A Curtain Call closes the Circus

The Circus is vacating the Circuit

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Sticky cotton candy, hot popcorn, salted peanuts, pungent sawdust, and the inevitable animal patty; the aromas and odors of the circus that stay with you from childhood into adulthood. Admittedly, I regret that I haven’t been to the circus since the mid-1980s. I took a friend’s young son to see the circus at the Civic Center a millennium ago, but I can’t recall any specific circus memories going as a child myself.

It’s 2017, and the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus has come to Baltimore for its final visit. The circus has announced it is closing up shop. That’s right; the Greatest Show On Earth will soon pass into history as a further eroding of traditional Americana. John Lennon borrowed this iconic stage slogan in a hit single he composed for Ringo Starr in 1973.

With this realization, I just had to attend the modern RB & BB Circus for my own treasured indulgence. The circus had always visited Baltimore on a seasonal calendar. Now that its days are numbered, I was exceedingly curious just how today’s circus would impress me. Unfortunately, many American traditions are continuing to become a thing of the past.

I never understood the shopworn cliché about running away to join the circus. Vaudeville died by the 1930s before Burlesque did in the 1940s. Enjoying the travelling circus was a rite of passage for generations of American children. Phineas Taylor Barnum launched his circus in 1841, which was eventually acquired by the Ringling Brothers Circus in 1907.

A sucker is born every minute

After 146 celebrated years of American circus entertainment, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus is coming to a close in May 2017. The best in wholesome family amusement will no longer be an option to share with children. Clowns all around the world are wearing frowns. Only a few more cities remain on the itinerary for the Greatest Show On Earth.

But to be forthright, this is not my father’s circus. The classic clowns are gone. I wanted to see the clown car routine where clowns explode from inside the vehicle. The elephants were removed as a circus attraction in 2016, and it’s not even a three-ring circus anymore! There were only two rings. The rear stage section was reserved to present a live band for musical accompaniment.

In the absence of elephants, the 2017 Out Of This World final circus edition presented lions, tigers, donkeys, llamas, goats, rams, horses, a bouncing kangaroo, a fleet of dogs and two huge hogs. Circus performers appeared on motorcycles and segues, unicyclists played basketball, males and females attempted dangerous stunts while riding horseback, plus a futuristic roller derby team and troupes of skaters raced along the ice.

The main circus attractions were the gregarious lion tamer, the seven motorcyclists riding inside the tiny globe, and the flying traipse artists. The circus theme revolved around a mean queen named Tatiana who wanted to dominate the circus industry. She was challenged by the Ringmaster who rode around in a vehicle that looked like something designed for Doctor Who. There were bouts of silliness in the smaller ring, but this show is targeted to entertain children.

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The concession booths were booming for business. Priced at only $12, the circus program was priced to sell by volume. Stuffed elephants were available for purchase even if they were no longer part of the act. The arena was around 2/3rds capacity. Scalpers were outside scrambling to profit on any extra tickets. I was blessed that I was given a $23 coupon to purchase my own ticket or it would have cost me almost double!

Please direct your attention to the Center Ring!

Carl Neimeyer from Arnold brought his two young sons for their first time to the circus because it was closing. James, at 6, when asked what he liked best said, “I think it was the middle.” Carl thought the circus was fantastic, absolutely fantastic and enjoyed the motorcycles.

Tricia Hunter from Crumpton, brought her son and her mother to see the circus. Scott at 8 said, “It was very, very good.” It was his first time attending the circus. He said he liked the cheetah the best. Gene Boyle from Queen Anne said, “It was great.” He came with his wife and twelve-year-old son Justin. This was another first-time youth seeing the circus. Justin commented, “It was amazing, the lions, the tigers.”

Brian Lee, a single father from Baltimore, had to take his two-year-old daughter Morgan to see the circus before it closed for good. Lee stated, “I loved it even though the elephants weren’t there, but I’ve never seen a kangaroo.” Lee had seen the circus in Frederick when he was a youngster.

Peanuts! Get your peanuts!

No elephants? What! How can they conduct a circus without elephants? Elephants have been a staple showcase of the circus since the 1860s. Children don’t want to see donkeys. Who wants to watch donkeys on parade? They want to see the mighty, the majestic elephant march in the center ring. But animal cruelty advocates brought an end to elephant choreography. It’s just not a circus without an elephant ferrying a beautiful woman riding astride.

Animal rights protestors were outside the arena holding signs and handing out literature in English and Spanish aimed at altering children’s opinions. I have to believe there is an avenue to train and pen animals securely and humanely. Circus animals are not wild animals and must be maintained. The circus has been brought down by so called do-gooders who assert that all animals should be free to roam as they please.

Have no fear, circus fans don’t have to worry about the animated clowns. They are not going anywhere. Every two years each January, new clowns will converge on the Capitol to be sworn into both Houses of Congress. These clowns may not be adorned with colorful face paint, so just use your imagination to envision legislators with fanciful faces.

Timothy Tilghman
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