Cole Bros. Circus has called DeLand home for more than 55 years
By Erika Webb
Posted: 2014 Mar 07
DeLand is unique in many ways, but one standout fact is residents don't say the circus is coming to town. It lives there.
Busy hands were all about Cole Bros.' winter quarters Feb. 27. No longer do elephants trumpet and tigers roar on the 17 acres, once the Volusia County Fairgrounds, abutting the railroad tracks. Simple economics and prudence determined the massive animals should be leased.
Year-round feeding and tending is expensive. Insurance premiums are exorbitant.
The world's largest circus under the big top has outlasted hundreds of circuses since its origin in the mid-1800s.
It came to DeLand in 1956 because of the railroad, said Senior Marketing Director Chuck Werner.
"That was the same year Ringling Brothers said the American circus is done," Mr. Werner said.
That season -- 1956-57 -- Cole Bros. converted its show from railroad to truck and each year, from March through November, around 150 complementary personnel travel to more than 100 cities and towns with performers, animals and concessionaires to entertain the masses who still feel the magic under the tent.
Technology can't trump certain feats.
"Kids are starting to realize, at the circus, the guy really does get shot out of a cannon and it's not special effects," Mr. Werner said.
Some DeLand residents remember when, during setup each year near the airport, elephants could be seen pulling the poles for the main tent.
"The government stopped that," said Cole Bros. President and CEO John Pugh -- a story unto himself.
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