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Last traces of Edmond circus camp slowly disappearing

EDMOND — Hidden from view behind an ordinary suburban neighborhood, the last traces of Edmond's lost circus camp are slowly vanishing in an overgrown field.

The signs that say "Keep Out" are only a clue something interesting lies beyond a rusty horse gate off N Kelly Avenue.

Down in dense brush beyond the gate sits the graffiti-covered ruins of a house, a barn and a few rusty animal cages, according to photographs of the property readily available on the internet. Deeper still in a thicket of trees sits the crumpled remains of animal trailers and rail cars, some of which still bear hand-painted signage advertising "The Hagen Bros." and "Clyde Bros." circuses.

For decades, both troupes spent the winter in Edmond on a large acreage off N Kelly. The elephants roamed freely in the pasture there and the tightrope walkers practiced their routine with a high-wire strung between the trees.

Derek Lee, exhibits coordinator with the Edmond Historical Society & Museum, began doing research about the Edmond circus camp after receiving a few curious phone calls from the public about the property.

"It's one of those things I think a lot of people in Edmond are aware of, but there's not a lot of information out there about it, which is intriguing," Lee said.

Both the Hagen and Clyde circuses were owned by Edmond entrepreneur Howard Suesz. Suesz was a big band musician who was once a football and basketball star at the University of Central Oklahoma when it was still known as Central State College. Suesz decided to start the Clyde Bros. Circus in 1943 after his orchestra performed with a circus troupe, according to Lee's research.

The Clyde Bros. circus featured indoor acts, performed for Shrine clubs and other civic groups. Suesz later started the Hagen Bros. Circus, which performed under a tent.

Edmond turned out to be an ideal spot for a circus to spend the winter because of its low cost of living, mild climate and easy access to the rail lines, Lee said.

Although many legends persist in Edmond that the Hagen and Clyde Bros. circuses are descended from an older circus called Gandini's Circus, Lee has never been able to verify these stories. The name Gandini, could just be another part of the many local legends about the place, he said.

"I haven't been able to find any solid, concrete information about Gandini's Circus," Lee said.

Suesz sold Clyde Bros., the more successful of the two circuses, to Carden & Johnson International Circus in 1976.

Suesz died in the 1980s and deeded the Edmond circus camp over to his lion tamer, Jose Barreda.

In 1976, a 400-pound bear mauled Jose Barreda at the Edmond circus camp while he was trying to feed the animal. The lion tamer was hospitalized for his injuries, but survived, according to newspaper archives.

The Barreda family also owned and operated the former Acapulco Mexican restaurant at 400 S Bryant. Photographs of the family's circus acts hung behind the cash register.

Jose Barreda's son, Jorge Barreda, who lives near Sarasota, FL, now owns the circus camp property. Jorge Barreda is still in the circus industry and works as an elephant trainer. As recently as March, Jorge Barreda owned at least three African elephants, according to newspaper articles.

Jorge Barreda declined requests for an interview.

University of Central Oklahoma students have been known to sneak into the old circus camp after dark and a number of legends about the place still persist on campus.

Kara Shae, who graduated from UCO in 2013, explored the old circus camp with friends while in college, lured by stories about the place that ranged from clowns being burned alive on the grounds, to the elephants escaping once and running through the streets of Edmond.

"It could be that it was overgrown, abandoned, and like 2 a.m., but it was super creepy," Shae said.

She recalls seeing where chains for the circus animals were attached to a concrete slab on the property.

Although UCO students have been frequent visitors to the old circus in the past, there have been few recent police calls about trespassing to the property said Jennifer Wagnon, spokeswoman for the Edmond Police Department.

Calls for service to the police department to the old circus camp go in cycles, with long periods of quiet between times of more activity, Wagnon said.

"People have called the police department in the past to try and get permission to film movies out there, but it's private property, it's not something we can do," she said.

Lee continues to do research and hopes to one day have an exhibit about Edmond's past as a circus town at the Edmond Historical Society & Museum.

"At the time, people didn't think it was such a big deal that all these lions and tigers and other animals were living out in west Edmond. It was well-known," Lee said. "Today, it's a little bit exotic — it's a little unexpected ... I don't think people know as much about the circus these days so the younger generation is a little more intrigued."

