Mouseketeers atop the Ringling Bros. Swan Bandwagon, which was built in Baraboo by the Moeller & Sons Wagon Shop in 1905.
One is billed as “the happiest place on earth.” The other’s pride and joy is the largest collection of circus wagons on earth. And interestingly enough, they share a fascinating connection.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of Disneyland, so stories are popping up all over about the celebrations marking that diamond anniversary, celebrations that include a nighttime parade and other extravaganzas. It was in one of those stories that we came across this obscure fact: On Thanksgiving Day 1955, the Mickey Mouse Club Circus made its debut. Walt Disney and the Mousketeers from the beloved TV show even led the tent-raising for this three-ring circus. While it was to be a very short-lived run at just six weeks – turns out guests wanted to see “the mouse” and not a circus – it produced a boom of sorts for Circus World in Baraboo near Wisconsin Dells, home of the original winter headquarters of the Ringling Bros. Circus.
Walt Disney was said to have loved the circus and even wrote the introduction to the program, noting the grandeur of the old circus wagons he had collected and restored.
Yes, those circus wagons.
After the Big Top came down, the wagons were used in a number of films including “Circus World” with John Wayne and Rita Hayworth, “Jumbo” with Doris Day, and the Disney film “Toby Tyler.” Then, Walt Disney did something remarkable. He donated the wagons to Circus World in 1962, something that put the then-fledgling attraction on the map. Baraboo High School even honored Walt Disney with a ceremony and presentation of a certificate of gratitude.
“It’s an interesting circus connection to Disneyland, the Mouseketeers and Hollywood,” said Dave Saloutus, ringmaster at Circus World. “Walt probably saved these wagons, as they were not in the best condition.”
He added, “One of the interesting things that came from the wagons being at Disneyland was their use in a street parade, which established parades as being an important element at the Disney parks. Those parades started because of the circus wagons.”
Circus World, a state historic site and national treasure, opens its 2016 season on March 19.