Al G. Barnes Circus

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Al G. Barnes Circus
Truly Big Show.JPG
CountryUnited States
Founder(s)Alpheus George Barnes Stonehouse
Year founded1895
FatePurchased by the American Circus Corporation in 1929. Stopped touring after 1938.

Al G. Barnes Circus was an American circus run by Alpheus George Barnes Stonehouse.


Stonehouse started his show in 1895 with a pony, a phonograph, and a stereopticon.[1] By 1929, the "Al G. Barnes Wild Animal Show" had grown to 5-rings and it was purchased by the American Circus Corporation. American Circus already owned the Sells-Floto Circus, John Robinson Shows, Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, and Sparks Circus. That same year John Ringling, the owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, bought out the American Circus Corporation.[2][3]

The five circuses that were part of that acquisition continued to tour under their own names, but were closed one-by-one during the Great Depression. In 1937 the Al G. Barnes Wild Animal Show and Sells Floto were combined into one circus. That circus, Al G. Barnes Sells-Floto toured in 1937 and 1938.[4]

In 1938 the co-owned Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows was experiencing labor problems which ultimately led to the circus being closed after performances in Scranton, Pennsylvania on June 22.[5] After regrouping at the circus winter quarters in Sarasota, Florida the Ringling-Barnum circus trains were dispatched to Redfield, South Dakota where the two circuses met and were combined into a yet larger circus featuring many of the major stars from Ringling-Barnum. The circus toured from July 11 until November 27, 1938 as "Al G. Barnes and Sells-Floto Circus Presenting Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Stupendous New Features.[6] Among the attractions that were featured were big game hunter "Bring 'em Back Alive Frank Buck" and Gargantua (gorilla). When the show finished its season however, rather than returning to its own winter quarters in Baldwin Park, California, the circus trains traveled to the Ringling winter quarters near Sarasota, Florida, never to emerge again.[7][8]

One of their more famous animals was Black Diamond, an Indian elephant whose unpredictable temper resulted in the deaths of several people and was shot between 50-100 times in 1929, before his own death.[9]


Although the Al G. Barnes Circus featured many traditional acts associated with circuses, it was known for its wild animal acts. Mabel Stark, the tiger trainer was associated with the circus for many years.[10] Stark joined the circus in 1911, first presenting a horse act. In 1916 she began presenting tigers in the center ring of the wild animal show. Although she left the circus in 1922, she returned in 1930.[11] Bert Nelson was another wild animal trainer who appeared on the circus in the late 1930s.[12] For many seasons, the elephants were trained and presented by Frank "Cheerful" Gardner.[13][14] Eddie Woenecker became the circus' bandmaster in 1913 and stayed with the circus through 1922. He returned to the circus in 1936 and continued to perform in that capacity through the 1938 season.[15]

Winter Quarters and Barnes City Zoo[edit]

In 1914 the Al G. Barnes Circus began wintering in Venice, California near the Venice lagoon. It continued to winter at that location until November 1920 when the circus trains returned for the winter to a new location on Washington Boulevard between Venice and Culver City, California. The Al G. Barnes Circus was known as a "Wild Animal Show," and in December 1923 the "Barnes Circus Zoo" opened at the corner of Washington Boulevard and McLaughlin Avenue in Culver City. The Zoo cost 79,000 to build and at the time was kept open even when the show was touring. The area where the winter quarters and zoo were located were incorporated into the short-lived town of Barnes City, California. The area was eventually annexed into both Culver City in 1925 and Los Angeles in 1926.[16]

Following the annexation of the winter quarters property, Barnes relocated his winter quarters into an unincorporated area in the San Gabriel Valley in 1927. The 300 acres were on Valley Boulevard midway between Baldwin Park and El Monte. From 1927 until 1938 the circus returned to the Baldwin Park quarters, however at two separate locations.[17] At the conclusion of the 1932 season the show unloaded about a half mile east of the original location and that is where it remained until 1938 when most of the equipment was transferred to the Ringling winter quarters in Sarasota at the end of the season.

