Circus town butler, pa

Circus town butler, pa DEFAULT

Butler's Jimmy Bashline carved circus in miniature

The late Jimmy Bashline expressed his gigantic love for the circus in a dazzlingly miniature way.

Bashline, who lived in Butler, created the “Jay Bee Miniature Circus,” a model that he would display at various sites around town.

The circus consisted of miniatures that were replicas of what Bashline spent his life going to see, and included an elephant shooting real water from its trunk.

“In all those years he took the memories he had and went and talked to performers and things like that,” said Aryl Bashline, his daughter. “He put many of the things in his circus.”

This included acts from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which Bashline saw when it came to Butler in 1954.

“He was just thrilled he was there,” Aryl Bashline said.

Jimmy Bashline had a lifelong love of the arts. He began drawing at age 5, and studied art with Eleanor Green in Butler during grade school. He worked as a sign painter at Troutman's department store before beginning his own sign-painting business in 1948.

Bashline, a World War II veteran, belonged to groups including the Circus Model Builders, Associated Artists of Butler County and the Butler County Historical Society.

He passed away in 2008 at age 90. His circus is now in the hands of the Butler County Historical Society.


Defunct and abandoned amusement parks across Pennsylvania

Luna Park, located in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, as seen in 1905. (Library of Congress)

Lisa Wardle | [email protected]

Amusement parks have changed dramatically in the past 150 years.

They began as an incentive by trolley companies to increase weekend ridership, offering picnic groves and often theaters or boats. Swimming and rides later became stronger attractions.

Many of Pennsylvania's parks closed as the result of trolley service ending, increased insurance costs and competition with other parks. Others were shut down after severe storms and fires.

Here are some of the more well-known parks of the past.

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A worker walks past one of the attractions at Williams Grove Amusement Park in 2007. Most of the rides were auctioned off after the park closed. (Dan Gleiter/ FILE)

Lisa Wardle | [email protected]

Williams Grove Amusement Park (1850-2005)

Monroe Township, Cumberland County

The remains of this abandoned theme park in Monroe Township will be revived for a one-night Halloween event.

Williams Grove closed in 2005 after more than 150 years in business. Most of its rides were auctioned off, though the skeleton of a roller coaster stands as one of the few reminders of the area's past.

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Bushkill Park (1902-?)

Forks Township, Northampton County

Bushkill Park is not permanently closed, but it is on a long hiatus.

The park was flooded by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Owners Sammy Baurkot and Neal Fehnel began cleanup efforts shortly after but ran out of funds and had to put the project on hold. The owners also experienced management issues and additional flooding, all of which have further delayed reopening.

The park is continuing to rebuild attractions.

Read more about the efforts on our sister site Lehigh Valley Live.

A postcard in Jack Hiddlestone's collection shows Lake Lincoln swimming area at Nay Aug Park, Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Jimmy May)

Nay Aug Park (1931-1990)

Scranton, Lackawanna County

Nay Aug Park still stands as a municipal park in Scranton, but for several decades it was one of the state's many amusement parks.

The park was operated by the Karl and Ralph Strohl. It featured a variety of rides and a dance hall, which was later turned into an arcade. The wooden roller coaster was closed in 1987 and rides were sold in 1990.

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White Swan Park (1955-1990)

Findlay, Allegheny County

White Swan opened in 1955 to capitalize on the post-World War II baby boom.

It had seven rides to start and three lakes, but no white swans like the name would imply. Owner Roy Todd planned to bring swans to the park but did not follow through with that idea because they would be prey to wildlife.

The park was forced to close after the 1989 season to make room for Route 60 to the Pittsburgh International Airport. PennDOT paid $4 million for the property.

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The Red Streaker, a wooden coaster built in the 1950s, was bought by David Pickstone 
during an auction at Willow Mill Park in 1994. The amusement park shut down 1989. (Patriot-News file)

Lisa Wardle | [email protected]

Willow Mill Park (1929-1989)

Silver Spring Township, Cumberland County

Willow Mill opened as an amusement park in 1929 and included several rides alongside an inn. The mill that was on the property previously fell into disrepair under the park owner.

The park was inundated with rain when Hurricane Agnes hit the area in 1972. Repairs were made and Willow Mill was expanded the next year.

It remained in operation until 1989, when it closed as a result of higher insurance costs and lower attendance.

Now the land is a municipal park of the same name.

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Zieber's Park/West Point Park (1868-1989)

West Point, Montgomery County

West Point Park was the last remaining amusement park in the counties surrounding Philadelphia.

It began when farmer Hesekiah Zieber opened his land to picnickers in 1868. He also had palm reading, monkeys and boats to entertain visitors.

The area later was renamed and more attractions were brought in. West Point featured a skating rink, roller coaster and other rides.

Now the land is mostly covered with houses, but the pond remains.

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Angela Park (1957-1988)

Butler Township, Luzerne County

This park operated from 1957 to 1988. It started out with just six rides but grew to 18 by 1985 when the Barletta family sold the park to Mirthmaster Inc., which filed for bankruptcy the year it closed Angela Park.

Rides were auctioned off and the remaining structures were later razed.

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Lakeview Amusement Park (1919-1987)

Royersford, Montgomery County

This trolley park succumbed to higher insurance costs and closed after the 1987 season, a few years before auctioning off the last of its rides in 1991.

Among Lakeview's attractions were three roller coasters, a ferris wheel and boat rides on the lake.

The Lakeview Shopping Center stands where the park used to be.

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Rocky Glen Park (1886-1987)

Moosic, Lackawanna County

Rocky Glen opened as a trolley park but remained popular for an entire century. It was designed by legendary roller coaster architect Fred Ingersoll.

During the 1920s, a conflict between then-owners Ben Sterling, John Nallan and Joseph Jennings resulted in a fence dividing the park in two. Sterling received full ownership in the 1950s and saw good attendance until the 1970s, when he sold it.

