ARTICLE: Circus World Museum talks WFE’s gorgeous circus wagons

(Kinker Tink: example only. NOT from WFE) Fifteen wagons from Circus World Museum were used in the upcoming film 'Water For Elephants.'

When visitors come to the Circus World Museum, they get a glimpse into how the circus looked generations ago through the costumes, circus wagons, photographs and other exhibits on display.

But even Circus World Executive Director Steve Freese was amazed when he saw the circus of that bygone era brought back to life in California recently.

It was on the set of the upcoming film “Water For Elephants,” based on Sara Gruen’s novel. The film, which will hit theaters sometime in 2011, stars Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson and follows a young man who joins a Depression-era circus.

To make the film as authentic as possible, the filmmakers tapped the museum to provide 15 circus wagons plus loads of research and expertise to the production.

Freese, who visited the set several times over the summer and has a cameo in the film, said he was amazed at the level of detail that went into creating the sets. He pointed to a black-and-white photograph of a circus at night that the production team recreated on the set.

“They turned that into a color picture for us, the way they set the set,” he said. “Everything in that picture was recreated to the exact scale. It just so happened to be the ticket wagon in the 1928 photograph was the ticket wagon that we took out there.”

In fact, Circus World’s participation in “Water For Elephants” actually goes back to the book. When she was writing the book, Gruen spent time at the museum doing research, and Gruen and Freese both took part in an event in Madison in 2007 surrounding the book’s paperback release.

“It’s a great read for anyone,” Freese said. “It’s a great love story and intertwines with the Great Depression. It gives you a snapshot into what it was like to be an employee of the circus.”

In December 2008, when Freese heard that a subsidiary of 20th Century Fox Studios, Fox 2000, had bought the film rights to “Elephants,” he proactively sent the studio a package letting executives know that the museum had all the materials necessary to stage an authentic 1928 circus.

The following summer, director Francis Lawrence (“I Am Legend”) and a production team came to Baraboo for a couple of weeks to do research, Freese said. At the time, there was discussion of filming the movie in Wisconsin using the state tax incentives.

After those incentives were restructured, the studio opted to shoot the film in California. But they still wanted to use some of the circus wagons, choosing from the 215 wagons the museum owns. They were packed up on flatbed trucks and shipped to the set, accompanied by Freese and the museum’s wagon superintendent, Harold “Heavy” Burdick.

Thirteen of the wagons dated from the 1880s to the early 1900s, including eight animal cages, a ticket wagon, a main band wagon, two wardrobe wagons and a generator wagon. The museum also sent along a couple of full-size reproductions, including a cookhouse wagon, that the museum built in the 1960s based on the original blueprints.

In addition, the museum provided scores of photographs and even archival film footage to allow the film producers to get every detail of the circus just right. Not just big things like the wagons and the costumes, but details like the ropes and the riggings and the way animals were loaded and unloaded from trains.

Freese said he was amazed how much information could be gleaned from a single photo.

“When you take this little snapshot that somebody would take with a little Browning Instamatic camera in 1927, and then you blow it up, it’s like ‘Oh, this is how they stack their crackerjack boxes. This is the brands of candy bars they had.’

“We were able to provide an answer to every single thing they asked.”

The wagons, which are still painted with the fictional “Benzini Brothers” logo from the film, were returned to the museum a couple of weeks ago and are available for viewing.

Here are some pictures of the WFE wagons…covered up…to be revealed on April 15, 2011!

From WFE

From WFE

From WFE

From WFE

stand-ins LOL

Enjoy some more examples of the circus wagons from the museum.

Source : via / GALLERY: Source

About tinkrbe1l3

Fan and supporter of all things Robert Pattinson. Co-chauffeur on, co-blogger on, co-kinker on, as well as upcoming films:,,,, Co-blogger on
This entry was posted in Francis Lawrence, Production, Props & Sets, Water for Elephants. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to ARTICLE: Circus World Museum talks WFE’s gorgeous circus wagons

  1. Lydia says:

    Great post Tink! The attention to detail on the wagons is amazing. I bet they looked spectacular on set and even more so on the silver screen. Thanks!

  2. maggie says:

    Loved this. This movie has the potential to be so visually stunning. And I’m not even talking about HHH here!!! Can’t wait for April!

  3. John Goodall says:

    The Asia bandwagon shown at the beginning of this article was not used for the movie.

  4. olivia says:

    Amazing, fascinating and so beautiful! The museum must be a wonderous place, and the cars are spectacular works of art. I am so impressed with the love and care in detail/authenticity that is going into this film. Wow tink, the film and it’s background story of how all the parts have come together never ceases to interest me. As several posters in the past have suggested, please, please let there be a WFE film book developed with all this great info, commentary, and much more. I will keep my fingers crossed and be first in line at my local bookseller to purchase one. Again, thank you for allowing the fans such access to information and the opportunity to develop such an intimate attachment to the making of this film.
    Hugs to you all!

  5. jan says:

    Another fantastically educational chapter about the making of this visually stunning movie….THANK YOU, tink!!!

    Can the WfE blog team please convey our request for a Movie Companion to the powers-that-be?
    Or if the powers-that-be are reading this….PLEASE, PRETTY PLEASE look into doing a movie book (if you haven’t already planned one!)….like Olivia, I will be first in line at my local bookstore to grab it!

  6. ndnwmn says:

    This just adds to the exisiting credibility of Water for Elephants. So see this movie unfold in such a authentic and elegant way is just amazing….The director, the stars and the locations are fantastic…I hope this movie is embraced by the public as it should be…with awe and love <3

  7. Caitlin says:

    Wow I’m really excited to see this!
    Funny thing is I’m going on vacation next week and one of our stops is Circus World! So now I’m even more excited to go haha
    Plus I live in WI and for the movie to be filmed here would have been amazing since I missed my opportunity with Public Enemies : (

  8. Denise says:

    Such an interesting post. I have been to Circus World several times and it is really a fun place to take the family. They put on a real circus performance daily and of course all the circus items are really interesting to look at. I live very close to Baraboo so to hear that Francis was there and they were actually thinking about filming in Wisconsin is exciting news, but too bad they didn’t, que sera sera,

  9. Amber says:

    Such an incredibly interesting article! Even Rob aside (I know, that’s hard to imagine), the experience of seeing this book come to life on the big screen is going to just blow fans away! I cannot wait!

  10. Pingback: new movie uses circus world museum resources « Hey Rube Circus

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