Skip to main content


Errand Of Mirth

September 2020

Few circus people can have done their work in such an unlikely context as these members of Ringling Bros, and Barnum & Bailey. The whole troupe—clowns and elephants, hareback riders and acrobats—has made its way across town from the vast pale-red auditorium of New York City’s Madison Square Garden to mount the show in the courtyard formed by wings C and D of Bellevue Hospital. Between 1910 and 1950 the circus assembled annually under these grim walls to offer the inmates its riotous diversions. A nurse named Olivia Stuart Davis took in the 1919 visit and kept this picture as a souvenir; her granddaughter, Kristen Huntley, sent it to us.

We continue to ask our readers to send unusual and previously unpublished old photographs to Carla Davidson at American Heritage Publishing Co., 10 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020. Please send a copy of any irreplaceable material, and do not mail glass negatives. A MERICAN H ERITAGE will pay $50.00 for each one that is run.

We hope you enjoyed this essay.

Please support this 70-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.