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Originally published Friday, July 25, 2014 at 10:03 AM

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When the circus came to town, ca. 1910

Three “big top” circuses were here between 1909 and 1913.The biggest, Barnum and Bailey, performed on this site in 1910, 1912 and 1914. The two others were the Sells-Floto Circus, and the Norris and Rowe Circus.


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AFTER CALLS for help and hours of research, this subject still puzzles me. The prospect is easy enough to describe, but not the subject: seven women sitting on handsome horses balanced on those odd pedestals. Who are they — the women and the horses? That the riders are dressed in the style of the time (ca. 1910) we can corroborate by comparing them to the pedestrians, far left, walking beside Republican Street.

This prospect can be figured within a half-block. Capitol Hill is on the horizon, and the three-story structure above the equestriennes is the Hotel Roslyn at the corner of Republican Street and Fifth Avenue. A Roslyn classified ad first appeared in The Times of Feb. 3, 1909, promising “elegant furnished rooms . . . rates $3 to $5 per week.”

The hotel’s sign is above the second rider from the left. A friend, writer-collector Stephan Lundgren, first alerted me to the color pattern in this tableau — women in white on dark mounts alternate with women in black on white ones (with one dappled horse as counterpoint, third from the left).

The pedestrians are almost certainly either headed for or leaving a circus. But which, and when? The historian Mike Cirelli, who first shared this photo with me but didn’t know much about it, has died.

After studying The Seattle Times for the years 1909-1913, I found three “big top” circuses that were here.The biggest, Barnum and Bailey, performed on this site in 1910, 1912 and 1914. The two others were the Sells-Floto Circus, last here in 1913, and the Norris and Rowe Circus, which last performed on these grounds in 1909.

Although the smallest of the three, Norris and Rowe came on two trains with “herds of elephants, camels, and llamas, two rings and an elevated stage, one four-mile hippodrome track, acres of tents,” 600 people and hundreds of horses.

Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard’s blog at www.pauldorpat.com.



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