Circus–1898–Guthrie Center, Iowa–Louis Cyr Came to Town

Imagine John Cena coming to Guthrie Center, Iowa. Or Eddie “The Beast” Hall. Or Mariusz “Dominator” Pudzianowski.

That’s what it was like when Guthrie Countians saw newspaper ads announcing that Louis Cyr, the Strongest Man in the World, was coming to town with the Robinson Circus the September of 1898.


Cyr3 (2)

“Father always liked the circus,” Leora (Wilson) Goff wrote decades later about Sherd Goff. “I don’t think we ever missed going when the circus came to town and there were several small circuses that came to small towns then. I remember someone saying to Pa, ‘Well, you came to town to see the circus?’ ‘Yes,’ Pa said, ‘I had to bring the kids.’ He was as much a kid as we were.”

M.S. Sherd Goff 1897


Circus day will be inaugurated with a brilliant street parade, which will leave the show grounds promptly at ten o’clock and traverse the principal downtown streets.

I’ll bet Sherd and the kids were there before ten o’clock to watch the parade. Maybe a younger brother of his wife Laura’s rode along in the wagon–the Jordan boys: Floyd (18), Collis (15), and even Fred (9); plus his own older youngsters–Leora (7), Merl (6), Wayne (5), and maybe even Georgia Goff (4) since Leora could watch out for her.

Their Grandpap Davy Jordan enjoyed having fun with his grandchildren, so I’m pretty sure he would have gone along.

This was taken a year earlier, so imagine the two girls, and the two boys at right, getting to go to the circus while their mother was home with the smallest boy–and a new baby.

Watch for Circus Day.

Everybody Enthusiastic Over Coming of the Big Robinson Show.

“The . . .  famous John Robinson Greatest of All American Shows [coming] to Guthrie Center Wednesday September 21 has aroused wide spread interest, and it is safe to predict that the show will receive an enthusiastic public welcome. No show that has ever exhibited here has ever been preceded by a more flattering reputation. The unusual merit of this great show is known and appreciated, and it is doubtful whether any other similar exhibition could so thorough arouse the show going public, and create the same degree of anticipatory enthusiasm.”

The John Robinson Show had joined The Ringling Brothers earlier that year. The Robinson show had 22 railcars plus 2 advance cars, and consisted of Robinson property combined with Ringling animals and equipment. Animals for the show included six elephants and one Ringling-owned hippo, plus 14 cages. The Robinson show opened April 27 in Baraboo, Wisconsin, then toured Wisconsin and Iowa.

I wonder whether the Liza Jane train pulled the circus train from the main line into town. Could Liza really pull that many cars through those rolling hills and Windy Gap to Guthrie Center?

Louis Cyr, the strongest man in the world

“The show has been so thoroughly heralded that it would be difficult to add anything new in the way of announcement, and attention can simply be called again to the paramount features of the great exhibition, which include Louis Cyr, the strongest man in the world; the Harvey Family, of bicyclists; Samuel Burt, whose feats of equilibrium on the independent ladder are simply marvelous; William Dutton, Julie Lowande, and a dozen other famous lady and gentleman riders, and a long list of novel attractions to be seen only with this magnificent exhibition.”

With baby Rolla Jordan Goff just one week old, Sherd’s wife Laura would have stayed home–6 miles south of Guthrie Center, probably with two-year-old Jennings. I imagine one of Laura’s sisters stayed with her–Floy (23) wasn’t married yet, and Cora was twelve. Laura’s parents lived at Monteith, which was just 6 miles away, shorter if you took a shortcut across a field. Laura’s own mother may have also spent the day with them.

Georgia Laurayne (she probably had had a fever earlier and it was thought that long hair could sap a person’s strength), baby Rolla Jordan, and Willis Walter Goff.

The John Robinson Greatest of All American Shows

“The John Robinson menagerie, with its mammoth hippopotamus and scores of dens of rare wild beasts, is without an equal in the United States, and the hippodrome races are rendered thrillingly realistic by the introduction of the finest Kentucky and Arabian horses.”

Decades later, Leora’s own daughter Doris remembered that her grandfather Sherd was a small man. He’d told his grandchildren that he would have loved to travel and work for a circus. He’d do handstands for them, even in the house in the corner of a room. Sometimes he’d do a complete flip for them outside. Of course, the kids had to try doing them too.

“Every Morning at 10 O’clock, Rain or Shine, the Most Resplendent Free Street Parade Ever Witnessed, Millions Expended in this Dazzling Display, Gratuitously Offered to the Public. Two Performances Daily, Afternoon at 2, Night at 8. Doors Open One Hour Earlier. One 50 Cent Ticket Admits to All. Children, Under 12 Years, Half Price.”

What an exciting day for rural children, and for their father, and even their grandfather. Who would want to miss that most resplendent free street parade to come to Guthrie Center? Or thrillingly realistic hippodrome races? Or the strongest man in the world?


Cyr died at his daughter’s home in Montreal in 1912, age 49. Louis Cyr monument at the Musee de la Civilisation at Quebec.


Autobiography of Leora Goff Wilson (1890-1987)

Cyr, Louis from Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. XIV, U of Toronto/Universite Laval, 1998 by Celine Cyr.

The Guthrian–Sept. 15, 1898.

Ringlingville, USA: The Stupendous Story of Seven Ringlings and Their Stunning Circus Success by Jerry Apps.

The Strongest Man in the World: Louis Cyr by Nicolas Debon. Juvenile graphic novel.


    • Wow, where did you find it? I’d never heard of Cyr before, and now I even have a child’s book about him! I must admit that I’d never heard of John Cena either until a Bosnian refugee child here in the Des Moines area asked for a large Cena action figure for Christmas so I got one for him!

      • I didn’t really know who he was, it was just a reprinted quirky poster I found at a store… maybe Spencer’s Gifts in the mall. You can find them online, too.

  1. I remember the circus coming to a local town when I was very young. I think it was the Clyde-Beatty Cole Brothers Circus. It was quite a show for a kid to see.

    Next weekend, we are going to Baraboo, WI, for a couple of nights. We will stay at the Ringling Brothers BnB.

  2. I remember going to the Ringling Brother’s Circus when I was young. I took my own children to the circus as well. So much excitement! I love these photographs…beautiful family! And the stories do capture our hearts!

    • I remember going to the Ringling Brother’s Circus in the early ’60s, when I was little. It was the year Pepsi came out with the slogan, “Drink Pepsi, for those who think young.” (I don’t know why I remember this, but I do.) My little brother and I kept pestering my mother to take us to the freak show, and she adamantly refused, saying it was not something for children.

  3. I love seeing these old newspaper articles. Not only do they shed light on our ancestors lives but they were wonderful pieces of art in themselves. Great post Joy 🙂

  4. I’d heard of Louis Cyr (maybe I ran across the name in my vaudeville research), but I didn’t know anything about him. I watched the video you shared, and the story of Cyr’s life was fascinating.

    • It sure is amazing where a little research will lead you. I wonder if there was such a major in college. I was worried about paying for college so got a teaching degree. Loved the kids, hated the job. Should have taken library science, or something research! I didn’t get into history until my husband was in the Air Force in Idaho, and have been hooked ever since.

  5. WOW, that must have been so exciting for everyone when the circus came to town.
    Thank you for this story.

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