When I was a young child, my mom took my brother and me to the circus. It was held at Avenger Field right at Audubon Park and Tchoupitoulas Street. They had the Big Top, sawdust, and a side show. It was the early 1950s as I recall. Can you give me the specific dates and anything else about this visit?
You were a lucky lad, indeed. It was on Friday, Oct. 10, 1952 that the big top with its flags flying sprang up and we heard the blaring band and the now-famous introduction that told us we were all "kids": "Ladies and Gentlemen, children of all ages, welcome to the greatest show on earth, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus."
Even before we got to the midway, the music of the calliope greeted us. "Hurry, hurry, hurry," shouted the sideshow barkers. "See the biggest man on earth!"
All along the way to the entrance of the big top were stands to buy the necessary circus staples: popcorn, Orangeade, cotton candy and hot dogs. And inside, there was the sawdust on which would magically appear "the world's largest traveling zoo." Everyone was aquiver with excitement as we waited for the show to start. Of course, there were the clowns of every shape and size with all of their silly pranks and props to make us laugh. No one was able to keep a straight face.
The animals were my favorites, especially the horses that danced and pranced. And this circus came with nine herds of elephants that put on a great show with the tail-to-trunk routine and their feet on the back of the elephant in front. Wild beasts were plentiful, including performing lions. We saw bears on motor scooters, dogs that climbed ladders, lions that shook hands and horses that could count.
The human entertainers were amazing. The balancing daredevils, trapeze artists, and high-wire performers thrilled everyone. Mara was an aerial gymnast who balanced on a swinging trapeze, and Senor Tonito was a jumping slack-wire artist. Many other amazing aerial athletes such as the Flying Artonys, the Flying Concellos, and the Flying Comets made us all cheer. Another performer you might remember was a slack-wire juggling wonder named Dieter Tasso.
The fantastic, colossal circus was there for three days with afternoon and evening performances. On opening day, 1200 kids attended the performance courtesy of Mayor deLesseps S. Morrison's annual circus party.
In 1952, Cecil B. DeMille produced his great spectacle about the circus: The Greatest Show On Earth. It was a fine movie, but for those of us who were privileged to experience the real thing, the movie was only a poor substitution.
I hope this brings back memories for you and many others who went to the genuine "Greatest Show on Earth" when it came to New Orleans.
I can remember a streetcar that was parked at the end of the Flea Market in the French Quarter near the Old Mint. And it had Desire on the front marquee. Where is it today? Do you know of any pictures of the streetcar named Desire that exist?
Leonard A. Johnson
The streetcar you remember was No. 453, and at last report it was in the Carrollton Transit Station a.k.a. "streetcar barn" in poor condition. Many pictures were taken of this particular streetcar, and if you contact The Times-Picayune newspaper here in New Orleans, perhaps you can obtain a photograph. You might also try the Louisiana Division at the main branch of the New Orleans Public Library.
The Desire Line was begun in 1920, and charming streetcars were on that line until 1948 when they were replaced by smelly buses. There was a plan to put the streetcars back on line, but that was pre-Katrina.
Car No. 453 -- one of many streetcars on the Desire Line -- was presented to the Louisiana Tourist Development Commission in 1967 by New Orleans Public Service. From then until 1992 it drew crowds of admirers when it was parked at 1000 Decatur St. at the end of the Flea Market and then on the grounds of the Old Mint.