Former Ringling Hospital Site Might Become ‘Empathy Museum’ Exposing Abuse of Animals in Circuses?

PETA Asks for Permission to Construct Facility Featuring Bullhook, Model Boxcar Used for Confinement as Well as Videos and Photographs of Cruel Training Practices

For Immediate Release:
January 7, 2016

David Perle 202-483-7382

In light of news that the now-vacant St. Mary’s Ringling Hospital in Baraboo—previously a mansion owned by the wife of one of the infamous Ringling brothers—is set to be demolished and the land sold, PETA sent a letter this morning inquiring about purchasing and transforming one of the parcels of land into an empathy museum exposing the abuse of animals by Ringling Bros. and other circuses. PETA, whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment,” notes in its letter to the city administrator of Baraboo that the museum would educate the community about the deprivation and cruelty endured by animals in circuses. Proposed exhibits include tools of the trade such as a bullhook—a weapon that resembles a fireplace poker with a sharp steel hook on one end—an electric prod used to shock animals, and a model of a boxcar used to transport cramped and frightened animals across the country.

“Since their inception, circuses like Ringling Bros. have abused and exploited sensitive, intelligent animals out of pure greed,” says PETA Foundation Counsel Rachel Mathews. “They deprive animals of their most fundamental needs—indeed, rights—to exercise, roam, socialize, forage, and play. The empathy museum would feature eyewitness videos of animals confined to tiny cages or shackled in chains, displaying behavior such as swaying back and forth and head-bobbing—commonly observed signs of mental distress brought on by confinement, neglect, and isolation.”

For more information, please visit PETA’s website

PETA’s letter to Ed Geick, city administrator of Baraboo, follows.

January 7, 2016

Ed Geick
City Administrator
City of Baraboo

Dear Mr. Geick,

I’m writing on behalf of PETA and our more than 3 million members and supporters, including thousands across Wisconsin, with a proposal for the site of the former St. Mary’s Ringling Hospital. We’re interested in purchasing one of the intended land parcels, where we would construct an empathy museum for the purpose of educating people about the suffering of animals used in circuses, including Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

Since their inception, circuses such as Ringling Bros. have abused and exploited sensitive, intelligent animals out of sheer greed. An exhibit about the extremely cruel training practices used throughout circus history would include videos of elephants and tigers being beaten and electrocuted in order to coerce them into performing confusing and unnatural tricks. The museum would display a bullhook—the sharp hooked instrument that Ringling uses to beat elephants into submission—and a disconnected electric shock prod used to electrocute animals, which visitors could view and touch to gain a better understanding of the pain that the animals experience.

Since circuses deprive animals of opportunities to fulfill their basic needs to exercise, roam, socialize, forage, and play, the museum would feature undercover videos of animals in tiny cages or in chains, displaying behavior such as swaying back and forth, head-bobbing, and pacing, which are commonly observed signs of mental distress brought on by confinement, neglect, and isolation. A real circus boxcar, used to transport the animals for 50 weeks a year, would also be on display, complete with scale models of animals inside to show that the cars are too small for them to move or turn around in—and including some model feces to represent what the animals are forced to stand in.

We agree that it would be wonderful if something that benefits the community is done with the site. Our museum would stand in stark contrast to Circus World, a museum celebrating the abuse of animals for the sake of entertainment, and is certainly what the city needs in this day and age, hence our proposal. Thank you for considering our offer. I look forward to hearing from you.


Tracy Reiman
Executive Vice President

For Media: Contact PETA's
Media Response Team.


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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind