Views and Reviews
By Jean McCamy
I’m so glad I have the circus in my memory bank. Growing up, I looked forward to the annual arrival of Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus at the fairgrounds in Raleigh and, after I went to see it, I spent hours hanging from my knees and my feet on the trapeze bar in my back yard. No flying, just hanging, but I could dream.
The Greatest Show on Earth, as it was billed, was exciting, but my favorite circus memories are of the smaller troupes that came to Wake Forest when my children were growing up.
One year, a small circus set up on the ball field across from our house (where the Boys and Girls Club is now) and we walked over to watch. While the tent was being put up, our daughter, who was about 6 at the time, struck up a conversation with some children whose parents were circus acrobats and invited them over to our house to play.
They came and everyone had a great time. At that afternoon’s performance, she sat with them, peacock proud. There were a few tears when the tent came down and the caravans pulled out.
Another memorable circus was one that set up on Wake Union Church Road. A group gathered to watch them raise the tent, with a patient elephant hooked to ropes that slowly pulled the poles and heavy canvas into place. All the spectators cheered when the final stakes were driven into the ground and the elephant dropped to a knee in a bow of acknowledgement.
The big top gave way to indoor performances and the circus lost some of it’s magic, but a line of big elephants lumbering into the ring, trunk to tail, still caused a wave of excitement and expectation.
Maybe the elephants were as unhappy as animal rights activists claim (although probably not as unhappy as the ones being slain by poachers for their ivory), but once they were banned from the circus, it just wasn’t the same and it’s not too surprising to hear that Ringling Brothers will close at the end of the season.
Not too surprising, but sad — for the people who have been a part of it all of their lives and for the children who will never get to know the sounds and sights and smells of a wondrous hour or two under the big top.
—Jean McCamy is a Wake Forest artist.