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Somers Big Top Goes to Big Apple

SOMERS, N.Y. - The third floor of the Elephant Hotel was transformed into a photo set last week as professionals captured some of the historic circus memorabilia for publication.

Matthew Wittmann, curator of a forthcoming exhibition at the Bard College Graduate Center , was delighted to find a cornucopia of circus mementoes at the Somers Historical Society . “Somers has one of the the most extensive collections of circus material anywhere. It’s certainly the best pre-Civil War material.”

The Bard College exhibition will concentrate on New York City circuses from 1793 to the present, with emphasis on the 19th century. There will be 240 objects altogether, drawn from a variety of local and national collections. Thirty of them will come from Somers. Other sources include the Ringling Museum in Saratoga Springs and the New York Historical Society.

“Most of the memorabilia that’s left is two-dimensional,” Wittmann explained. “Posters and handbills. But in Somers it’s three-dimensional, like an elephant chain, a rhino horn and a ringmaster’s uniform.”

Wittmann, an historian with a PhD from the University of Michigan in 19th-Century Pop Entertainment, is also editing a coffee table book on the circus. “As nice a place as this is,” he said of Somers, “it is out of the way. I’ll bet a lot of people don’t even know the circus started here. So I’m glad to be pulling this stuff out to get wider exposure.”

The exhibition, entitled “Circus and the City,” will be in the Main Gallery at the Bard Graduate Center, 18 West 86th Street (between Columbus and Central Park West), NYC. It opens on September 12 and will run through February 3, 2013. For further information, call 212-501-3023.

If you cannot wait for the Bard exhibition, you can learn all about the origins of the circus in Somers by visiting the Museum of the Early American Circus at the Elephant Hotel. It is open Thursdays from 2 to 4 p.m. and by appointment.

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