Armando Loyal gives Del Rita, an elephant, a bath before the pachyderm performs in the Kelly Miller Circus at Kelleys Island, Ohio. Monday was the first stop of a five-day area swing, with stops in Oregon, Sylvania, and Point Place.
Clowns do what clowns always do: clown around during a performance of the Kelly Miller Circus, which marks its 75th anniversary this year.
KELLEYS ISLAND — Flashes of pink and yellow light cut through the darkened tent as music blasted and an eager audience quickly found its rhythm clapping in unison.
The sights, the sounds, the smells of cotton candy and popcorn meant one thing: The Kelly Miller Circus has returned to Kelleys Island.
Tigers bounded, clowns goofed, the toe of a swinging trapeze artist touched the top of the tent — and that was all before intermission.
“This one we were impressed with because, even though it’s a small tent, the professional and production quality is very high,” said Brian Phipps of Columbus, who brought his family to watch from bleacher seats.
PHOTO GALLERY: The Kelly Miller Circus returns to Kelleys Island.
What: Kelly Miller Circus
Where: Today, Kelleys Island, 4 and 7 p.m.; Wednesday, 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Clay High School, Oregon; Thursday, 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Friendship Park, Point Place, and Friday, 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Centennial and Brint roads, Sylvania Township.
Admission: $15 for adults, $7 for children ages 2-11 on day of show; $10/$6 purchased in advance. Infants under 2 admitted free. Ringside seats $2 extra, available only at the show. Sale locations for advance tickets are listed on kellymillercircus.com by selecting the desired date on Upcoming Shows.
The Phipps family is on vacation, and it’s the second year they’ve seen the circus here. It has been visiting Kelleys Island for about a decade.
“Coming to see it on the island probably keeps the crowds down, because you have to make a bit of an effort to see it,” he said.
Not that the tent was anything but bustling on Monday, the first day of a five-day swing through northwest Ohio that includes stops in Oregon, Point Place, and Sylvania during this year’s 75th anniversary of the Kelly Miller Circus.
Circus owner John Ringling North II estimated 1,200 to 1,300 people would attend the first of Monday’s two shows.
It does take extra-special care to bring the circus to the island venue, the only destination during the circus season that requires travel via water.
John Ringling North II traces his circus roots to the famous Ringling Brothers, his great uncles. He's owned Kelly Miller Circus since before its 2007 season.
The cast and crew, 97 people in all, boarded boats operated by Kelleys Island Ferry Boat Line, which donates transportation for the circus, including for three elephants, six tigers, camels, llamas, zebras, and dogs.
The operation was complete by 11:30 p.m. Sunday, a record early arrival, said Tavana Brown, a circus office manager who previously performed as a trapeze artist for nearly 30 years.
It’s become tradition for fans to wait at the ferry docks to cheer the arrival.
“We have a lot of people waiting at the landing to welcome us. It is one of the highlights of our season to be on Kelleys Island,” Ms. Brown said.
Mr. North, who grew up traveling with the circus and who traces those roots to his great uncles, the Ringling Brothers, purchased the Kelly Miller Circus before its 2007 season.
“I didn’t really care so much about whether I owned it, but I wanted there to be a circus like this — the kind that I remembered as a kid. And that was pretty much the only way to make sure there was,” he said.
Gavin Peat, 6, of Bay View, Ohio, eats cotton candy, a typical circus food group, at Monday's performance.
The traditional circus, with its celebration of color and colorful characters, has been a hit on Kelleys Island, and the island is a favorite for circus workers. Mr. North took advantage of the distinctive surroundings by hopping over to Put-in-Bay before Monday’s first show to check out the views from Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial.
But well before the tent opened, he was back on site in a recreational vehicle parked behind the pony ride. Mr. North wore a cowboy hat as he readied for the day’s performances. Later, he sat near the ring and watched carefully and clapped appreciatively for the acts he’s seen so many times.
It’s a show that delights both veteran and first-time visitors.
Raul Olivares juggles during a performance. The traditional circus has been a hit on Kelleys Island.
Jim and Nanci Shaffer of Huron brought their grandson Nick, 5. The three boarded the ferry boat from Marblehead in the afternoon for their first trip to see the circus perform on the island.
“I think it’s really neat that they still have them,” Mr. Shaffer said of the big-top event.
Madison Monak, 11, also of Huron, and her family have been attending for the last five years, her father, Brian Monak, said. The girl clutched a circus coloring book as she left the tent at intermission. She had trouble listing just one favorite thing from the spectacle she had witnessed.
That’s no doubt the kind of experience and memories Mr. North hopes to create. He divides his time between his cattle ranch in Ireland, for which he will depart on Thursday, and the circus, his home on the road.
He had just one word to sum up the feeling he gets when he sees the stands filled with awed faces: “wonderful.”
Especially, he said, “in the day and age where everybody watches screens all day long. This is real.”
A real world where a man can eat fire, tigers perform seemingly impossible tricks, and tasty treats and traditional circus staples — peanuts, anyone? — all are found on one island.