From 1895 to 1922, there were at least 46 circuses or large outdoor exhibits in Norwood. Most of those visits were multiple shows with some consisting of two-day layovers.
The circuses would travel to many towns and cities each year, e.g., one year, the Barnum & Bailey circus stopped at around 150 places. When they did exhibit in Cincinnati, it was one of the few places that they performed for two days at a timeï¿½one of those days were usually in Norwood. The last circus (the Al G. Barnes Show) at the Smith Road grounds traveled to almost 190 different towns for over 400 performances in 1922
Although there were at least two Norwood circus shows in the late 19th century, the annual performances didnï¿½t begin until 1901 with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show and the John Robinson Circus, and basically ended with the Al G. Barnes Show in August 1922. Two or more circus came to town after that, with possibly the last in 1948 at the Water Works Park. The sites for the circuses were at Ivanhoe and Montgomery (pre-Schreiber/Norwood Plaza),Smith Road (pre-General Motors/Central Parke),Beech (across from U. S. Playing Card facility) and Water Works Park.
Norwoodï¿½s First Circus?The earliest circus to visit Norwood may have been Leon W. Washburnï¿½s circus on Friday, April 23, 1895. At least that was the schedule; we havenï¿½t found proof that the circus actually made it to Norwood, however. The complete route was Columbia, April 22; Norwood, April 23; Avondale, April 24;Carthage, April 25; Cumminsville, April 26;Reading, April 27; Marion, April 29; Mansfield, April 30; Akron, May 1, and Youngstown, May 2. It was a complete circus, having a museum, menagerie and hippodrome. A hundred attractions were part of the show. Mr. Washburn claimed to have Charlie, ï¿½the oldest and largest elephant alive.ï¿½
Hummelï¿½s Colossal CircusAnother circus that played in early Norwood was the Hummel, Hamilton & Sells Circus. In January 1898, this circus was having financial difficulties. Norwoodï¿½s Squire Bettinger oversaw some of the legal suits. By early February, Misters Hamilton and Sells had sold their interests to majority owner John Hummel. It was sold again in April with the announcement that Rud Hynicka had purchased the circus and was leasing the properties and operations to Mr. Hummel and Charley Arnold. The name of the circus was changed to Hummelï¿½s Colossal Circus, Menagerie and Hippodrome Racing. The circus performed on April 28, 1898, in Norwood, where bareback riders, aerial acts, acrobatics, collections of animals and other acts entertained the audience.
Buffalo Billï¿½s Wild West ShowOn Sunday, May 5, 1901, after the planned Cincinnati site was flooded, Buffalo Billï¿½s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders pitched their tents at Montgomery Road and Ivanhoe Avenue. This is probably the location of todayï¿½s Norwood Plaza. The 15-acre lot was a good locationï¿½it was large enough, had the service of three streetcar lines and had close-by railroad tracks.
Four shows were presented on Monday and Tuesday, May 6 and 7. At 8:30 Monday morning, the parade went from the exhibition grounds down Montgomery Road to downtown Cincinnati and back. It was said that the exhibition was not a show or a circus, but was ï¿½a real, genuine, romantic life, presented by horsemen who are what they are represented to be.ï¿½
Annie Oakley was not mentioned in the advertisements, which is curious, since she had been with the show continuously from 1885 to late October 1901.
One reporter took offense to the statement that the lot was in Norwood. He said it was in Evanston, just on the edge of Walnut Hills. He was under the impression that Norwood was that spot of land on the hill at the Indian Mound. But he was right in stating that the grounds were not far from downtown Cincinnatiï¿½only 30 to 35 minutes from Fountain Square. You might wonder if he had actually traveled out to the site, except for his detailed description of the thousands of local visitors and hundreds of circus workers on that Sunday.
On the first day of the circus, Mayor Mills surprised the Village Council with tickets for the evening show. They immediately stopped and rescheduled their regular meeting to the next night and headed down to Ivanhoe. It wasnï¿½t stated whether Mr. Mills bought the tickets or they were compliments of Colonel Cody. The quality of the show, the large crowd and the large, flat grounds encouraged some people to say that Norwood would be the principal show town in Hamilton County. This also influenced the Village officials to think of increasing the circus license fees. Buffalo Bill had paid $50 for the two days. The village was thinking of quadrupling the fee to $100 a day.
Robinson Circus In NorwoodNorwood didnï¿½t have to wait long for more outdoor entertainment. Right on the heels of the Buffalo Bill shows, it was announced that John Robinsonï¿½s circus would give two performances at the same Montgomery/Ivanhoe lot on Tuesday, June 4, 1901.
End Of The Circus GroundsJust as things looked excellent for more circus and outdoor entertainment to be presented at the Ivanhoe lot, another Cincinnati factory decided to follow others to Norwood. While Buffalo Billï¿½s exhibition was still in progress, it was announced that the L. Schreiber & Sons Company purchased what was called the Durrell tract, which included the circus grounds. It was said to be 18 or 20 acres and went from Montgomery Road and Ivanhoe Avenue westward to the Cincinnati, Lebanon and Northern Railroad tracks. The price was around $60,000. It was reported in January 1903 that plans were being drawn up for a new plant on 14 acres of the property and that the construction would be completed by October 1904.
