Sunday, 12 November 2017

ABOUT THOSE CIRCUS WAGONS! A Guest Post By Mary T. Wagner

I’m not quite sure where my enchantment with old circus wagons got its start!

I’ve always been a fan of the old more so than the new—perhaps a side effect of having a godmother who specialized in teaching Modern European History and who took me along as a child to movies about Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, and Mary, Queen of Scots.
Or perhaps it was a result of reading my way through childhood, with plenty of fairy tales populated by knights and dragons, along with Greek myths and their panoply of magical creatures.
Whatever the cause, I knew almost from the minute I thought of creating a series of children’s books about a cat in a small town circus museum, that one of the stories would weave a mysterious and old circus wagon into the plot. And so the second Finnigan book became, quite naturally, “Finnigan and the Lost Circus Wagon.” The plot revolves around the arrival, at the little museum that has become his home, of a decrepit wagon that has seen better days, but holds a valuable secret. In the course of the story, crooks must be outwitted, the mystery must be solved, and Finnigan’s presence must remain a secret to the humans in the story.
But here I want to share my utter fascination with these wagons, which harken back to the Golden Age of circus parades. Imagine, if you will, a time before television, before MTV, before the Internet! Back in the day, before we had the world at our fingertips with our smart phones and tablets, everybody turned out to watch the circus parade that heralded the wonders to be found under the Big Top that had just arrived. But it wasn’t just the panoply of the performers and the clowns and the exotic animals that drew the eye. The wagons that doubled as bandwagons and storage wagons and animal cages were an extravagantly theatrical art form of their own.

The Finnigan books began with a combination of a real kitten in the family, and the fact that my younger daughter is a contemporary circus aerialist—think more Cirque du Soleil than Barnum & Bailey. Circus, kitten…kitten, circus…you might imagine that the books were inevitable! But an added element was that my daughter and I, for the past several years, have made what amounts to a yearly pilgrimage for inspiration to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, built on what was the original home of the Ringling Brothers Circus.
The wagons there, many of which have got intensive restoration, are jaw-droppingly beautiful. There are fairy tales, and tales of valor, beasts both mythical and real, and scenes of incredible imagination. Lions roar, tigers leap, mermaids and dolphins cavort, and St. George battles a magnificent dragon. And nestled in amongst them quite naturally--although technically not a wagon--is the spectacularly embellished Gavioli pipe organ, built in Paris in 1905 and trotted around the United States to various carnivals via railroad for decades. I could spend days rather than hours walking among them, admiring their artistry and craftsmanship, and reflecting on just how much courage and strength it has always taken circus folk to embrace a disciplined and gruelling life of entertainment on the road, conjuring magic and laughter and wonder from town to town.
And so when I began to draw the illustrations for this second Finnigan book, it wasn’t much of a leap to draw some of the pictures either from a few of my favorite historic wagons, or from posters and signs from a century ago. Like I said, I generally favor the old over the new! 

So here’s a gallery of some of my favorite wagons, and some of the incredible details that never fail to spark my admiration. To old circus wagons, and the colorful history they still bring to life!














Mary T. Wagner is a former newspaper and magazine journalist who changed careers at forty by going to law school and becoming a criminal prosecutor. However, she never could step away from the written word entirely, and inevitably the joy of writing drew her back to the keyboard.

A Chicago native, this mother of four and recent new grandmother now lives in "coastal Wisconsin," where she draws much inspiration for writing from frequent trips to the shore of Lake Michigan, watching the waves ebb and flow and make shifting mosaics of sunlight on the sandy lake floor.

Her first three essay collections - Running with Stilettos, Heck on Heels and Fabulous in Flats garnered numerous national and regional awards, including a Gold E-Lit Book Award, an Indie Excellence Award, and "Published Book of the Year" by the Florida Writers Association. Her latest essay collection, When the Shoe Fits…Essays of love, life and second chances rounds up her favourites and reader favourites into a "best of" collection available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.  Her newest publishing venture is a series of children's chapter books for young readers. Finnigan the Circus Cat the first book in the series was featured on my blog here. Finnigan and the Lost Circus Wagon is the second book in the series. If you are interested in acquiring a copy (and I heartily recommend it), you can do so here


I know readers of my blog will want to join me in thanking Mary for such an interesting and entertaining post. Thank you Mary.   

53 comments:

  1. Oh! My Goodness! I really don't know where
    to start or what to say...Lose of words is
    'NOT' an illness l suffer from, quite the
    opposite...! :).

    The photos of the circus wagons etc are amazing,
    love the two headed green dragon..and the painting
    of the tiger, on the side of the wagon is amazing..!
    I hope it's o.k. but l'd like to put a link in here..
    I think people will find it of interest...

