Memories of one of America’s Most Unusual Circuses
In 1930, local newspaper editor A. Morton Smith organized Gainesville residents into a small circus to raise funds for the community theater. Housewives stitched costumes, men hammered trapeze riggings, and teenagers practiced horseback acts. The homegrown show was such a hit that, during the next quarter century, the Gainesville Community Circus performed some 360 shows locally and in nearly 60 cities in Texas and nearby states.
The all-volunteer circus had three rings with bareback riders, trapeze and high-wire artists, acrobats, jugglers, and clowns. The largest of its seven tents could seat 2,500 wide-eyed fans.
The circus boasted ornamental tableau wagons, a calliope, a circus band, and trained animals that included horses, chimpanzees, a lion, and an elephant named Gerry.
Some 1,500 Gainesville residents eventually joined the circus, performing for hundreds of thousands of spectators. In the 1950s, a fire destroyed the big top and equipment, and eventually, the circus folded. Its animals spent their remaining years in the town’s fledgling Frank Buck Zoo.
Today, visitors to the Museum at Santa Fe Depot and the Morton Museum of Cooke County can view costumes, photographs, performance equipment, and newsreels recalling the circus’ heyday. Nearby, the Frank Buck Zoo honors the native son, film star, and animal collector who once served as honorary ringmaster of the Gainesville Community Circus.