February 13, 2014

Vivid Color Portraits of the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus Performers in Chicago in the 1940s

Charles Cushman was an amateur photographer who got into color photography in 1938, long before it became popular. He left behind an archive of 14,500 Kodachrome slides from his travels around the world, and many from Chicago where he made his home for decades. He seemed to particularly enjoy shooting the local flora, circus acts that rolled into town and ladies sunbathing on South Shore beaches.

Cushman was born in Poseyville, Indiana in 1896, and he attended Indiana University, which now hosts his archives. He later moved to Chicago, where he enlisted in the Navy, worked for the railroad and other private companies, including Montgomery Ward and LaSalle Extension University in Chicago. Cushman died in 1972, and his photos nearly ended up in the trash heap until a photo researcher saved them, NPR says.

Little is known of him, according to his brief university bio: "It is known that Charles enjoyed attending the opera and the theater, and presenting shows of his slide collection. After moving to San Francisco sometime in the 1950s he would enjoy having a five o'clock drink while overlooking the ocean."

Below is a collection of 30 vivid color photographs taken by Charles Cushman that capture daily life at Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus in Chicago during the 1940s.

(Photos by Charles Cushman)


  1. The clown in the red plaid coat and big eyebrows was Lou Jacobs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lou_Jacobs ) who worked for Ringling Bros., Barnum, and Bailey for over 60 years as an "auguste" clown,

    Mr Jacobs has the distinction of being the only living person to ever appear on a US Postage Stamp. His familiar face was used on much of the company's posters and advertising and a designer at the USPS wanting to do a circus stamp used his image without realizing that it was an actual person.

  2. Amazing and beautiful photos of things that are no more.

  3. Thank you for the info!

  4. The female (and male) acrobats were ripped to shreds! ( as in really lean) I really hope that folks will quit going on about how people were bigger in the 20th century. No, they were smaller. They didn't sit on their asses all day long online, gaming etc. And they didn't eat so much processed food.



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