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Rides and Spangles: Michigan Circuses and Carnivals

Although rarely acknowledged, for well over a century Michigan has been home to many circus and carnival owners, performers, and operators. Some have been famous while others have exercised their craft with competence but in relative obscurity. Whether famous or obscure the people who perform in and operate circuses and carnivals have created an institution that is intimately weaved into the fabric of American life.

It is a rare person who has not, at one time or another, sat in an audience amazed by the feats of circus performers, laughed at the antics of circus clowns, or made their way to a carnival midway to ride the ferris wheel, purchase some cotton candy, and perhaps invest a few coins in the hopes of winning a prize through some game of chance or skill. The circus and carnival is part of all our lives, a fact that Rides and Spangles celebrates and illuminates.

Building upon the John C. Pollie papers, a unique collection of material found within the Clarke Library, Rides and Spangles also benefits from the knowledge of Marian Matyn, the Clarke Library’s archivist, who has invested much time and energy into investigating various aspects of Michigan circuses and carnivals, as well as the individuals and families who have spent a part of their career or their entire lives creating the entertainment and amusements so familiar to the public.

In the remainder of this catalog Assistant Professor Matyn generously shares in a preliminary form much of what she plans to eventually publish in a book-length work. Those interested in this topic will undoubtedly find much information of interest in the following pages. Individuals interested in learning more about Michigan circuses and carnivals, or who might have information they would like to share about Michigan circuses or carnivals, are encouraged to contact Assistant Professor Matyn by email at or by telephone (989) 774-3990.

                                                                              Frank Boles