I’m a big fan of the History channel’s show, American Pickers. I appreciate their passion in uncovering artifacts from our past, and weaving them into our stories. Beyond their love of bikes, motorcycles and classic automobiles, they also have a passion for circus memorabilia, which I watched on a recent episode. That clip coupled with the fact that the Greatest Show on Earth is coming to a close, has me waxing nostalgic on the end of this era.
In my childhood, we were fortunate to attend the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus along with “pop-up” carnivals in neighboring towns. The rides were exhilarating, the food was tantalizing, and the side-shows were fascinating. One year the company my father worked for sponsored a traveling circus. Although the tickets were made available to the public, families and friends of employees were given first dibs. Since my dad and two other neighbors worked for the Kearfott Corporation, one whole section was filled with neighborhood kids. There must have been thirty of us squeezed into together eating peanuts, popcorn, and cotton candy, while taking in the sights and sounds of the three-ring entertainment.
While the acrobats were somersaulting in the air, tumbling down into the safety net on a final bow, there was a loud commotion coming from another ring. A deafening roar emerged from one of the caged wagons, wailing louder and louder as the trainer spun it around, intentionally aggravating its confined tenant. A minute later, the lights dimmed slightly, and the ringmaster made an announcement. Although I don’t remember his exact words, he did mention something about an anxious gorilla eager to get out of his cage, and warned us to pay attention as he was known to be a bit feisty.
The pavilion was silent. The gorilla emerged. He stared at the trainer, and began circling around the ring. Snap! The trainer sounded his whip defining his authority, but the gorilla would not comply. Instead, he stood up and began pounding his chest, Kong-like. Collective gasps resounded around the arena. In an instant, the gorilla began climbing the acrobatic ropes near the side of the pavilion, directly in front of our section.
I was frozen with fear – along with the entire audience. Kids and adults started screaming, and leaving their seats. It didn’t take me long to join the crowd, eyes straight ahead, stampeding toward the exit. Imagining the hot breath of that gorilla breathing on my back, I wouldn’t dare turn my head. As you may have figured out, the whole thing was a hoax. After the gorilla reached the top of the railing, the imposter pulled off his mask revealing his true identity.
Digging up memories uncovers emotions. Although today I can laugh out loud over that hysteria, I’m still surprised at how overwhelmed I feel reliving that moment. And, as “The Greatest Show on Earth,” ends its reign, another chapter of my childhood goes with it. Suddenly I feel the urge to watch good ole Soupy Sales!