10 Weird Facts About the Circus

Floating Circuses Traversed Rivers
The Floating Circus Palace provided ease of shipment and a permanent location for the show. The Library of Congress

We've talked about how circus parades came into and went out of vogue, but another transportation option spawned a new American circus tradition that was quite popular. While traveling with wagons was all well and good, circus proprietors, who desperately depended on the ability to build and strike a tent quickly, began to see the appeal of setting up on the banks of rivers. They could ship their equipment quickly from town to town without much travel.

But by the middle of the 19th century, an even better idea was hatched. What if the circus itself was on a barge? The Floating Circus Palace offered such a sight. It contained a 42-foot (12.8-meter) ring and accommodated 3,400 people [source: Speaight]. It traveled up and down the Mississippi and Ohio rivers for years, until the Civil War effectively shut down the operation. Nevertheless, it provided a permanent house for the circus and became one of the first showboats in a long history of American entertainment.