Circus Parades Were Spectacles
The glitz and glam of the circus is pretty much taken for granted in standard shows. Companies like Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and Cirque du Soleil offer a certain amount of prestige, but there was a time when the acts under the Big Top felt secondary to the arrival of the show itself. The pre-show parade, which heralded the circus into town, was no pokey affair.
One parade in 1880 is said to have taken five hours as it crawled along the streets of New York, and others boasted themed floats nearly 30 feet (9 meters) high [source: Speaight]. The cool thing is that the parades were basically free spectacles for the public. In fact, when Barnum & Bailey went to Germany, the residents supposedly assumed they got enough show from the parade itself and didn't bother buying tickets to a performance [source: Speaight]. As the railroad and larger trucks caught on, however, circuses no longer caravanned into town with as much majesty.