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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Circus camels win friends at Crawford County Fair


Michael DeJohn, 6, and Jarrett DeJohn, 11, of Meadville, climb onto a camel for a ride at the Zerbini Family Circus at the Crawford County Fair on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. Their 7-year-old sister, Sofia, waits her turn. The circus' Charlie English helps them board. VALERIE MYERS/Erie Times-News/ERIE TIMES-NEWS
By VALERIE MYERS, Erie Times-News
August 24, 2011
MEADVILLE, PA -- The most unusual livestock at this week's Crawford County Fair may be Sally and Louis, grazing near the dairy barn.The camels, star attractions with the Zerbini Family Circus, carry passengers on rides around the big top before and after daily shows.Performances and rides continue through the 66th annual fair, ending Saturday on the Leslie Road fairgrounds in West Mead Township."The kids, especially, like the camels," said Leticia Zerbini, a Mexican-born member of the 10th-generation Zerbini circus family. Grown-ups prefer the aerial and trapeze acts debuting at this year's fair, Zerbini said.The circus played to a full tent, of about 800 spectators each, in free 2 and 6 p.m. shows on its opening day at the fair on Monday. The Florida-based circus was hired by the Crawford County Fair so that visitors can see the show without paying additional admission."Crowds are always very good. You can't see a circus very often," Zerbini said. "In the past 10 years, seven more circuses went out of business. You can't stay in Florida all year; you have to go on the road. For many people, that's hard."But not for the Zerbinis, who began touring Europe with sideshows in the 18th century. The family moved its circus to Algeria, in North Africa, and ultimately to the United States in 1968.Born into a circus family in Mexico, Leticia Zerbini met and married Alain Zerbini, the ninth-generation Zerbini showman, in the United States.Their daughter, Melody, 27, is ringmaster of the show at the Crawford County Fairgrounds. Son Julian, 17, leads trained dogs through their paces."For me, and for my family, this is all we've known. We have always been in the circus, and always been together 24/7. For us, traveling is not so hard. It's our life," Leticia Zerbini said.Alain Zerbini will join the family in Meadville today, after packing up another Zerbini circus performing at the North Carolina State Fair. A third family circus is currently performing in Wisconsin.The shows travel mostly up and down the East Coast from April through October before heading home to a 15-acre complex near Sarasota, Fla."It's like it used to be, traveling from Turkey to Italy and France in Europe. Traveling between states is like that. We have to get our books out and check the laws and regulations for each one," Leticia Zerbini said.Fire and safety regulations for circuses have been strict since 1944, when more than 160 people died in a fire during an afternoon performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Hartford, Conn.Now performing in fireproof tents rigged according to laws in each state, the modern Zerbini Family Circus is inspected by state and local officials wherever they perform, including Connecticut."I always say, if you can play in Connecticut, you can play anywhere," Leticia Zerbini said. "And that's a good thing. We don't want anyone to be hurt."Six-year-old Kayla Green, of Erie, wasn't worried about being hurt as she peered over the orange mesh gate at the big top and at the camels grazing outside before Tuesday's afternoon show. A sign promoting camel rides for $5 prompted a look inside her Hello Kitty wallet, where Kayla counted five ones."I'm going to be the first one on that one," she said, pointing to Sally.Her dad, Mike, said that he thought she wanted to buy a cowboy hat instead.The little girl thought about it."Aidan has a cowboy hat," she said, referring to a neighborhood friend. "He's never ridden a camel."Free Zerbini Family Circus performances continue at 2 and 6 p.m. through Saturday, with an additional show Saturday morning at 11.

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