The new owners rebranded the park as Ghost Town in the Glen with a Wild West theme. It again changed hands in 1979, and it was renamed Rocky Glen in 1983.

The decline of manufacturing jobs in the area led to fewer visitors, and the park closed in 1987 as a result of decreased attendance and higher insurance costs. Rides were auctioned off in 1988.

A series of fires plagued the area from the park's closure until 1994, when the city opted to tear down what remained of Rocky Glen.

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Ontelaunee Park (1929-1987)

New Tripoli, Lehigh County

A garage owner opened Ontelaunee Park in 1929. He added a theater, dance pavilion and merry-go-round, among other rides, before selling it in 1966.

The park changed hands a few more times, eventually auctioning off its rides in 1987.

Ontelaunee was sold to Lynn Township in 2000 and now operates the land as a municipal park.

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Hanson's Amusement Park (1891-1984)

Harveys Lake, Luzerne County

The long history of this trolley park begins with a picnic grove, like most of the other parks of its time.

A dance pavilion and merry-go-round provided entertainment during its initial years. A ferris wheel was added in 1908 and the park's first roller coaster in 1910.

Hanson's remained in operation until 1984, when the Amusement Inspection Act became law and prompted higher insurance costs. That combined with a broken roller coaster caused the owners to auction off its equipment and close the park.

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Lenape Park (1891-1985)

Chadds Ford, Delaware County

Lenape Park was one of the first trolley parks to open in the state. The West Chester Street Railway Company opened it in 1891.

The park sold its carousel in 1978 to try and stay afloat. Its frame found a home in Carousel World, but the horses are spread far and wide. Lenape continued to struggle financially and closed in 1985.

Now the land is Brandwine Picnic Park.

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Lakewood Park (1916-1984)

Barnesville, Schuylkill County

Lakewood began, like many other parks of its time, as a picnicking and swimming area. It had a manmade lake and stream.

During its history, Lakewood hosted national acts including Dick Clark, Chubby Checker and Alan Alda.

The pool closed in the 1960s as the result of declining attendance. The park remained in operation to host festivals and have a few rides. It officially closed in 1984.

The ballroom was destroyed by fire in 1998.

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A postcard shows the roller rink at Rocky Springs Park in West Lampeter Township. (dfirecop/

Lisa Wardle | [email protected]

Rocky Springs Park (1899-1983)

West Lampeter Township, Lancaster County

Rocky Springs had many attractions, starting with a dance pavilion and growing to have dozens of rides, including four roller coasters in its history.

The park was boarded up in 1966. It was bought in 1978 and restored at a cost of $1 million, but that revival only lasted until 1983 as the result of low attendance.

Condominiums were later built on part of the property. A municipal park of the same name comprises the other part. Though service to Rocky Springs ended in 1947, the trolley station remains in the park today with other a few other mementos.

The Rocky Springs Carousel was purchased through $1.3 million in community donations in the late 1990s, but it still sits in storage.

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Indian Trail Park (1929-1983)

Lehigh Township, Northampton County

The park opened in 1929 with a pool and rides. Its small wooden coaster

Declining attendance in the 1970s forced the park to sell its rides and tear down the coaster in 1976. It closed in 1984.

Now the land is owned by Lehigh Township and run as a municipal park.

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Fantasyland (1959-1980)

Gettysburg, Adams County

Fantasyland was one of the first theme parks in the state.

It closed after the owner retired in 1980, selling the land and rides. The owners, Kenneth and Thelma Dick, lived out the rest of their lives in a house near the entrance to the Gettysburg Battlefield Museum. That home was torn down in 2012.

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A barn in Fairview Park in Salem Township, Westmoreland County. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Lisa Wardle | [email protected]

Fairview Park (1945-1980)

Salem Township, Westmoreland County

A group of African-American churches opened Fairview Park in 1945 to cater to the black community, which was barred from most other parks in the area. Fairview had a roller coaster, skating rink and other rides, as well as hot air balloons.

Once segregation fell to the wayside, the park lost much of its appeal. Rides were sold in 1980.

The area is now a nature park and picnic area. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.

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West View Park (1906-1977)

West View, Allegheny County

Roller coaster designer Theodore Harton opened West View in 1906. It contained rides built by his company, including the first coaster in the state with drops of more than 50 feet, as well as picnicking areas and a ballroom.

West View was the last Pennsylvania park to be serviced by a trolley line. Attendance dropped after trolley service ended in 1965. The death of then-owner George Harton III caused the park to fall into disrepair and more patrons were instead visiting Kennywood. The park closed in 1977.

The land was razed in 1980 to make way for a shopping plaza.

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Willow Grove Park (1896-1975)

Willow Grove, Montgomery County

This park opened in 1896 and survived for decades as one of the largest amusement parks in the state. A large music venue brought notable performers to the park, including the New York Symphony and John Philip Sousa, who also wrote some of his music at Willow Grove.

The park closed in 1975 after an unsuccessful attempt to boost attendance with a Wild West theme.

The area was razed in 1980 and a mall was built in its place.

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Ideal Park/Fun City (1921-1973)

Benscreek, Somerset County

Ideal Park was built to capitalize on the growing popularity of swimming in the 1920s. It opened in 1921.

In 1955, it was sold for $115,000 and renamed Fun City. The new owners added rides, a white sand beach and made upgrades to the pool and bath houses.

Rides were removed in 1973.

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Rolling Green Park (1908-1972)

Hummels Wharf, Snyder County

This trolley park had a theater and fireworks every weekend. It later added two roller coasters and tilt-a-whirl, as well as turned the theater into a funhouse.

Hurricane Agnes struck Rolling Green in 1972, and the park closed because of the destruction.

