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Tuesday, August 28, 2012


My love affair with the circus
by Bill Wundram
from: qctimes.com
Aug 28, 2012
After the lions had left the big steel arena and were slinking through the chutes back to their cages, my wife and I settled down for lunch alongside the pie wagon.
The cats were only a dozen or so feet away when we ordered lasagna, which was quite good, at the pie wagon of the Greatest Show on Earth.
The pie wagon is a wagon café where circus performers and workers can buy a snack or a meal between acts of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. It was a typical August a few years ago, our second day with the show backstage at American Airlines Arena in Dallas, Texas.
For a number of years, my wife and I joined the Ringling show at some faraway place like Houston or Colorado Springs to spend a few days with the circus. To me, it seemed natural to be chatting with Jon Weiss an hour before he was to be shot from the mouth of a cannon, or to make show talk with some white-face boss clown who asked why I never joined the circus.
Helen told him, “Until we had our first child, I thought he might run away with the circus.”
Some people love golf. Some like baseball. I love the circus, its mystique, its splashy color, its thrills and danger; its mélange of mystery. It has the aroma of courage.
And I especially love the Ringling show, which opens Friday at the i wireless Center in Moline.
I have come to be very close to the circus. During a period in Florida, I took part in Ringling’s Clown College in Venice. It was exhausting. Never could I have had the remote endurance of “graduating.”
Once, our son, Tim, and I were on the road for seven days with a small circus. He was a cotton candy vendor; I worked as a clown, Silly Billy. I have done clown shticks with the Ringling show and have found circus people to be warm and considerate. They do not have the harshness of carnival people.
When we were on the Ringling show, we had the run of the place. It was wonderful. My wife came to love (well, admire) the circus as much as I. She would say, “I have no other choice.”
Often, we would see a performance eight or nine times. You cannot see enough of a circus because every performance is different.
WE HAVE SHARED the drama and tragedy of the circus. We became friends of show-folk like Dessi Espana, who worked high (aerialist), and also was the barber on the Ringling show. She gave me a haircut one day. A few months later, we were at her funeral. A turnbuckle on her rigging broke and she fell 30 feet straight down.
Wayne Franzen, a good friend whose Franzen Bros. Circus we traveled with, was jumped one matinee by a lion. She broke his neck. He died before they got him to the hospital. His son, Brian, broken-hearted, carried on the act and filling out the season.
Such pain brings us a consciousness of Henry Ringling North, who once had a partnership in the show. He said:
“The circus is a zealous wench who kills the brightest stars in her crown and who will allow no private life to those who serve her …destroying the happiness of their loved ones by her insatiable demands. She is all of these things, yet I love her as I love nothing else on earth.”
Contact Bill Wundram at 563-383-2249 or bwundram@qctimes.com.

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