In the fall of 1963, almost 50 years ago, the “Miller Brothers Famous Circus” came to Baldwyn. The Miller’s travelling show held two performances each day on October 9th and 10th – right on Main Street – and boasted of clowns, 20 cages of wild animals, monkeys, “diving dogs” (whatever those are) and “Eddie Frisco and His Comedy Hot Rod” in a full page spread in the local newspaper. City merchants of the day sponsored elephant rides for young and old, providing discount tickets to those who attended the shows. A photograph of the performing pachyderm plodding down Main Street, with a buggy full of kids in tow, is included in the October 10th printing of the Baldwyn News.
The circus came, entertained, and went near the back-end of downtown Baldwyn’s heyday. Hundreds of pictures exist of Main Street from that era – the late 1940’s to the mid 1960’s – showing people sardine-packed up and down the street so thick that there is little room to move.
Twenty-seven businesses are listed in that edition of the Baldwyn News. Those named as sponsors of the Miller Brothers Famous Circus were: Hopkins Furn. & Appliance, Miller’s, C.S. Poole Contractor, Buster McElroy & Co., Bryan Rogers Auto Parts, Shellnut’s, Farmers & Merchants Bank, Blue Bell Inc., Baldwyn Milling Co., Tom’s Drug Store, Baldwyn Concrete Works, Golden Rule Store, Western Auto Store, Houston Drug Store, Gentry Insurance Agency, Davis Lumber Company, Lucky Star Industries, Hopkins Big Star, Ritz Theatre, Baldwyn Farmers Co-Op, R & W Cleaners, Baldwyn Implement Co., Big $ Center, Hill Auto Supply, Cunningham’s Grocery, Baldwyn Dry Goods, and M. Gorden.
A quick scan of these businesses with respect to local records indicates that 15 of the 27 were located inside the current 4-block historic district, and ten others were only a street or two away. Only the garment factories Lucky Star and Blue Bell were to be found any considerable distance from the heart of Main Street. Yet of all the businesses listed, only Farmers & Merchants Bank and Houston Drug Store are still working in Baldwyn today under their 1963 names. Perhaps as many as six others may still point to a “descendent business” that continues operation here in Baldwyn or the general vicinity, but even so, the count reveals, obviously, that at least nineteen circus sponsors of 1963 have ceased to exist entirely. Small Town Mississippi died with those 19 businesses and others like them at some point in the last four decades.
But now, it’s 2013, and Baldwyn, against all odds, is in resurgence. The Blonde Pistol, Silly Sisters, and The Tin Roof are selling retail clothes and gifts right on Main Street and a lot of doubting, old-school business-types are amazed. Even better, more complimentary stores are on the way, as growing evidence in several long-vacant store windows will attest. Even a Baldwyn community theater will open for business by August and host three productions before the year ends. So what come’s next?
Can Baldwyn return to days of packed city streets … filled with shoppers … and diners … and those looking for entertainment?
Watch out for elephants crossing Main in the near future.