Clown pick-up at 4:30 a.m. – and other memories of publicizing the Greatest Show on Earth

News of the demise of Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus hit home with me. Although the announcement was made a few months back, it still resonates with me.  I “cut my teeth” in media relations publicizing the circus as it came to North Texas annually in the ‘90s. Here are a few of my memories from those days:

  • Early morning TV appearances at 6:30 a.m. But, if I were taking a clown, that meant pick-up at the train at 4:30 a.m., to be at the arena for makeup by 5 a.m., so we could leave for the station at 6 a.m.
  • Yes, circus performers did live on trains — not always parked in the greatest part of town.
  • No, they didn’t have cars. Transportation for any PR or media event was always challenging.  And no matter which performer I was taking, everybody always went to the arena first for costumes, props, etc.
  • I’d forget I had a car full of clowns and wonder why everyone was staring as I drove.
  • Even without makeup, at restaurants, for instance, the clowns naturally attracted people. They have some kind of aura. Kids would come up to them for no reason!
  • Elephants were the stars and an easy way to get publicity, as well as the reason for the show’s recent closing. Just walk the elephants from the train to the arena. The Elephant Walk was always a huge draw.
  • The circus was a small town. They had a “pie car” serving food 24 hours, a school, church services, day care, laundry services, etc.
  • The circus was a true melting pot, with different cultures working together. Many didn’t speak English, yet all had to learn to communicate and work together.
  • Interesting cultural differences arose. One tribal group from Africa needed to dry their drums, so they started building a fire in the arena. The drummers were quickly introduced to blow dryers.
  • Families grew up in the circus, with adults beginning to train their kids at a young age. I would see little children working on acts between shows.  For many it was their legacy, all they had ever done. It will be interesting to see what they do now.
  • I never saw an animal mistreated. One morning when I went to pick up animal trainer for an early interview, I found him sleeping with an elephant, because she was sick.  Another trainer left his family during a possible tornado to go stay with the elephants.  He wanted to make sure they were safe.
  • Circus people were well traveled. During every two-year tour, they basically saw the entire United States.  Yes, they did have days off.  Mondays were dark (no shows), with leisure time, unless Mondays were travel days.  And during weekdays with only nighttime shows, circus people had time off during the day.
  • I could never forget that many of these performers were risking their lives every day. Some died.  For real.
  • They didn’t take sick days, or hardly ever… the show must go on!
  • The circus was a whole different way of life, deeply ingrained in every member of the circus family.

We’re Talkin’ Texas,

Deena Killingsworth

Hopkins PR is a public relations firm with headquarters in Dallas.  We can do everything from crisis communications to media training to traditional media relations. We focus on “Texas PR by Texans in Texas.”

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