As an avid circus goer, Sverre Braathen found an outlet to show off his hobby by photographing the Ringling Bros. circus throughout the Midwest in the 1940′s-50′s. He was born in North Dakota in 1895. An attorney by day, Braathen however always made time in his busy schedule to follow his true passion; the circus. He followed and photographed many circuses but didn’t start using the Kodachromes until 1941. The people at the Milner Library at Illinois State University have put together an online archive, “A Passion for Circus,” of all his works. Here are a selection of the impressive Kodachrome slides produced by Mr. Braathen.
Jimmy Armstrong, a midget clown, stands with an unknown clown in front of the baggage wagons.
The elephants, dressed with their purple blankets, get ready for a production number, August 18, 1945. The Ringling Brothers have seen issues arise over the years from PETA and other activists groups for the mistreatment of their animals. The elephants in particular.
Emmett Kelly against a blue sky in August 18, 1945. He and Otto Griebling were the two best clowns the show ever had.
One of the shows highlight acts was “Clown with a big rope and a small dog.” Seen here is clown Charles Bell with his small dog outside the tents.
The Sideshow banners line the midway. The acts of the Sideshow were used to draw crowds and featured human oddities, feats like fire eating and sword swallowing, and other unusually rare sights.
Elena Gabriele, left, and Marion Seifert sitting on their horses, August 17, 1945. Gabriele’s former lover and ex-clown, Polidor, killed her with an axe some years later.
A red cage gets pulled by two elephants, September 6, 1943.
Natalia Tock, from Poland, wears her red Jungle Drums wardrobe as she heads to the tent, July 10, 1950. The circus is home to many immigrant families looking to get out of the hardships of their native lands.
Sandy Marlowe holds a lion cub, August 30, 1952. She is the daughter of Ray and Theol Marlowe. Theol was a former Nelson Girl and the Nelson Troupe was one of the greatest risley acrobatic troupes of all time.
Two girls in Changing of the Guard wardrobe and a clown. State Fair Park lot, August 17, 1945.
(left to right) Evelyn Kent, Margaret Smith, Laura May Petrillo, Brenda Gorring, Gladys Rimmer, aerial ballet wardrobe. All are from England except Laura May Petrillo. July 25, 1952
All Images Credit : Special Collections at Milner Library, Illinois State University