The International Independent Showmen’s Museum in Riverview is dedicated to showcasing the history of traveling entertainment shows in America.
While primarily a museum focusing on the history of the traveling carnival, it also includes circuses, Wild West shows, Patent Medicine Shows and others that encompassed the ‘Tented World.’
“The history of America would be replete without acknowledging the contribution of these outdoor shows,” museum Executive Director David “Doc” Rivera said. “This type of unique entertainment was forefront in the first half of the 20th century as it was the only type of entertainment most small towns and cities in America would ever get to experience.”
According to Rivera, at one time, scores of huge 60-car railroad trains crisscrossed America carrying big circuses, carnivals, Wild West shows, Repertory Theater and minstrel shows. These self-contained shows carried as many as 1,200 people with them and held colorful parades in the city streets, drawing thousands of spectators who marveled at their first sight of an Asian elephant or Bengal tiger carried in an ornate cage wagon pulled by a team of eight perfectly matched white horses. They rode thrilling rides, ate cotton candy, and got their first glimpse of a motion picture at their local fairs. They heard a mechanical device that played music like a full orchestra and saw strange, unusual people and beautiful costumed exotic dancers.
The Showmen’s Museum strives to preserve this history through artifacts and colorful exhibits that bring back that sense of wonder to a much more enlightened and technologically advanced society. The museum has a full-size 1903 Ferris wheel. Other items on display include a vintage merry-go-round, Geranimo’s top hat and Buffalo Bill’s six-gun. Colorful wagons and hundreds of informative exhibits tell the story of this colorful entertainment that disappeared from the American landscape.
Housed in a modern 54,000-sq. ft. building that is fully accessible, the museum offers two floors containing thousands of artifacts from the 1800s through the 20th century.
The museum, located at 6938 Riverview Dr., is open from 12 Noon to 5 p.m. on weekends and offers free parking. The cost of admission is $10 for adults, $7 for students with ID card, and children under 10 are free.
For more information, visit showmensmuseum.org.