Tuesday, August 29, 2006 

Potsdam, NY. 73 miles. Grass. Cool, partly sunny.

Jumped to the St Lawrence River Valley of northern New York today, hard against the Canadian border. With a mountain range separating the St Lawrence from this rest of New York there is a stark beauty to these isolated farmlands closer to Ottawa and Montreal than Albany, New York, or Syracuse. The Pie Car broke free from it’s truck today and went skidding into a parked mini-van and a power pole. The damages could have been far worse given the drama involved. It’s almost September now and though two full months remain to the outdoor season the end of the road grows closer with every day. Tensions are natural in any closed community after so long on the road. Four people have blown the show in the past few days running away to join the town, whether that town is somewhere in Texas or elsewhere. On any show people drift away as the end of the season nears. The circus itself moves on striving for a finery, a maturity in the last days and weeks and months impossible in the Spring. The rhythm of an Autumn show is I like to think circus at it’s very best.

Monday, August 28, 2006 


Watertown, NY. 80 miles. Grass. Perfect circus weather.

Two days of dreary weather in Rome gave way to perfect circus weather 80 miles to the north in Watertown. In late August already the leaves are changing here. We have now touched each of the Great Lakes, and here near the St Lawrence River we’re skirting Canada once again. After Potsdam tomorrow we will turn south for four weeks, then west toward Oklahoma.

In May in Arizona Valeria Albuquerque fell while climb to the high wire and fractured a small bone in her ankle. Surgery followed. The doctors felt that in three months Valeria would be ready to ready to the carpa (tent) and work in the pista (ring) again. Last Friday an x-ray revealed that Valeria’s ankle has not healed properly and she will need further surgeries and she may never work on the wire again. We are fragile. We tell the world that circus is wonders. We smile and do not tell the world that we break easily. Circus is a business of generations. Daughters and sons follow fathers and mothers into a career where the star in the center ring may be busted up and selling novelties after just a few seasons. But to leave the circus is to enter a world somehow more frightening where community is far less tolerant, or supportive, or international. The language of circus is not English, or Spanish, or even Italian, but rather the shared bonds of experience and triumph and heartache.

Saturday, August 26, 2006 


Rome, NY. 83 miles. Grass. Cool and overcast.

We’re playing for two days at the Oneida County Airport. The Strates Carnival has the midway at the New York State Fair a short drive away, something that probably hurt us in yesterday’s town. Soon enough we’ll turn north into the mountains for a week, then south to Albany for the long Labor Day weekend and the end of summer.


Because I work for a big circus, when I dream I dream of small circuses with a bigtop a fraction of the size of our own. I imagine short jumps, and I never dream of a show that travels from Arizona to the Atlantic in a single season. Once in Honduras I saw a circus with five performers who pitched the tent, laid the seat boards, set the props, sold tickets and sodas. The music was an old record player playing 45 rpm vinyls. It was a great show. Heading into the late months of the season the totality of the miles we have traveled become clearer. Today I sent the parts buyer for propane to keep the giant snakes warm. In three weeks there will be frost a few hours from here.

Friday, August 25, 2006 

Hammondsport, NY. 80 miles. Grass lot. Rain.

Back to the Finger Lakes for a stop at the foot of Keuka Lake. The first seaplane flew on the waters of this lake more than eighty years ago, and long before the Napa Valley the American wine industry was born. Beneath the eaves of a rambling cottage six miles up the lake at Marlena Point I remember spending portions of nearly every childhood summer reading by the light of a six cell flashlight about the exotic animals of Africa. New York State is the cradle of the circus in America, and moving north and east from here this circus will cross the traceroutes of those earlier shows that once played the rough and tumble in the Mohawk Valley.

Auburn, NY. 78 miles. Grass. Rain.

Rain through the night in Hammondsport, and a wet jump north through Geneva, then east to Auburn. Cole Bros Circus played Auburn in July. It appears that Cole Bros is moving away from the seaboard route that has defined the show for many years, reaching out to communities further west that were once a part of the “historic” Beatty-Cole routes of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. I’ve written much on this already. In my opinion, which along with a buck might buy you a cup of coffee, 2006 is a transitional year for traditional circuses. A pivotal year. Routing, promotions, equipment, it seems that this season (and certainly next season) everything is on the table as we learn to live with higher fuel and insurance prices and look for enticements that will successfully lure the audience – also battered by fuel prices – into the bigtop. Though we all (circus enthusiasts) seem to dwell now and then on the mistakes made during this transition (ringless circuses, etc) there’s probably much to be learned from the economically healthy regional circuses that exist elsewhere. Again as enthusiasts it’s taken us twenty years to embrace the idea that smaller circuses can be as good or better than larger ones. Awed by size sometimes we overlook issues of quality. Few would argue that the outstanding Fled shows of the late 1970's were incredible, but so were the single ring Big Apple offering of a decade ago. Five rings isn't better than three, nor three better than one, but one isn't better than two. It's what happens in those rings that really matters. On this show, this season, we’ve tried hard to improve the quality of our performance while shrinking modestly to cut costs. In the future I would hope that we will improve the quality of the performance even more, reducing costs through the natural process of retooling and rethinking equipment. A a rainy day in Auburn at least, I’m cautiously optimistic that the next generation of circuses that emerge from this transition will be smarter, better, lighter circuses retaining the traditions that make circus special while finding new faces that breath life into those elements of tradition that can sometimes seem cliché.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006 

Angola, NY 120 miles. Grass. Sunny.

