Milner Library’s Circus and Allied Arts Collection is one of the largest special collections of its type in existence. While the primary focus of the collection is upon the circus, related arts such as carnivals, sideshows, carousels, conjuring, music halls, and vaudeville are also represented. With book holdings 8,000 volumes strong, we provide a breadth and depth of coverage unlike anywhere else. In addition to books, the Circus and Allied Arts Collection includes photographs, circus posters, programs, route books, correspondence, business records, band scores, assorted media, and realia.
Book and periodical holdings in the Circus and Allied Arts Collection have been cataloged and will appear in the Milner Online Catalog. The other holdings of the collection (circus posters, photographs, route books, correspondence, etc.) are not cataloged. Browse the A Passion for Circus Digital Collection.
The Circus and Allied Arts Collection began in 1955 when Eleanor Welch -- Milner’s Library Director at the time -- decided to document the important role the circus has played in Bloomington-Normal’s history. Beginning with the 'Flying La Vans' in the 1880's, Bloomington produced several well-known circus aerialist acts and became a popular winter training location for circus performers. Of Bloomington’s sublime circus past, perhaps it is most succinctly expressed by Pulitzer Prize winning author Robert Lewis Taylor in his book Center Ring: The People of the Circus:
“With the possible exception of Sarasota, Florida, Bloomington has contributed as much to the glamour of circuses as any other town in the world.”
Through numerous purchases and donations, Milner’s Circus and Allied Arts Collection has grown from approximately 2,100 items in 1963 to its current size of over 100,000 items. Instrumental to the growth of the collection has been the acquisition of outstanding private collections such as those of Harold T. Ramage, Walter Scholl, Sverre O. Braathen, Arnold Riegger, Jo Van Doveren, Charles H. Tinney, Everett W. Richey, Frank Ball, Dennis Watson, and Jack Atkinson.