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The Shrine Circus


The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will shut down “The Greatest Show on Earth” this May, after 146 years. In light of this upcoming closure, we wanted to highlight the history of another famous touring circus still active today, the Shrine Circus. On February 26, 1906, the Moslem Shrine Temple premiered the Mystic Shriners’ Yankee Circus in Egypt at the Light Guard Armory in Detroit, Michigan. The Shrine Circus, associated with Shriners International, also known as the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, currently travels to over 120 cities in the United States. Different local Shrine Temples sponsor and host the circus in their respective communities. No two Shrine Circuses are the same and a circus can feature anywhere from one to forty performances.

This 1956 photograph shows performers from the Arabia Temple Shrine Circus in Houston, Texas. The circus features a variety of clown performances, acrobats, and trained performing animals, including elephants and tigers. Although we have not yet identified the performers pictured in the photograph, there is a good  chance that some members of the Arabia Clown Jewels, an officially recognized unit of "good-will ambassadors" within the Arabia Temple, participated in the circus. The art of clowning is a significant part of Shrine fraternal history and is intertwined with the Shrine parade and circus traditions. The Shrine Circus, sometimes called "The Circus with a Heart" is often a fundraiser, not only for the Shriner organization, but also for the hospitals and charitable organizations the Shrine supports. To learn more about the Shrine visit our previous blog posts here. To see this photograph and others related to the Shrine on a map visit us on HistoryPin.

Do you have memories of a Shrine Circus you attended? Were you or a family member involved in the Shrine Circus? Let us know in the comments section below. 


Masonic Arabia Temple Shrine Circus, 1956. Ace Photographers, Houston, Texas. Museum Purchase through the generosity of Helen G. Deffenbaugh in memory of George S. Deffenbaugh, 2010.024.1.


John H. McConnell, Shrine Circus: A History of the Mystic Shriners' Yankee Circus in Egypt (Detroit, Michigan: Astley & Ricketts, 1998) 










Ymelda Laxton

Dear Jim,
Thank you for reading the blog and for sharing your experiences. If you have any pictures from your time in Denver we would love to see them.

Ymelda Laxton

Dear Bill,
Thank you for reading the blog and for sharing your memories. If you come across any photographs or souvenirs from your time at the circus, we would love to see them. Thanks again.

Jim Berardino

I grew up in a non-Masonic family, and did not even know that the Shrine of Veiled Profit had anything to do with Masonry. A family friend who was a Shriner, would give us tickets to the Shrine Circus and I loved going. Now as a 20+ year Mason, Shriner and 33rd Degree member of the Scottish Rite it is my turn to give back. We don't have the Circus in Salt Lake City, but in Denver I worked the Circus every year and loved to see the joy on the kid's faces.

Bill kalbas

I have wonderful memories of going to the Medinah Shrine circus in Chicago. It was probably 1955 or so. 65 years later I am proud to be a Shriner, and look forward to going to the Shrine Circus. We need to keep good quality circus alive for our families and supporters.

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