The Circus Was Born in Putnam County

The Putnam County Historian’s Office, in partnership with Southeast Museum, recently created a virtual exhibit called Historic Putnam County & the Birth of the American Circus (below) as part of the state’s Path Through History Weekend from Oct. 10 to 12.

The video, which is narrated by Eric Gross, recounts the evolution of the circus from the early days of Old Bet, an elephant rented out by Nathan Howes of Southeast, to the development of menageries, and Seth B. Howes’ addition of acrobats and clowns that eventually all performed in a ring under a big top.

In the 19th century, many Putnam County residents were involved in the circus, from from menagerie shareholders to side show barkers, slack wire walkers and blacksmiths and carriage makers, according to the Putnam historian.

The Historian’s Office collected source material for the video from its own collection, the Southeast Museum, Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, the Library of Congress and New York Public Library.

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