Sverre Braathen Circus Collection

The Special Collections Department houses a sizeable amount of circus related materials in several collections. Today, I’m going to focus on one small collection that once belonged to Sverre and Faye Braathen. Sverre Braathen was an attorney by trade, but a circus lover at heart. Throughout the early and mid-1900’s, he collected circus-related items such as programs, Christmas cards, and music. The collection also includes many photographs that he took himself of the Ringling Brother’s circuses.  When he and his wife Faye passed away in the 1970’s, they left behind one of the largest collections of U. S. Circus photographs and ephemera in the world.

Now most of his collection is housed at the Illinois State University, but the University of Tulsa does have one single box of Sverre Braathen’s circus collection. It contains some non-circus ephemera, such as examples of Braathen’s attorney heading and the copy of a Christmas letter that the Braathens sent out in 1962. The letter contains their personal reviews on the circuses that season- they really did eat, sleep, and breathe circus- even the “non-circus ephemera” contains talk of the circus!

Christmas letter from the Braathen family, 1962

Christmas letter from the Braathen family, 1962

A very large portion of the collection is Christmas cards that were obviously sent to/from the Braathens and various circuses. While they collected all types of circus ephemera, the Braathens had an interest in circus music and bands. Nowhere is this more evident than in their Christmas card collection. Many of them cards have on pictures of the circus band and contain a basic “Holiday Wishes from the Braathens” message on the inside.

An assortment of black and white cards with bands on the covers

An assortment of Christmas cards with circus bands on the covers

Some of the cards have pictures of elephants on them. One even has an image of two women riding on the back of an elephants. The inside of the card reads “Virginia Noel and Ann King aboard Big Burma Mills Bros. Circus, April 26, 1948″. Elephants were once a staple at all circus performances, but animal rights activists and circuses have decided to no longer include the gentle giants in their performances as of 2016. Today, these elephants have retired to special facilities where they are able to relax and enjoy the rest of their lives in peace.

Another animal that was common in the circus receives much less press were the dogs! The collection also contains a program entitled “Tibor Alexander and his Wonder Dogs Revue: 20 Dogs Presented by Miss Irene”, containing glowing reviews of a variety show in which dogs dressed up and performed for the crowd. Ephemera like this really makes one marvel at how different entertainment is today.

Image of two women riding on the back of an elephant

Virginia and Ann on the back of an elephant in full circus regalia.

Program for the Tibor Alexander Dog Revue

Dog Revue program








You can come and see this collection and many of our other treasures at the Special Collections department on the fifth floor of the McFarlin Library M-F from 8-4:30.

About Kelsey Hildebrand

Kelsey is GA in the Special Collections department currently pursuing a Master's in Museum Science and Management.
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