The dawning of the amusement industry name, Skerbeck, began in 1857. This was when Frank Skerbeck Sr. traded his linen factory for a small circus in Aussig, Bohemia. Years later, in the 1880’s Frank Skerbeck Jr., with his wife Mary and children, immigrated on the steamship S.S America to the United States to continue the circus business. Purchasing 44.26 acres of land, sight unseen, the Skerbeck Family found themselves in Wisconsin. They built a house and a blue barn, large enough to utilize as practice quarters for their circus act.
Touring playing halls, schools, and opera houses in Wisconsin, Northern Michigan, Chicago, and Minneapolis areas, the whole family was a part of the act. Frank was an acrobat, sword-swallower, and trapeze artist. Mary was a snake charmer. The kids performed an array of talents; contortionist, gymnasts, trapeze artists, a singing clown, and high wire acts. In 1884 they bought their first tent. As the story goes, Frank encouraged Al Ringling to take his show under canvas and sold him his first circus tent.
While on tour, the current home base of Skerbeck Family Carnival, Escanaba, MI, saw its first Skerbeck Family perform in 1895! The first carnival ride ever purchased by the Skerbeck Family was a merry-go-round in 1897. It is still a staple on any carnival midway today. The show toured as a blend of circus and carnival and most shows were only 10-25 cents!
In the early 1900s the Skerbeck family continued to grow both in business and family. By this time Frank Jr’s sons, Joe and Gus, has taken over management and operation. By the 1930s, with 4 rides, 5 shows, and 10 concessions, the Skerbeck family continued to bring smiles on faces, with quality family entertainment. Throughout this time the Skerbeck Family always remembered the importance of social responsibility. They donated proceeds to organizations like the Army and Navy relief funds, church organizations, and the World Circus Museum.
Into the swing of the '40s Joe’s children Eugene and Pauline became a major part of the operation and took over ownership in the early ‘50s. If you’ve been counting, this brings the Skerbecks into their fourth generation as showmen! By the 1960s Eugene, along with his wife Arlene and sister Pauline, continued to grow and maintain their northern Michigan and Wisconsin route.
In 1972 Eugene and Arlene’s sons Joe and Bill took over ownership. Throughout the 80s and 90s, along with their wives, Debbie and CJ respectively, they more than doubled their carnival operation. Promoting “Quality family entertainment for over a century”, they brought their carnival operation to a whole new level.
As time went on, and as Joe and Bill’s families grew, the Skerbeck family realized it was time yet again to diversify the company. Thus, in 2014, The Skerbeck Bros. Shows divided into two companies. Continuing to transfer the entertainment business from one generation to the next, the Skerbeck family has operated in an array of names including The Great Skerbeck Circus, Skerbeck’s Great One-Ring Railroad Show, Skerbeck’s Wild West, Skerbeck’s Amusement Co., Skerbeck Bros. Shows, and Skerbeck Carnival.
With the dawning of a new era, Bill Skerbeck along with his wife CJ and their children and spouses, proudly operate under the name of Skerbeck Family Carnival. After all, family is what keeps the wheel turning. The sixth generation, Bob, Dustin, and Carly, along with their spouses Jamee, Cindy, and Jeff respectively, travel full time with their premier carnival operation. With the seventh generation growing, plan on seeing the Skerbeck family name continue in the amusement industry for many more years to come!
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