The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey “The Greatest Show on Earth” Blue unit (one of two complete circuses) circus train is scheduled to pass through Roanoke twice in May, to and from Charleston, West Virginia, the next to last show before shutting down (the Red unit will have already shut down by this time).
Coming from Baltimore, Maryland, via Lynchburg, likely on the night of May 1, the mile long train will head toward Bluefield and the round-about route to Charleston via Mullins. Once the circus finishes playing Charleston (May 3 to 7), the Blue unit is scheduled to retrace the route through Roanoke, perhaps late on May 8, and through the Shenandoah Valley, as it heads to New York’s Long Island for the “last show.”
The Red unit should pass through Roanoke in March enroute from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Norfolk. The circus plays in Norfolk March 23 to 26 and should pass through Roanoke around March 20 or 21.
The circus trains don’t move on a precise schedule, as timing depends on how quickly the train is loaded after the last performance and how the railroad handles the train, so the times/dates shown above are a best-guess based on past trips. Routing may also change.
This is the end of an era, since the 1800’s, that the circus has traveled by rail. There are a few smaller circuses that have moved by highway for some time and will continue to operate. While the James E. Strates carnival show train continues to use the rails for some performances, only the show’s equipment is on the train with all staff traveling by highway.
Information and picture from Roanoke Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society