The Circus Comes to Town

The other day while driving through one of the valley towns I noticed big circus posters here and there – bright and gaudy ones – and it seemed to me I had not seen any like them for years…

Every fence and barn and shed around the town and country for miles was plastered with these enchanting, alluring posters. We could hardly get by them on our way to school and stood before them with bulging eyes and gaping mouths. We were fascinated by the superlative descriptions of the various attractions.

There were “fearful, frightful, ferocious lions: and “tricky treacherous tigers” and the “comical carefree clowns, constantly cavorting: – and then the alluring trapeze performers – in tights- with their “frightful feats marvelously performed”. Of course, we did not see more than half of it, but the posters fascinated us and we were glad we were able to read those magical words.

We counted the days and saved every penny we could in the meantime, and when this great aggregation of wonders landed in town the schoolrooms were almost a riot, and on the boys side especially, most of the seats were empty.

And will you ever forget the parade with the blare of trumpets and drums – the steam calliope in the lead – cages of lions – a zebra – and tiger, perhaps Shetland ponies – trained seals – and on horseback, gaily tinseled ladies in fluffy tarleton skirts? Everything gay and glittering as only a circus could be; anyway – there was something fascinating about the enormous “big top” that went up as if by magic in the old vacant town lot, and town boys swarmed around to get jobs, bringing water for the animals, cleaning stalls – or just doing anything so they could get a pass or even by nearby (and dodge under the canvas when no one was looking) – somehow we never blamed boys for doing it, either, for a circus in town was such a big, rare event in a child’s life.

When I hear a steam calliope, even today, I fancy I can see the circus parade up Washington street in all its brilliance and gaiety – I can see the animals in cages – tired looking and jaded – the fierce leader lashing his whip – the grotesque clowns – all these and more that filled our child’s heart with glee.

Inside the tent there was the odor of fresh sawdust that we all loved- it was just part of the circus; then the long hard benches with no backs – and we munched peanuts and popcorn and drank pink lemonade that “sloshed” out of sticky glasses.

We were breathless when the parade entered the ring led by the band; then the head man with his black hair waving romantically above his plaster white forehead and a long black moustache and a long black moustache – his tights trousers tucked in shiny boots and carrying a long whip that he snapped fiercely – my, he was out real “matinee idol” in those days.

We loved the clowns and the fun they made – and in fact, everything about the old circus was fascinating to children. I wonder if the circus today brings the same thrill and joy.