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The circus: Stupendous! Colossal! Astonishing! (1965)

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Stupendous! Colossal! Gigantic! Astonishing! Resplendent! Redolent! Refulgent! Magnificent! Circus!

by Bill Ballantine

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Clowns and daredevils! Ponderous pachyderms! Wild beasts! And 34 new acts from behind the Iron Curtain!

1965-post-circus (1)Circus trains have no glass windows; there are only aluminum slats and mesh screening between passengers and those flashing red lights and harsh-clanging warning bells at crossings. The woodwork of the sleeping cars strains and creaks like an old ship at sea.

My springless mattress rested on boards; my pillow was homemade, lumpily stuffed with musty kapok. I remembered to bend half of it behind my head as protection against horrendous bumps in the night.

On my first run, 365 miles from Miami to Jacksonville, I tried sleeping on my stomach, on my back and on each side — cramped, spread-eagle and cozy fetal — but it was impossible to stay asleep for more than 10 minutes or so at a time.

I had picked up “The Greatest Show on Earth” in Miami, and was going to follow along for part of its annual trek north from winter quarters in Venice, Florida, to New York City for the traditional springtime stay of 40 days and 40 nights in Madison Square Garden. Before the season is over, the circus will visit some 40 cities, ending next November 27 in Mobile, Alabama, and then back to Venice for the winter.

This was my first ride on a circus train since 1954, when I was winding up my profligate career as a clown, and I can report that it is the same bone-jarring ordeal it has always been.

Story continued in the print magazine

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