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Kishacoquillas Park (1900-1972)

Derry Township, Mifflin County

Kishacoquillas, or Kish Park, was one of Pennsylvania's many trolley parks. It survived The Depression and World War II but the owners decided to close it after the destruction of Hurricane Agnes in 1972. The owners sold the rides and parts to other damaged parks.

Kishacoquillas does have some semblance of its past self, however, as buildings have been repurposed instead of razed. The old haunted house is now part of a community theater, the arcade is a township garage and the bumper car structure now holds picnic tables.

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Hanover Park/Sans Souci Park (1880-1970)

Hanover Township, Luzerne County

This trolley park went through a few iterations: Hanover Grove from 1880-1892, Hanover Park from 1893-1904 and Sans Souci Park until 1970.

The park had four roller coasters during its history. It also had a haunted house.

Now the area is home to the Hanover Area High School.

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Willow Park (1931-1969)

Butztown, Northampton County

Willow Park had just over a dozen rides and a nearly 1-million gallon swimming pool, but some many remember it more for the odd promotion that involved a man buried in a glass coffin for a week. Visitors could speak to him through a tube.

The park closed in 1969.

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Forest Park (1835-1968)

Chalfont, Bucks County

Forest Park was a picnic grove for nearly a century before being purchased by amusement park ride designer Richard Lusse in 1932, who added rides and booked entertainers such as Mae West to draw crowds.

The park suffered severe flooding in the 1950s and closed in 1968.

The area is now a water treatment facility.

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Rainbow Gardens (1924-1968)

White Oak, Allegheny County

This park opened in 1924 with its main attraction being a roller rink. A large swimming pool was added two years later.

The park condemned in 1968 so that Pennsylvania could build a highway in its place, but the state did not follow through with those plans.

The land is now home to the Oak Park Shopping Center.

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Edgewood Park (1905-1964)

Shamokin, Northumberland County

This trolley park featured a roller coaster, railway and roller rink. A swimming pool opened at Edgewood in 1926.

The park closed in 1964.

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Rusted roller coaster cars sit abandoned in the former Lake Ariel Park. (screen shot from WNEP video)

Lisa Wardle | [email protected]

Lake Ariel Park (1875-1958)

Lake Township, Wayne County

This park opened as a picnic grove next to the lake in 1875.

It closed and reopened several times during the first few decades, but two roller coasters and other rides gave it new life in the 1920s.

While the park did not thrive during World War II, it was the one-two punch of a hurricane and snowstorm that prompted the park's closure in 1958.

Some parts of the park remain in what is now an overgrown area, including roller coaster cars and a bench.

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Hazle Park (1892-1956)

West Hazleton, Luzerne County

This picnic ground was turned into an amusement park in 1892. A lake and gardens attracted visitors during the first few years. A roller coaster was added in 1905, followed by other rides and a theater.

The park couldn't compete with other parks and closed in 1956.

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The Mount Scenic Railway is shown in this 1910 image of Woodside Park, Philadelphia. (Library Company of Philadelphia)

Lisa Wardle | [email protected]

Woodside Park (1897-1955)


Another of the many trolley parks to open in the late 19th century, Woodside was established in 1897. It was the first park to feature bumper cars when Lusse Manufacturing tested the ride there in 1923.

"My dad was a manager there for 30 years and I had the advantage of 'free' tickets for all the rides, including the Crystal Pool," Robert Connolly told the¬†East Falls Historical Society. "They had three managers there ‚ÄĒ¬†one for the lower end, one for the middle, and my dad had the upper end where the Airplanes, Dance Hall, Picture Studio, Music Hall, Scary Haunted house, the Hobby Horses, and the Hummer were."

Woodside remained in operation until 1955. It closed as the result of rising property costs and decreased attendance.

The park's carousel found a new life in Philadelphia's Please Touch Museum.

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Central Park (1892-1951)

Rittersville, Lehigh County

The local trolley company opened Central Park in 1892. It changed hands a few times in the first decade but proved successful thanks to live music and theater.

Its downfall was aided by the growing popularity of nearby Dorney Park and a series of fires that wrecked numerous attractions.

Central Park closed in 1951. Few reminders of the park exist today, but the Brass Ring Carousel Company procured the 68-horse carousel and has it sitting in storage. It is currently for sale.

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Carsonia Park (1896-1950)

Lower Alsace Township, Berks County

The United Traction Company opened Carsonia in 1896 during the rush of trolley park openings. The park had two roller coasters and a handful of other rides during its history.

Trolley service stopped going to the park in 1939, and the park saw decreased attendance until it closed in 1950.

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Brick foundation piers from the dance pavilion are one of the few remnants of Eldora Park in Washington County. (Photo courtesy of Richard Rockwell)

Lisa Wardle | [email protected]

Eldora Park (1901-1946)

Carroll Township, Washington County

Eldora Park opened in 1901 as a trolley park. It featured a roller coaster, merry-go-round and dance hall.

The park was neglected during World War II and then was leased by the Girl Scouts in 1946. Plans to transform the land into a state park fell through. The area is now largely overgrown but features remnants of Eldora's brick walkways and posts.

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Ivyside Park (1925-1945)

Altoona, Blair County

Ivyside opened in 1925 with the largest swimming pool in Pennsylvania. It was 620 feet long.

The park also had a roller coaster and other rides, but it suffered during The Depression and was abandoned in 1945.

Penn State purchased the land in 1947 and built its Altoona campus there. The gigantic swimming pool is now a parking lot, but the pond was incorporated into the Penn State campus.

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Olympia Park (1901-1942)

Versailles, Allegheny County

Olympia boasted three roller coasters during its four-decade span, as well as a roller rink and dance pavilion.

It closed during World War II.

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Croop's Glen (1904-1941)

Hunlock Creek, Luzerne County

This trolley park The park's closure is blamed on gas rationing during World War II.

