The New York Times Magazine created a great circus article.
Ringling Brothers Circus of 1890 was a mindblower. And yet its most popular feature that year was not its freaks or its flying-trapeze artists. It was not even the Boneless Wonder. No, the standout attraction was the incandescent light bulb.
There are light bulbs at the circus today, but they are used to illuminate the things that are most popular now: the trained animals, the women shooting out of a cannon through the air, the men balancing on high wires. Nobody would pay to see a light bulb anymore.
‘‘That’s my point,’’ said Kenneth Feld, the chairman and C.E.O. of Feld Entertainment, which has owned the circus almost continuously since 1967. ‘‘The circus changes. It was a big deal, and then it wasn’t.’’
‘‘The train is like a city on wheels,” said Stephanie Sinclair, who spent 11 days photographing the ‘‘blue unit’’ — one of two units, each a completely different show, that travel the country each year. Everyone on the train knows one another, but the various sets of performers don’t mingle much. They practice so often and so rigorously that when the train is in motion — the average distance between cities is 350 miles — they shut down: They sleep, they watch TV, they read. The train stops only to refill the water stock and, occasionally, for the animals to stretch out on longer trips; whenever it does stop, the performers immediately begin rehearsing again.
There are more than 300 people in the blue unit, representing 25 different countries and speaking everything from Russian to Arabic to Guarani. A few travel in cars and trailers, but a majority, 270, live on the trains. Only about 100 of them are actual performers; the rest are support staff like trainers, teachers, animal minders, carpenters. (One of the show’s publicists lives on the train, too.) Most come from multigeneration circus families, to the extent that collectively, the circus staff represents thousands of years of circus history. They spend 44 weeks of the year traveling an average of 20,000 miles from coast to coast on a train that is 61 cars — a full mile — long. In total, the train comprises four animal stock cars, 32 living coaches, two concession storage cars, 19 equipment cars, a generator car, a shop car, an auxiliary shop car and, of course, the pie car, which is the train’s diner, open whenever the train is moving.