Title: Uncle Ben Wiley, The Oldest Citizen in Chattanooga, William Stokes, 1890

Catalog Number:

Date (Years): 1890


"Uncle" Ben Wiley, The oldest citizen of Chattanooga. Taken by local photographer Wm. Stokes and dated 1890.

Ben Wiley has parked his donkey and cart in front of 520 Market Street. A merchant lurks in the darkness at the entrance of a storefront. A sign in the window says "Secondhand Watches & Jewelry Bought & Sold". In another window contains a banjo, violin, a guitar, and various other small items. Directly behind Mr. Wiley is a sandwich sign promoting Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth. The word "FRIDAY" is barely legible at the bottom of the poster. Over Mr. Wiley's lefthand shoulder is a sign that reads, "Boots & Shoes Made to Order, Repairing Neatly & Promptly Done, J. M. Odonald. Signs on the power poll promote tobacco and cologne"


In 1841 showman Phineas Taylor "P. T." Barnum purchased the "Scudder's American Museum", he then changed the name to "Barnum's American Museum". With Barnum's style of showmanship, bombastic advertising and publicity stunts the museum became a huge success, and the Barnum name became known worldwide.

Circus operators Dan Castello and William Cameron Coup of Delavan, Wisconsin, wanting to cash in on the notoriety of the Barnum name persuaded P. T. to go into partnership with them, together they created the "P.T. Barnum's Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome" in 1875.

James Anthony Bailey and James E. Cooper had been operating the "Cooper and Bailey Circus" since the 1860s the circus featured a baby elephant "Columbia", which they advertised as the"the first elephant born in the United States". The elephant was a great drawing card for the circus.

Barnum offered to buy the elephant but could not make a deal with Bailey and Cooper, they eventually agreed to combine the two circuses as the "Barnum & Bailey Circus" in 1881.

On August 22, 1889, the circus suffered a serious train wreck, which injured 2 animal caretakers and killed 33 horses, 2 camels, and 1 mule.

P. T. Barnum died April 7, 1891, after Barnum's death James Bailey purchased P. T.s share of the circus from his widow. Bailey continued operating the show on the east coast until December of 1897 when he took the circus to Europe for a five-year tour.

The five Ringling brothers of Baraboo, Wisconsin, had started a small circus which traveled by wagons and showed midwestern states. When Bailey began touring Europe, the Ringlings saw this as an opportunity and moved their operation to the east coast. Their circus grew rapidly and they were soon able to railroad cars and began moving their show by rail.

By the time Bailey returned from Europe in 1902 the Ringlings were well established on the east coast. Bailey moved his circus to the west where the circus did well, however on April 11, 1906, James Anthony Bailey died. The Ringling brothers purchased the circus the following year, (1907).

The Ringlings operated the two shows separately until 1919 when they combined the two shows into the "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus".

Source: http://www.circusesandsideshows.com/circuses/barnumandbaileycircus.html


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