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four provinces of Canada—often
traveling nearly 25,000 miles in
eight months.
Christy’s abilities as an
entertainment producer and
entrepreneurial sojourner
developed steadily but slowly at
first, until at one point his outfit
began to grow exponentially.
Two years into his endeavor, he
expanded to three cars, but one
year later in 1922 his circus had
grown from three to ten.
By the time he debuted his
1925 season in Galveston, the
Christy Bros. Circus had amassed
twenty-five cars and G.W. Christy
had built the second largest
circus in the nation. As an
independent operation during
the 1920s, his was one of the
only well-established names on
the circuit that was not owned
by Ringling Bros. or the American
Circus Company.
His impressive procession
included five stock cars, five
coaches, eight flat cars with open
ends and a covered top and sides
called the “tunnel car,” used for
the parade wagons, and one
advance car. The show train also
included street parade wagons
and bandwagons named Asia,
America, Columbia, and Swan.
A Palm Leaf tableau and Dove
tableau were hauled along with
the five rings used in the big top
that could seat 5,000 people.
At the height of Christy’s
success, the menagerie was
comprised of nine bulls, ten
camels, twelve cages of wild animals, two reindeer, two sacred cattle from India, and
forty trained horses as well as a sizable collection of trained goats and trained dogs.
A “tented city” comprised of up to six big top tents was needed to accommodate
the remarkable collection, and in addition to the death-defying circus spectacles
and performances that included dancing animals and beautiful ladies in shimmering
costumes, Christy situated a menagerie around the perimeter of the show area.
A Wild West canopy with side walls on the outside was used for the menagerie tent,
under which cages were lined up one after another in adjacent rows with an open,
fenced area in the center for the more docile animals and elephants flanking the rear.
Before and after performances spectators would pack the viewing corridors to catch a
glimpse of the exotic creatures.
The menagerie was also on full view during the street parade given by Christy prior
to each show. The cages were wheeled laboriously down city streets, interspersed
with the entire cast of Christy’s limitless imagination.
The freak show performers
walked in front of gallant men
on trained horses and next to
dogs dressed as clowns. Circus
bands perched atop the rolling
bandwagons and blasted their
brassy, boisterous refrains, while
painted harlequins bounded
around the street and interacted
with a wide-eyed audience. In
Galveston, the parade drew
thousands of people to the
streets, most of which eventually
made their way to the show
grounds to complete the
experience.
Christy maintained his stellar
reputation and constant growth
throughout the entirety of the
1920s, but in the final months of
the 1929 season came the event
that would ultimately mark the
demise of Christy Bros. Circus
and confine its legacy to a single
decade. At first, Christy set out
for his 1930 run determined to
remain optimistic amid the throes
of The Great Depression, but the
reality of the country’s economic
imbalance would prove itself
insurmountable.
After weeks of lackluster
and sometimes completely
nonexistent ticket sales, the
traveling band was further
dismayed by a lengthy run-in with
calamitous weather. Extreme
cold, torrential rains, and one
particular day of fifty-four mile-
per-hour winds battered the
caravan. Christy tried desperately
to keep moving, but the
operation’s sole sustenance was
Christy’s personal bankroll that
was rapidly dwindling.
He sent more than half of the
caravan back to South Houston
to minimize expenses, but then
made the mistake of taking
a three-car show into a town
they had visited the year prior
with twenty—a discrepancy
that did not go unnoticed by
the townspeople, much to the
show’s chagrin. The loyalty of
Christy’s performers and staff was
Promotional postcards and posters, circa 1927
Past & PresenT |
Galveston Lost
38 |
GALVESTON MONTHLY |
MARCH 2017