Cole Bros. Circus

Written By: nppladmin - Aug• 27•21
Originally published to on July 30, 2021.

While now controversial and almost non-existent, a Circus coming to town in the latter part of the twentieth century was an affordable event for everyone to attend. Children dreamed of running away to become a circus performer. And North Platte in 1940 was no exception.

Here is what the North Platte Daily Bulletin article dated (7/25/1940) had to say when the circus came to town:

Fond memories of youth will tug at the hearts of many North Platte folk Friday – for it will be circus day. The huge Cole Brothers Circus, one of the two largest in America will pitch its “big-top” at Seventh and Willow Streets at an early hour Friday morning.

It’s seldom that the word “circus” does not bring retrospect to those who are now middle-aged and to those in the older stages of life. What a thrill it gave you when the youngsters yelled, “the circle is in town!”

Popcorn and peanuts – munching gobs of taffy – watching the breath-taking displays – the laughable antics of the clowns and the trumpeting of elephants – the somersaulting equestrians – and the blaring of the circus band – who can escape its lure?

To the youth of North Platte, it will be another thrill –the first in three years and which will be remembered indefinitely. And, –to the grownups, it will be retrospect. Besides the gigantic big-top, there will be scores of others hoisted when the big show arrives. There will be the big double-sided show top and the dining department tent, where more than 2,000 square meals are served each day. Then, there will be he blacksmith top, the traveling hospital tents, the commissary tents, and the six long draft horse tents. And too, the concert band headquarters tent and the elephant trainer’s top, and the dozen of more private dressing tents for the stars and featured performers, not forgetting the tents that house the mechanical departments and those used by the circus business staff. A total of 26 tents of varying sizes will be hoisted early tomorrow for the one day stay.

Two performances will be given. The first at 2 p.m. and the last one at 8 p.m. The gates will open one hour earlier in each instance allowing leisurely inspection of the huge menagerie before the performances begin.

Ken Maynard, the world famous Western motion picture star heads the list of features, from among the more than 250 men and women stars and performers assembled from all parts of the world for this year’s mighty program.

The photograph of the tent with elephant in front of it was actually taken at West 7th and Jeffers Streets at the U.P. Show Grounds in North Platte around July 25, 1940.

This researcher was unfamiliar with the name “Ken Maynard” and did a little research on him. <see photograph> Ken Maynard (July 21, 1895-March 23, 1973) was an American actor and producer. He was mostly active from the 1920s to the 1940s and considered one of the biggest Western stars in Hollywood. He first appeared in silent motion pictures as a stuntman or supporting actor. In 1924, he began working in western features, where his horsemanship and rugged good looks made him a cowboy star. Maynard made a successful transition to talking pictures, but eventually turned his back on the movies and started making appearances at state fairs and rodeos. He owned his own small circus operation featuring rodeo riders, and eventually became a part of the Cole Bros Circus.

The roots of the Cole Bros Show went back to the early 1800’s. It all began with a contortionist named William H. Cole and his wife, the tightrope walker and equestrienne Mary Ann Cooke. Their son, William Washington Cole (1847-1915), founded W.W. Cole’s New Colossal Shows in 1884. In 1906, the brand was purchased by a Canadian entrepreneur and altered to “Cole Brothers Circus.” During the teens and nineteen-twenties, Cole Brothers kept absorbing smaller circuses and growing their own circus company. By the mid-1930’s, it took 35 train cars to move the circus. By the time it came to North Platte—the circus was in its finest time. By 2016, Cole Bros Circus was essentially defunct, largely in response to animal rights activists advocating against the use of animals for live performances.

Thank you for looking back at our North Platte History today on an event that brought smiles to thousands, and is now a thing of the past. See you next week for another look at our North Platte history.

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