Elephant tusk display.

Circus World Museum

Field review by the editors.

Baraboo, Wisconsin

Baraboo was the winter headquarters for Ringling Brothers Circus. The Wisconsin Historical Society has taken over the grounds where the circus folk once squatted, preserving circus memorabilia, commissioning circus miniature scenes, and draping the walls of the former elephant barns with gaudy posters and other scraps of circus history.

There is interesting stuff to see here but it's scattered, which is good for ambling families, bad for Roadsiders in a rush. It's the circus that came to town and never left. Even with live animal shows, authentic circus wagons, wandering clowns, and a one-ring big top, Circus World's energy is diffuse -- is it a show, or a museum?

Siamese twins Chang and Eng.

We have a specific goal on our visit: the replica of P.T. Barnum's fake Cardiff Giant, a wan, neutered version of the blackened behemoth we saw at Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills, Michigan, itself a knockoff of the original hoaxer at the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, New York. This particular Giant is in the Circus World freak tent, along with a statue of Siamese twins Chang and Eng.

Other notable exhibits include a few tusks and bones from famous elephants, and a display of giant clown hammers. Also here is a scene of Father Ed, the Circus Priest, administering last rites to a sick lion.

Kids seem to love Circus World, at least when they're not being dragged by their parents to watch men unload circus wagons off of rail cars (Circus World heavily promotes its circus wagons). The happiest youngsters that we see here are dancing frantically in front of a steam calliope, blasting at a deafening roar, its toots and whistles echoing off the concrete walls and floor of an otherwise empty building.

Circus World Museum

550 Water St., Baraboo, WI
On Hwy 113 (Water St.) downtown.
Open mid-March thru Oct. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Big Steer StatueBig Steer Statue, Baraboo, WI - < 1 mi.
Big Moose Statue and Bear CarvingsBig Moose Statue and Bear Carvings, Baraboo, WI - 3 mi.
ForevertronForevertron, Sumpter, WI - 7 mi.
In the region:
Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw and Festival, Sauk City, WI - 14 mi.

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September 30, 2020

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