Barnes sold the show to the American Circus Corporation, which also owned the John Robinson Circus, Sells-Floto, Hagenbeck-Wallace and the Sparks Circus. Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey bought out the American Circus Corporation a few months later. They continued to present the show in various incarnations through 1938.

To find out more about  the history of the variety artsconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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