Tuesday, April 29, 2008 

Tuesday April 29, Dupo, IL 15 miles. Grass lot cool, sunny. Show is playing on a football field. Buried a truck and trailer on the way in. Football coach not the happiest guy on the planet. Sometimes the only recourse is to point to the contract and remind the sponsor that we a lot must be suitable for heavy equipment. Nobody likes to tear up a field, but some things can't be helped.

Monday April 28. Millstadt, IL. 35 miles. Narrow gravel lot. Cold, sleet, miserable weather. It was 90 degrees a week ago. Now lows are predicted in the 20's. Great crowds and good box office despite the bad weather. Midway took a hit. Visitors from the St Louis Circus Day Foundation at the show.

Sunday, April 27, 2008 

Marissa, IL. 30 mile. Grass, wet lot. Rain likely.

Went to visit the Cainans on Kelly Miller in Mount Vernon last night. Lovely, social show. Beautiful paint on the show trucks. A reminder of just how good a show can look even sitting on the trucks.

ADDENDUM: Outstanding business in Marissa capped off a very strong week

Saturday, April 26, 2008 

Nashville, IL. 45 miles. Grass lot. Cool. Strong pre-sale

Friday, April 25, 2008 

Norman...Or...What an animal groom looks like moments before he blows the show.

Some people blow the show because they're tired, or discouraged, or they've reached the town where they were headed, or they miss home, or because somehow they feel that they haven't been appreciated. Norman was here for a couple weeks and I suppose he'll tell his children about the job he had feeding the tigers.

A contracted act is obligated to stay with a show so long as the terms of the contract are met. For a working guy, the circus is just a job. It's hard work. There's no dishonor in leaving for something easier, or because you're unhappy, or if you disagree with management. In another town there will be another kid who wants to join up.

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Sesser, IL. 50 miles. Grass lot, school. Warm, rain possible. Great business yesterday in Wayne City despite close proximity of Kelly Miller Circus 25 miles away in Flora, IL.

Thursday, April 24, 2008 

Wayne City, IL. 45 miles. Grass lot. Warm.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008 

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On the circus lot in Grayville alongside the Wabash River a plaque remembers the high water mark of the 1913 Wabash flood. The flood matters. Upriver in Indiana at the junction of the Wabash and the Eel rivers near Peru the elaborate winterquarters of Ben Wallace's Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus were nearly destroyed by the 1913 flood and barned filled with exotic animals were lost. Though Wallace rebuilt both the circus and the winterquarters within a few years he sold the show to what would one day be known as the American Circus Corporation.




Grayville, Illinois. 40 miles. Grass, dirt. Warm. Illinois dates over the next week...

Wayne City
Nashville, IL

Tuesday, April 22, 2008 

Mt Vernon, Indiana. 70 miles. Grass lot. Warm, sunny.

Apologies to Florida, Oklahoma, or even Wisconson. Indiana is the heart of the American Circus.

Monday, April 21, 2008 




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Mabel Stark's hometown...

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Sturgis, KY. 50 miles. Grass, fairgrounds. Sunny, warm. Weak sponsor. With final Kentucky date in Sturgis we turn and begin the jumps west...

Sunday, April 20, 2008 

Princeton... The similarities between a large circus and small circus are more about scale than anything else. The jobs are the same. The large circus has electricians and electrician’s helpers. The small circus does too. Likewise every other job has it’s counterpart on shows both grand and otherwise. But on the large show any one person may have only a single responsibility, while on a small show multitasking is the norm. The girl who sells you a ticket may also fly on the trapeze. Maybe the owner drives a truck and cleans up after the elephants. The circus isn’t for everybody. Even if you’re born into it, it’s likely some day you will leave. The kid from Dallas who can’t hold a job may sign on for a season believing that labor can’t be all that hard, and he’ll get to travel. But there are no days off, no sick days, and no matter how awful you may feel, there’s work that has to be completed because the circus moves every day and there is always a performance. Time defines us, and there's enough of it. After a few days or weeks of a routine that makes Basic Training look like a cakewalk, maybe the kid will slink away.

Or maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll stay the season just to prove something. Not because he loves the circus, but rather because for all the abuse, all of the screaming, and yelling, and threats, and name calling – if the work gets done no one will judge him for anything else. If the work gets done he is a success. If the work doesn’t get done he’s a failure. It’s as simple as that.

It is, I think, harder if you stick around because you do love the circus. The circus will disappoint you. The circus rarely cares if today’s show is good or bad, only that today’s show happens. The performers may care, the owner may care, but every show has a mind of its own – more Murphy’s Law than mysticism. At the end of each day Brent Dewitt the clown on Culpepper likes to say ironically, “Tomorrow we get to do this all again.” To a packed house or an empty tent. In the rain or in the sunshine.