Remnants of the abandoned park remain in Hunlock Creek.

The carousel, however, remains in operation at Knoebels Amusement Park in Elysburg. The ride was bought by Lawrence Knoebel in 1948 and changed hands a few times before finding its way back to Knoebels.

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Cascade Park (1897-1934)

New Castle, Lawrence County

This park opened in 1897 with a roller coaster, theater, merry-go-round and baseball field. It was operated by the Pennsylvania Power Company until selling the site to the City of New Castle in 1934.

The area was neglected until the 1980s when the Cascade Park Development Committee volunteers made it their mission to restore the park. At that time, the rides were removed.

Cascade Park now serves as a nature park.

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Oakford Park (1901-1930s)

Jeannette, Westmoreland County

The most notable moment in this park's history came just two years after it opened. A broken dam flooded the entire region in 1903, killing 19 people in Oakford Park and causing $700,000 in damage (almost $19 million today) throughout the area.

The park closed sometime in the 1930s due to declining attendance.

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Northern Electric Park (1910-1925)

Clark's Summit, Lackawanna County

This trolley park was built by the Northern Electric Railroad.

A fire destroyed the dance pavilion and damaged the park's single roller coaster in 1925. Northern Electric Park closed the same year.

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Here's another "Throwback Thursday" picture of Luna Park (which is now Roxbury Park) in Johnstown. Its hard to believe the park had a roller coaster in the early 1900s.

Posted by Roxbury Bandshell on Thursday, September 4, 2014

Roxbury Park/Luna Park (1896-1922)

Johnstown, Cambria County

The area was known as Roxbury Park from 1896 until amusement rides were added in 1905. Prior to the rides, the area was known for its horse racing track and lake.

Its life as Luna Park saw the addition of a carousel, boardwalk, dance hall, roller coaster, ferris wheel and theater. A recession led to declining attendance and trolleys stopped serving the area in 1921.

The City of Johnstown purchased the property in 1922, which planned to restore it but never followed through with those plans.

It is now a municipal park with a baseball diamond and bandshell.

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Island Park (1894-1919)

Easton, Northampton County

This trolley park opened in 1894. It was named for the small island on which it stood in the middle of the Lehigh River.

The park had one roller coaster, a carousel, a pavilion and other rides.

Technical difficulties in getting trolley service to the island (ice floes kept ruining the tracks) resulted in the park's closure.

A few remnants in the area serve as a reminder of the park's history.

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This postcard shows the entrance to Luna Park in Scranton. (Public domain image)

Lisa Wardle | [email protected]

Luna Park (1906-1916)

Scranton, Lackawanna County

Ingersoll opened this Luna Park in 1906.

A fire destroyed numerous attractions in 1916 and the park was sold the next year.

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This digitized postcard shows the entrance to Pittsburgh's Luna Park. (Library of Congress)

Luna Park (1901-1909)


This short-lived amusement park opened in 1901 near where the University of Pittsburgh stands. It had a boat ride, dance hall and picnic areas, but it was best known for its 67,000 light bulbs at a time when electricity was still novel.

Luna Park was one of many owned by legendary roller coaster designer Fred Ingersoll, who built the still-operating Racer coaster at Kennywood and Leap-the-Dips at Lakemont Park. He owned a total of 44 parks.

Pittsburgh's Luna Park closed in 1909 after Ingersoll filed for bankruptcy.

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Aliquippa Park (1880-1909)

Aliquippa, Beaver County

The Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad built this park in 1880.

It was torn down in 1909 by the Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation, which built a steel mill where the park used to stand. The company kept the dance hall, however, to serve as their main office.

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Fantasyland Storybook Park, Gettysburg in July 1971. The park was closed and dismantled in 1984. (Patriot-News file)

Lisa Wardle | [email protected]

What was your favorite memory at a now closed park? Let us know in the comments.

If you're looking for more remnants of the past, check out these posts:

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  1. Double plug in air freshener
  2. Waldorf md zip code 20602
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The Best Traveling Circuses for Hire in Pittsburgh, PA

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Traveling Circuses in Pittsburgh, PA

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Traveling Circuses in Pittsburgh, PA

Don't want to go to the circus - well bring it to you! In a dilemma as to what entertainers you want to book for your event? Well solve both these problems with a traveling circus. These groups travel around the country with a variety circus entertainers that are sure to please young and old alike! With clowns and animals for the young at heart and aerialists and stunt performers that never cease to amaze, a traveling circus is a fun and original entertainment to bring to town. So come one, come all and book a traveling circus today! Search for Traveling Circuses in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania above.

Please note that these Traveling Circuses may also travel to Mount Washington, Millvale, Green Tree, Dormont, McKees Rocks, Brentwood, Bellevue, Larimer, Homestead, Carnegie, Sharpsburg, Castle Shannon, Avalon, Scott Township, Homewood, Edgewood, Aspinwall, Wilkinsburg, Heidelberg, Munhall, Swissvale, Whitaker, Glenshaw, Ben Avon, Braddock Hills, Baldwin, Braddock, Robinson Township, Robinson, and Pleasant Hills.

10 Places in PENNSYLVANIA You Should NEVER Move To

Hartford circus fire

1944 fire disaster in Hartford, Connecticut

"The day the clowns cried" redirects here. For the Jerry Lewis film, see The Day the Clown Cried.

The Hartford circus fire, which occurred on July 6, 1944, in Hartford, Connecticut, was one of the worst fire disasters in United States history.[1] The fire occurred during an afternoon performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus that was attended by 6,000 to 8,000 people. The fire killed 167 people[2] and more than 700 were injured.


In mid-20th century America, a typical circus traveled from town to town by train, performing under a huge canvas tent commonly called a "big top". The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus was no exception; what made it stand out was that it was the largest circus in the country.

