Every kid of a certain age dreamed of running away with the circus. Short of hopping on a train and sleeping with the elephants, I lived the next best thing … the circus was in my back yard!
In the late 1950’s, the Clyde Beatty Cole Brothers Circus visited Mattapoisett and for three days set up shop in the field at the end of our lane. Before there was a funeral home and a condominium complex, a police station and a future fire station, the second greatest show on earth (the first was Ringling Brothers) raised its tents in what was then Mahoney’s Field. This was no small time traveling show with one ring, a few ponies and a dog act like those that visited the same field years later. This was the “Big Top”.
It arrived in the middle of the night on flatbed trucks with elaborate circus wagons, animal cages, and a grand calliope chained on top. By dawn the roust-a-bouts had begun unloading the giant canvas tent which would house three rings and over a thousand spectators, nearly the population of the entire town. Horses and pachyderms, aerialists, lion tamers and popcorn vendors, clowns and pretty girls in brightly colored costumes would soon perform for little kids, sticky with cotton candy, and to the delight of the young at heart.
The giant tent towered over the field where I once played ball and picked raspberries. Smaller tents became the side show and clown alley. Ticket and souvenirs booths would be up by noon ready for the first show at 7:00 pm. Performers began to rehearse their acts balancing on giant balls or contorting their bodies in all manner of positions and clowns painting on their funny faces while other workers fed the animals. There were mobile homes where the performers lived many of whom ventured into the village. A few, like the band leader, stopped by my father’s barber shop for a haircut resulting in free tickets for each performance and permission to mingle with acrobats, tightrope walkers, jugglers, and clowns.
Each night the crowds came early to pay extra to see the bearded lady and the tattooed man. They filled the seats under the big tent and listened to the deep voiced Ring Master directing their attention to one ring or another while they oohed and awed at the flying trapeze artists. Everyone went home happy.
Then the circus was gone as quickly as it arrived. A virtual city vanishing during the night. Mahoney’s Field returned to being an empty lot where hay would be baled and wild raspberries would be picked. A place where a young boy ran away with the circus and for three days would awake to the sounds of elephants trumpeting and the roar of lions and tigers – a twelve-year-old’s fantasy come true.
By Dick Morgado