Top of page

Collection Occupational Folklife Project

The "Big Top" Show Goes On: An Oral History of Occupations Inside and Outside the Canvas Tent

In 2011, librarians Tanya D. Finchum and Juliana Nykolaiszyn of the Oklahoma Oral History Research Program at Oklahoma State University’s Edmon Low Library in Stillwater, Oklahoma, received an Archie Green Fellowship to research multi-generational circuses, circus workers, and circus families in the small town of Hugo, Oklahoma. For several generations, Hugo has been a "wintering over" town for small, family-owned circuses. Many of its current residents are working, semi-retired or retired circus workers. Circus references are found throughout the municipality, from store signs to gravestones.

In the course of numerous research trips to Hugo, Finchum and Nykolaiszyn recorded 24 interviews with circus workers, most of whom had worked a variety of different jobs during their circus careers. The fieldworkers also obtained copies of historical photographs, including images from Carson & Barnes, Culpepper & Merriweather, and Kelly Miller Circuses, and photographed circus-inspired tombstones at the local cemetery, Showmen's Rest. The collection also includes audio files from eight (8) short 3-minute "Then & Now" audio programs that were produced by the fieldworkers and broadcast by KOSU public radio in 2012.

Go to The "Big Top" Show Goes On collection items