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The Walter L. Main Circus


Walter L. Main Circus

Walter L. Main Circus
Walter L. Main act
Walter L. Main Circus train wreck 1
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The Walter L. Main Circus was founded by Walter L. Main in 1886. Walter's father "William" was a horse farmer, trainer and trader in Trumbull, Ohio. William began supplying horses to circuses, which led to him joining the "Hilliard & Skinner's Variety and Indian show". William toured with several shows and in the 1870s began his own, very small circus.

In 1878 Walter and his mother stayed home to tend their farm, however Walter soon found that he was a failure as a farmer, frustrated, Walter began dreaming of owning his own circus. Walter started selling off the farm animals to buy horses and farm wagons, he cut trees to make poles, stakes and seats. Walter's father, mother and a neighbor Ephram Burdick joined as a partner in the endeavor and together they built a small circus from the ground up.

On May 10, 1879, in Trumbull, Ohio the Main's family circus took to the road. The season began slow so, young Walter went ahead of the show and became his own "advance-man" then the circus began to make money. The show worked a full season and closed with a net profit of $1,000. After the close of the season Walter's father sold his half interest of the circus to Burdick who in turn sold that share to businessman Dan Allen from Ashtabula, Ohio.

In 1880 the circus opened on May 1, 1880 in Ashtabula, with Walter still ahead of the show as the agent. In August of that year, Ephram Burdick wanted to cut Walter's salary. Walter objected and left the show. After a short trip to New York, Walter returned home to Trumbull.

After returning home Walter and William formed a partnership with F. W. Sargent of Windsor, Ohio. The circus went out in 1881 as the "William Main & Company Circus". The circus opened in Orwell, Ohio with a larger tent (80' round) and 22 head of horses. Walter was again the agent, his father handled ticket sales, Sargent was treasurer and Mrs. Main was in charge of the concessions and the show's bookkeeper. Walter received $ 50.00 a month for his services. At the close of the season William bought out Sargent's interest in the show, the circus had closed with a net profit of just $5,000. For the first time the Main family were now the sole proprietors.

In 1882, 20 year old Walter became the manager of the show and his mother served as treasurer the circus was now named the "William Main International Circus". The circus had grown to 40 horses and had added mare acts and a sideshow. They opened in Trumbull and closed in New York State, wintering at the fairgrounds in Oneonta.

In 1883 the Mains joined forces with M.M. Hilliard of Orwell. With the new partner the circus grew to owning 114 horses, an elephant and acquired other exotic wild animals.

The 1884 season was not a profitable on for the circus, the circus performed as far west as Kansas, where it closed and wintered that year. Walters grandmother Elizabeth Main a seamstress, made women's corsets and underwear selling them to farm families to pay the bills. The losing season resulted in the termination of the partnership between the Mains and Hillard.

In the beginning of 1985 Walter took out a "Tom Show" (a "Tom Show" was stage play based on the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin), which only lasted a few weeks. The Main Family not giving up, started a new circus, "The William Main and Company", which show mostly, in the families home state of Ohio. The new show was fairly profitable, owing it's success to a highly publicized sideshow attraction they called "The Wild Man of Borneo", (who was actually anyone they could get to play the role of the savage).

Walter's mother Morib, had inherited a farm after her father died. Walter talked her into mortgaging the farm in order to start yet another new circus. The new show was titled "The Walter L. Main Circus", (the first time the title was used), it opened on April 30, 1886 in Geneva, Ohio. This time the new venture turned out to be successful, they began the season with 20 horses and closed with 40, the circus was debt-free, and ended with a profit of over five thousand dollars.

The Walter L. Main's Circus grew rapidly, in 1888 the show acquired an elephant, in 1889 they enlarged the big top and sideshow tents and closed with a profit of $25,000 that year.

In 1891, Walter purchased 11 railroad cars and put his circus on rails, the left over circus wagons were sold to the "Scribner and Smith Circus".

The circus was now a huge success and it seemed as if nothing could stop it, but then......
At 5:30 a.m. on "Decoration Day", May 30, 1893, the Walter L Main circus train was traveling on the "Tyrone and Clearfield Railroad". While descending a steep grade near Tyrone Pennsylvania, the engineer lost control and the train crashed at high speed at the bottom of the mountain. Four people were killed instantly and another two died later of their injuries. The circus lost many of the valuable animals and most of the show's equipment was destroyed.

After the devistating circus train wreck, the show was rebuilt and returned to the road. The Circus continued until Main sold out in 1889, however in 1901 Main took the circus out again.

1904 was the last year that the "Walter L. Main Circus" operated under Walters ownership, the circus was sold that year to William P. Hall.

In 1918 Walter leased the Main title to Andrew Downie who made a small fortune operating his circus under the Main name until he sold the show to the Miller Bros. of the 101 Ranch Wild West Show in 1924. In 1925 until 1928 the Main title was used by Floyd King and his brother Howard. The Main title was used by various operaters 1930 - 1937.

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Walter L. Main
Walter L. Main Circus
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Walter L Main and Andrew Downie combined shows.
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Walter L. Main Circus train wreck 2
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