thoughts for a friday.
by victoria comment



as some of you may know, i come from circus blood. my great grandparents owned the downie brothers circus which traveled all over the country during the 1930’s. had they not sold the circus, i could be wearing this sparkly little number, walking on a tightrope or being blown out of a cannon right now. i do feel like i’m juggling a lot most of the time — so perhaps the reason i’m fairly adept at it is simply in my genes. my thoughts for a friday are veering under the big top this week. ever thought about running away with the circus? it seemed like a pretty colorful life, right?


During its heyday, the American circus was the largest show-biz industry the world had ever seen. From the mid-1800s to mid-1900s, traveling American circuses performed for audiences of up to 14,000 per show and crisscrossed the country on 20,000 miles of railroad in one season alone. Taschen publishing has a beautiful coffee table book entitled circus chronicling the wild and woolly circus industry. i think i need this.


Circus people, 1955, via Taschen’s Circus book.


Walker Evans photograph — one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.

• I discovered this photograph by Walker Evans at the Library of Congress depicting Posters advertising my family’s downie bros. circus on a barnside near Lynchburg, South Carolina taken for the Farm Security Administration. Crazy, huh? It’s kind of cool to be a part of this strange bit of history, albeit via my ancestors.


when the carnvial comes to town.


• of course the circus, and carnivals — they have dark sides too. ray bradbury wrote something wicked this way comes, the story of two boys’ harrowing experience with a nightmarish traveling carnival that comes to their Midwestern town. geek love tells tales of a carny family whose families set out–with the help of amphetamine, arsenic, and radioisotopes to breed their own exhibit of human oddities. and even mary ellen mark’s photographs of indian circuses share a less than cotton candy world. so there’s that side, too. but no matter how you view the madcap circus life, i do find it all quite fascinating. what about you?

27 responses to “thoughts for a friday.”

  1. Just the other day I was looking around a little circus/clown museum at Wookey Hole Caves in Somerset. It was fascinating, and lovely to see all of the old costumes and photos. We also watched a circus performed by the pupils at the circus school there, which was amazing. We all wanted to run away and join the circus after…

  2. Long time reader first time commenter. I loveeeeee anything circus themed! It is my dream to have a vintage circus themed wedding. That is so cool you come from circus blood. There is just something so magical about those old vintage pictures.

  3. That is so interesting about your family’s circus history! I actually do circus things for a hobby (hula hoop, training in Aerial Silks, Lyra, & Trapeze!). There is an amazing community in Detroit for performers and people just wanting to learn new things and have fun. There’s always shows going on with circusy things… and the biggest bash of the year, Theatre Bizarre!!

  4. I always dreamt of running away to join the circus – how amazing that that’s your family history. the Taschen book is going onto my wishlist, thanks for sharing.
    On the theme of circus, did you see the Cirque Du Soleil movie, i thought it was beautiful :

    Thanks for a lovely blog, it’s one of the first i turn to each day.

  5. These images are all really cool. I want cotton candy! :-)
    By the Pricking of my Thumbs- Something Wicked This Way Comes! (Macbeth.) I always talked of that book after I read it around the age of 12 or so- it left a lasting impression on me. Cool post.
    It’s cool to be of an age where we can remember the circus let alone having family that owned the Circus! Great story.

  6. Little known fact.. Before deciding to be a photographer I was going to circus school in SF and studying (if you can call it that) to be a clown. : ) I will forever love the circus

  7. Wow. What an amazing part of history to be a part of (even if it is through your ancestors). I became really fascinated with this way of life when I read _Water for Elephants_. It is just such an interesting topic.
    I love all the images you featured. What a great post!

  8. The circus seems so cool to me! I haven’t been in years, though, because one hasn’t come close enough at a time I could go. I do have a friend that joined a traveling circus playing trombone in their band. Evidently it was cool but almost too weird and she had to get out of the circus to get a “normal” job. I don’t know, I kind of like not normal :)

  9. Wow, that’s a pretty cool family tree fact to have. The Circus is sort of a strange part of Americana and our culture. Even looking at these images of Preformers and big tops from eras gone by takes me right back to that feeling. The smell of the sawdust and the glitter of the lights. It’s magic. But it’s got it’s dark side too. Like everything. And if you consider the culture traveling circuses and the people involved with them created, it’s almost understandable and certainly makes the strangeness and wonder of a Circus all the more compelling.

    Love this post!


  10. Gretchen safaris of the famous safaris clan turned me on to Geek Love.
    What a great book….I often tell people it’s my second favorite ever just behind A Confederacy of Dunces. boy does that ever make ME sound like a freak.

  11. this is a fantastic Thoughts For A Friday post! i, too have been smitten about the circus my entire life. i have also never found a book that gripped me more (and turned my stomach) than Geek Love.
    the family history bit is great, too!

  12. First I wanted to say I’ve been a long time fan and just love everything you talk about. Secondly, I can’t thank you enough for linking back to my blog- I fell in love with that vintage circus suit, so much so I went out and bought the supplies to make my daughter one. I can’t believe it’s been year- I think it’s time I made it. Thank you for the reminder. ;)

  13. I love your post and that you have circus blood Victoria! The Walker Evans photograph and the circus costume are great visuals. I have the Mary Ellen Marks book on Indian circus performers that she spent over a decade shooting and I loved Geek Love as well as Water For Elephants but don’t foget Carnivale!

  14. I have the Taschen book you mentioned. It is so cool! There is just something about the circus! I am quite fascinated by it.

  15. Victoria
    I really hope you read this.
    I’ve just found this piece shortly after posting a story about Downie Bros on
    My wife’s grandmother left London at 17 and travelled across the US 3 times with your family’s troupe, and became a trapeze artist.
    We have a fabulous photo of the whole troupe and she’s sitting in the front row. I’d love to know if you can fill in any sketchy details in this story. I’ve told it it the way she told me before she died.
    You can see the picture, and the story, on
    Hope to hear from you soon.
    Kind regards

    • Hi Sean,

      Wow – thanks for sharing her story with us. I don’t know much more about the Circus. My Aunt kept all the history on the family circus and she passed away last year. I haven’t asked anyone in the family what became of all her research. Wonderful photos – thank you!

  16. I was browsing around your blog and ended up here…. what a wonderful heritage! It reminded me of a light switch cover I finished over the summer, from an old children’s book, “The Museum of Wonders” . I looked through my Circus Board on Pinterest & I do have some Downie Bros Circus Posters pinned there. Here’s the link to the board: Here is the link to my favorite of the Downie Bros posters on my board:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.