Column: When the big New Richland show came to Albert Lea

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 18, 2002

Publicity can be an excellent way to create interest in a future attraction such as a one-day circus or railroad show. This was certainly true with the following news release /advertisement for the Frank Blakeslee and Stearns World’s Fair and Wild West Show. This obviously exaggerated ballyhoo was printed in the May 10 and May 17,1894, issues of the weekly Albert Lea Enterprise and the May 2 and May 16, 1894, issues of the Freeborn County Standard newspapers:

&uot;Over 400 Noted Performers and Horses from all over the globe. A consolidation of grandeur never before presented to the people of the world… More to be seen in this show than in any circus… A perfect avalanche of

Marvels and New-born ideas. It is a Great and Mighty Show, Universally heralded as wearing the purple of Superiority. Moral as it is Mighty. Introducing new features never before attempted. The largest spread of canvas in the world in which is placed two mammoth stages fully equipped with mechanical devices and scenery, upon which Adah Richmond appears as Cleopatra in Rome, supported by fifty noted performers, attired in the most gorgeous costumes. A new production in which appears the $10,000 challenge Egyptian Drill, together with Lady Charioteers in the most daring feats of horsemanship on the stage. Upon the other stage is presented Light Opera, Comedy Specialties, Illusions, and dancing of all nations. At the World’s Fair you will see during the Grand Review mounted military displays of all nations including a Mexican Military Band, Russian, French, English and American Cavalry, Cowboys, and a band of Sioux Indians, being the greatest number of performers placed before the public at one time under canvas.

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&uot;You will see the largest troupe of performing Japanese, also male and female trapeze, aerial and contortion acts, Stage Robbing scenes, horse racing, hurdle races, chariot races, U.S. Cavalry drill, exhibitions of sharp shooting, male and female horsemanship, with bucking broncos, War tableaux, great realistic battle scene of the last charge of Custer in which appears the United States Cavalry against a band of Sioux Indians, a reproduction of the massacre of June 25, 1876, on the Little Big Horn.

&uot;The entire World’s Fair production … will be given twice a day, two and eight p.m., rain or shine. Five consolidated shows in one. Calcium lights will be used during afternoon and evening performances. Grand street demonstration (parade) at 10 a.m.&uot;

The &uot;world’s fair&uot; reference was to the World’s Columbian Exposition which had taken place in Chicago during the previous year. In reality, this Blakeslee and Stearns Show had originated in New Richland during the winter and spring.

I was unable to find a news item in either newspaper which explained anything at all about the two performances in Albert Lea on May 18, 1894. One can assume there was a parade on Broadway that morning. It’s likely the tents were set up near the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad tracks fairly close to the present Streater plant site.

After the two performances in Albert Lea, this railroad show traveled back through New Richland to Waseca. Then the show or circus went to Mankato, Waterville, Red Wing and Minneapolis.

The Minneapolis performances were given for three weeks. During this time two serious problems developed. Blakeslee and Stearns couldn’t pay their employees and performers. Also, attendance was lower than expected. A drop in the admission price to 15 cents didn’t help.

Sometime in June 1894 the decision was made to bring the equipment and horses back to New Richland and cease operations.

The 1962 booklet, &uot;History of New Richland and Wilton Villages,&uot; says, &uot;A man by the name of Williams purchased most of the horses and organized a show called World’s Fair and Wild West Show which did not run as long as the Blakeslee and Stearns Show.&uot;

Thus, New Richland’s part in the history of American traveling shows was rather short.

Tribune feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays.