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History with Mike Watson: 1824 - When 'lyons, tigers' were in Columbia


Circuses brought divers wild animals to Columbia, and performed in divers places, including the Adair County courtroom, as an arena, jury room for dressing room. An idea for today?
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Comments re photo 77449 Wooden creature seen in woods Alligatorcroc or elephant

By Mike Watson

Well, I'm not certain when the first elephant was brought into Adair County and Columbia, but wild animal shows have been a regular event since the early 1800s. Circuses and entertainment troupes have been a favorite exhibition-type show across the country since earliest settlement. Eventually exotic animals, such as big cats, elephants, zebras, primates and the like were imported to entertain and amuse.



The hot, dog-days of summer of August 1824, Cole, Quick & Company arrived in Columbia and procured a license from the Town Trustees for the princely sum of six dollars to exhibit and perform. They were permitted to exhibit "lyon, tigers" and other diverse animals for two days.

During the same year, 1824, Johnson & Company were similarly licensed to exhibit a "lyon, leopard, etc." for only four dollars. Perhaps they only stayed one day.

Wild animals were not the only entertainments to appear in town that year. Cargill & Company, an early American traveling theatrical troupe, came into Columbia in the summer of 1824, obtained a license to perform from the Trustees, and used the second floor of the old courthouse for their show, using the jury rooms for dressing areas.

Other shows most certainly came through the county, but it is 1834 before another is documented. During July or August of that year, Green & Brown were granted a permit to "exhibit their show of wild beasts, etc., and to perform the feats of the circus in the Town on this day and it is ordered that they pay as a tax therefor the sum of $4."

The post-Civil War era brought a great many "shows" to the region and animals of all types were generally the major drawing card.

Sparks' World Famous Shows, a large concern at the beginning of the twentieth century, may have exhibited here, and certainly set up in Campbellsville over several years, at least from 1913 through 1920. Sparks' Shows were famous for their "giant" elephant, said to be bigger than the famous Jumbo. The Sparks' elephant was said to stand eleven feet, seven inches tall, and weigh in at five tons!

A nickle surely would buy some good entertainment in the old days!! --Mike Watson

Mike Watson, writer of this article, is a noted historian who is likely the most prolific living Adair County author of our time. (You are welcome to hazard a guess on the number of books - he's always working on at least one future addition to the list. Some are over 500 pages in length, others paper backs, but together may be on average the 136 page perfect length defined by the late Henry Giles


This story was posted on 2018-03-01 10:42:42
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