Back in 1912, the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus was under a tent rather than a large arena. The tents were pitched on large lots of land adjacent to railroad lines so it would be easy to ship lions, camels and elephants.
More than 100 years ago, the circus would be set up along Cypress Avenue north of Myrtle Avenue on land that had been part of the Nicholas Wyckoff farm. The long railroad train with the special circus cars stopped near Wyckoff and Cooper avenues, where the animals were unloaded and walked through local streets.
The circus coming to town was practically a holiday for children back then. One year, the principal of P.S. 71, located on Forest Avenue near Bleecker Street, gave the children a day off so they could watch the circus parade through the streets.
The hotel was also one of the first places in Ridgewood to showcase moving pictures in its theater. Hotel staff cleared out a portion of its stable and used it to screen some of the earliest movies ever made. Admission was 5 cents per person, a far cry from today’s ticket prices.
As the area became more developed, Ridgewood could no longer accommodate the circus; by 1915, the greatest show on Earth moved to Manhattan. However, in 1917, the Loyal Order of the Moose Lodge sponsored a circus show held on a lot bounded by Summerfield Street, Stephen Street, Forest Avenue and Seneca Avenue.
Over the decades, one form of circus or another came to town to entertain boys, girls and children of all ages. The Clyde Beatty and Cole Bros. Circus often visited Forest Park, setting up its tent near the famous carousel.
One year, however, a circus mishap in Forest Park caused quite a stir in the surrounding area. On July 31, 2004, a 450 lb. Bengal tiger named Apollo — a feature act at the New Cole Bros. Circus, which had just wrapped up a six-day stint at Forest Park — escaped his cage and went on a stroll through the area.
First putting a fright through picnickers at Forest Park, Apollo managed to wander to the Jackie Robinson Parkway. He darted into a westbound lane and caused a five-car pileup; while the tiger was unharmed, four motorists — including an NYPD detective — weren’t as fortunate and suffered injuries.
Police responded to the panic in the area and managed to locate Apollo in the area of Myrtle Avenue and 88th Lane. The big cat was lured back into the cage by his trainer, who baited him with a piece of raw meat.
Cole Bros. Circus and Apollo’s trainer received fines for causing an animal nuisance and leaving an animal unattended. Five years later, the tiger’s owner — in reaching a settlement stemming from the pileup — agreed to pay nearly $1 million in damages to two injured motorists.
Reprinted from the March 18, 2015, Ridgewood Times.
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