The circus had been experiencing shortages of personnel and equipment as a result of the United States' involvement in World War II. Delays and malfunctions in the ordinarily smooth order of the circus had become commonplace; on August 4, 1942, a fire had broken out in the menagerie, killing a number of animals. When the circus arrived in Hartford, Connecticut, on July 5, 1944, the trains were so late that one of the two shows scheduled for that day had been canceled.[3] In circus superstition, missing a show is considered extremely bad luck, and although the July 5, 1944, evening show ran as planned, many circus employees may have been on their guard, half-expecting an emergency or catastrophe.[4]

The next day was a Thursday; the crowd at the 2:15 afternoon performance was dominated by women and children.[2][5] The size of the audience that day has never been established with certainty, but the best estimate is about 7,000.[6]

Big top layout[edit]

The big top could seat 9,000 spectators around its three rings; and measured 200 feet wide by 450 feet long with 15 feet high sidewalls and its roof was 48 feet high.[7] The tent's canvas had been coated with 1,800 pounds (820 kg) of paraffin wax dissolved in 6,000 US gallons (23,000 l) of gasoline, a common waterproofing method of the time.[2] The big top had been erected over freshly mowed grass and exposed dirt that had been watered down and then covered with hay and wood shavings. Inside the tent there were three rings and two stages with a 25-foot wide oval shaped track separating the performance area and seating, which could be either bleacher or un-secured folding chairs. One could exit the tent by either a main entrance or eight other smaller exits, however during the fire many of the alternative exits were blocked by circus wagons or other items.[7]

The fire[edit]

The fire began as a small flame after the lions performed, on the southwest sidewall of the tent, while the Great Wallendas were performing.[8] Circus bandleader Merle Evans was said to have been the first to spot the flames, and immediately directed the band to play "The Stars and Stripes Forever", a musical composition that traditionally signaled distress to all circus personnel.[9]Ringmaster Fred Bradna urged the audience not to panic and to leave in an orderly fashion, but the power failed and he could not be heard. Bradna and the ushers unsuccessfully tried to maintain some order as the panicked crowd tried to flee the big top. The ushers also worked to attempt to douse the fire with water jugs that had been stationed in the big top and to pull down the canvas sections that were on fire, after realizing their attempts were futile they began to help evacuate the crowds.[7]

The only animals in the big top at the time were the big cats trained by May Kovar and Joseph Walsh that had just finished performing when the fire started.[10] The big cats were herded through the chutes leading from the performing cages to several cage wagons, and were unharmed except for a few minor burns.[11] Though most spectators were able to escape the fire, many people were caught up in the hysteria. Witnesses said some simply ran around in circles trying to find their loved ones, rather than trying to escape from the burning tent. Some escaped but ran back inside to look for family members. Others stayed in their seats until it was too late, assuming that the fire would be put out promptly. Because at least two of the exits were blocked by the chutes used to bring the show's big cats in and out of the tent, people trying to escape could not bypass them.

Survivor Maureen Krekian was 11 at the time of the fire, and lived on the same road upon which the circus was held. On the day of the event, she was supposed to go to the circus with a neighbor and her daughter. When she went to their house, she found that they had already left without her. She decided to go to the circus on her own, where she seated herself in the bleachers.[12]

I remember somebody yelling and seeing a big ball of fire near the top of the tent. And this ball of fire just got bigger and bigger and bigger. By that time, everybody was panicking. The exit was blocked with the cages that the animals were brought in and out with. And there was a man taking kids and flinging them up and over that cage to get them out. I was sitting up in the bleachers and jumped down ‚ÄĒ I was three-quarters of the way up. You jump down and it was all straw underneath. There was a young man, a kid, and he had a pocketknife. And he slit the tent, took my arm and pulled me out.[12]

As she was being pulled out, Krekian grabbed another little girl's arm and pulled her out as well.[12] Frieda Pushnik, who performed with the circus as the "Armless and Legless Wonder," was rescued by a minstrel show performer who rushed on stage, picked up Pushnik's chair and carried her to safety. Pushnik continued to perform with the circus until 1955.[13] Others such as Judith Shapiro [Cohen] who was about seven years old exited up higher into the stands and jumped off the bleachers however Judith refused to jump and was pushed.[14]

Because of the paraffin wax waterproofing of the tent, the flames spread rapidly, helped by the wind.[10] The waterproofing indeed protected the tent from the rain, but as had been repeatedly shown, it was horribly flammable. Many people were badly burned by the melting paraffin, which rained down from the roof. The fiery tent collapsed in about eight minutes according to eyewitness survivors, trapping hundreds of spectators beneath it.[15] Because of a picture that appeared in several newspapers of sad tramp clown Emmett Kelly holding a water bucket, the event became known as "the day the clowns cried."[16]


While many people burned to death, others died as a result of the ensuing chaos. Sources and investigators differ on how many people were killed and injured. Various people and organizations say it was 167, 168, or 169 persons (the 168 figure is usually based on official tallies that included a collection of body parts that were listed as a "victim") with official treated injury estimates running over 700 people. The number of actual injuries is believed to be higher than those figures, since many people were seen that day heading home in shock without seeking treatment in the city.

It is commonly believed that the number of fatalities is higher than the estimates given, due to poorly kept residency records in rural towns, and the fact that some smaller remains were never identified or claimed. Additionally, free tickets had been handed out that day to many people in and around the city, some of whom appeared to eyewitnesses and circus employees to be drifters who would never have been reported missing.

