Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Ladies and Gentlemen, children of all ages…

from The Childrens Museum of Indianapolis
I remember when I was 8 years old, my parents took my sister and me to the Boston Garden.  I’m talking about the old, filthy, smelly Boston Garden, where legends were made.  And what did it smell like?  Elephants!  Why elephants?  Because the circus was in town!

The lights, the noise, the costumes and the animals mesmerized me, long before I understood how the animals probably didn’t enjoy the spotlight.  The utter spectacle…it never left me.  Many years later, as a member of the Northeastern University Commencement Orchestra, I entered the “Garden” through the service entrance, and we walked up a huge ramp.  As we walked through the entry door, the guard said, “you guys have more trouble getting up the ramp than the elephants”.  I was walking up the very ramps used by the circus!

Sadly, Feld Entertainment announced that Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey circus would cease operations after 146 years, and this past Sunday marked its final performance.  While it is no surprise, with so much competition for the attention of families, the reduction of the use of animals, and the increased cost of doing business, and it was only a matter of time.  With or without the animals, you could always count on the circus to provide thrills, and wholesome family entertainment.  The announcement of the cancellation has left emptiness in my soul…another terrible victim of the passage of time in the era of technology. 

The circus is part of our DNA.  What child didn’t think or threaten to run away to the circus?  “The Greatest Show on Earth” won the Best Picture Award in 1953.  While the elephants were moved out a few years ago, and I the remaining animals will be sent out to pasture and well-cared for in their “retirement”, there’s a certain sense of sadness, not for myself, but for the generations to come, who will never know the thrill of the Flying Walendas or Gunther Gebel Williams. 

Can we question the merits of forcing animals (and clowns) to perform for our pleasure?  Sure, but does it matter anymore, now that the circus is closing up shop?  The Big Top is coming down permanently, and rather than moving on to the next town, being packed away for good.  But for now, for the last time, please turn your attention to the center ring…nothing to see here…