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100 years ago in Spokane: The circus acts of 1921 probably wouldn’t have been allowed today

 (S-R archives)

The Al G. Barnes Circus was in town, and unlike most other circuses, the main performances consisted almost entirely of animal acts.

“The rings were kept constantly filled with animal actors, from snarling lions to a fancy jazz and drunk act by the ponies.”


“At the end, all the lady riders and the performing ponies came out and waltzed, fox-trotted and one-stepped in time to the band,” The Spokesman-Review wrote. “One worldly wise equine apparently found some way to overcome the 18th Amendment (Prohibition), for he teetered and swayed from side to side as if it were 4 a.m. and he was wending his way home.”

Lions, cougars, tigers, llamas, polar bears, hippos, seals, monkeys and camels also paraded though the circus’s three rings. The elephants, however, were the big show-stealers.

“Of course, the lady trainer endangered her life while the biggest of all the elephants pretended to lie down on top of her, but not quite near enough to flatten her out,” the correspondent wrote. “The climax to this particular act came when one of the big pachyderms caught the harness of the pony between his jaws and quietly walked off with the pony dangling in mid-air.”

The clowns, not to be outdone, pretended to be animals.

“A ‘giraffe’ with a surprisingly active rear-end was able to suddenly raise and depress his neck at will several feet, and finally the front end got mad at the back end, so it went away and left the back end running along ten feet or more behind.”

The Barnes Circus had no trapeze artists or acrobats, but the midway had the usual attractions: a bearded lady, a “living skeleton” and an “armless wonder.”

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