Some died from injuries sustained after leaping from the tops of the bleachers in hopes they could escape under the sides of the tent, though that method of escape ended up killing more than it saved. Others died after being trampled by other spectators,[17] with some asphyxiating underneath the piles of people who fell over each other. Most of the dead were found in piles, some three bodies deep, at the most congested exits. A small number of people were found alive at the bottoms of these piles, protected by the bodies on top of them when the burning big top ultimately fell down.[18]

Notable survivors included; Eunice Groark, first female lieutenant governor of Connecticut,The Flying Wallendas, Charles Nelson Reilly, actor, comedian, and director; Hal Blaine renowned drummer; and Emmett Kelly, renowned circus clown. Those who survived carried the trauma for decades. Seventy years after the fire, Carol Tillman Parrish, who was six at the time, said that "until this day, I can smell the stench of human flesh" as the blaze consumed its victims.[19]

Little Miss 1565[edit]

Connecticut State Police photo

The best-known victim of the circus fire was a young blond girl wearing a white dress. She is known only as "Little Miss 1565," named after the number assigned to her body at the city's makeshift morgue. Oddly well preserved even after her death, her face has arguably become the most familiar image of the fire.

Her true identity has been a topic of debate and frustration in the Hartford area since the fire occurred. She was buried without a name in Hartford's Northwood Cemetery, where a victims' memorial also stands. Two police investigators, Sgts. Thomas Barber and Edward Lowe, photographed her and took fingerprints, footprints and dental charts. Despite massive publicity and repeated displays of the famous photograph in nationwide magazines, she was never claimed. Barber and Lowe spent the rest of their lives trying to identify her. They decorated her grave with flowers each Christmas, Memorial Day and July 4.[20] After their deaths, a local flower company continued to decorate the grave.[21]

In 1991, the body was declared to be that of 8-year-old Eleanor Emily Cook, though Cook's aunt and uncle had examined the body and it did not fit the description they provided.[16] The Connecticut State Police forensics unit compared hair samples and determined they were probably from the same person. The body was exhumed in 1991 and buried next to her brother, Edward, who had also died in the fire.[22]

Proposed identifications[edit]

In 1981, Lowe's widow announced that Lowe had identified the child and contacted her family, but they had requested no publicity.[23] In 1987, someone left a note on the 1565 gravestone reading Sarah Graham is her Name! 7-6-38 DOB, 6 years, Twin. Notes on nearby gravestones indicated that her twin brother and other relatives were buried close by.[24]

In 1991, arson investigator Rick Davey (along with co-writer Don Massey) published A Matter of Degree: The Hartford Circus Fire and Mystery of Little Miss 1565, in which he claims the girl was Eleanor Emily Cook and from Massachusetts. Davey also contends that there was a conspiracy within the judicial system to convict the Ringling defendants, and that Segee was the arsonist. Before writing the book, Davey spent six years researching the case and conducting his own experiments as to how the fire really may have started. He described the original investigation as both "flawed and primitive," though he did not work on the original case. Eleanor Cook's brother Donald Cook had contacted authorities in 1955 insisting that the girl was his sister, but nothing came of it,[24] and Donald later worked with Davey to establish her identity. Donald believes that family members were shown the wrong body in the confusion at the morgue.[25]

Ongoing questions[edit]

Various assertions put forth in A Matter of Degree have been fiercely disputed by investigators who worked on the case, as well as by other writers, most notably Stewart O'Nan, who published The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy in 2001. O'Nan points to the fact that Little Miss 1565 had blond hair while Eleanor Cook was a brunette. The shape of Little Miss 1565's face and that of Eleanor Cook are dissimilar, and the heights and ages of the two girls do not match.

Perhaps most significantly, when shown a photograph of Little Miss 1565, Eleanor's mother Mildred Corintha Parsons Cook immediately stated that it was not that of her daughter. She firmly maintained that stance until her death in 1997, age 91. Badly injured in the fire, Mrs. Cook had been unable to claim her two dead children, and was too emotionally traumatized to pursue it later. She had been told that Eleanor was not in any of the locations where bodies were kept for identification. She believed that Eleanor was one of two children who had been burned beyond recognition and remain unidentified. O'Nan thinks that Eleanor Cook may be body number 1503. He further points to the differences in the dental records of Eleanor Cook and the records made of Little Miss 1565 after her death.

As O'Nan and others have pointed out, the most likely scenario is that a family claiming a body early on mistakenly identified Eleanor Cook as their own child and she is buried under that child's name. Even when Little Miss 1565's picture ran in the papers, the family failed to recognize her as their own because they wished to put the traumatic event behind them. While DNA analysis could end this debate definitively, the logistics of exhuming all of the likely candidates for this potential mix-up make such an undertaking unlikely.

With the true identity of Little Miss 1565 still unresolved for many, the body was exhumed after the release of A Matter of Degree and buried in Southampton, Massachusetts, next to the body of Edward Cook, the brother of Eleanor Cook and a victim of the circus fire himself. In 1992, her death certificate was officially changed from the previous identification of "1565". Since then, the Cook family has raised questions about whether the body is indeed that of Eleanor Cook, and some investigators have come to believe that Eleanor's body may have been among the fire's unclaimed bodies was not that of Little Miss 1565.


The cause of the fire remains unsolved. Investigators at the time believed it was caused by a carelessly flicked cigarette;[26] however, others suspected an arsonist. In 1950, while being investigated on other arson charges, Robert Dale Segee (1929‚Äď1997), who was an adolescent at the time of the fire, confessed to starting the blaze.[27] He was never tried for the crime and later recanted his confession.

Although the circus accepted full responsibility for the financial damages, it did not accept responsibility for the disaster itself. The five men charged were brought to trial in late 1944, and four were convicted. Although the four were given prison terms, they were allowed to continue with the circus to its next stop, Sarasota, Florida, to help the company set itself up again after the disaster. Shortly after their convictions, they were pardoned entirely. One of the men, James A. Haley, went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives for 24 years.

