The Art of Illusion

For proof that the circus is a world where you can’t always believe your eyes, look no further than this photo, part of the Ringling Museum’s extensive collection of circus art and memorabilia. The photo, which dates from the 1920s and was taken by H.A. Atwell of Chicago, shows a dainty high-wire walker who went by the name of Herberta “Slats” Beeson. But in reality, Herberta was Herbert, an Indiana grocery clerk turned featured performer of the Big Top. Herbert often helped out as a stagehand on the village vaudeville circuit; one night, a female slack-wire dancer fell, and Herbert, who had studied her act, took her place on the wire—making circus history and eventually becoming her husband.