Maybe circus is an addiction we can’t kick despite knowing that it wears us down. For me at least every day is a new puzzle that I will never quite finish. I can’t quit because someday I MIGHT finish it. Circus is about somedays.

Today on the other hand there’s a broken floorboard in the cat trailer and a groom who actually cried when he got yelled at by the elephant guys. Someday will have to wait.


Calvert City, KY. 80 miles. Grass lot. Overcast, cold, showers. Poor pre-sale. We’re in Kentucky now, as far east as the show will travel. James “BJ” Hebert a 23 year veteran of the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus – he joined the show even before there was a show – has replaced Shane Johnson announcing of the first half of the performance.

Princeton, KY. 40 miles. Grass lot. Warm, sunny, perfect circus day. Strong pre-sale by sponsor.

A quick belated shout-out to the Circus Fans of America who have been meeting in Sarasota, FL these past few days. I’m sure that a wonderful time was had by all.

It's impossible to play Princeton, KY without noting that this is the hometown of one of America's greatest circus performers, and certainly one of the all-time great tiger trainers. Mabel Stark was born on a small tobacco farm outside Princeton.

Friday, April 18, 2008 

East Prairie, MO. 60 miles. Awakened this morning at 4:40 AM by a 5 plus magnitude earthquake. Nope, we aren't in California. The New Madrid fault in Missouri produces major quakes. Several aftershocks through the morning.

Grass/asphalt lot. Rain. Poor pre-sale.

Approaching Cairo, IL on this morning's jump it occurred to me that we have reconnected with the Mississipi, last seen in Louisiana on the edge of the mid-west, following sping into the farmlands and corn country. In Kentucky on Monday we will reach the apex of our travels east and turn west jumping toward summer in the mountains and on the high plains. A hundred and fifty years ago Yankee Robinson trooped through Missouri with the largest circus of his day, a one ring show with an enormous bandwagon with a forty horse hitch. Yankee Robinson could never compete with the railroad shows that followed, but the mid-west remains the heartland of the traditional American circus; and in his final season, in a small tent, the Yank partnered with five brothers from Baraboo, WI named Ringling. Long gone, by luck he is not forgotten in the damp spring sands of a lot near the great river, a boundary that defined so many western showmen.

Thursday, April 17, 2008 


ADDENDUM: It's used be said that when the circus leaves town, all that remains are wagon tracks and popcorn sacks, and memories. Today we try to clean up the popcorn sacks.

In the towns it's watching the tent go up that draws "children of all ages," but for me it's watching the tent go down in the darkness at the end of the day that elicits feeling. It's the great hollow space when the ring curbs are gone, the seats pulled, the sidewalls packed away, when the top sags and begins to settle as the quarter poles askew. In an hour it will all be gone. Every possibility that was today. Tomorrow's possibilities will have to wait for the next lot, for the perfect silence of the afternoon with the work is done, the props set, when the crews are napping and I can stand alone in the front door; when every bigtop no matter how new or worn is damned cathedral. Right here right now today was today and good or bad I wouldn't trade it for any other job in the world.


Bloomfield, MO. 35 miles. Grass lot. Good advance sale. Perfect circus day weather. Tent crew put a stake through a 2" water line delaying set up for a bit. Three more H-2B Visa workers arrived from Mexico, probably our allotment for the season. Shane leaves tomorrow for Shrine date in North Dakota.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008 

Campbell, MO. 45 miles. Grass lot, tight squeeze. Strong pre-sale. Perfect circus weather.

Today is Shane Johnson's 34th birthday.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 

Hayti, Missouri. 45 miles. Grass, sand lot. Warmer. Perfect circus weather.

ADDENDUM: Strong telephone sales, but disappointing advance sales by host. Sponsor decided quite on her own that she could sell kids tickets to seniors, then objected when we would not honor them. Standing in the show office with the Mayor of Hayti, she then accused me personally and the show in gneral of attempting to "Jew" her out of sixty-six dollars and seventy cents. I hadn't heard that one in a number of years, especially from an officer of a Chamber of Commerce.

Towners behaving badly.

Traveling societies tend to be insular societies not entirely trusting of outsiders. For eight months of the year a circus is made up of travelers. As much as townspeople like to talk of crooked carnies and shady outdoor amusements, more often than not it's traveling people and entertainers who are taken advantage of and abuse by locals. It doesn't happen a lot, but it does happen often enough to teach us to smile, and to charm, and to cross a sponsor or a town off the list of people and places we really want to revisit. And so another town won't see a circus for a while. Because a Chamber lady felt she was being "Jewed" out of sixty-six dollars.

I gave it to her out of my own pocket and asked for a reciept.

Monday, April 14, 2008 

Marmaduke, AR. 60 miles. Grass and mud. Sunny. Cold. Hard freeze tonight. Poor presale.

