Before podcasts and streaming video; before cable television, DVDs, and VCRs; even before movie theatres and home TVs, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus brought magic to cities and towns all over the country.
They rode on rails of excitement, and taught us how to dream. Guys like Emmett Kelly painted characters like Weary Willie onto their faces, crammed themselves into and out of tiny cars, and coaxed laughter from a troubled crowd.
Ordinary men and women shook dust off their heavy feet and watched lithe trapeze artists swing high off the ground, release and land in the strong arms of their partners. Then they knew they too could risk, soar, let go, trust and land.
Our family has enjoyed the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus on several fronts. For many years, Grandpa Vince and Grandma Mary Jane extended their Thanksgiving celebration by taking their guests to the circus in Chicago on Friday afternoon. We’ll always be grateful for those moments of silliness, when kids dressed up like clowns and Grandpa and Grandma grinned like kids.
We also toured the Barnum and Bailey museum in Sarasota, the circus’ winter retreat. We found the museum and grounds fascinating.
We intend to visit the Circus World Museum right here in Baraboo, Wisconsin one of these days.
Last week, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus announced it would be closing in May after a 146-year run. We’ll miss that iconic, supremely confident opening,“Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, children of all ages, get ready for ‘The Greatest Show on Earth.’’”
But, we understand it’s time. In its heyday, the circus introduced people to exotic animals and performers they’d never even imagined. But, the world is much more accessible now, and no one wants to see large, dignified animals trotted out for entertainment.
For more than a century, though, the circus played a vital role in our society. It taught us to laugh, to applaud, to admire, to wonder and to dream.
So, here’s to the Ringling brothers, Charles, John, Albert and Otto. And, here’s to the P.T. Barnum and James Bailey.
Barnum’s most famous line might be,”There’s a sucker born every minute,” but I prefer to salute him and his contemporaries with this quote from the master marketer: “To me there is no picture so beautiful as smiling, bright-eyed, happy children; no music so sweet as their clear and ringing laughter.”