Big Top Dreams

Cole Bros. Circus 2012

Cole Bros. Circus 2012

The 2012 installment of the Cole Bros. Circus arrives at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg. The Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars is celebrating its 128th season and bills itself as the "World's Largest Circus Under The Big Top."

Cole Circus in Manassas

Cole Circus in Manassas

Cole Circus Vice President of Operations. center, discusses the circus setup with President and CEO John W. Pugh, in car, during a stop at the Prince William County Fairgrounds in Manassas, Va.

Cole Circus in Manassas

Cole Circus in Manassas

Cole Bros. Circus workers set up the Big Top at the Prince William County Fairgounds in Manassas, Va.

Cole Bros. Circus 2012

Cole Bros. Circus 2012

Members of a troupe of Romanian acrobats relax and clean their living quarter during a stop at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg, Md. The Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars is celebrating its 127th season and bills itself as the "World's Largest Circus Under The Big Top."

20110506362

20110506362

Members of the Cole Bros. Circus work to raise the Big Top during a stop in Gaithersburg Maryland. The Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars is celebrating its 127th season and bills itself as the "World's Largest Circus Under The Big Top."

Cole Bros. Circus 2012

Cole Bros. Circus 2012

The 2012 installment of the Cole Bros. Circus arrives at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg. The Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars is celebrating its 128th season and bills itself as the "World's Largest Circus Under The Big Top."

Cole Brothers Circus

Cole Brothers Circus

Jahirt Bermudez, of Colombia, South America, performs as Perolito the clown for the Cole Bros. Circus, prepares his makeup for a show.

Cole Bros. Circus at the fairgrounds in Manassas.

Cole Bros. Circus at the fairgrounds in Manassas.

Cole Bros. Circus at the fairgrounds in Manassas.

Cole Circus in Manassas

Cole Circus in Manassas

Cole Bros. Circus at the fairgrounds in Manassas.

Cole Brother's Circus

Cole Brother's Circus

Cole Brother's Circus comes to the Rockingham County Fairgrounds

Cole Brothers Circus

Cole Brothers Circus

Jahirt Bermudez, of Colombia, South America, who performs as Perolito the clown for the Cole Bros. Circus, leads the clown troupe to the big top.

Cole Circus in Manassas

Cole Circus in Manassas

Julius Carallo also known as "Clown Chips" prepares for a shot during a stop with the Cole Bros. Circus at the Prince Willima County Fairgrounds in Manassas, Va.

Cole Circus 2012

Cole Circus 2012

A ticket taker with the Cole Bro'sCircus waits for circus fans during a show at the Apple Blossom Mall in Winchester, Virginia.

Cole Bros. Circus 2012

Cole Bros. Circus 2012

Circus fans arrive for a Cole Bros. Circus show at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg, Md. The Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars is celebrating its 127th season and bills itself as the "World's Largest Circus Under The Big Top."

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20070425331

04/25/07-(Harrisonburg) Cole Brothers Circus Tent raising (Pete Marovich/Daily News-Record)

Cole Bros. Circus 2012

Cole Bros. Circus 2012

Julius Carallo also known as "Clown Chips" performs at the entrance to the Cole Bro's Circus Big Top during a stop at the Apple Blossom Mall in Winchester, Virginia.

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20120428236

The 2012 installment of the Cole Bros. Circus at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg. The Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars is celebrating its 127th season and bills itself as the "World's Largest Circus Under The Big Top."

Cole Circus 2012

Cole Circus 2012

Cole Circus 2012 at the Apple Blossom Mall in Winchester, Virginia.

Cole Bros. Circus 2012

Cole Bros. Circus 2012

Cole Bro's Circus ringmaster Christopher Connors enters the Big Top before the start of a show in Gaithersburg, Md.

Cole Circus 2012 at the Apple Blossom Mall in Winchester, Virginia.

Cole Circus 2012 at the Apple Blossom Mall in Winchester, Virginia.

Cole Circus 2012 at the Apple Blossom Mall in Winchester, Virginia.

Cole Bros. Circus at the fairgrounds in Manassas.

