The Ringing Brothers Circus, with or without Barnum & Bailey, has been a Davenport tradition for more than a century.
These famous brothers were the sons of August Ringling, a harness maker born in Hanover, and his wife Salome, who was French. The family lived in Illinois and Wisconsin before settling for a few decades in Clayton County, Iowa, where several of their children were born.
Five of the brothers— Albert (b. 1854, Illinois), Otto (b. 1858, Wisconsin), Alfred (b. 1860, Iowa), Charles (b.1864, Iowa) and John (b. 1869, Iowa)—started a circus in Baraboo, Wisconsin, in 1884. They were later joined by August (b. 1854, Wisconsin) and Henry (b. 1868, Iowa).
The rest, as they say, is history, hard work, and showmanship.
The Ringling Brothers brought their circus and parade once again to the streets of Davenport on July 19, 1901. Admission was 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children under 12. They had two exhibitions, one at two p.m. and another one at eight.
What set this circus apart from the others that came through during the summer months was their elaborately planned processional display, divided into thirty sections, each with their own central idea or theme.
One such theme was the promotion of “The Only Giraffe,” a neat bit of romanticism that the eager audience probably didn’t question too closely. The exotic-looking creature might not have been the last giraffe in the world, but it was most likely the first one they’d ever seen.