This pint-sized Queenslander is little-known in Australia outside of the circus community, but internationally she is regarded as one of the finest circus performers of modern times. Born in Bundaberg in 1894 to a circus family, she was adopted into Australia’s Wirth Bros. Circus after her parents separated. Here she built on existing acrobatic skill and added equestrian skills to her repertoire. She was trick riding by the age of ten and receiving her own billing by the age of twelve as “May Ringling” the “American fearless hurricane hurdle rider.” In 1912 she was invited to tour in the United States with the Barnum and Bailey circus and billed as the greatest bare back rider in the world. May was the first woman to do a forward flip on horseback from a kneeling position, and she perfected tumbling from one moving horse to another. She was only 4 feet eleven inches but she could leap from the ground onto the back of a galloping stallion, blindfolded and sometimes with heavy baskets on her feet. When she finally retired in 1937, she had spent 25 years as one of the circus’s top female performers. May settled in the United States and on February 23, 1964 she was inducted to the Circus Hall of Fame. This particular image is a well known publicity shot of her with one of her white stallions. It is signed in a slightly wavering hand in blue pen:
“To Mr Knisley from very sincerely May Wirth”.
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