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Thursday, February 18, 2010

CIRCUS WORLD REUNION PART 1 (FROM MIKE NAIGHTON)

Circus World People Gather to Remember the Park
By Gary WhiteTHE LAKELAND LEDGER
Published: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 11:54 p.m.
Clowns get artistic in this shot of performers at Circus World.
A shopping center occupies the southeast corner of the intersection of Interstate 4 and U.S. 27, housing a collection of chain stores - Target, Best Buy, PetSmart - that could be in Dayton or Dubuque as easily as Davenport.There isn't a trace of the distinctive presence the location once held, a short-lived theme park called Circus World.
But Dan Stapleton remembers the place, and he's not alone. Stapleton, who worked as a magician at the defunct attraction from 1978 to 1981, has organized a reunion of former Circus World employees. They will gather Friday, not under a big top but in the ballroom of a resort in Kissimmee.
Stapleton said the idea of a reunion has been germinating almost since Circus World folded its tent 24 years ago.
"Every year I hear from someone who worked at Circus World, and every one of them said the same thing over the last 20 years - 'We ought to have a reunion,'" said Stapleton, an Orlando resident. "So six months ago I came home and said, 'Guess what? ... I'm going to do it.' So I just started contacting people who I knew (worked at Circus World), which weren't very many. Then I put it on Facebook, and it just took off."
Stapleton expects more than 100 former Circus World workers at the reunion, with attendees coming from as far away as California, Washington state and New York. The reunion will take place at the Radisson Resort Orlando-Celebration, where Stapleton works as director of entertainment.

Musicians, elephants, jugglers, clowns and acrobats made Circus World a favorite destination.

Stapleton, 57, said the gathering will include a former ringmaster, trapeze artists and clowns, along with people who worked on the technical crew and in food service, security, park operations and administration.
Circus World, originally known by the unwieldy name of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus World Showcase, opened in 1974 and last until 1986, experiencing two changes of owners. The original admission fee was $1.95 for adults. Attendance peaked at 1.3 million in 1975, and the attraction had about 450 employees.
The centerpiece at Circus World was the Showcase, a 27,000-square-foot building designed as a big top and painted in white and red stripes. It housed a 600-seat IMAX theater, promoted at the time as the world's largest indoor theater, which showed a circus-oriented film.
The Showcase featured trapeze acts, elephant performances and other typical circus fare.
Stapleton performed in the James A. Bailey Theater of Illusion, which held about 200 people. He said at one point he was doing nine shows a day.
The attraction had many rides, including a wooden roller coaster, the Florida Hurricane, that Stapleton said was a favorite of the late Michael Jackson. A 150-foot-high Ferris wheel offered views over acres of citrus groves.

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