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Circus City History - Larry Moore

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Hugo, Oklahoma is known as Circus City, USA.  Hugo became the home of twenty circuses over the years because of one citizen’s persistence, Vernon Pratt.  He owned a grocery store in Hugo, but loved the circus.  He convinced Obert Miller who was wintering the AL G. Kelly-Miller Circus in Mena, AR to come to Hugo in 1937.  Kelly-Miller began wintering here in 1938 and stayed.


Obert Miller and his sons, Kelly and Dores (D.R.), purchased a farm east of the Hugo city limits.  This has become the permanent home of their circus.  Currently, 71 years later, Kelly-Miller, Carson & Barnes and Culpepper & Merriweather winter here in Hugo


Not everyone was welcoming circus people to Hugo.  Typically as Hugo’s businesses grew so did Hugo’s acceptance of circus people.  More circuses came to Hugo, Carson & Barnes, Stevens Bros., Cole & Walters, Don Karr, James Christy, and Vernon Pratt got to follow his dream.  He formed the Hugo Bros Circus.  All of these shows had one thing in common; they stayed in the Midwest, never in the East.


The Circus was the subject of many movies throughout this period.  There was a silent version of “Polly of the Circus re made as a sound picture in 1932.  “Charlie Chan at the Circus was made in 1935.  The same year the British released “Star of the Circus”.  A movie that brought forth much comment in the public press, favorable and unfavorable, was “The Mighty Barnum”.  The Marx Brothers devoted their talents to “A Day at the Circus” produced in 1938, and “The Greatest Show on Earth” in 1952, “Trapeze” in 1956, and Circus World in 1964. In addition to these and others, there have been many movie shorts of outstanding Circus acts and shows produced for general release.


D.R. Miller, and Hugo residents Chester Cearley & Wayne Sanguin developed a truck with a reel on the back to roll up the tent after the circus was over. This saved a lot of time and money.


Kelly-Miller was growing, one of the largest traveling animal shows, probably the best moving from city to city with trucks and one of most entertaining shows each season.  Obert’s son D.R. was managing the business.  Obert wanted to get back to a small show, so he started Fairyland Circus. 


D.R. loved elephants and as a result, D.R. bought the Big John Strong Circus because he wanted one particular elephant, which brought elephants back to Hugo.  After more than sixty years of caring for, working and living with their elephants and other animals D.R. Miller and his family established the Endangered Ark Foundation, EAF.  EAF’s mission is to expand public education programs for schools, conferences and “on the road” with the Carson & Barnes Circus.


Culpepper & Merriweather was based in Arizona until 2001, when new ownership brought them to Hugo. 

They are the twentieth circus to call Hugo home.


Those who do not rise to make the next spring’s journey are laid to rest at Mt. Olivet Cemetery’s designated Showmen’s Rest.  Granite posts, each topped by a small elephant statue mark off the rectangular area.  In the center is a large headstone with a carving of a performing elephant up on two feet.  Underneath is etched “ A Tribute To All Showmen Under God’s Big Top.”


Hugo takes care of its showmen residents from performing to a final resting place.




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