"What is a Hippodrome?," you might ask. Franconi's Hippodrome was a elliptical shaped structure 338 feet by 196.5 feet, with a seating capacity of 10,000 people. The structure was covered with a patriotic red, white and blue canvas supported by a 70 foot center pole, and a series of 40 foot smaller polls surrounding the central pole. It was located at Madison Square, on Fifth Avenue between 23rd and 24th Streets.
The structure was in many ways the precursor to the modern circus, especially those with a "Big Top" and multiple rings.
The Hippodrome, which was based upon a roman structure, the "Roman Circus" of similar purpose, included, and could be said to highlight a track for animal, and chariot races. Animal acts and other circus-like acts would take place inside the track.
The Hippodrome only lasted 2 years, with its final performance on November 12, 1855, featuring General Tom Thumb (made famous by P.T. Barnum) and a menagerie. The structure was closed 5 days later, on November 17, with the Animals and fixtures auctioned off thereafter. Demolition of the remains of the Hippodrome began in March of 1856, with newspapers noting that the "neighbours are not sorry" to see it removed. The papers, specifically the New York Daily Times, had noted upon its opening that the attendees, "...were blacklegs, gamblers, rowdies, and the miscellanea of polite roguery and blackgurdism."
It was apparently so bad, PT. Barnum wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Daily Times, stating:
To the Editor of the New-York Daily Times:
Notwithstanding I have some half-dozen times contradicted in the public prints the reports of my being interested in the Hippodrome, I observe that your Correspondent from New-Haven reiterates the old story, and insists that Franconi and Barnum in this country are synonymous terms. Will you permit me once more to state that I have not the slightest interest, nor never had, in any Hippodrome in this or any other country; and that I am not interested to the amount of a farthing, nor never was, in the Crystal Palace, The Tower, or in any lot or lots, building or buildings in the vicinity of either. Yours Truly, P.T. Barnum." New York Times, May 26, 1853, Page 2
It is not without irony, that Mr. Barnum, in 1871, established, "P.T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome."