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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Life under the big top


Daniel Lutz, left, Tom Libel Jr. and Tom Libel hoist a circus tent on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012, in Sorrento. The Great American Family Circus will open at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4, next to Sorrento Elementary School on County Road 437.Brown, Roxanne

SORRENTO ROXANNE BROWN Staff Writer

Published: Friday, February 03, 2012

The Great American Family Circus is making its debut "under the giant blue big-top" in Sorrento this weekend. Headlining the show are the Liebels -- a 16-generation circus family with a world-renowned elephant act.
"I can track my family's involvement in the circus back about 500 years, maybe more. I was born into it and I cannot remember a single day I wasn't in the circus," said owner and family patriarch Tom Liebel.





Catalina Libel, 16, sets up bleachers under the big top for the Great American Family Circus on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012, in Sorrento.

Liebel said who bought what is now called The Great American Family Circus from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He remembers working alongside his father in a circus magic show since he was 2 years old.
"I was the boy that was made to appear out of my dad's magic box," Liebel said.
On Saturday, their 2012 tour will make its first stop in Sorrento, with its first show scheduled for 2 p.m., next to Sorrento Elementary School at 24605 Wallick Road.


Mariska Libel, 14, ties out a pony while helping to set up for the Great American Family Circus on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012, in Sorrento.
Liebel's father was a flying trapeze artist who later became a circus magician. His mother was a contortionist and an acrobat who starred in shows alongside her seven sisters.
Liebel's grandfather was a circus strong man, his grandmother was a ballerina who starred in an act where she danced atop a rolling ball, and his great-grandfather was a horse trainer.
Liebel said his family started out performing in circuses in Italy and, through the centuries, have performed throughout Romania, Hungary, Austria and the United States.
Liebel said he's even heard stories of his family performing for soldiers in Britian during World War II in exchange for food rations.
Liebel said he has albums filled with pictures of family members in the circus through the centuries.
Tom Libel hoses down an elephant on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012, in Sorrento.

The Great American Family Circus will open at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4, next to Sorrento Elementary School on County Road 437."It's not for everyone, but as for my family, that's what we do," he said.
Today, Liebel shares the experience with his own family of eight, as they work on carrying on the tradition with himself at the helm as a circus trainer, specializing in elephants and monkeys.
Liebel's wife, Holland-born Francesca, is a longtime horse trainer and licensed school teacher, who home schools all the circus children as they travel. An elephant grazes on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012, in Sorrento as the Great American Family Circus sets up shop.The couple's children, minus their oldest who is currently traveling with another circus, are with them at all times. On Saturday, attendees will have the opportunity to see them in action.



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