A Fundraising Circus
While digitizing some of our historical photos, I came across some images related to a circus. There were some concerning a parade from the late 1960s. I was trying to come up with a topic for the Historically Speaking blog when I spotted an Oral History transcript about a circus here in 1969. The Friends of the Library were trying to find another fund raising event. They had relied on House Tours in 1967 and 1968 as the primary fundraiser. Now they were afraid of liability if something went missing from a house.
After some brainstorming, they came up with the idea for a circus. This was something that would appeal to adults and children. Someone suggested they call up Irving Felt, who owned Madison Square Garden. This had been the site for the Ringling Brothers Circus. However, the Ringling Brothers no longer had a tent circus. Mr. Felt suggested they contact the Clyde Beatty and Cole Brothers operation, and even provided the phone number. The owners (McCluskey and Collins) were headquartered in Deland FL. They explained that their representatives would be in the Greenwich area in the Fall or early Winter of 1968. McCluskey and Collins were very interested in having the circus come to Greenwich.
A circus representative named Ed Johnson came to town. He was very polite and friendly. Head Librarian Marie Cole and Mr. Johnson toured Greenwich looking for a site. They looked at the Electrolux complex in Old Greenwich, Bruce Park, and Greenwich Civic Center. The lot had to be the size of a football field, have fire hydrants nearby and provide suitable parking. The Greenwichh Civic Center in the eastern part of Town filled the bill. Electrolux agreed to let them use the employee parking lot. They selected Sunday, June 22, 1969, as the date for the circus.
The Library had two options when it came to paying for the circus. The first was a percentage basis plan by which the circus received a percentage of all tickets sold. Another plan involved the Library paying a flat fee for the circus. Approximately 3700 seats were available under the tent, and the library could set their own prices and keep all the ticket money. The Library opted for the flat fee.
In February, the Library asked for volunteers to help fold, stuff and stamp 5000 letters promoting the fundraiser. Since students were on vacation, many volunteered their time. Girl Scouts and Boys Scouts also volunteered. The Library advertised in the newspaper, citing the appearance of Bozo the Clown, and ice cream and soda. This event turned into a major event in itself! Radio and newspaper people arrived to interview participants and take photographs.
The Town authorities were very concerned about electricity and fire safety. This was needed to operate the rides and lighting. Volunteer firemen would have to be present the whole time. When the circus pulled into town, Police Chief Baran and Fire Chief Dawson were present to monitor safety. Hoses were laid out as a precaution. A first aid station was set up. The phone company installed phone booths for everyday and emergency communications.
Anticipating large crowds, the Library decided to have two performances. Business owners bought 500 tickets to hand out free to children. Another 500 were handed out to seniors. The Town Welfare (Social Services) Department distributed tickets to the Christ Church Day Camp, Blake House, and Nathaniel Witherell. It was a great idea to have two performances because the tickets quickly sold out. Members of the Friends sold programs for 50-cents a piece. These were printed out in the Library Print Shop.
The circus was supposed to have an Advance Team that came 24-hours prior to the opening. They would put up signs so the circus could locate the site. It wasn’t until 9 o’clock at night that they arrived. Assistant Fire Chief Shuttleworth had to inspect the set up. Volunteer firemen had to be there to lay out the fire hoses. The police were also present. Joe Dietrich from Parks & Recreation was also present. The various departments from Town worked well together, and ensured the success of the event.
The tent raising turned into another popular event. People were invited to come down and watch the circus crew raise the “big top”.
Several years later, another circus was held. This time, there was a big parade, and the circus had elephants. It, too, was a success.
Circuses seem to be on the decline today. This may be due to stories of cruelty to animals (elephants, tigers, lions, etc.). There’s also the question of whether or not animals should be kept in cages. Shouldn’t they be allowed to roam free in their own habitat?
Perhaps someone will create a “virtual” circus in the future to entertain families and introduce us to various animals. Hopefully, they won’t be extinct by that time.
SJenkins, L; Bringing the Circus to Greenwich; Oral History Project, Greenwich CT, 6/20/1983