1921 Circus Clowns

Residents of the town of Breckenridge, Texas, enjoyed a variety of entertainment during its oil boom days of the 1920s, including circuses, wild west shows, and dance troupes. Through his camera lens, pioneer commercial photographer, Basil Clemons (1887-1964), captured over 200 images of circus images, evoking a warmth and naturalness perhaps derived from his traveling with a circus as a younger man. This 1921 photograph, labeled "Some Gentry Bros. Clowns," depicts a rather stoic group of fellows. The sunlight shines in on the tent canvas and another clown and four circus workers look on from behind.

The Gentry Bros. circus was formed in Indiana in 1887 as "Prof. Gentry's Equine and Canine Paradox" -- a dog and pony show. The show expanded in 1900 to include acts employing people and elephants. It soon changed its name to "Gentry Brothers Famous Shows" and became one of the most popular circuses in the country. The 1921 season ran from April to November, beginning and ending in Texas with intervening stops in midwestern and southern states. The Gentry Bros. circus arrived in Breckenridge in a 14-car train with advance, flat, stock and sleeper cars. 31 parade wagons were loaded on the flat cars. The circus traveled with nearly 90 horses and ponies for baggage, parade and performance purposes, 3 elephants, 2 camels, monkeys, lions, pumas, oxen, deer, dogs, and pigeons. Horse-drawn bandwagons filled with band members, clowns and sideshow personalities; caged exotic animals; elephants; mounted riders; and a steam calliope paraded from the train to the performance site where 7 tents were erected. The show was comprised of its traditional dog and pony acts; other trained animals; slack and tight wire acts; ballet dancers; trapeze artists; clowns; and acrobatic acts. The Gentry Bros. show closed after the 1922 season, having suffered financial reversals. Revived in 1926, the circus closed for good during the Depression in 1934.

Basil Clemons Photograph Collection, Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington