Column: That would have been one great summer season
Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared Sept. 20, 2003.
WORTHINGTON — Summer went like a flash of lightning. Everyone says it. It was June 1. The next day it was Aug. 31.
I have a story about a perfect summer at Worthington that I wanted to tell while the temperatures were in the 90s, the humidity was high and the sun still was in the northern sky. The story unfolds better in that setting. One thing came along, then another. We will squeeze the story of the perfect summer into this Saturday — autumn still is 72 hours distant.
I mentioned a pair of events from that idyllic summer several weeks ago. It was May 30, 1910, that the great Yankee Robinson Circus came to town. At that time, the Robinson circus’ blind elephant, Tom Tom, was the largest elephant on exhibition in the United States. This introduces something important to recalling that era.
Cars and trucks had not yet begun to roll in great numbers. Henry Ford had introduced his Model T at Detroit only 20 months earlier. Worthington’s Lee Humiston set his world record with a motorcycle 24 months later. Airplanes were a total novelty — it was the Yankee Robinson Circus which brought the first airplane, piloted by Professor Foster, to Worthington.
This was the great hour for America’s railroads. It also was near the golden hour for America’s circuses. Combine those two — circuses on trains — you get something important for Worthington.
Situated halfway between Minnesota’s Twin Cities and Omaha, the only place along the route where trains rolled by a scenic lake, Worthington was an obvious layover point for a circus, no matter that it was not a major city.
The circus trains were shunted onto tracks near that place where the high bank overlooks the lake, near the end of Second Avenue. The creatures — beautiful horses, mules, elephants, camels — then could be led easily from their railroad cars to the tranquil lakeshore where they could be watered and where they might even bathe themselves.
The circus grounds were near that same site, slightly farther along the lake shore.
So it was that the Yankee Robinson show came in May. Hester’s Big Show, which featured “The Custer Massacre,” came in mid-July.
The Hester show was a small show that attempted to re-create the battle at the Little Big Horn. It featured a band and an orchestra, and Leroy Hester spinning ropes. The Globe enjoyed it. The editor said, “The Hester Company … drew a good audience here Monday night and gave general satisfaction.”
Everything to this point was something of a prelude to the arrival of the Sells Floto Circus, which came on July 29.
Sells Floto was a giant show. “It takes railroad cars of the combined length of one and three-quarters miles to transport it.” The big top which was unfurled at Worthington could seat 11,000 — there were 14,932 residents in Nobles County.
Everything about the show seemed fascinating. Worthington learned the Sells Floto company, which numbered in the hundreds, ate from aluminum dishes in two dining hall tents. The creatures that could be led to Lake Okabena consumed 19 tons of hay in a day. The creatures in cages gnawed eight hind quarters and four front quarters of fresh beef each day.
One of the sensations of the Sells Floto show came with the great circus parade that stepped off along the length of 10th Street at 10 a.m. Armour & Co. of Chicago maintained a team of six great, gray Percheron horses, all geldings, which were famous in the nation. The Armour Grays can be compared with the Budweiser Clydesdales of this day, except that, in 1910, horses were important to everyone.
The Armour Grays, leading off the Sells Floto parade, were the most beautiful horses in Worthington on that late July morning, and they might have sufficed for a day of diversion in themselves.
The Grays were only a part of the show, which featured three rings AND an elevated stage, to keep one pace ahead of Barnum & Bailey.
Two world wars, a cold war, a great depression, Korea and Vietnam lurked in summers ahead.
But in the upcoming weeks there would be Chautauqua — then the Nobles County Fair — then you might board a train for the Minnesota State Fair, where you still might see Dan Patch.
Wouldn’t that have been a great summer to be at Worthington, Minnesota?