Obscured by other events, “The Circus” recently announced it is going out of business in May.
What circus? To New Yorkers, there is only one – The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus.
The Barnum referred to P.T. Barnum, the showman who once observed there is a sucker born every minute. You still hear that quote these days.
Were we suckers, taken to the circus as little kids, and then taking our own little kid, or borrowing somebody else’s kid, to pay homage to lost childhood?
The circus said it is shutting down because people stopped going when the circus had to get out of the elephant business.
I suspect it was more complicated. Little kids can find more esoteric stuff in whatever phone or computer they are packing. Movies have stuff that explodes (but no plots.) Kids can kill thousands of people with a flick of the thumb on a video game. Elephants? Echh.
And young boys don’t need to go to the circus to get a glimpse of a bare thigh or bare shoulder of an exotic-looking acrobat. It’s all out there on the web, and more.
In classic Americana lore, the circus was always there for boys who wanted to run away from home. Today, young people don’t run away to join the circus, they…(supply your own punch line.)
Still, I’m thinking something is lost. One of the first signs of spring in New York was always the photos in the papers (really, do check out these vintage photos) or TV footage of elephants striding through the Queens Midtown Tunnel, en route from their special trains – cooped out by Shea Stadium, how appropriate -- to the supersized elevators in Madison Square Garden. Better than the first robins.
I knew a young hockey writer who told his readers that the Rangers stunk even worse than the elephants in the basement. Great line. Well, except that the circus was still in Norfolk or Charlotte. Henceforth, he was known as the guy who made up elephant shit.
But what about the elephants?
Another great line. It came from the screeching voice of Ted Turner, mad genius of CNN who created the Goodwill Games, primarily between the U.S. and the soft, vulnerable Soviet Union. In 1986.
Ted went to Moscow to pitch environmental sanity. Birds were dying. Fish were dying. Then, Ted would squawk, “But what about the elephants?” (Imagine, a holy fool with a dollop of compassion and knowledge.)
Well-meaning people said the circus was cruel to elephants and the supply system endangered the great beasts. I say poachers were more of a danger. No poachers in Sarasota, their winter quarters, or the depths of the Garden. But it’s a good point.
Elephants are noble beasts. Some are deities. We have a sweet, wise Ganesh in our home. I was once in a taxi in Mumbai that lingered behind a huge elephant carrying stuff.
And on a day off during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, four soccer writers took a day trip to the Pilanesberg preserve and our guide Witek paused at the edge of a path as a family of elephants passed, watchful eyes right, a few yards in front of us. I have loved elephants even more since then. If shutting down the circus helps that family in that preserve, then closure is a good thing.
On May 21, the circus plays its last show a few miles from my home on Long Island. I can’t imagine going. But I reserve the right to feel nostalgic for another time, when we could enjoy elephants (and bare shoulders) in the center of the big city.
1/28/2017 08:36:07 pm
The end of the circus also signals the possible demise of the Joeys; the clowns who made us laugh. Kelly, Jacobs and the rest of the men and women who delighted us in pie fights seltzer battles and getting out of tiny cars like it was the F Train at Continental Ave. during Rush Hour. Also, what will happen to the famous Clown College? We need more clowns to bring us joy and laughter as opposed to the follies happening around us now.
1/28/2017 08:54:34 pm
Jeff, you're feeding me the ball and all I've got to do is sink the layup with, "Wait, I thought that guy with the funny hair..." But I would never do a thing like that.
1/29/2017 12:17:31 pm
Delightful story, George. Going to the circus as a kid was a real thrill, a thrill that will no longer be enjoyed by the children of the future. Sad. But you're memory makes me glad. Thanks.
1/29/2017 09:37:10 pm
Hansen, thanks, GV
1/29/2017 07:49:22 pm
I LOVE the circus! I went multiple times to the Garden as a boy. The last time we went in modern times as a family, in the very early 90's I think, there was a strong smell in the tunnel to the parking. It was awful but the kids didn't seem to mind. Elephants. In performance they were wonderful. I also love the Ringling museum in Sarasota. And I love the P.TBarnam museum in Bridgeport. Beautiful and meaningful.
1/29/2017 09:40:19 pm
Brian, oh, you could smell them -- when they were in the building.
1/29/2017 10:02:36 pm
I think you are exactly right about the playoff delays, George. We wanted to go but the dates kept changing so we never did. So our last time was a year or two before that. Yeah, you're also right about the smell. The old Garden must have had better ventilation. But there are much better memories of those elephants. And I always loved the routine of how many clowns you can fit in a VW bug. And the cannon shot. And Emmit Kelly. And the Ringmaster negotiating three rings. And, as a boy, the girls, girls girls! They were beautiful!
1/30/2017 09:31:24 am
Brian, as a young scholastic reporter, I chose to do a column on a few young performers, on the premise that if they were in an American high school, they'd be wrestlers or soccer players or whatever. I loved being backstage. Much less glamour up close. Exotic faces and languages. Roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd, etc. Why I love performers. They gear up. best, GV
1/31/2017 07:17:38 am
1/31/2017 07:44:20 am
Andy: Nice to see your name and thoughts. Hope things are okay.
1/31/2017 05:59:46 pm
There is something magical about seeing an elephant up close.
1/31/2017 07:41:54 pm
Alan, the Big Apple Circus in Lincoln Center was very sweet. We took our grandkids.
2/2/2017 03:24:58 pm
The woman who promoted the Big Apple Circus at MSG was a customer in my store. It was always a joy to discuss things with her when they were in town.
2/1/2017 02:15:16 pm
1- Joe Christopher-He wore #24 and as a kid I used to squint at the TV and make believe we had Willie Mays. Of course the irony was that when we finally got the old Mays he wasn't as good as the young Christopher.
2/2/2017 12:13:06 pm
Roy: Thanks. 1- I will tell Joe that next time I call him. 2- One of my great editors at NYT carried paper to urinal, to read one-handed and maybe avoid shop talk. 3- Great fights in Saturday afternoon games at Armory. Gallatin-Sweetwater-Simmons taking on Nats or Royals.
3/1/2017 03:42:27 am
If you want to make your New Year fully enjoyable with kith and kens then you can get such admirable services for the better selections of Happy New Year 2018. We are always there to help you with the good items from our services with the assured ways.
Comments are closed.
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.