A Double Drove of Acting Elephants. The Greatest in Both Numbers and Intelligence.

In 1887, Imre Kiralfy built an outdoor theater on Staten Island, N.Y. His first production was “Nero, or the Destruction of Rome,” which combined dance, music, visual spectacle, and mime. Reviews called it a gigantic, historical, biblical, dramatic, and musical spectacle. P.T. Barnum was in the audience one night and liked the event so much that he arranged with Kiralfy to add the show to Barnum’s upcoming tour around London. “Nero” was shortened slightly and integrated into Barnum and Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth.

This program from the Olympia Theatre in Kensington assures the viewers that the circus will be “positively exhibiting in London only”. The Greatest Show on Earth (including “Nero”) played until 1890 and then, opened an even more lavish production in New York City. Other acts included a double drove of acting elephants (the greatest in both numbers and intelligence) and Bo Peep and her flock of trained sheep (Signora Stella’s flock of oddly trained American merinos).

For more information, see Margaret Malamud, “Roman Entertainments for the Masses in Turn-of-the-Century New York,” The Classical World 95, no. 1 (Autumn, 2001): 49-57.