These scrapbooks were compiled by a great admirer of the Circus, Sverre O. Braathen. Herein, you will find letters sent to the Braathens from circus performers and other friends on the show, as well as earlier correspondence that Sverre culled from what is dubbed "The Ringling Archive", a trove of materials from the old abandoned winter quarters in Baraboo, WI. Regardless of the era, the reader will doubtlessly find many a gem tucked away in these seldom seen pages.
In these letters dated from the last days of the 19th Century and forward, one will find performers of all stripes seeking employment with Ringling Bros. Circus. Ringling, during these years, made gargantuan strides in popularity and success, which allowed for their historic acquisition of the fabled Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1907. It is with great pleasure that we offer readers everywhere a glimpse into the Ringling Bros. Circus as it was evolving into the “Big One.”
P.T. Barnum was often touted as a showman without peer. Here, peer into the Barnum correspondence, help transcribe it, and learn some wonderful history along the way!
Jenny Lind letters
Real estate letters
Villa Park letters
P.T. Barnum other letters
The Bloomington Consistory photographs, contained within the Ken-Way Studio Photograph Collection, highlight the annual production of the American Passion Play in Bloomington, Illinois. The production is one of the longest running Passion Plays in the United States. First held in 1923 in the newly constructed Scottish Rite temple, the consistory has since been renovated and repurposed as Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts where the production is still held. The Bloomington Consistory photographs show the many generations of local community members involved with the production as well as the changes made to the show through the years to reflect cultural changes in modern society.
The photo album illustrates Sverre Braathen's time on the USS Kearsarge during World War I. Most of the photographs include a short description, however some of his notes are now hard to read. We are looking for volunteers to help make those photographs more accessible and informative. Thank you.
Charles E. Hovey (1827-1897) was the first president of the then Illinois State Normal University. Hovey became the university's first president in 1857, only serving for four years until 1861 when he was asked by President Lincoln to join the Union Army, raise the 33rd Illinois Infantry, and fight in the Civil War. After the war, Hovey moved his family to Washington, D.C. where he practiced law until his death on November 17, 1897. These materials were mostly created after his move to Washington D.C. and reminisce on his time as ISNU’s first president.
Some historians have stated that the United States’ Civil War was the best documented one up to that time. In this collection are some of the forms which help record the time when Jesse W. Fell served the Union as a Paymaster.
Emily Vecchi Noble was a star trick rider with the English circus/variety stage act, the Kaufmann Bicycle Troupe. She married Clyde Noble, a member of the famous American flying return trapeze act, the Flying Fishers. Emily later performed riding stunts as La Petite Emilie both alone and with her sisters and husband in the act. These handwritten artifacts of Emily's career detail a person of unrivaled character as she traveled the globe making friends and having adventures.
Eddie and Jennie Ward were members of The Flying Wards, a circus act. As the name suggested, they were an aerial troupe, and made Bloomington, IL their home in the early twentieth century. Touring the world with the circus, most of the 123 postcards in this collection were mailed to their mother, Fannie, from locations around the country and world.
Helen Gaskill Buckley kept this diary while her husband, Edward, helped manage Barnum’s first circus in 1871. Find out where they traveled after a 4am departure for Chicago by train.
August Drahms was a prison chaplain at San Quentin Prison, CA. Through his work with the prison population, Drahms wanted to understand the causes of criminal behavior and how the prison system could best help the people who ended up in it. As a result of this sociological research, he published a book in 1900, called “The Criminal, his Personnel and Environment: A Scientific Study”. This collection of 94 pieces of correspondence, including handwritten and typed letters, and postcards, is from other prison chaplains, inmates, and scholars who were interested in Drahms’ book and wanted to share their thoughts about how his theories applied to other prison populations.
This diary’s owner never recorded her own name. She wrote about her daily activities during 1857-1859. It’s a fascinating peek into life in rural Illinois. This diary was completely transcribed by volunteers, and is available here. With some research, you can be the one to find out who she was – all the clues are there, waiting for a history detective!
Sverre Braathen joined the US Navy in 1917. He performed with the Navy band and recorded life on the USS Kearsarge – from battles and the reality of war to stories about dancing with girls on shore leave and scrubbing the ship. His first two diaries have been transcribed completely and are available here. The third diary starts with May 24, 1917 and goes through August 1919 – find out how the war ends for Sverre.