Clyde E. Witt, The Plain Dealer
Baron Julius Von Uhl cracks the whip on eight jungle cats during the James Brothers Circus' 1970 run in Cleveland, in the Municipal Stadium parking lot.
By Special to The Plain Dealer
January 19, 2012
The Cleveland Jaycees sponsored a circus in the summer of 1970. It ran for three days and nights in the parking lot of the football stadium down by the lakefront.
The "advance sales" team set up about six weeks before the circus, seeking contributions from local businesses to let kids attend the circus for free. The objective was to oversell the seating capacity in the belief that many tickets would not actually get into the kids' hands, but the attendance at the scheduled shows was so high that the circus had to put on extra performances
Two weeks before the circus was to arrive, their tent was destroyed by a tornado, so we had to go ahead with the event with no tent! You can bet we were praying the weather would be favorable.
Everything went well, and the event earned the Jaycees a large profit to put toward their community projects.
-- John Dahne, chairman of the circus event, Maryland
Editor's note: It was the James Brothers Circus, which made other trips to Cleveland for charity events in that same era as well. The circus came complete with Baron Von Uhl and his lions and tigers, the Great Huberto's slide for life, and the Riding Cristiani Troupe.
The James circus played here Aug. 10-12, 1970. According to online sources, its tent had been blown down in late May of that year. But the photo we found in our files clearly shows the lion act performing under the sky, so it looks like the circus was still open air when it got here.
The local paper in Grand Junction, Colo., has a story in its archive that says the cause of the tent collapse turned out not to be a tornado, but heavy winds. From the Sentinel's story (which is behind a paywall):
There already was a strong wind blowing in from the southwest early in the evening when the crowds started arriving at the James Bros. circus tent that had been set up ... on May 20, 1970, for the 6 p.m. show.
With just 15 minutes and two acts from the end of the show, a strong blast of wind snapped the guy ropes along the south edge of the tent and carried the tent and poles up and across the arena, dumping them behind the grandstand on the north side where most of the children were seated, leaving 80 injured.
The tent did not collapse on the audience. The injured were struck by the 300-pound main poles that went hurtling through at least three of the grandstands or by the whipping ropes that had snapped loose from the stakes.