Segee's confession[edit]

In 1950, Robert Dale Segee of Circleville, Ohio claimed during a police interview that he was responsible for setting the fire.[28] Following the interview, Segee signed a statement admitting to setting the circus fire, a series of other fires, and several murders since his youth.[28] Segee, a 16-year-old roustabout for the show from June 30 to July 14, 1944, claimed that he had a nightmare in which an American Indian riding on a "flaming horse" told him to set fires.[28] According to police authorities, Segee further stated that after this nightmare his mind went blank, and by the time it cleared the circus fire had been set.[28] Some of Segee's hand-drawn images of his bizarre dreams, and images depicting his claimed murders, appeared in Life on July 17, 1950.[29]

In November 1950, Segee was convicted in Ohio of unrelated arson charges and sentenced to 44 years of prison time. However, Hartford investigators raised doubts over his confession, as he had a history of mental illness and it could not be proven that he was in Connecticut when the fire occurred. Connecticut officials were also not allowed to question Segee, even though his alleged crime had occurred in their state.[28] Segee, who died in 1997, denied setting the fire as late as 1994 during an interview. Because of this, many investigators, historians and victims believe that the true arsonist‚ÄĒif it had indeed been arson‚ÄĒwas never found.


On July 7, 1944, charges of involuntary manslaughter were filed against five officials and employees of Ringling Bros.[30] Within the ensuing days, the circus reached an agreement with Hartford officials to accept full financial responsibility and pay whatever amount the city requested in damages. The circus paid almost $5,000,000 to the 600 victims and families who had filed claims against them by 1954. All circus profits from the time of the fire until then had been set aside to pay off these claims.


While many of those present at the fire have avoided circuses ever since, others have returned. In May 2004, Dorothy Carvey and her son, Tighe, were given free passes for their family by Ringling Bros. to attend a show at the XL Center. For Dorothy Carvey, this was her first time attending a circus since the fire occurred. The Hartford Courant published the story of their visit, as well as what happened to them in 1944.[31]

In 2002, the Hartford Circus Fire Memorial Foundation was established to erect a permanent memorial to the people killed in the fire. Ground was broken for the monument on July 6, 2004, at the site where the fire occurred.[32]

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey visited Hartford during its final tour, putting on its final performance there on April 30, 2017.[33]

Depiction in media[edit]

  • The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy by Stewart O'Nan.[34]
  • Worlds Afire written by Paul B. Janeczko, a collection of poems in which victims, survivors, circus workers and rescuers give their various perspectives of the disaster and events preceding and following it.[35]
  • Masters of Illusion: A Novel of the Great Hartford Circus Fire by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith[36]
  • Silenced on Barbour Street, a dramatized play of the events of the fire by Ellington, CT drama teacher William Prenetta, based on interviews with the survivors and their descendants.[37]
  • Actor and theater director Charles Nelson Reilly, who was 13 years old at the time, survived the fire and dramatized it in the film of his stage show, The Life of Reilly. In a 1997 interview, Reilly said that he rarely attended the theater, despite being a director, as the sound of a large audience in a theater reminded him of the large crowd at the circus before the disaster. He also said during his latter show that his mother, whom he had disobeyed after she had told him not to go to the circus that day with his friend, caught them sneaking out of her sight and scolded them, saying "I hope it burns to the ground!"[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^Condon, Tom (July 2, 2014). "Hartford Circus Fire: July 6, 1944, Day Of Panic, Heroes". Hartford Courant. Retrieved August 10, 2018.
  2. ^ abcStewart O'Nan, The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy; Anchor, 2001.
  3. ^"They were late out of Providence and blew the matinee. They'd been late all season‚ÄĒin Bridgeport and Fitchburg and Manchester‚ÄĒbut this was the first show they'd blown. They blamed the trains. According to the front-page story in the Hartford Times: "There was a divergence of opinion between circus and railroad officials as to what occasioned the delay. A spokesman for the show said the 72-foot flatcars needed to transport the main tent were 'unable to negotiate sharp curves in the railroad' between Hartford and Willimantic. Railroad dispatchers (with the New York, New Haven & Hartford) said the train was never scheduled to go that way. 'It came up the main line via the Cedar Hill yards in New Haven on schedule.'"" O'Nan, p. 26.
  4. ^"It was bad luck blowing a show, and show folks were notoriously superstitious. Since the great aerialist Lillian Leitzel's fatal fall, Merle Evans, the conductor of the band, refused to play "Crimson Petal," her theme music. Scranton, where the show closed in the strike year, was a jinx town. Whistling in the dressing room was bad luck, and peanut shells on the floor, and the old camelback trunks, but blowing a show was the worst." O'Nan, p. 28.
  5. ^"Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus". The Hartford Daily Courant (Advertisement). July 6, 1944. p. 7.
  6. ^"Mystery of dead girl in Hartford circus fire solved after 47 years". The Day. March 10, 1991. Retrieved December 6, 2010.
  7. ^ abcSkidgell, Mike (2014). The Hartford Circus Fire; Tragedy Under the Big Top. South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing Incorporated. ISBN .
  8. ^"'Flying Wallendas' On High Wire When Flames Swept Through Tent". The Hartford Courant. July 7, 1944. p. 1. Retrieved June 11, 2020 – via
  9. ^Studwell, William E. (1999). Circus songs : an annotated anthology. Conrad, Charles P., Schueneman, Bruce R., 1955-. New York: Haworth Press. p. 272. ISBN . OCLC 43083929.
  10. ^ ab"Panic And Blaze Trap Hundreds". The Hartford Courant. July 7, 1944. p. 1.
  11. ^Dow, Everett (July 8, 1944). "Fire Few Minutes Earlier Or Later Might Have Caused Bigger Disaster". The Hartford Courant. p. 8. Retrieved June 11, 2020 – via
  12. ^ abc"Remembering the Horror and Heroes of a Circus Fire". Webpage text and audio content. StoryCorps, produced by NPR for Morning Edition, July 6, 2006.
  13. ^"Frieda Pushnik Is Dead at 77; Turned Her Deformities Into a Career". The New York Times, January 7, 2001.
  14. ^"Judith Remembers The Great Hartford Circus Fire". at 00:08:23, February 1, 2015.
  15. ^The Hartford Circus Fire: Tragedy Under the Big TopISBN 1-625-84522-7 p. 61
  16. ^ ab"After 46 years, girl gets ID. Circus fire took 'Little Miss 1565'". Dayton Daily News. March 13, 1991. p. 38.
  17. ^Mangan, On This Day in Connecticut History, p. 159
  18. ^"The Mystery of the Hartford Circus Fire Still Lingers, 76 Years Later". July 6, 2020. Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  19. ^"Inferno Under The Big Top: Survivors Remember The Hartford Circus FireArchived July 15, 2014, at the Wayback Machine". Youth Journalism International, July 6, 2014.
  20. ^A Man's Tender Search for a Name for Little Miss 1565. By Henry Suydam. Article in Life, June 29, 1962. Page found May 30, 2010.
  21. ^A name at last for Little Miss 1565? UPI report, July 25, 1987. Page found May 29, 2010.
  22. ^"Cook, Eleanor". The Hartford Circus Fire ~ July 6, 1944. Retrieved June 22, 2015.
  23. ^Henry S. Cohn, The Great Hartford Circus Fire: Creative Settlement of Mass Disasters Yale University Press, 1991, p. 17. Page found 2010-05-29.
  24. ^ abCohn, p. 17.
  25. ^Tranquil Setting Belies Imminent DisasterArchived March 7, 2012, at the Wayback Machine by June and Lyle Coates. In Whitetops, May‚ÄďJune 1991. (part 2Archived 2011-07-08 at the Wayback Machine / part 3Archived 2011-07-08 at the Wayback Machine). Found May 29, 2010.
  26. ^"Tossed Cigarette Blamed For Fire By Ushers, Police". The Hartford Courant. July 7, 1944. p. 1.
  27. ^Musselman, Gunner (May 19, 1950). "Circus Fire Connection Is Seen". Circleville Herald. p. 1. Retrieved June 11, 2020 – via
  28. ^ abcde"Youth Confesses Fatal Circus Fire; Held for Arson". The New York Times. July 1, 1950.
  29. ^"The Strange Case of the Serial Arsonist". Life. July 17, 1950. p. 51. Retrieved March 31, 2019.
  30. ^"Circus Fire". The Daily News. February 22, 1945. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
  31. ^Tuohy, Lynne (May 16, 2004). "Back To The Circus". Hartford Courant. Retrieved July 16, 2015.
  32. ^,1,3327569.story?coll=hc-headlines-local[dead link]
  33. ^Byron, Ken (April 30, 2017). "For Circus Fans, It Wasn't A Show To Be Missed In Hartford". Hartford Courant. Retrieved April 30, 2017.
  34. ^The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy, Stewart O'Nan, Anchor 2001, ISBN 0385496850
  35. ^"Worlds Afire", Paul B. Janeczko, Candlewick Press 2007, ISBN 978-0-7636-2235-0
  36. ^"Fiction Book Review: Masters of Illusions: A Novel of the Connecticut Circus Fire by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith, Author Grand Central Publishing $28 (224p) ISBN 978-0-446-51806-2".
  37. ^Writer, RACHANA RATHI; Courant Staff. "HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS STAGE PLAY ON 1944 CIRCUS FIRE". Retrieved April 14, 2019.
  38. ^The Life of Reilly ‚Äď 13 Hartford Circus Fire. YouTube. July 16, 2010. Retrieved June 22, 2015.

