Where was Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey located before the Omni?

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in October 1942. Image from Atlanta Journal provided by Richard Reynolds.
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Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in October 1942. Image from Atlanta Journal provided by Richard Reynolds.

Credit: Nedra Rhone

Credit: Nedra Rhone

Welcome to "Actual Factual," a column in which I answer reader questions about goings-on in Atlanta. Here's one I did about why Atlanta planners are fighting to save this funeral home building.

Now that you're familiar, you'll find information for submitting your own questions at the bottom of this column. 

Reader Matt asks: “Where would people have gone to see the Ringling circus before the Omni was built? I remember going with my grandfather and he passed away in 1972. I have very fond memories of that day.”

I’m glad Matt sent this question in. I can appreciate his curiosity about going to the circus at a young age. It’s possible one of my very first (albeit fleeting) memories is of going to a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s show in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1991 — before I was 3 years old.

In regards to his inquiry, fortunately my colleague Nedra Rhone wrote a great article a year ago detailing RBBB's history in Atlanta. In the story, Richard Reynolds, Trustee Emeritus of the Circus Historical Society, shared his owns recollections of the circus.

RBBB first came to Atlanta in 1919 at the Ponce de Leon baseball park. By 1924, it had moved to the Highland Avenue grounds (currently occupied by Inman Park Village) where it remained for 20 years.

According to Rhone's reporting: "In Atlanta, the show last played outdoors at Lakewood Park in 1955. Atlanta didn't have an arena large enough to accommodate the circus at the time, so in 1958 to 1960, the circus came to Ponce de Leon baseball park. Then it stopped coming to Atlanta altogether. It would take 13 years for the show to return with a 1973 appearance at the Omni."

This meant that Matt and his grandfather could've seen the show at the Ponce de Leon baseball park, which was nestled in the shadow of the Sears & Roebuck's division headquarters — the building that's now Ponce City Market. Or if it was before 1958, then perhaps at Lakewood Park, a section of southeast Atlanta that's now home to EUE/Screen Gems Studios.

I asked him if either of those possibilities seemed right, and he wrote back to say that it was probably Lakewood Park. He remembered that everything was wooden: the walls, the roof, the bleachers, which fits in with how he remembers Lakewood.

“That alone fascinated a 7 year old!” he said.

During RBBB's final performances in metro Atlanta early last year, RBBB did stints at Philips Arena and Duluth's Infinite Energy Arena.

If all this reminiscing has anyone wanting to experience the circus again, check out the Big Apple Circus, which is in Alpharetta through Feb. 25, or UniverSoul, which opens in the Old Turner Field Gold Parking Lot Wednesday.

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I am a staff writer with the AJC and a lover of Atlanta, my adopted home for nearly seven years after moving to Georgia from Florida. To submit “Actual Factual” questions, contact me at becca.godwin@ajc.com, @BeccaJGGodwin on Twitter or via the form below. Thanks.

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From the Atlanta circus archives:

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A zebra from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus escaped his handler and led police on a chase through downtown Atlanta Thursday afternoon. (WSB)