Monday, July 13, 2009

A Day with the Circus

Our local paper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, runs a food section on Wednesdays and Sundays. I usually read the Sunday paper, and only occasionally see the Wednesday. Sunday's food section always has a well written article and recipe by Sanford D'Amato, of local Sanford and Coquette Cafe fame, and a smattering of things that sometimes are good, and sometimes not so much. While larger papers may boast better staff writers, once in a while I read an article whose subject matter is so interesting to me it could be written for second graders and still keep my attention. Such was the case with this article posted July 5, called Three-ring feast. (It is posted online at:

Sunday in Milwaukee, The Great Circus Parade marched through the downtown area with circus wagons, marching bands, (too many) clowns, horses and circus-type animals. I went thinking I really wouldn't be all that interested. But the article on circus performer meals was lingering in the back of my head, and piquing my interest in this strange phenomenon of the circus. I maybe didn't consider that in the heydays of the circus, people had no access to the outlandish things that have now made our planet seem incredibly small. 100 years ago, wagons were built and people with adventurous spirits decided to leave their small towns or farms and go see the country with one of the only means possible.

The Clown Band. Not normally a fan of clowns, but these reminded me of Raggedy Ann and Andy...

The article mentions that many people may have joined the circus in the depression era due to the promise of 3 meals a day. Circus eats were well prepared it seems, and reminds me of the chuckwagon cooks of the old west. Chuckwagon cooks had to do with what they had and what traveled well, but the circus cooks could take advantage of their travels to more "urban" areas and score some of the best options to feed the performers. Today of course, things are probably different. Hundreds of performers certainly aren't gathering at once under a gigantic tent to have a meal together. But had I lived 100 years ago, maybe I would have run away to join the circus...or at least would have wanted to run away to be a circus cook.

It's fascinating to me that traveling carnivals and circus' still exist...even more that people still want to attend. Given the things you could do with a Sunday afternoon in 2009, just seeing a downtown full of people cheering and getting excited for basically no reason was amazing.

I never saw circus wagons before, and I was surprised at the amount of detail and craftsmanship each one had. They were all unique, and I love thinking about who may have been designing such things, and what they were using to design and build with.

And who was importing these animals from the far reaches of the world, and then designing the means to transport them around the country?

When my Dad and I were out in Wyoming, we went to the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody. An incredible example of American entrepreneurship, Buffalo Bill Cody imported massive things from Europe, the bar that still stands in his hotel for example... and animals and people from all over the world to star in his Wild West.

Wisconsin stagecoach

lasso-ing cowboy

just a girl and her longhorn...

And seeing so many horses in one place reminds me of the horses I had when I was younger. This palomino in particular, since it was stopped right in front of me...I think once you have had large animals, they get in your blood, and it's hard to ever forget how they smell, or move, or the work it is to take care of them.

Horses, I always thought, have personalities like giant cats. You certainly can not control one that doesn't want to be controlled, yet they generally are mild mannered and enjoy being scratched behind the ears.

I couldn't have imagined that a trip to The Great Circus Parade would have ignited so many questions in my mind... And it's fun if only for an afternoon to let yourself wonder about such historical things, to wonder what it may have been like to be eating under the big tent.

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