Big Top Circus Lives and Dies by Bonnie and Bill Neely

The Greatest Showman, now playing in many theaters around the world is a marvelous tribute to an era gone by, since the 146 years of the thrill of the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus tours ended in 2017 with the final performance in May in Uniondale, New York at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The elephant performances had ended because training them was considered inhumane to many who protested for decades. Although around 10 million people went to a Ringling circus each year, it was not enough to make the traveling show profitable.

Carson and Barnes Circus in Hugo, OK, is the last of the touring big tent, three-ring circuses left.  The show winters in Hugo, OK, its home for nearly four decades. Kristin Para is Circus Manager with Jan 25th this year’s special opening day and she encourages fans to watch Facebook for all the information about the show schedules for 2018. Going on the road to take the show around the country is not an easy task, which requires a large cookhouse trailer fully equipped to serve the many performers and their families. School children must be tutored for part of the tour, and families usually travel in RV’s. To see the many vehicles in route along a highway is quite fascinating.  There are specially built vehicles to transport the animals, and traveling behind them on the highway is a bit slow-going.

But who is not captivated by a circus, anywhere in the world! Although we love to travel in our RV we cannot imagine going on the road with such a large and mixed group for months at a time. And I tried to imagine how emergencies and accidents are handled when the show must move on to keep deadlines. I tried to reach the management for an interview but they were too busy to respond, so my imagination and yours can run the gamut.

Since we lived not far away, we once visited the elephant barn where the Circus vet, a friend of ours, was about to deliver a baby elephant. The elephants seemed to be well treated and content in their large farm environment, and successful breeding in captivity was a rare event for these enormous animals. The vet had carefully nurtured the mother for the nearly two-year gestation period.

Performers train and practice their acts, creating new ones, all winter in this small town in which the circus people are a welcome part of the community and when the show goes on the road for half a year they are really missed. In Paris Texas families always enjoy the Grand opening days of the circus in March, often during Spring Break with many free and discounted tickets available. And one of the most popular things for groups to see is the erecting of the Big Top tent and setting up of the Circus, with animals in their traveling coaches outside the Paris, Texas, fairgrounds. It takes many experienced people to set the ropes just right and pull to make the red and white striped tent arise into place and each rope and wire must be safely secured and expertly checked. Often unpredictable weather including high winds occur in Paris, TX, in spring, so the tent must be extra strong and well-grounded for safety.


There are other areas when the final setup is complete and these include many fun midway type games and the well-loved circus snacks of soft drinks, popcorn, peanuts, candy, and cotton candy. Children beg for the balloons and other trinkets to show their friends after they return from the exciting day at the Circus. It makes us all sad to think that because of the thrills and constant entertainment today’s populations have so plentifully in video games, TV, and other live performances, the circus could possibly end altogether. So go out to enjoy your time under the Big Top this year when you find it is near you. Take your family to the unforgettable experience of a lifetime.

If you are in this area of Northeast Texas or Southeast Oklahoma, be sure to visit the Circus Cemetery in Hugo. It is worth an hour to walk through and see the fascinating circus tombstones. Many have a picture and tribute to the performer buried there. And when the circus is not traveling, you can enjoy driving by their farm headquarters just outside Hugo, where you can see the large barns, many animal food supplies, trainers practicing and caring for their animals and other daily activities necessary to keep the circus the “Greatest Show on Earth.”

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