Clyde Park Circus

“Now that the tent-show circus with its rumbling wagons and grand street parade is a thing of the past, I hope ‘children of all ages’ who see my miniature circus can form a picture in their minds of those ‘good ole days,’” Clyde Parke.

Clyde Park Circus

One of the most well-known (and largest) artifacts at the Pink Palace is the Clyde Parke miniature circus. Parke began carving his circus in the 1930s during the Great Depression when he was out of a job. By this time, circuses as he had known them as a child had disappeared. During the Golden Age of circuses in the late 1800s, circuses used railroads to transport their performers, crew, animals, tents and other equipment. Publicity teams would arrive first to distribute advertising posters and run stories in the local newspaper. They staged elaborate parades from the railroad stop through town to the circus site where they set up quickly and usually performed two shows before heading to their next stop. Most children went to these large traveling Circuses and played with circus toys.

The Great Depression led to the decline of the circus as some went bankrupt and others downsized. Some circus buffs that were out of work, including Parke, began building elaborate miniature circuses. Many of them created their circuses as a possible way to make money. During the Depression, Parke planned on exhibiting his circus, but he found that it was too large for many department stores and other display areas. Whenever he did set it up, it took two people approximately five days. He displayed it for the first time in 1935 as part of the Memphis Cotton Carnival. It next was shown at the Mid-South Fairgrounds in 1953 and at a Memphis department store in 1959. In in the spring of 1964, Parke offered to show the Museum Board his circus with the idea of putting it in the museum. He wanted the Memphis Park Commission (which operated the museum at that time) to buy the circus, but the board decided not to take any action. He ultimately donated it to the museum in 1970, and it took him four months to take the circus apart (it was in his attic) and reassemble it at the Pink Palace.

Parke wanted his viewers to look closely at his circus and examine it for both its artistry and its accuracy. He prided himself on the fact that his tents were laced together and the stakes driven into the ground just as a roustabout would have done. He made sure that the dining tent was divided in two so that the performers could eat on the side with the table cloths and the workers could eat on the plain oil-cloth side. Inside one of the rings, a girl is performing a liberty drill—where the horses do routines without harnesses. He even included a small boy trying to sneak into the main show and one man asleep under a truck.

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