Similar to the mud show was the "dog and pony" show. Often used as a derogatory term for a smaller show, the title was, in fact, embraced by more than one circus and was often quite apt, especially for those shows just starting out that lacked exotic animals or large menageries and had to make due with domestic pets and livestock for their performances. Even today, many acts still include these kinds of performances, such as the "educated pig" act in their larger shows.
Among the most famous of the mud shows was Mollie Bailey's "Bailey Concert and Circus Show" which traveled throughout the southern United States during the later half of the 19th century. A family show, Mollie and her husband Gus (neither of whom were related to the more famous Bailey circus family) played throughout the south as a musical and theater act until the beginning of the Civil War when they volunteered with the Confederate army, Gus as a soldier and musician and Mollie as a nurse and spy, sneaking across Union lines dressed as a young girl to secure provisions and intelligence.
After the war, the couple, now with eight children returned to performing. The Texas based show traveled on seven wagons and boasted only one ring. As they got older, each of the children joined the performances, one daughter as an equestrienne and another with a bird act while their sons toured as musicians. When Gus Bailey could no longer travel with the show due to illness, Mollie took over running the circus and became the first woman to own and operate her own circus in the United States.
Mollie was well known for her keen business sense. Often she would purchase parcels of land in towns the show frequented for performance space, allowing the locals to use them as baseball fields or parks the rest of the year. The show was also routed to follow the crops in order to arrive in towns during the year's highest period of prosperity each season. Eventually the circus managed to add more traditional fare including clowns, acrobats, and more exotic animals, finally moving on to rails. When Mollie died, the circus went with her, surviving for only two more seasons afterward.
Today, a mud show is often used as a term for a truck or motorized show that still sets up outdoors rather than playing in arenas, though some historians consider this something of a bastardization of the term despite keeping with a bit of the spirit of the original meaning. Circus Smirkus, a summer circus camp in Vermont continues the mud show tradition, taking their classes on a 15 to 20 jump tour through Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Want a real look at life on a modern mud show? Check out Valerie Berta Torales' blog, The Mudshow Diaries.
That's it for this week's update!
Dr. Tobias H. Gentleman