From May 17 to May 26, 1875, the vacant land at Commonwealth and Exeter was the site of P. T. Barnum’s Great Roman Hippodrome. Advertisements and press accounts for the extravaganza indicated that it was held on lots at the corner of Commonwealth and Exeter.
Buildings already had been constructed on the eastern side of Exeter, at 191 Commonwealth on the north side of Commonwealth and at 192 Commonwealth on the south side of Commonwealth. The lots used by the Hippodrome therefore were on the western side of Exeter, and most likely at the southwest corner where 25 Exeter and 196 Commonwealth later would be built.
Barnum’s Hippodrome was held in an amphitheater and tents, and featured (according to Barnum’s advertising) a “spectacular pageant,” the “Congress of Nations,” which the Boston Globe’s May 18, 1875, report on the show described as a procession of actors representing “the dignitaries of the various great countries of the world in characteristic vehicles, followed by soldiers in appropriate uniforms, Indians, Chinese, Turks, Africans, etc.” The advertising also promised elephants, dromedaries, and bison; chariot races and exhibitions of other “sports of ancient Greece and Rome;” trotting horse races, and a balloon ascension by aeronaut Washington H. Donaldson in his hot air balloon, the “P. T. Barnum.”