The Greatest Show on Earth: Power, Spectacle, and Performance in the Traveling Circus

At every turn, the traveling circus in the United States was an exercise in hyperbole and spectacle; the Barnum & Bailey circus did, after all, refer to itself as the “Greatest Show on Earth!” To Americans, spectacle and power were nearly synonymous, and the circus was an incomparable experience and a force to be reckoned with. The circus, through methods sometimes as simple as using opera chairs, came to serve as a symbol of the United States’ industrial prowess and ever-growing significance on the world stage.

On Nippers, Nipper-Napping, and the New York Public Library

In the weeks that followed, Nipper and I worked together—I poring over phonograph industry periodicals and he at projecting his trademark canine bemusement. I occasionally glanced up from my copies of Phonoscope or Voice of the Victor to meditate on my colleague’s recent brush with disaster. How had the statue come to be in the lobby of the Library? And how had it accrued value (or agency?) such that someone would risk their safety and good name to steal it? This business of Nipper-napping, I determined, was a strange enterprise indeed, and one worth trying to understand.