> Myth 1: Jumbo died saving a baby elephant from being run over by a train. On Sept. 15, 1885, the circus was preparing to leave St. Thomas, Ontario, and the elephants were headed down a hill to board their car when an unscheduled freight train roared through. As Barnum told the story (with more embellishment each telling), Jumbo grabbed Tom Thumb the baby elephant with his trunk and hurled him 20 yards out of danger before taking the brunt of the collision. In reality, Jumbo had misjudged where the opening to his train was and turned too late to reach it. Even in death the elephant proved a massive attraction since Barnum saved his hide (which weighed more than 1,500 pounds) and toured with a taxidermied Jumbo and his skeleton. Today only a peanut butter jar of Jumbo's ashes remains, along with a piece of his tail. >> Myth 2: The circus train carrying Barnum & Bailey's show was involved in a catastrophic collision that killed animals and performers. Not true. But in 1918, the Wallace-Hagenback circus train was rear-ended by an empty troop train in tiny Hammond, Ind. Scores were killed and injured, but the circus only missed two performances after Ringling Bros. and the Barnum & Bailey troupes contributed equipment and support. THE RINGLINGS JOIN THE FUN: The five Ringling brothers had operated a circus in the Midwest, but purchased the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth in 1907. NO MORE BIG TOPS: On July 16, 1956, the financially ailing circus gave its last performance under the big top in Pittsburgh. Soon after that, rock 'n' roll saved the circus. Music promoters Irvin Feld and his brother, Israel, began booking it in arenas that they knew from their music acts. It wasn't until 1967, though, that the Felds purchased the circus. Today there are three U.S. tours of the circus: Red (Zing Zang Zoom), Gold (Illuscination) and Blue (Barnum's FUNundrum). A separate troupe tours Europe. THE FLORIDA CONNECTION: Each season the circus begins its tour in Tampa Bay. Why? Because the tour winters in Tampa, and has since 1992. It was in Venice before that, and in Sarasota before that, starting in 1927. John and Charles Ringling had purchased several thousand acres as an investment in the Sarasota and saw it as a good place to set up camp in the winter. After the circus left, the land became the subdivision of Glen Oaks Estates in 1963. The lore of the circus lives on at the Ringling Museum complex. The Museum of the Circus opened in 1948. In March, the museum will stage a retrospective of Barnum's life. Sources: ringling.com, tufts.edu, lostmuseum.cuny.edu,, ptbarnum.org, hammondindiana.com and the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Conn. Images of P.T. Barnum, Jumbo and Barnum's American Museum: courtesy of the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art. This story has been edited to reflect the following correction: The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus winters at the Tampa Fairgrounds. Last week’s story about the history of the circus incorrectly said the troupe was still in Venice.">
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