Scholla: Stabling Circus Animals (In Berks and Lebanon)

Stabling Circus Animals

The response to our request for information about the stabling of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus Menagerie on farms in western Berks has been generous. We are indebted to Mrs. Pearl Sensenig, Lyman G. Schaum and Miss Emma Klee of Womelsdorf; to Mr. and Mrs. Francis Zerbe of Bernville; To Harry F. Ressler of Reading; to Rev. Wellington Leininger of Cleveland, Ohio; to Mrs. Marvin H. Bennetch of Millbach, and to Mrs. Mary Peson of Myerstown for the facts which are assembled here.

All correspondents agree that the animals belonged to the Barnum and Bailey Circus. They differ in fixing the dates when these animals were placed in barns in the Lebanon Valley for winter quarters; these dates vary from 1903 to 1909. Of course it is quite possible that all of them are correct, because the circus people may have continued the practice for a number of years. All of the informants locate the farms on which the animals were stationed at the foot of South Mountain, in the Sheridan-Newmanstown section.

On the farm now owned by Marvin H. Bennetch, near Millbach there still stands a barn known to the community as the “Horse Barn.” The barn was built for the specific purpose of housing circus animals. On a farm, known as the Bucher farm between Schaefferstown and Kleinfeltersville camels were stabled. The floor of the barn was raised so that the stable would be high enough.

One of the camels housed in the Bucher farm died. The hide of the animal was tanned and now covers the davenport in the Marving Bennetch home in Millbach.

Show horses were stabled on the J. Henry Bennetch farm, now owned by Clarence H. Bennetch of Reading. The members of the Bennetch family were the especial guests of Barnum and Bailey during one of the circus visits to Lancaster. Mrs. Marvin Bennetch relates that it was during this entertainment that she ate macaroni for the first time.

ON the S.S. Long farm, south of Newmanstown, horses and camels were cared for by attendants hired by the circus. At Sheridan, on a farm known as the Eckert farm were housed Zebras and “The Sacred Cattle of India,” as Barnum advertised his menagerie.

The Monroe Zimmerman farm near Millbach, later owned by the Ohls of Robesonia, many show horses and cattle were stationed.

Harry F. Ressler writes to tell us that the Amos Hershberger farm near Sheridan housed horses, ponies, llamas, yaks, zebras and zebus.

The Rev. Wellington Leininger describes his surprise when he saw a boy leading a hunch-backed cow to the stream to drink, it was a Burmese cow from the circus menagerie, housed on a farm near Womelsdorf, he recalls.

The well-built barns, the abundance of grains and hay and straw and the excellent animal husbandry of the farmers of the Lebanon Valley must have been the factors which induced Barnum to trust his precious beasts to the care of these Pennsylvania Dutch farmers.

Circus Train in Muhlenberg Township. Circa 1908. Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.
Circus Train in Muhlenberg Township. Circa 1908. Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.
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One thought on “Scholla: Stabling Circus Animals (In Berks and Lebanon)

  1. Thanks for the new info I have helped set replacement rafters on the tall barn that is mentioned
    I have a few pictures. Marvin Bennetch was my grandfather.

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