It’s the biggest, most spectacular show in the world and it’s coming to Lewiston. Or so the promoters of yesteryear claimed in newspaper ads for all kinds of attractions, and the coming of the circus brought out the wildest claims of all.
It was June of 1925 when two big top shows were scheduled to roll into town for performances. They would set up at the circus grounds at Garcelon Farm fairgrounds, Sabattus Street and East Avenue. The first of them was Miller’s 101 Ranch Real Wild West Show and Great Far East extravaganza on June 12. The ads said it would feature “the World’s Largest Street Parade,” with two miles of “picturesque pageantry.” Only one location was listed for tickets. That was Alden’s Drug Store at 6 Lisbon St.
The Lewiston Evening Journal and Lewiston Daily Sun also ran ads for the June 25 coming of Carl Hagenbeck’s trained wild animals in the Great Wallace Circus, which included the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show and a super “Arabia” spectacular.
On the opening day of the first circus, the Hagenbeck troupe advertised, “Don’t Be Mistaken. Wait for the Big One.” The 101 Ranch show counter-punched with an ad on the same page reading, “Don’t be misled by false statements. The 101 Ranch Wild West is the only big show that will visit Lewiston this season. LEWISTON PEOPLE are TOO SMART to be fooled.”
So, how did the competing productions fare?
The Sun’s account of the first circus said, “Thousands of men, women and children crowded the sidewalks for the big parade yesterday morning and also the big tent in the afternoon and evening.” The reporter agreed with the advertisement’s assertion that it would be two miles long and it took half an hour to pass.
The show’s “Arabia” pageant was declared to be “magnificent.” The audience then got “a touch of the Far East, and with the elephants and camels it was a colorful scene.”
The next two acts were “shining examples of soldiery” as mounted Russian Cossacks displayed daredevil riding. In the Wild West portion of the production, a buffalo hunt and a horse thief capture were enacted. Mamie Francis, billed as “the world’s greatest horseback rifle shot,” also performed. The program also included fancy lassoing, bucking steers and broncos, and a horse leaping over a Buick automobile.
The circus train of 40 cars had arrived early that morning, and the tent raising also drew crowds.
The parade route had not included Auburn, but city officials received hundreds of phone calls and the Auburn Chamber of Commerce asked that their city be included. The big parade’s route was changed to go from the circus grounds to Pine, Park and Cedar streets, then into New Auburn, up Main Street to Court Street, and back across North Bridge to Lewiston’s Main Street and Sabattus Street.
The news story said, “James Mallory, who was for four years with the 101 Ranch organization and who is now assisting Lester Davis in the operation of Lake Grove Park, together with Oscar Jones, Auburn druggist, stood on Court Street with megaphones and called to the people hurrying toward Lewiston that the parade was coming to Auburn.”
Almost two weeks later, the Hagenbeck circus train pulled into town. It was a rainy day, and the tent raising drew little attention, except for a fistfight between two circus hands that was broken up by a lady who managed the show.
Several hundred people waited on sidewalks for the promised parade, but it never came. Nevertheless, the big top performance was well attended, and the newspaper report said it was a first-class presentation. The troupe of clowns got high marks, as did the trained seals, monkeys riding dogs, 30 dancing horses, five elephants and seven baby elephants.
It was a remarkable two weeks for circuses in L-A, but there was lots of other early summer activity to choose from, if the big top wasn’t for you.
You could go dancing at Lake Grove Park for just five cents a couple. A more ambitious excursion might be a trip to New York City and the fare was only $10. It was aboard the “elegantly-equipped steamer Calvin Austin” sailing from the State Pier in Portland.
Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He may be reached by sending email to [email protected]