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PBS circus history documentary to feature pieces from Milner Library

When you hear the words “Ringling Brothers” you might hear the sound of popcorn popping or think of the taste of cotton candy, not of Illinois State University.

Over 8000 books on the history of the circus live in Milner Library’s Special Collections, their oldest dating back to 1521. Of the thousands they have, one inspired a documentary

“Apparently [the producer] saw it and she pitched the idea to her team and they were like, let’s do it,” Special Collections librarian Maureen Brunsdale said.

A part of PBS’s “American Experience” series, this miniseries. titled “The Circus” took two years to finish and will feature pieces from Milner.

“Central Illinois. Bloomington for sure. had a place in the pantheon of circus. We were the trapeze capital of the world for about 75 years starting in the 1870s and this really was the place where you would go to find trapeze artists,” Special Collections Senior Specialist Mark Schmitt said.

When it comes to the circus, Brunsdale and Schmitt know their stuff. The pair even wrote a book on Bloomington-Normal’s circus history titled, “The Bloomington-Normal Circus Legacy: The Golden Age of Aerialists.”

Both said they are excited to share their passion via PBS.

“It’s really a recognition that we have reached a certain status that we have some really important and wonderful things here that should be seen widely,” Brunsdale said.

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus took its big top down for the last time in May 2017, but if you listen closely. on the sixth-floor of Milner Library, you may hear circus music in the air.

“We can’t replicate the feeling of being at a show but in some ways we can because we have all the ephemera we have the posters, we have the scrapbooks we have the photographs. we have the sounds the recordings of circuses back in the day and really give a sense to students whoever they are of what the grander of circus was,” Brunsdale said.

The documentary will air in two parts on Monday and Tuesday on PBS. To watch the trailer, visit:

Stephanie Rodriguez

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