Some sponsors simply aren't capable of hosting a circus. This our last date in Arkansas.

Sunday, April 13, 2008 

Pocahantas, AR 45 miles. Gravel lot. Overcast. Lot & License date. Very cold this morning. Temps in the 40's.

Saturday, April 12, 2008 

Poor internet connectivity for several days…

Thursday April 10th, Melbourne, AR 70 miles, indoors/fairgrounds. Storms. The worst weather pattern in a decade swept of of Texas on Wednesday reaching already drenched Arkansas in the the wee hours or Thursday. Torrential rain and violent thunderstorms quickly pushed rivers and streams to flood stage. The 70 mile jump from Clinton took almost three hours. Unable to put up the tent, the show moved indoors for the second time this season, playing ina low building on the fairgrounds. No aerials and no elephants, though we managed to squeeze the cats inside. Strong pre-sale, and by show time the rains were mostly over allowing for elephant rides. Reasonable gate.. Given the conditions at 5AM, we dodged a bullet.

Cave City, AR. 30 miles. Clear, cooling. Soggy, muddy lot. Good business. Temperature over the next four nights will dip down toward freezing with at least a possibility of snow flurries. We have outrun the spring moving north almost into Missouri and southern midwest.

Tuckerman, AR 90 miles. Green lot. Cold. Sixty mile detour to make today’s jump. Flooding on the White River and the Strawberry River has closed many roads. Bad town for finding hay.. Less than motivated sponsor.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008 

Clinton, AR. 60 miles. Grass lot. Overcast, cool. Clinton AR was devastated by a tornado only a few months ago. Storm damage is everywhere. We have traveled far enough north to outrun the spring again, bare trees with buds and only a few leaves.. Weather report for tomorrow is awful.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008 

Dover, AR. 40 miles. Grass lot. Wet and slick. Severe storms. Great pre-sale. Based on advanced sales this could be our third consecutive day of mostly full houses. To date Arkansas has been reasonably good to us despite weather woes.

Dry County... Some of the guys are starting to wonder if we play all of these "dry" counties intentionally.

Monday, April 07, 2008 

Danville, AR. 70 miles. Grass lot. Perfect circus weather. Great crowds in Mt Ida yesterday, and good business today in Danville after a jump through the mountains that left the brakes smoking. Poor weather is forcast for the rest of the week, as if Arkansas hasn't seen enough rain. Elephant truck got stuck in the mud leaving Mt Ida, hoping we don't repeat that bit of fun on the jump to tomorrow's town.

Sunday, April 06, 2008 

Saturday -- 35 mile jump to Waldo, AR. Muddy lot. Warm. Sparse crowds. Doug Terranova came by to see his elephants, here under Sloan Damon.

Saturday night. 133 mile jump to Mount Ida, AR. 1 truck breakdown. 24-hour man had his van stolen in Hope, AR. Muddy grass lot near airport.

Sunday afternoon. Straw house first show. Kelly Miller manager Jim Royal stopped by with Ray Valentine on their way to date in Mena

Friday, April 04, 2008 

Smackover, AR. 33 miles. Asphalt lot. Severe thunderstorms, rain.

Playing in the high school parking lot where the elephants provide quite the attraction between classes. Sponsor claims that this is the first circus to visit Smackover in 35 years. Advance sales unspectacular, weather may hurt gate.

Thursday, April 03, 2008 

Hampton, AR. 30 miles. Grass lot. Warmer, overcast, rain tonight. Solid pre-sale.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008 

Warren, Arkansas. 45 miles. Hard lot, fairgrounds. Some grass. Cold, dark skies.

Looking back at 200 years of circuses and menageries traveling the American roads there are places that conjure up an image of circus with little more than a mention of the name. Barbaoo, or Peru, Indiana, Sarasota. If Arkansas was never the home to the great rail shows, still it was a place where the great shows transacted business, especially in the resort city of Hot Springs where General Agents and circus owners liked to take their rest. More than a few important deals were brokered in the Spas and in the gaming rooms. Seasons planned and routes laid out, agents decamping to book the towns and cities.

For the originally Kelly Miller Circus, before there was Hugo, Oklahoma, winterquarters was Mena, Arkansas. All through the war years the show and its growing herd of elephants called Arkansas home.

Culpepper & Merriweather’s Great Circus plays two performances today, Shows in Warren at 5:00PM and 7:30PM

Tuesday, April 01, 2008 

Hamburg, Arkansas. 70 miles. Grass lot, wet. Hard rain. Cool temps. Moderate pre-sale. Louisiana is behind us now. Wet weather of the past few days continues. There isn't a dry spot on the lot with all the standing water.

ADDENDUM: Despite torrential afternoon rains we played two great shows