Cole Bros. Circus at the fairgrounds in Manassas.

Cole Bros. Circus at the fairgrounds in Manassas.

Cole Bros. Circus 2011

Cole Bros. Circus 2011

Jahirt Bermudez, of Colombia, South America, who performs as Perolito the clown for the Cole Bros. Circus, sells ballons during intermission at a stop in Frederick Maryland. The Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars is celebrating its 127th season and bills itself as the "World's Largest Circus Under The Big Top."

Cole Bros. Circus 2011

Cole Bros. Circus 2011

Cole Bros. Circus performer Jurgen Nerger prepares to enter the Big Top with his Bengal Tiger show during a stop in Frederick Maryland. The Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars is celebrating its 127th season and bills itself as the "World's Largest Circus Under The Big Top."

Cole Bros. Circus

Cole Bros. Circus

Cole Bros. Circus in Ashburn, Virginia.

Cole Bros. Circus 2012

Cole Bros. Circus 2012

Aerial performers with theCole Bros. Circus are silhouetted on the tent during a show at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg. The Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars is celebrating its 127th season and bills itself as the "World's Largest Circus Under The Big Top."

20120428283

20120428283

The 2012 installment of the Cole Bros. Circus at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg. The Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars is celebrating its 127th season and bills itself as the "World's Largest Circus Under The Big Top."

20120428643

20120428643

The 2012 installment of the Cole Bros. Circus at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg. The Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars is celebrating its 127th season and bills itself as the "World's Largest Circus Under The Big Top."

Cole Bros. Circus 2012

Cole Bros. Circus 2012

A pair of Russian clowns argue backstage about a mixup in their act during a show at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg, Md.

Cole Bros. Circus 2011

Cole Bros. Circus 2011

Tiger hander Jurgen Nerger takes a moment with one of the less dangerous animals in the circus at a stop in Frederick Maryland. The Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars is celebrating its 127th season and bills itself as the "World's Largest Circus Under The Big Top."

Cole Circus in Manassas

Cole Circus in Manassas

Cole Bros. Circus at the fairgrounds in Manassas.

Cole Bros. Circus at the fairgrounds in Manassas.

Cole Bros. Circus at the fairgrounds in Manassas.

Cole Bros. Circus at the fairgrounds in Manassas.

Cole Circus in Manassas

Cole Circus in Manassas

Julius Carallo also known as "Clown Chips" prepares for a shot during a stop with the Cole Bros. Circus at the Prince Willima County Fairgrounds in Manassas, Va.

Cole Bros. Circus

Cole Bros. Circus

Cole Bros. Circus in Ashburn, Virginia.

Cole Bros. Circus

Cole Bros. Circus

Cole Bros. Circus in Ashburn, Virginia.

Cole Circus in Manassas

Cole Circus in Manassas

Cole Circus Ringmaster Chris Connors takes a coffee break between shows at the Prince William County Fairgrounds in Manassas, Va.

Cole Circus in Manassas

Cole Circus in Manassas

The sun sets over the Cole Bro's Big Top during a show at the Prince William Country Fairgrounds in Manassas, Va.

Big Top Dreams

Photography by Pete Marovich

The Cole Bros. Circus was the oldest, American Circus performing under the Big Top. W. W. Cole, who inaugurated the Cole Bros. Circus title in 1884, began his circus career in 1871, amassing fortune and fame by bringing to cities and villages the most astounding marvels of the day. Cole Bros. stopped touring in 2016.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus closed for good in May 2017, ending a 146-year run dating back to when Ulysses S. Grant was president and minstrel shows were popular.

Animal advocacy group such as PETA and the Humane Society of the United states have been pushing for the demise of the circus and had urged other acts involving animals to follow saying that it does nothing but exploit them.”

 

Even with the closure of the big shows, there are about 85 circus schools and training centers across America teaching children the traditional circus skills such as trapeze, juggling, wire-walking and clowning. Some one-ring shows are doing very well, from the highly profitable Cirque du Soleil to smaller local productions, such as Circus Flora in St. Louis.

Carson & Barnes Circus in its 81st year, tours 200 days, primarily in the Midwest.

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