Robinson Circus ReturnsThe Robinson Shows returned to Norwood for two shows on Wednesday, April 30, 1902. This may have been the only show in Norwood for that year. The location was likely at the Durrell lot, since Schreiber had not started construction yet.
Opening of New Circus GroundsThe Robinson circus returned to Norwood for two days on April 27 and 28, 1903. The Langdon Tract east of Smith Road and south of the old B. & O. S. W. R. R. tracks was probably the venue. The circus was described as having three railroad trains with a total of 47 railroad cars, each 70 feet long. The four shows at Norwood opened the season for Robinson. The next day, everything was moved to Cumminsville for a day and then to Covington for two. In later years, the circus tour would begin in Cumminsville and then move to Norwood.A couple of the acts were Jimmy Dutton, who rode eight horses, and Prof. Horace Moon, who drove a miniature car in a loop-the-loop track.
On October 5-6, 1903, the Barnum & Bailey Circus visited Norwood for four shows. It was larger that the Robinson exhibition, requiring 92 railroad cars in five sections. There were 1,250 people employed in the circus. It arrived from Columbus on Sunday morning of the 4th and several hundred people were there to watch the unloading and setting-up of the circus on the 15-acre Langdon lot. Sunday was considered a day of rest for the performers. On that day, while the other workers would eat in the large tent that day, the performers would go to local establishments for their meals. On Monday, before the first show, a parade was started at 7:30 a.m. to downtown and back.
Such a large crowd was expected that the Traction Company increased the number of streetcars on the three lines through Norwood. There was to be a streetcar leaving Fountain Square to Norwood about every minute from noon until after the night show. Also, special crosstown cars would leave from McMillan and Wheeler directly to the circus grounds.
Bad Side Of CircusesAt the 1901 Buffalo Bill show, Frank Bancroft, a Norwood resident and manager of the Cincinnati Reds, had paid $1.25 for his admission and reserved seat with what he thought was a dollar bill and a silver quarter. However, he discovered later that he had passed a five-dollar bill at the ticket wagon. There were many other shady activities in a circus lot.
But, just traveling to or from the circus carried risks for patrons, also. There were the ï¿½dips, guns, stalls and toolsï¿½ï¿½names for pickpockets and their helpers. They didnï¿½t work in the circus lot, because they had deals that they would stay outside, if the circus would leave them alone and not report them to local police.
In April 1906, the residents and contractors of East Norwood were upset that the property north of Harris Avenue, between Main and Wesley was used by the circus, because the circus people had driven their wagons over the cement sidewalks.
Injuries happened at the circus. In 1905, a Robinson female hurdle rider was seriously injured during rehearsal. In 1916, at a Hagenbeck performance, an acrobat fell to the ground when the circus lights suddenly went out.
Loss of Another Circus GroundsThe large circus visits to Norwood were in jeopardy in 1918, when rumors that the John H. McGowan Pump Company, Central Avenue, was in talks to purchase part of the Langdon tract and built a new plant there. Apparently, the deal didnï¿½t go through. Then, at the end of September 1922, it was announced that the General Motors, had purchased the Langdon land at Smith Road, spelling the end of the propertyï¿½s use for circuses, baseball and outdoor theater.
On August 7, 1923, Robinsonï¿½s Circus performed at Beech Avenue, on land across from the U. S. Playing Card and U. S. Printing Companiesï¿½ plants. In 1958, a circus was held on the ball field at the Water Works Park. This may have been the last large circus to play in Norwood.
The Norwood Circus Schedule
Notes On The List
1This was the first time Ringling Bros. performed in Cincinnati and they did it in Norwood!
2The management of this new show of trained animals made sure that there would be enough streetcars available to take guests home after the night showsï¿½something that was a problem for the Ringling Bros. late shows.
3Not actually a circus, but this pyrotechnical and theatrical show was held at the Langdon lot before moving to Chicago. It took almost a week to construct and assemble for the two weeks of shows.
4An additional show was added, making this the first time in 10 years that three tent shows were given in one day locally.
5The circus loaded back on the trains to go from Cumminsville to Norwood. It was said that this had never been done in any other city where the shows were given in different parts of the same ï¿½city.ï¿½
6Just a couple of months later, on June 22, 1918, the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus was involved in one of the worst train wrecks in U. S. history at Ivanhoe, Indiana, near Hammond, Indiana, where the circus was to perform that day. It was reported that 86 circus people were killed and 127 injured. The circus returned to Norwood the next year.
7A 15-year-old run-away boy from Bay City, Michigan, tried to steal an elephant from the Robinson Circus when it was in Norwood. He was caught when he tried to ride the elephant off the Norwood circus grounds.
8This was part of the festivities of the Leland M. Barnett Post of the American Legion, Norwood, for fund raising to equip their facilities at 2122 Bennett Ave.
9This was the last circus at this location. The next month it was announced that General Motors had bought the land.
10At least one circus moved to land across from U. S. Playing Cards on Beech Street.