Back to western NY to the shores of Lake Erie. Long jump. Clown, magician, legendary ringmaster John Kennedy Kane came calling -- fresh from Garden Circus dates in Canada, and the Erie County Fair. Stayed for both shows. Yesterday a wonderful couple in Phelps noted they they follow our adventures via the blog. We'll have to liven things up a bit.

Olean, NY. 80 miles. Mowed field. Cool, sunny.

Olean is theoretical home to Billy Martin's Cole All-Star Circus, a sixty year old "school" show that owns Upstate New York in the winter the way that Jose Cole owns MN when the snow falls. Sadly, a wire walker who fell and sustained a broken ankle back in the spring in Arizona learned today that the bone has not healed correctly. She'll need further consultations, more doctors, and additional treatment. We are all so fragile, and yet in circus we risk everything to fly.

Monday, August 21, 2006 

Owego, NY. 40 miles. Grass. Warm, and overcast.

A river flood forced the cancellation of the Tioga County Fair in July. The circus made up for that. Good business, nice day.

Phelps, NY. 90 miles. Grass. Perfect circus weather.

Long jump first through the valleys of southern New York, then up along the Finger Lakes. We are headed back into #estern New York before playing Northern and Eastern New York. We'll return to the Finger Lakes at the end of the week.bbb

Saturday, August 19, 2006 



Elmira, NY. (Horseheads) 80 miles. Grass. Rain.

In June of 1961 on this same fairgrounds I attended my first tented circus.


Batavia, NY. 45 miles. Grass. Perfect circus weather.

Tear down in Lockport was completed by midnight, and minutes later two vans carried the tent crew and the prop boys twenty miles to Niagara for a look at the falls. We don’t get to play tourist too often, and if the trade-off is sleep, now and then it’s well worth it.

In Batavia the show plays in opposition to a nearby fair. We will playing in opposition to fairs through much of the remaining summer and into the autumn.

Angelica, NY. 70 miles. Grass. Perfect circus weather.

In 1805 Angelica was an outpost on the western frontier living in the shadow of the remnants of the Seneca Nation, by 1840 as canals and railroads snaked there way through the river valleys of Upper New York Angelica was a prosperous town along the drainage of the Genessee. Angelica retains that quaint mid-19th Century charm with its broad streets, picturesque business district and a rotary surrounding a Village Commons fronted by five churches with windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The East, we’re reminded is old and full of history. Old Bet herself may have visited this town in the pre-circus days of elephants in America. Certainly the later wagon shows pitched their circus tents in the fields beside the Common before moving north to Belfast or east Arkport. This is Shaker country with tall barns with straight lines and homes just beginning to show off their true beauty after two hundreds on the land. Circus itself seems somehow natural and more at home in places where the ghosts of other shows that came before mark the fairgrounds and speak to the continuum of this venture of ours. It’s an honor to entertain you.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006 

Jamestown, NY 39 miles. Grass. Perfect circus weather.

Our first date in New York State. Animal Liberation activists filled the airwaves with anti-circus drivel around Jamestown. Few communities this season have seen so much noise. End result: nary an activist in sight on circus day, and our host The Boys & Girls Club held a highly successful fundraiser. After some slow business particularly in the mid-west our recent dates in OH, PA, and NY have been great.

Lockport, NY 100 miles Grass lot. Perfect circus weather.

The air was cool this morning before the jump north to Lockport, near Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Summer is waning. The Media Director left his defroster/fan on in the truck and needed a jump start. (I've done that twice this season.)

It's impossible to play Lockport without mentioning the Sutherland Sisters.


These young ladies. first made famous by Chilly Billy Cole, then later on the Barnum show were super stars of the sideshow. Neither freaks, nor oddities -- they were simply sisters with very, very long hair! Later they went on to endorse hair care products (naturely.) The Sutherlands may have been an early example of celebrity for celebrity's sake; a bit like exhibiting Paris Hilton on today's midway. I don't suppose that anyone has Ms Hilton's phone number handy?

Monday, August 14, 2006 

Erie, PA. 140 miles. Asphalt/gravel lot. Overcast, warm, breezy.

