Circus Memories

The circus is coming to town! Recently I heard the announcement about upcoming performances of the Shrine Circus in Louisville, and that news creates excitement for anyone who is still a kid at heart like me.
The first time I attended a circus was in 1957 when my father took our family to see the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus in Louisville. I had seen circus acts on our black and white television, but to be there in person was unforgettable. All the performers wore sparkling costumes in a rainbow of colors and even the elephants were decorated for the circus parade, making a grand entrance around the arena as the calliope puffed out a lively tune.
The dazzling costumes and three rings of performances going on at the same time was almost too much to take in. I watched in amazement as the lion tamer guided the lions and tigers through their routine. Several elephants followed commands as they marched around the arena while other elephants in the center stood on pedestals and one in the center lifted a beautiful lady into the air.
Trapeze artists swung from high above the arena filling me with wonder, and I held my breath as the tight rope walkers executed their skills on the high wire. When one performance ended and the ring was being cleared, the clowns would appear to entertain with their funny antics. During the show, venders made their way through the audience tempting us with the aroma of popcorn, peanuts, and cotton candy while others offered for sale souvenir books of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
It was sad to hear the announcement last year that Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey’s “The Greatest Show on Earth” was closing and would have its final performance. But there are some smaller circuses still in operation including the Shrine Circus that give children of today the chance to experience this magical world.
I have fond memories of when my daughter Shannon, her two sons Max and Sam, and I went to a small three-ring traveling circus when it came to Salem in 1998. We had front row seats and were so close we could have touched the huge elephants when they marched around the arena in the circus parade. The performers provided excellent entertainment, and I’m sure my grandsons will always remember attending the circus and getting to ride on one of the elephants after the show.
Another opportunity to enjoy an insight into the circus world is attending the Circus Festival in Peru, Indiana, which is held each year for nine days during July. Since 1884 Peru has been known as Circus City because it was the winter home for The Great Wallace Show, and other small circuses later decided to spend the winter in Peru and have their circus animals housed there.
My husband Larry and I were invited to attend the Circus Festival when my cousin lived in Peru in 2012. We enjoyed the exciting circus parade that made its way through the streets of Peru featuring live elephants, music from two calliopes and colorful circus wagons from a number of former traveling circuses including Wallace & Company, Cole Brothers, and Great Van Amburg Shows. It was a special treat to see Emmet Kelly, Jr. riding in one of the circus wagons. That evening we attended one of the shows with a large cast of talented amateur circus performers. There is also an International Circus Hall of Fame Museum in Peru which houses a large amount of circus memorabilia.
As a child growing up in the country, I was entranced when I saw the circus performers on television with their beautiful costumes. I didn’t want to run away to join the circus, but I fashioned a colorful skirt using the material from an old umbrella and pretended to be in the circus as I performed acrobatics on our tree swing in the front yard. I’m glad the younger generation can still create special memories by attending the Shrine Circus whenever it comes to Louisville. The sights and sounds of a circus are unequalled in any other form of entertainment.


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