The history of the traveling carnival is not always easy to compile due to the nomadic nature of countless freelance performers, but the International Independent Showmen’s Museum does a fine job of collecting all manner of carnival and circus artifacts to create a collection that rubes and yokels alike can appreciate.
Operated by the International Independent Showmen’s Association of Gibsonton, Florida, the museum is held in a large warehouse space that can barely contain the eclectic collection. There are brightly colored wagons and an ornate carousel as well as one of the nation’s first ferris wheels which has been rebuilt and put into working order inside the museum. Visitors can easily get a sense of what it’s like to live as a traveling performer, traveling state to state just to entertain. In addition to the rides and vintage vehicles the museum displays countless photos and pieces of ephemera from throughout the history of the traveling circus in America including a number of costumes and apparel, some of which belonged to performers whose proportions dwarf that of any traditional human.
From wild west shows to railroad era big top productions, the museum covers every era of the storied show form that dates back to at least the late 1700s in America. Traveling shows are a disappearing art in this day and age but seeing the rich and colorful history on display at the International Independent Showmen’s Museum may be enough to make you want to run out and join the circus.