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BU6NwF2yZE

    The wagon with the moving puppets brings back
    memories to...When l was a small boy, we had
    regular fun fairs/circuses over by the river,
    an area called The Ham...and the sound and
    music and the movement coming from such a thing
    was amazing!

    And, l must agree with Mary..l too favour the old,
    rather than the new..it's a time when you lived life,
    to the full, you did things with your body and soul,
    now..now..you just push a button for this..push a button
    for that..
    HeHe! Where are you Finnigan...??? Bless! :0).

    What a hero this little puddy~tat is..with his circus
    mice friends..Max and Leroy..HeHe!
    Mary was kind enough to send me a copy via e~mail on
    my birthday last September...but, l have the book as
    well now..so l've read it twice..'Willie, reading
    books, goodness, what ever next'...!!! :).
    I have to confess though my most favourite page was
    page 178...why..because it says...
    Coming Soon...!!
    FINNIGIN
    THE
    LIONHEARTED.
    Well..I know l'll be back and forth every now and again,
    for a read and a look see over the next few days..and l'll
    be sending this link off to a few friends, and my daughter
    to....!
    So..After a sharp intake of breathe...l'm off for a lemon
    tea, and perhaps a walnut whirl...!!! :0).

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  2. Oh thank you Willie for all your kind words! I enjoy lemon in my tea as well... and in the book when I extol the virtues of Shirley's sour cream chocolate cake, I'm REALLY talking about my own!!

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    1. Thanks for sharing the link Willie.

      Thank you also for sharing your memories. I don’t remember visiting a circus when I was young, but I do remember going to a fun fair. The noise and the colours are the things I remember, that and the candy floss and trying to win a teddy bear.

      I had a feeling you would enjoy Mary’s post, and I’m glad I’m not wrong.

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    2. I can't mind how many times l've gone over
      and over this post already...Amazing stuff,
      and photos...
      And yes, Mum and Dad always took me to the
      circus...lucky for me they always took me
      home afterwards...my first experience of
      entertainment l suppose..! Loved It! :0).

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  3. The old wagons are really beautiful, I'm always happy when I see one here. Hugs, Valerie

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    1. The wagons really are beautiful, and it was kind of Mary to share so many of her photographs. I hope you have a good week, hugs Barbara.

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  4. Absolutely amazing, what a lovely post.

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    1. I’m so pleased you liked it Sue – I do too.

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  5. Thank you both so much.
    Those wagons are incredible. Like Willie I love the dragon and the tiger perhaps most, but I would be slack-jawed with amazement to see any of them.
    Beautiful wagons, but it must have been a very hard life.

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    1. I love those dragons too! Thanks for coming over.

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  6. Wow! Isn't it interesting how even the functional things like the circus wagons are works of art. These are amazing photos.

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    1. They are great aren't they Sharon. I feel very lucky to be able to share Mary’s photos.

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  7. Truly an interesting and BEAUTIFUL post, Mary and Barbara! I've never seen such an array of these wondrous pieces, only in story books! Such a vast history of lore and art combined into one. Many wishes to both of you for a wonderful November!

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    1. I couldn’t agree more Anita! Can you believe we are already two weeks into November?

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    2. Thank you very much! Some day I hope to get down to the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida and tour their museum as well, but to have this place within driving distance to visit has been quite a treat. Many of the wagons are just jaw-droppingly impressive up close.

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  8. Awesome photos of beautiful art on these wagons. Mary's illustrations are just super too. What a wonderful, creative and inspiring post about Mary. Just enjoyed meeting her here Barbara. Thanks for sharing. Hugs!

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    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it Debbie. Hugs Barbara

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  9. What a fascinating read and wonderful guest artist/writer. I was simply mesmerized by both the photos and the wonderful stories she wove in. What a charming storyteller and wonderful person. Of course, anyone who likes cats is big in my book! I'd give anything to see any of these wagons up close.

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    1. I agree with you Elizabeth. I’ve so enjoyed sharing Mary’s photographs and lovely words.

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    2. Hi Bluebeard and Elizabeth, thank you so much! I've had my camera with me visiting the museum over the past several years, and was glad to have a collection of these shots to pick through and share!

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  10. Fascinating post! The photos are fantastic! You have the most wonderful guest posts, Barbara. it is always a pleasure to see what you will share with us every week.Thank you!

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    1. Hello Colleen, I am so grateful to Mary for sharing this with us all. I love the way she writes and her photos are amazing. I’m so pleased you enjoyed it.

