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Remembering: Going to the circus was incredible fun

Recently, my friends Larry and Margie Oberly vacationed in Florida and visited Ringling Home and Museum in Sarasota. They shared some photographs with this writer, which brought back some youthful memories of the circus. I wonder how many of our older readers attended the “greatest show on Earth” when Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus performed at the Allentown Fairgrounds.

As a youth, I worked on William Smith’s farm in Weaversville. One warm summer day, we forgot farm work, and Smitty and I, full of expectation, took the 1936 Chevy Coupe and drove to Allentown to see the circus. The massive circus came to Allentown by rail, powered by a steam engine.

Crowds gathered to see the circus wagons, animals and performers walk to the fairgrounds. The wagons were unloaded with speed and the precision of a military unit. The circus crew used elephants to erect the largest tent I have ever seen. The tent, I was told, could seat 10,000 people and accommodated three performing rings. What a fascinating sight to see the men raise the big top.

Soon, the crowd filed into the tent to the sound of rousing circus music performed by the circus band. There was a feeling of expectation when the ringmaster walked to the center of the tent and the “greatest show on Earth” filled the three rings with exciting acts.

As acts changed, clowns led by the famous clown Weary Willie (Emmett Kelly) entertained the crowd. There were animals I doubt many of our readers will ever see - circus-trained elephants, lions and tigers going through their routines.

There was a brave young man shot from a cannon into a waiting net. Our eyes peered to the top of the tent to witness the daring men and women on the flying trapeze and the high wire act. We all admired their skill and courage.

There was so much to see as a youth. You didn’t want the show to end. When you left the fairgrounds, you hoped to return again next year.

The “greatest show of Earth” has faded into history. The circus train and big top are gone, never to return. Only faint memories remain.


In two weeks, Larry will share some photos from his Sarasota visit.

PHOTO COURTESY OF LARRY OBERLY This miniature circus was created by Howard Tibbals, who, despite being in his 80s, still comes to work to create the pieces for the miniature.