Digital Exhibits

How the Railroad Changed the Circus

The railroad transformed the circus, and the circus transformed American identity. Find out how in our newest digital exhibit designed by our Master’s Thesis Resident Intern and Sacramento State Public History Program Graduate Master’s candidate, Gianna Kersch.

Have you ever fed an elephant? Have you ever seen a person do tricks while riding a horse? When was the last time you saw a clown or acrobats flip high in the air? Have you ever heard a big band orchestra play? People used to do all of this and so much more in one day at the circus.

The circus used to be the most popular show in the United States. The day started with a parade that went through town in the morning. They put on two main shows later in the day. Besides the main show, there were lots of other things to do, hear, and see. The circus became one of the biggest businesses in the country.

The circus was like its own town of tents. There was a Big Top, the tent for the big show. They also set up other tents for other attractions. People ate food, listened to music, and saw many performances. There were tents for wild animals and interesting people. Posters advertised a full day of fun. People spent the whole day at the circus.

The circus used trains to take the show across the country. Usually, the whole town closed for the day so that everyone could go. For the first time, people across the country saw the same show. But the circus brought more than exciting sights and sounds. It also shared ideas about the world.

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Crossing Lines: The Women of the American Railroad

The ​California State Railroad Museum is the keeper of stories. We collect them​; we preserve them​; and we tell them, all in service of helping people imagine their futures by understanding the past. Our newest exhibit highlights a group whose stories have remained in the shadows for far too long – women. Women crossed lines and blazed a trail for future generations. They championed change not only for the railroad industry but for society as well. These are some of their stories.

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The Georgia Northern No. 100: The Gold Coast

Explore the inside of this private railcar once owned by the pioneers of railroad photography, Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg. While the interior of The Gold Coast is not open to the public, this virtual exhibit gives guests the opportunity to “go inside” the railcar and imagine what life on the rails might have been like for the photographers. As a Smithsonian Affiliate, the California State Railroad Museum partnered with Smithsonian Digital Services to produce this virtual exhibit.

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