A long jump from Akron. Erie is something of a fill-in date, a place to park before beginning our New York State dates tomorrow in Jamestown. The mechanics rescued an animal truck broken down along the highway with an oil leak, ringmaster ran out of gas. Long jumps are almost never without incident.

Good business despite rain.

Sunday, August 13, 2006 


Akron, OH. 80 miles. Grass lot. Perfect circus weather.

We have been in Akron for three days, a return to Ohio. Originally we’d hoped to play Pittsburgh – where 50 years ago Ringling ended there tent show, but instead we’ve come to the city where Ringling reopened as an indoor circus. We’ve always done business in Akron and this run has been well received. Tomorrow we make our final date in western Pennsylvanis, then enter New York for a long stay – three weeks that takes us through Labor Day.

Thursday, August 10, 2006 

Grove City, PA. 74 miles. Mowed field. Perfect circus weather.

Pentultimate Pennsylvania stop. Tomorrow we return to Ohio for three days near Akron, then we conclude our western PA dates with a stop in Erie. In a sense the show has been aiming for New York ever since we opened in Texas. Next week we begin our New York tour. After New York every date brings us closer to home.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006 

The CFA Gang!

Indiana, PA. 46 miles. Grass lot. Perfect circus weather.

James (Jimmie) Stewart proved over the coarse of a long career that he was both American cinema’s everyman, and among American cinema’s most talented actors. Wheteher working with Frank Capra on a film like Mr Smith Goes To Washington, or with Alfred Hitchcock on Vertigo, we never doubted Jimmie Stewart’s roots. Well, Mr. Stewart was born here in Indiana, Pennsylvania and forgot the place he called his hometown. For circus buffs there’s more to the story. At the height of his career Mr. Stewart decided to take second billing on a picture, and to go through that entire picture in the makeup of a clown. The movie was The Greatest Show Show On Earth, and maybe every circus owes Indiana, PA an occasional nod.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006 

Johnstown, PA. 15 miles. Grass lot. Nice weather.

Two days in Johnstown at the Galleria Mall. Like so many lot and license dates this season, attendance has been disappointing so far. Schools open in some communities as early as next week. Had to imagine that summer will be waning in another three weeks and entirely over in another six weeks.

Sunday, August 06, 2006 

Allegany Township, PA. 75 miles. Grass. Great crowd. Perfect circus weather.

Williamburg, PA. 102 miles. Mowed field. Warm.

The Circus Fans of America came to the show today with ice cream and cake for the whole crew. It’s always nice to spend time with the fans. In the dog days of summer in the second half of the season tempers can flare now and then. After all, several hundred people have been living together for many months without a break. There was a dust-up in the bigtop one night recently during tear down. It was over as quickly as it started, but it served as a reminder that hard work in well over a hundred towns leaves men drained some days, and we still have many months to go before we’re back home in Hugo.

Ebensburg, PA. 34 miles. Grass. Warm.

Another day of perfect circus weather in southwestern Pennsylvania. Cute hill country town.

Thursday, August 03, 2006 






Once every circus promised a big a spectacle, pageant or parade inside the bigtop. Spec could quite literally involve a cast of thousands. If you could walk, you were in spec. Today only a handful of circuses mount a spec at all.


New Castle, PA. 74 miles. Grass. Warm, rainy.

In Williams, Arizona the highway signs along the interstate read "Los Angeles." Today, in Pennsylvania, for the first time the highway signs point to "New York City." We are into the East in the dog days of summer. Pennsylvania is a circus state. Once small wago shows worked routes from Girard while others headed west along the river valleys from Pittsburgh. In Philadelphia a meat cutter named Forepaugh built a railroad circus to rival Barnum, while Mr. Cooper and Mr. Bailey created a show that would buy out Barnum and Forepaugh. From the beginning this has been circus country. It still is.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006 

Alliance, OH. 54 miles. Grass lot. 95 degrees, extreme humidity.

Yesterday in Rittman the heat was relentless, wearing down what was already a thin crowd. Today the early morning air already seemed to simmer. The heat should slack tomorrow in New Castle, PA.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006 

Carey, OH 46 miles. Grass lot. Extreme heat and humidity.

A beautiful Sunday in the park. Given the heat we were lucky, swimming pool next door right behind the elephants.

Bellville, OH. 57 miles. Grass lot. 100 degrees F. Humid. Suburban Mansfield.

Historically Mansfield has been a great circus town and good place for mudshows. Despite the heat we had a nice afternoon crowd and packed the tent in the evening.

Rittman, OH. 51 miles. 100 F. Extreme humidity. Grass lot behind the high school.

Long drive down narrow two lane roads. Route sheet noted: Watch out for Amish carriages! The weather report says to expect two more days of this incredible heat/humidity. The new editors of Whitetops paid us a second visit yesterday. Circus fans are something we look forward to almost every day in this part of the country.