Cited works and further reading[edit]

External links[edit]


Town pa circus butler

Zerbini Family Circus ūüé™

Butler Farms Show Ground625 Evans City RdButler PA 16001
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A Real Circus under the Big Top is coming to Butler,PA.


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The coupon is good for one child admission ages 4–12, kids 3 and under come in free and do not need a ticket, additional children $5 per child 

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The Zang Farm: A Birdseye view of Butler Pennsylvania
Located off US 422 & Keck Road was a place known as Circus Town USA managed by Pete Keffalas

It consisted of congregated metal buildings painted in a circus theme and at one time held live circus shows.  Started in early 50's it lasted a decade before it closed
and rotted to point the land owner tore what was left of  it down around 2011.

I remember as a kid riding pass the brightly painted yet fading metal buildings  and always wondered about the abandoned place and at one point the Pittsburgh Press ran an article all about it and how it was going to partly disappear with the realignment of an intersection.
Seems a family got the idea to run the place as a road side attraction and in fact they had real circus type animal acts people could see  but with ever increasing costs to keep the place running and ever increasing rules on maintaining the animals and fact insurance carriers no longer wanted to write policy's for such places they slowly all started falling away and closing.  Now there where plenty of rumors a wild animal got loose and killed or maimed some one  but this was never the case with Circus town  a panther did get loose one time and was quickly recaptured  .
How ever a lion did get loose at Luna park in Pittsburgh Oakland section which was one of the things condemning that park.
There is very little you can find in the way of pictures or history on Circus town as is the same case with Old McDonalds farm which was a  large petting Zoo along US 422 outside of Butler as well it was still running into early 70's  near Big Butler Farm Show  grounds when it abruptly closed and is now a concrete forms plant.
It had a large barn and many fenced in areas with all kind of animals you could pet.
But again details on the place and pictures are very hard to find.

These are just 2 of many road side attractions now lost to memory  and now mentioned in old tales and rumors of what once was.
While many road side attractions had a very seedy notorious side these 2 did not appear to be so.


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The gateway camera released me only after checking the list of applications, permission to exit. Stepping along a narrow bridge with railings and steps bent from constant collisions with containers, I moved between the bulk of containers, illuminating myself with a. Flashlight.

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