The Big Top Comes to Houston!

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The Houston Metropolitan Research Center has over 2,000 collections related to the history of Houston. One of the most unique collections is the Heiser-Alban Collection, a collection of historic circus materials from Houstonian Joseph Matthew Heiser, Jr. This collection contains magazines, photographs of circus performers, circus memorabilia such as costumes and ticket stubs, as well as over 800 posters dating back to the 1890s.
 
Beyond being home to fans of the circus such as Mr. Heiser, Houston has a deeper circus connection. From 1924 to 1930, the Christy Brothers Circus “wintered” in the city of South Houston (now part of Houston). The owner of the circus, Mr. George W. Christy, liked the area so much that when he closed the circus in 1944 he decided to live in South Houston permanently. By all accounts, Mr. Christy was a colorful character, as would be expected of a circus ringleader. Giving up the circus life could not have been easy and Mr. Christy held on to pieces of it by keeping some of the circus animals, including elephants! These elephants were used to help build Spencer Highway in South Houston.
 
He later served two non-consecutive terms as Mayor of South Houston. In 1953 after serving as mayor with a council who opposed him, Christy decided not to run again. Despite his choice, he was so popular and supported by so many people in South Houston, he received 247 write-in votes. The winning candidate won with 345.
 
The poster seen above was one of those used to advertise for the Christy Bros Circus when it came to visit different cities. This particular poster boasts “Big 5 Ring Wild Animal Circus” and “So New, So Different” while showing a variety of different wild animals. Additional circus posters can be viewed at the Houston Area Digital Archives: Circus Posters.

Comments

I live in South Houston right off of Spencer Highway. How fascinating to know that elephants help construct that piece of road! This is an interesting tidbit about the history of this small town. Thanks for the information.

We're glad you liked this little piece of history!

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