A ragged suitcase in his hand, he steals silently away from the circus grounds
And the highway's haunted by the carnival sounds
They dance like a great greasepaint ghost on the wind
A man in baggy pants, a lonely face, a crazy grin
Runnin' home to some small Ohio town
— Bruce Springsteen, "Wild Billy's Circus Story"
Fire eaters walk the earth.
Elephants lift tents into the sky, acrobats contort themselves in rebellion against the inexorable push of gravity, and clowns clown around when the circus comes to town.
The Kelly Miller Circus, which has its roots in the famous Ringling Bros. franchise, rolls into small towns all over the country from February to October, bringing with it a whiff of exotica along with more earthy sensations. The mythology of the circus — perpetual life on the road, an air of danger and rebellion, and a sense of living outside proper society’s boundaries — has long appealed to artists and townsfolk alike.
You can see it on the smiling faces of the crowds who sold out the circus’s performances on Kelleys Island last week. There is joy, curiosity, and more than a little bit of awe while staring at tigers and watching dog and pony shows. Kids beam while they sit on a camel’s back and squeal in delight when one of the clowns pulls off a goofy stunt.
It’s a form of entertainment that’s a long way from Imax theaters and computer games, one where wonderment is far more organic and human. And when it’s over the sleep-deprived circus workers and achy-muscled acrobats pack up and move on to more small American towns and more smiling faces.