Circus Museum Opens in Hopkinsville

Dec 11, 2011

Hopkinsville, KY

In Hopkinsville, one man's unique collection of circus memorabilia has turned into a city treasure. Rose Krzton-Presson traveled there to find out how the Charles Jackson Circus Museum came to be.


The museum is located one block away from the train tracks where historically the circus would come into town. Walking in the front door of the Charles Jackson Circus Museum, the first thing you might notice is sawdust covering the floors. It doesn't have the stuffy stillness usually associated with museums. Every surface is covered in circus memorabilia of every color. It's hard to find one thing to focus on.

"This is sort of a potpourri of his collection. To our knowledge, this is the only circus museum in the state of Kentucky and maybe in this entire region."

That's William Turner. He serves on the board of directors for the Christian County Historical Society. But he also knew Charles Jackson personally. Jackson played pipe organ at Tuner's church for nearly 60 years. Turner says the museum opened August 11th- on what would have been Charles' 92nd birthday. Jackson passed away in the summer of 2010.

Janet Bravard is the interim director of the Pennyroyal Area Museum. She's shepherding me along a tour where we see things iconic to circuses, like a funhouse mirror

" always guarantee a laugh. When you're in this building, you can tell when somebody has found the circus mirror. You can hear the chuckles."

or a drum that was salvaged when the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey circus caught fire in 1944

" a portion of that drumhead. You can see the charred end."

But part of the museum is dedicated to Charles Jackson, too, including photos of him at circuses.

" and you can see by the smile on his face and the sparkle in his eye, that he was one happy fellow."

When Jackson went to the circus, says William Turner, it was more than just a show.

"He was the kind of individual that when you went to the circus with him, and I did, he knew the people and they knew him. I remember once going with him to the circus and the next thing you know, we were in the mess eating dinner with all the circus crew."

Charles Jackson never worked in a circus. He was an insurance agent. He spent his entire life in Hopkinsville, save for a three year stint in Washington D.C. serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II. Eventually during his lifetime, the circus trains ceased stopping in Hopkinsville. They just continued onto larger cities. Charles never lost that fascination with the big top, though. He would still stand at the train tracks and photograph the passing cars.

"You see, Charles Jackson lived almost into his 91st year and from the time he was a little boy, he was interested in circuses. So we can easily say over the span of 85 years, Charles Jackson was Mr. Circus in Hopkinsville."

Almost a year after Mr. Circus passed away, the Christian County Historical Society held a grand opening for the Charles Jackson Circus Museum on what would have been his birthday. Bravard says too many people showed up and the museum couldn't hold them all. Charles' wife Mildred was one of the many in attendance.

"She was just astonished and rather amazed at the amount of the collection. Seeing it all out on display was just quite amazing to her."

The couple had kept the collection in a special room in their home for many years. But Turner says that Jackson would have been happy to see his possessions out for public viewing.

" and if he were to walk in here today. I think he would look all around and in his slow talking and in the accent he used he'd say, Well I'll be,' and that would be it. But in saying I'll be,' he expressed the heart and core of what life is like."

Turner goes on to say that core is to collect and then to share, which could be in any form: music, memories, pictures, and for Charles Jackson it was his love of the big top.