Benjamin Brown’s circus exhibit on display at U-M

October 17, 2002

Benjamin Brown’s circus exhibit on display at U-M ANN ARBOR—The center ring of a circus always features the main attraction, but a lot goes on behind the scenes to create the magic found under the big top.

And so it was that the “confidential agent” of a New York menagerie firm was charged with “importing into the United States as many giraffes as can be procured.” Benjamin F. Brown (1799-1880) of Somers, New York, met that challenge and many others in his career during the circus industry’s early years in the United States

Brown’s intriguing career and its captivating stories are on display at the University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library in “Benjamin F. Brown and the Circus in America.” Amanda Moniz Lenter, a curatorial assistant at the Clements and a U-M graduate student in history, curated the exhibit, which continues through

The popularity of the circus in the late 19th century led to these colorful paper cut-outs (similar to paper dolls) for children.

The exhibit contains Brown’s personal effects and correspondence. It also reveals aspects of the American circus in its formative years. Among the artifacts are early circus posters and letters, books, and business documents along with some photographs, prints, ephemera, and maps from Brown’s trip to Egypt to procure the giraffes. Many items in the exhibit are related to P.T. Barnum, his American Museum in New York City and his circus.

This exhibit is made possible through Margaret Emery and Andrew Pringle, descendants of Brown and U-M graduates, who donated the Benjamin F. Brown collection to the Library.

The Clements Library on South University Street on U-M’s central campus in Ann Arbor is open Monday-Friday 1-4:45 p.m.

The Clement’s Web page has excerpts from the Benjamin F. Brown exhibit, see

Contact: Joanne Nesbit