Thursday, July 31, 2014


It was a little iffy, trying to convince my daughter and sister into going to the Circus World Museum Parade in Baraboo. We were looking for a way to spend a Saturday afternoon before my sister was to return to Saudi Arabia. Both daughter and sister are huge animal advocates. The risk was a big part of the parade might include a of bunch of caged animals looking ill-fed and angry or worse yet comatose from boredom.
I was counting on clowns in lieu of tigers even if the clowns can be scarier than the most depraved animals. On the promise that we could leave if there was even a hint of any kind of animal cruelty, they took me on my promise and we were on the road.
The expedition to Baraboo involved taking Route 113 north from Madison. One of the joys of taking this route is going through Merrimac and taking the Merrimac Ferry that traverses the Wisconsin River carrying people and cars back and forth between Columbia and Sauk counties. Ferry operation has been going on at this site since 1844. It's progressed from a human powered tug-of-war pulling the ferry from one side to the other to a series of under water cables that now drag the ferry over the waves and wakes of passing jet skis. It's about a seven-minute trip each way. The frustration comes with the wait to get on the platform boat. The ferry holds a maximum of fifteen cars. It can take almost an hour before you get your turn to board. The ferry runs 24/7 from April through November or at least until the ice on the Wisconsin river becomes too thick for the ferry to get across.
Once on the other side it's a short drive to Baraboo. We were late on getting started so we missed the start of the parade and with that the tiger carriage. Had we started out with that I fear we would have had to turn around and head back before we got to see any of the other wagons I had come to see.
Our tardy arrival meant we had to stand about six back but most people up front either sat on the pavement or in lawn chairs making visibility okay if distance from the action was a little far. In my case that's what they make zoom lenses for.
Baraboo was home to the winter residence of the Ringling Brothers Circus, originating there in 1884. Why a circus that I associate with warm weather would want to winter in the north woods baffles me still, but as you walk the streets of Baraboo you can hear stories from circus performers who have stayed in Baraboo deciding to spend their golden years in knee-high snow.
The parade is a chain of painted horse drawn wagons pulling the world's largest collection of circus wagons in the world.
The original purpose of the wagons was to haul animals and performers through the streets of America notifying residents that the circus was in town.
The ornate nature of the wagons made a stunning statement for the circus as it rolled into town.
Pre-television the nation's circuses and carnivals was a major source of small town entertainment.
Music played a major part in the wagon history. The sound of a full brass band decked out in regimental costumes or a calliope's pipes whistling out tunes as steam spurts in the air was an invitation to
the exotic world of flying trapezes, bearded ladies and two-headed animals.
We managed to hold on as the giraffe wagon passed by. The girls gave each other an expression of disdain but stayed in place as the giraffe wagon inched its way along, the giraffe's head and long neck barely missing the overhead power lines.

Having no idea of how much of the parade we had missed we stayed until the last wagon made its turn into the final blocks of the parade's route
and the street sweepers cleaned the remaining bits of leftover horse poop off the pavement.

Albino Sword Swallower, 1970
Diane Arbus, photographer
Represented by Fraenkel Gallery

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