Joan of Arc monument in Philadelphia

Ringling Bros. Joan of Arc Spectacle Newspaper Ad (1913)

In 1913, Al Ringling kept Joan of Arc as the theme for the 45-minute spectacle that preceded each Ringling Bros. circus show. That meant that targeted towns saw a lot of Joan of Arc-related advertising like this one in the Taunton Daily Gazette (June 7).

Taunton Daily Gazette June 7, 1913 (author’s collection)

Ads like these appeared in newspapers all over America in 1912 and 1913.

Ringling Bros. ad in Taunton Daily Gazett, June 7, 1913.

When I say “all over America,” I mean that the Ringling Bros. targeted 302 cities with 717 performances.

Figure from Scott Manning, “Fit for Print, Not for Spectacle: Ringling Bros. and the Careful Exploitation of Joan of Arc,” Studies in Medievalism XXX (2021), 233

Circus ads always exaggerated, and the Ringling Bros. didn’t have 1200 people in their entire circus, let alone that many characters for their Joan of Arc spectacle. The real number was around 249. Instead of 300 ballerinas, there were 48.

We know these numbers from the scripts and photos that survive in archives today such as this one from the Milner Library in Normal, IL.

The Joan of Arc spec script is titled “The Grand Parisian Spectacle: Joan of Arc and the Coronation of King Charles VII at Rheims, July 17, 1429.” There are at least two complete copies and one incomplete copy of the synopsis in the Circus World Museum, two complete copies in the Milner Library, and one complete copy in the Pfening Private Archives.

Some historians have mistaken the center ballerina in the ad for Joan of Arc. But Al Ringling never made her dance, and his description for this art was explicit to omit Joan of Arc from the scene with the option to superimpose her at the end.

We would omit JOAN OF ARC from this audience of spectators, but place a large figure of JOAN OF ARC at one end of the bill, (not really a part of the picture shown), standing beside her horse, but simply a large initial figure.

Read for yourself.

Letter to A. A. Stewart, December 15, 1911. Milner Library, Ringling Bros. Lithograph Related Material, Strobridge-Z, box 2 of 2.

Do you find this interesting? I wrote a 11,000-word paper for Studies in Medievalism XXX (2021) that covers the production, promotion, and reception of the Ringling Bros’ Joan of Arc spec.

If you can’t access a copy, shoot me a note and I’ll happily share a PDF.