Isla, a 33-year-old elephant, is led by Armando Loyal, the Animal Supervisor of the Kelly Miller Circus, as she raises the main support beams while crews work to construct the tent at Kelley's Island on Monday. (Jonathon Bird/News Herald)
. BY CATHARINE HADLEY • News Herald • August 3, 2009
KELLEYS ISLAND — Each year, residents of Kelleys Island look forward to the Kelly Miller Circus coming to town.The circus employees are just as excited to come to the island.“What they don’t know is we spend the whole year going ‘Is it August yet?’ ” ringmaster John Moss said.The circus has been coming to the island for years, and Moss has met several local people. “I think we’ve all developed friendships over the years,” he said. “There’s no one town on the route that we look forward to as much as Kelleys Island.”Edgar “Lucky Eddie” Strafer, the music director for the circus, agreed. “Kelleys Island is like the apex of our season,” he said.The visit signals the halfway point of the circus season, when the performers begin to head back toward Oklahoma. It also signals a warm, friendly welcome.“We’re here for two days. That’s a big deal for us,” he said.On Sunday night, 65 employees and dozens of animals in 36 vehicles crossed from Marblehead on the Kelleys Island Ferry. “They will come out at night and we get off the ferry,” Strafer said.The entertainment began the next morning, when hundreds of people watched the employees get ready for the circus.The clanging of spikes being driven into the ground rang through the air. Visitors wandered by temporary pens, looking at the riding ponies, the draft horses and the elephants.One elephant lay on her side while her handler, Armando Loyal, removed hay from her back with a leaf-blower.Another elephant nibbled grass, keeping her eyes on the spectators.Nearby, another animal handler brought a young tiger out of a trailer, down a ramp and into a temporary pen. The pair romped and cuddled for a moment before the handler left the pen.The big cat tried to climb the fence, trying to get to some nearby tree branches. Circus employees moved the pen, leaving him to peruse the sidewalk.The tent canvas lay on the ground until workers began erecting short poles along the perimeter. “See, there go the quarter-poles,” Strafer said.The employees need about three hours to assemble the tent.“Coming down, it comes down like, ‘Bam!’” Strafer said. One employee climbed up a side rope to adjust lines from the top of the partially-assembled tent.“Usually at this time they’re hanging the side wall, but they’re leaving it off today so the crowd can see in,” Strafer said.The crowd was invited inside the tent to watch Lisa the elephant do her part.Wearing a harness attached to a chain that went around the base of a “king pole,” Lisa pulled until the pole stood upright. The audience applauded as she gave the same treatment to three more poles, leaving the tent nearly ready.“It’s probably the second largest event we do here on Kelleys Island. The largest would be Islandfest, but it’s a close second,” said Marvin Robinson, director of the Kelleys Island Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau.About 2,000 people attend the circus each day it is in town, no matter what the weather brings, he said. “Each show is pretty much sold out,” Robinson said. “It’s rain or shine, so people still come.”The circus began coming to town about five years ago. “It’s just been a community hit ever since,” the director said.Maria Fischer and her daughter, Rachel Fischer-Hahn, scheduled their trip from Lexington, Ky., to coincide with the circus. They came to visit island residents Doug and Susie Klimkowski, and the group went to watch ferries arrive Sunday night.Susie Klimkowski said it was fun and exciting to watch the circus preparations.