King of the Jungle[edit]

King of the Jungle is a 1933 Paramount Pictures film that includes animals, performers and scenes from the Al G. Barnes Circus and winter quarters in 1932. Although the movie is set on the lot of "Corey's Circus," it was actually filmed on location at the first Baldwin Park winter quarters. Several acts from the circus that season are featured, including Mabel Stark's tiger act. The tigers are mid-performance at the time that the big top catches fire during the film's climatic moments.[18]

Notable Events[edit]

On May 15, 1922, a large circus elephant known as Tusko escaped from the Al G. Barnes Circus while it was in Sedro-Woolley, Washington. The elephant demolished fences, knocked over laundry lines and trees, telephone poles, and overturned a Model T.[19]

In July 1930, a train wreck happened In the Canadian Province of New Brunswick near the city of Moncton in the small community of Canaan Station, killing 4 people and injuring several others.[20]


  • Al G. Barnes Circus
  • Al G. Barnes Wild Animal Circus
  • Al G. Barnes and Sells-Floto Circus (1937–38)
  • Al G. Barnes and Sells-Floto Circus Presenting Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Features (1938)

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Died". Time. August 3, 1931. Retrieved 2008-07-22. Alpheus George Barnes Stonehouse (Al G. Barnes), 68, circusman, founder and longtime owner of Barnes's Circus; after a lingering illness; in Indio, California. He started his show in 1895 with a pony, a phonograph, a stereopticon. A colorful participant at every performance, he would lead the opening parade seated on the head of a mammoth elephant. Two years ago he sold his interests to Circusman John Ringling for $1,000,000.
  2. ^ "Bailey and the Ringlings". Feld Entertainment. Archived from the original on 2013-09-02. Retrieved 2013-11-29. In 1929, reacting to the fact that his competitor, the American Circus Corporation, had signed a contract to perform in New York's Madison Square Garden, Ringling purchased American Circus for $1.7-million. In one fell swoop, Ringling had absorbed five major shows: Sells-Floto, Al G. Barnes, Sparks, Hagenbeck-Wallace, and John Robinson.
  3. ^ "Man Who Started as a Clown Now Controls the Entire Big Top Industry". The New York Times. September 10, 1929. Retrieved 2009-02-12. John Ringling, head of the Ringling Brothers-Barnum Bailey Combined Circus, has purchased the five circuses, with Winter quarters, of the American Circus Corporation, it was learned yesterday.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Chicago Tribune - Historical Newspapers".
  6. ^
  7. ^ Duble, Charles E. (July 1957). "Passing of Circuses from the American Scene". Bandwagon. 1 (2): 4. Retrieved 30 November 2013.
  8. ^ Bradbury, Joseph T. (July – August 1963). "The Al G. Barnes Winter Quarters at Baldwin Park, Calif". Bandwagon. 7 (4): 3–6. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 14 January 2015.
  9. ^ "Black Diamond". Time magazine. October 28, 1929. Retrieved 2009-02-12. Curley Pickett has been a farm hand for the last two years in Corsicana, Tex. Before that he was an elephant trainer for the Al. G. Barnes circus where his special charge was Black Diamond, a land elephant. Last week Farm Hand Pickett, learning that the old circus was coming to town, invited his employer, Mrs. Eva Donohue, to see Black Diamond. ... Black Diamond spied them, gave Pickett a malevolent look, wrapped him in his trunk and tossed him over a box car. The nine-ton beast then smashed Mrs. Donohue to the ground, trampled the life out of her. When Pickett had been sent to the hospital, keepers held a council, wired to Circus Owner John Ringling for advice. Mr. Ringling condemned Black Diamond to death. ...
  10. ^ "Mabel Stark: The Lady with the Tigers". 2013-02-07.
  11. ^ "Mabel Stark Female Circus Lion and Tiger Trainer".
  12. ^ "Popular Science". Bonnier Corporation. July 1937.
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Cheerful Gardner #3".
  15. ^ "Billboard". Nielsen Business Media, Inc. 1956-02-04.
  16. ^ "Barnes City Zoo".
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-09-23. Retrieved 2013-11-30.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-09-23. Retrieved 2013-11-30.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  19. ^ "Death Takes Tusko, Big Elephant That Lived Stormy Life". Chicago Tribune. June 11, 1933. Retrieved 2010-10-16. Tusko one of the largest and most publicized elephants In captivity survived hundreds of death threats and other perils brought on by his temperament only ...
  20. ^ Train Wreck[permanent dead link], Near Moncton.