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  11. Circus wagons art is right up there with the old fire engine art. So beautiful. I hadn't thought has similar these two were until I saw your post today.

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    1. Well I hadn't even known that "fire engine art" was a thing, so I'm now going to have to do an internet search all about it! Yes, it was quite the stunning art form, and an absolute crime what happened to so many of the old wagons as circuses folded over the years. When I wrote in this new book that the decrepit wagon in question had been used as a chicken coop, I wasn't straying outside the realm of what happened routinely at all! So glad you like the photos.

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  12. Those old circus wagons certainly were charming. Great that you were able to work them into your story, Mary. Of course we all love kittens so you have a winner there!

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    1. Hi Darlene, I had no idea there was such a variety of wagons or quite how wonderful they were. Blogging certainly provides an education!

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    2. Hi Darlene, and thank you! And as for kittens, I was just thinking as I walked into work yesterday how much more I'd like to spend the day playing with a basket of kittens!

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  13. Hi Mary, I can see why those wagons would offer inspiration. They're amazing. I love that a cat is at the center of the story.
    We lived in Ft. Atkinson, WI many years ago. Beautiful country. Wonderful people.
    Barbara, Hope your weekend is as wonderful as you are.

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    1. Hi Sandra, I tried to leave a reply earlier, but I think it disappeared somewhere into the cosmos! At any rate, thank you for your good words! Yes, that area around Fort Atkinson is very lovely. And those wagons...yes, be still my heart!

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  14. This sounds like an intriguing story. I don't think I have ever seen a circus wagon. I can easily see how they could spark stories! Thanks so much for sharing the pictures with the post- they really helped me get a visual for the wagons. Best of luck, Mary!

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    1. Hi Stephanie, I don’t think I’ve seen one either other than in books but even then nothing like Mary’s pictures. I’m just wondering what might happen if one were to turn up at The Begonia House. :-)

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    2. Well thank you Stephanie! The imagination that went into them is just amazing to behold!

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  15. Every time I come over here, I come across a magical treat. I've been to the circus as a kid, but seeing these wagons makes me wish I would have paid more attention to these than the tightrope acts. These are truly amazing! Hugs...RO

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    1. Thanks RO, I’m so pleased you enjoyed it. Mary never disappoints.

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  16. What a wonderful post. Some of these took me right back to my days of Houghton Feast where every year this Gavioli Organ took pride of place outside the entrance to the park.

    https://youtu.be/ePaBLa-RLiM

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    1. I loved that and what a great rendition of the Dam Busters theme tune – very rousing.

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  17. These circus wagons are beautiful, so many fascinating details. Cinderella trying on her slipper really caught my eye. Thanks for sharing, Mary, and Barbara, for letting her do so! :)

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    1. Thanks Marcia, it was a pleasure to share.

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    2. Well thank you Marcia! Yes, Cinderella is a stunner. Though my favorite is always the wagon with the swans. Just today I got to see a miniature version of it at the historic Ringling Mansion. And the owner told me that it also turned up in the movie "Dumbo"! I'm going to have to watch for that...

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  18. Thank you Mary!! I found this so fascinating! Such amazing art!! Wow! Those old circus wagons are truly breath taking! Thank you again!!

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    1. I found it fascinating too Stacy, glad you enjoyed it.

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    2. Magic, thank you! Yes, the art on these old wagons is really eye-popping. And to think, so many more have been lost to the dustbin of history. So glad the museum has restored so many!

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  19. What a fantastic collection of photographs to go with your post. It was a very interesting read.
    So thank you Mary and thank you Barbara too!

    All the best Jan

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    1. Jan, thanks so much! Every time I visit the Circus World Museum, I basically take photographs until my camera or phone runs out of battery life. And I always find something I haven't seen before!

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  20. I love that illustration of Finnegan! Marvelous cat art, loads of personality. And the photos are terrific.

    Thanks for your lovely recent comment on Marmelade Gypsy, Barbara. And have a marvelous time in Australia. Three months! I'm a tad envious -- our Michigan winters aren't fun!

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    1. You are very welcome Jeanie. Thanks also for coming over to see me. It will be lovely to miss some of our winter even though I don’t suppose it is anywhere near as cold as it is in Michigan. I will embrace the sunshine and count myself very lucky.

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  21. Thanks for showing these interesting wagons, a fabulous collection!

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    1. Thanks for coming over Christine, I’m glad you enjoyed Mary’s post.

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  22. Barbara,
    Hope you are having a lovely weekend.

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    1. It’s lovely in the UK today Sandra, cold but beautifully bright and sunny. I hope your weekend is going well.

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I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara xx

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