Circus World singing Ringmaster David SaLoutos looks over the museum’s newest exhibit, the Seimor Bros. model circus hand carved over 40 years by Milwaukee resident Mel Romeis. With power to its moving parts being installed Friday, SaLoutos expected it to be open to the public Monday, May 9.
Brian D. Bridgeford / News Republic By Brian D. Bridgeford Saturday, April 30, 2011 With the performance season approaching, workers are putting the finishing touches on Circus World's Slide for Life thrill show and a lovingly crafted model circus that is the museum's newest exhibit.
Slide for Life
Friday morning, contractor Brian Hakala of Wisconsin Dells and Circus World staff installed a tall wooden pole topped by a narrow platform with a steel cable spanning the Baraboo River.
Illusionist Tristan Crist said the Slide for Life will feature his sister, Hannah Crist, sliding 50 feet over the river hanging by a loop around her neck, hand or foot. He estimated the distance from the north side of the river to the south side at about 180 feet.
Singing ringmaster David SaLoutos said it has been a quarter-century since Circus World featured this kind of thrill performance. Circus World has hosted variations on this theme, such as a tightrope walker crossing the river on a cable.
Crist's act will include dramatic music to heighten the crowd's excitement and a loud "bang" when she reaches the south bank.
Wagon Superintendent Harold "Heavy" Burdick said he can remember summers from the early 1980s when visitors packed the bridge across the river to watch an acrobat make the Slide for Life.
"I think it will be a good addition to the museum for the future," he said.
Inside a huge, walk-in display case in the exhibit hall, workers with Hill's Wiring of West Baraboo were putting the finishing touches on power for the Seimor Bros. model circus built by late circus fan Mel Romeis of Milwaukee.
Romeis and his wife hand-carved the model in exquisite detail over 40 years, SaLoutos said. It includes a variety of motorized big top performers that can actually move.
"Eventually the model would be displayed at shopping centers and things like that in conjunction with Old Milwaukee Days and the Great Circus Parade," he said.
The Kohler Foundation purchased the model and gave it to the International Clown Hall of Fame when it was housed in Milwaukee, SaLoutos said. After the clown museum left State Fair Park, the Kohler Foundation gave the model to the State Historical Society.
"They said it needed to come to Circus World, so that's how it got here," he said.
SaLoutos said Burdick and Baraboo circus fan Ralph Pierce did much of the work assembling the 18-by-38-foot model.
The model features railway flatcars delivering circus wagons, colorful wagons on parade, a huge big top tent with performances going on inside and a menagerie filled with animals.
In a written statement accompanying the exhibit, Romeis recounts how he became fascinated with circuses as a young child. In the early ‘50s he began researching circuses and eventually began building the 1/2-inch scale model over 40,000 hours.
"Every wagon or piece of equipment is a scale model of a prototype that was on the real show," Romeis wrote.
"To think, the gentleman worked on this year after year to get the details right," SaLoutos said. "You can look at all the details and it's right on the mark."
In an out-of-the-way corner of the model, members of the circus crew are shown eating in an open-sided tent while cooks grill pancakes and eggs in a smaller tent nearby. A tiny butcher stands outside at a cutting block preparing meat for future meals and several wagons carry generators that light the circus grounds and performance tents.
"This was the life of the circus performers," SaLoutos said. "It was their village and it moved every day."
SaLoutos said the new exhibit will be shown to donors during an event next weekend and will open to the public Monday, May 9.
Circus performances in the Hippodrome and the Slide for Life begin Saturday, May 21.
On the 'Net
Information about Circus World, including performance schedules and a description of exhibits, are available at http://circusworld.wisconsinhistory.org