Related Photos
<p>The Clyde Bros. Circus prepares to leave its winter camp in Edmond in April 1966. [Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma Historical Society]</p>

The Clyde Bros. Circus prepares to leave its winter camp in Edmond in April 1966. [Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma Historical Society]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-b899aaeec27ec4c5d03901891bec8b58.jpg" alt="Photo - The Clyde Bros. Circus prepares to leave its winter camp in Edmond in April 1966. [Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma Historical Society] " title=" The Clyde Bros. Circus prepares to leave its winter camp in Edmond in April 1966. [Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma Historical Society] "><figcaption> The Clyde Bros. Circus prepares to leave its winter camp in Edmond in April 1966. [Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma Historical Society] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-9427524ffc3056b90cc38d8ec48f2f6d.jpg" alt="Photo - A man smokes a cigarette and stands next to a camel at the Hagen and Clyde Bros. winter camp in Edmond in 1962.  [Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma Historical Society] " title=" A man smokes a cigarette and stands next to a camel at the Hagen and Clyde Bros. winter camp in Edmond in 1962.  [Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma Historical Society] "><figcaption> A man smokes a cigarette and stands next to a camel at the Hagen and Clyde Bros. winter camp in Edmond in 1962.  [Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma Historical Society] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-307af773021fce829949edb3624bd7d9.jpg" alt="Photo - A chimp named Bingo renders "Home, Home on the Old Winter Range" in November 1962 at the Hagen Bros. Winter home in [Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma Historical Society] " title=" A chimp named Bingo renders "Home, Home on the Old Winter Range" in November 1962 at the Hagen Bros. Winter home in [Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma Historical Society] "><figcaption> A chimp named Bingo renders "Home, Home on the Old Winter Range" in November 1962 at the Hagen Bros. Winter home in [Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma Historical Society] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-402986237c8e67fbeaf230493ea20479.jpg" alt="Photo -  Three small elephants wearing headdresses stand next to their trainer in November 1955 in Edmond. [Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma Historical Society]   " title="  Three small elephants wearing headdresses stand next to their trainer in November 1955 in Edmond. [Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma Historical Society]   "><figcaption>  Three small elephants wearing headdresses stand next to their trainer in November 1955 in Edmond. [Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma Historical Society]   </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-a482832c31ca710422b696e71459d345.jpg" alt="Photo -  Lusi Murrillo practices a tight-wire routine in November 1962 in Edmond. [Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma Historical Society] " title="  Lusi Murrillo practices a tight-wire routine in November 1962 in Edmond. [Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma Historical Society] "><figcaption>  Lusi Murrillo practices a tight-wire routine in November 1962 in Edmond. [Oklahoman Archives/Oklahoma Historical Society] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-e400628cba38a884694d86b6b6d7d6b0.jpg" alt="Photo - The Hagen and Clyde Bros. Circus perform in Farina, Ill., in 1950 [Photo courtesy Edmond Historical Society Collection]  " title=" The Hagen and Clyde Bros. Circus perform in Farina, Ill., in 1950 [Photo courtesy Edmond Historical Society Collection]  "><figcaption> The Hagen and Clyde Bros. Circus perform in Farina, Ill., in 1950 [Photo courtesy Edmond Historical Society Collection]  </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-01ecbc4324c565e70e745ce3edf9775d.jpg" alt="Photo - Members of the Clyde and Hagen Bros. circus are shown during at stop in  Waterloo, NY, in 1950. [Photo courtesy Edmond Historical Society Collection]  " title=" Members of the Clyde and Hagen Bros. circus are shown during at stop in  Waterloo, NY, in 1950. [Photo courtesy Edmond Historical Society Collection]  "><figcaption> Members of the Clyde and Hagen Bros. circus are shown during at stop in  Waterloo, NY, in 1950. [Photo courtesy Edmond Historical Society Collection]  </figcaption></figure>
Brianna Bailey

Brianna Bailey joined The Oklahoman in January 2013 as a business writer. During her time at The Oklahoman, she has walked across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to-south down Western Avenue, and once east-to-west, tracing the old U.S. Route 66.... Read more ›

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