Tucked away on an empty wooded lot in suburban Oklahoma City lie the remnants of an abandoned circus camp.
In the midst of the subdivisions of Edmond, Oklahoma — up the street from the Sonic Drive-In and the local vape shop — sits an unassuming bit of woods that conceals the decaying evidence of the circus that once called this place home. Though the trailers and cages have sat abandoned for decades, they still remain and speak to a time when local residents could catch glimpses of elephants grazing just off the road.
Known locally as Gandini’s Circus, the relationship between the ruins and that particular circus are unclear. Urban legend says Gandini’s began in the early 1900s and folded during the Great Depression. In 1943, a man named Howard Suesz bought the remaining assets of Gandini’s Circus and used them to start the Clyde Bros. Circus, an indoor circus that performed in stadiums and arenas and did a lot of work for the Shriners. In 1949 Suesz created the Hagen Bros. Circus, an outdoor counterpart to Clyde Bros. that was a more traditional tent show. Both Clyde Bros. and Hagen Bros. used the property in Edmond as a winter camp. Research by a local historian could not find any evidence of the existence of a Gandini’s Circus. Whatever the origin, the name stuck.
The winter camp served mainly as a seasonal home for the circus animals as well as the employees associated with their care. This included elephants, lions, tigers, chimps, ponies, llamas, bears, snakes, and trained coyotes. The property contained houses for the animal trainers and their families, heated barns with circus rings for sheltering and training the animals, a large cleared field for grazing, and plenty of space for storing branded trailers, trucks, buses, and snake houses during the off season.
Suesz sold his circuses to Carden & Johnson International Circus in 1976, and as a result the winter camp was moved to a new location and much of the Hagen Bros. and Clyde Bros. equipment was left to deteriorate. Ownership of the land passed to Jose Barreda, Suesz’s lion tamer who had lived with his wife and sons on that little slice of circus on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. However, with no circus to house or animals to look after, the lot has sat empty and all but abandoned for decades.
Beyond the barren field of patchy grass and concrete slabs lie the only reminders of the circus that was. Visible from the front entrance is a ramshackle house that was once home to circus employees. Behind that, a few derelict trailers and the hollow skeleton of a bus. Further in the brush are the leftovers of a warehouse. Animal cages and train cars litter the western end. Surprisingly, someone mows the field regularly.
Jose Barreda eventually passed down the property to his son, Jorge, who retains the property in absentia and continues the family business in Florida to this very day.
Know Before You Go
From Highway 77, take the North Kelly Ave exit. The property lies north adjacent to the Chateau Villa neighborhood on Pruett Drive. There is one driveway hidden in the tree line on the left side of Kelly Ave. The property is private, but parts of it can be seen from the rusted gate at the end of the driveway.
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