As a kid, I never saw a circus. I skipped right from playing circus games/acts with my older brother in our front yard (which landed me in the emergency room), straight to Vegas and seeing Cirque de Soleil performances. I never saw a ‘real’ circus, the kind with a big top, elephants, trapeze families, and clowns…until this summer in the Midwest.
I saw a poster in the Milbank grocery store about a traveling circus that was showing up in my parent’s town in a week. When you are living in a small town (even if it is temporary), you are aching for something interesting to happen. So when I saw the poster, I decided that this was it…entertainment at last! The paper had a story about the traveling circus and I found out that the Carson & Barnes traveling circus was the only one of their kind. The traveling circus is a dieing breed; it should be put on the ‘endangered entertainment list’. The Carson & Barnes circus is one of the last big tops traveling the country. The paper also stated that if anyone wanted to see the big top raised, you could show up at the grounds at 8AM to see the elephants raise the tent. It seemed like a great photo op, so I bought my tickets and cleaned off my lenses.
My dad and I went into town early at 8AM to go watch the activity. Little did we know that we would actually get involved in the activity. As we were watching the circus crew set up everything, a man came over and asked my dad for some assistance in finding a local machine shop as they needed to do a trapeze repair. As my dad ran off to assist, after all the show must go on, (and after all, I couldn’t write a post about the circus without using that line…sorry), I stuck around and photographed the raising of the big top.
It was quite an operation to watch as hundreds of workers plus one elephant raise a tent next to the corn field on the outside of town. This process took over 4 hours in all to go from a flat tent to a functioning big top. I talked to one of the workers and found out that as soon as the show ends tonight, they pull it all down and get on the road again the next day at 5AM to do the exact same thing in another town…day after day. This is a job that took patience for repetitive tasks that I would never have. Note to self…never run away and join the circus; no matter how desperate I am to find a job.
We took my 3 nieces to the circus later that evening; they had never seen a real 3 ring circus either. It was an international affair as all of the performers were from other countries and most had been with the circus for generations. As I watched various families perform death defying acts high above the ground with no nets, I looked around at the small crowd and wondered…how many years does this big top have left?
It was a good show overall and I think the small town of Milbank was thoroughly entertained as well as myself. The performances received plenty of ooh’s and ahh’s. I felt as if I had stepped back in time to a life before cable tv and video games. Early the next morning, the many, many trucks loaded with animals and tents took off leaving no trace and ready to do it all over again a hundred miles down the road.