Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The circus is coming to town

The Circus Parade, that is. The Circus Parade - featuring antique circus wagons on loan from the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin - was an annual event when I was growing up.

The wagons, most more than a century old, are ornate, gilded tributes to the days when a visit from a traveling circus was the highlight of the summer's entertainment. The craftsmanship of the wood carvings decorating many of the wagons is exquisite - restored using the same techniques originally used to create them.

I have zero memories of actually going to the Circus Parade as a kid, though some friends and I did watch one from the second floor of a parking garage when I was in college. The memories I do have are of the circus train...

At a seemingly random time of a summer day, my mom would say, "Let's go see the circus train!". We'd walk the couple of blocks to the railroad tracks, meeting a group of neighbors also waiting for the train to pass. We could have waited ten minutes to an hour or more - it didn't matter, as we kids amused ourselves playing in the weeds along the track or generally making mischief as our moms talked.

Sooner or later one of the more observant kids would yell, "Here it comes!". The railroad tracks in our part of town wind a bit, forcing the train to travel fairly slowly through the neighborhood. Slowly enough, in fact, for us to appreciate the bright colors and gilt on the wagons.

In the age before on-line look ups, instant messaging and organization websites, I'm not sure how mom figured out when the train would pass our area. The times must have been in the paper, and the train must have run on time, is all I can figure. No matter - it was an exciting way to spend a morning.

In the early 2000's the museum changed the route of the train, and it no longer ran on our local tracks. This year, they opted to send the wagons via truck, rather than rail. It's a shame, really; nothing says "summertime" to me as much as waiting by the side of the tracks for the circus train.

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