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Gamma Phi Circus highlighted in new book: The Bloomington-Normal Circus Legacy

circus book

A presentation of the book The Bloomington-Normal Circus Legacy: The Golden Age of Aerialists, with authors Maureen Brunsdale and Mark Schmitt ’96, will be held 7 pm. Monday, September 16, in the Circus Room of the Bone Student Center.

A book signing will follow the presentation and books will be available for purchase. The book has a chapter dedicated to Illinois State University’s Gamma Phi Circus and its role in the rich circus history of the community.

Recently published by The History Press, the book is available at most online retailers in both paperback and e-book formats. In conjunction with the book, an exhibit that draws from this city’s rich circus past is now on display on Milner Library’s sixth Floor, outside of Special Collections. The exhibit runs through September 25.

Authors Brunsdale and Schmitt work in Illinois State University’s Milner Library Special Collections, which houses a Circus and Allied Arts Collection that is considered among the best of such research collections in the nation. In 1955, when performers started leaving this community to amass as a larger circus collective in Florida, the Circus and Allied Arts Collection was formed as a means to retain some of Bloomington-Normal’s gloried past.

Beginning in the 1870s and lasting for the better part of a century, the trapeze—and the men and women who performed upon it—made the Twin Cities famous. With the release of this new book, the history of those hardworking and nearly larger than life figures is showcased.

The barns, icehouses, gymnasiums, and empty theaters of Central Illinois provided the practice sites for aerial performers whose names still command reverence in the annals of American circus history.  Among those documented are the Green brothers who first struck out from this community as the La Van Brothers, whose act lasted for decades. Siblings Eddie and Jennie Ward became The Flying Wards and transformed their barn on Emerson Street into a factory of aerial talent. Art Concello, a 10-year-old truant went on to become first a world-class flyer, then a famous trapeze impresario, and finally Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus’ most successful general manager.

What: The Bloomington-Normal Circus Legacy: The Golden Age of Aerialists book presentation and signing with authors Maureen Brunsdale and Mark Schmitt

When: 7 p.m. Monday, September 16

Where: Circus Room, Bone Student Center

Cost: This event is free and open to the public.

For more Information about the book or the Circus and Allied Arts Collection, contact Brunsdale at mbrunsdale@IllinoisState.edu  or (309) 438-2871. To request a special accommodation to fully participate in this event, contact  Jan Johnson at jrjohnso@IllinoisState.edu  or (309) 438-3897.

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