Back to the Light
Calm Before Christmas

Big Top

The Holidailies Random Promptinator suggests:

Post a personal photo and tell us a story about it.

Here you go -- the three-ring big top of the George Matthews Great London Circus. I took this photo in spring, 1976; I can't remember where we were, but it looks like a pretty nice lot.

Dec 22, 2015
George Matthews Great London Circus Big Top


What a great big top it was! Those beat-up trucks in the foreground are seat-wagon trucks. They hooked up to trailers that had the rows of bleacher seats attached. They folded up for travel and folded down for seating; not an easy task! It took four or five guys with a lot of muscles to fold them up. The white truck is the stake driver; it had a contraption mounted on it that slammed the big metal spikes into the ground. That machine took the place of four or guys with sledgehammers.

I earned an extra 10 bucks by helping to tear the tent down after the show finished a run. My job was to help haul the quarter poles (the huge poles that held up the big top) to the folded-up seat wagons, then lift them up and hand them over to the guys on top of the wagons. Each pole had a spike on one end that went through a grommet in the big top and a loop of chain of the other that went around a stake to help keep the pole in place. It was a lot easier to haul and lift the pole if you were on the spike end, and I learned pretty quickly to always grab the spike and let some other schmuck grab the chain.

On non-travel nights, I would take off my makeup, wash up as best as I could, and wait for the prop crew to finish resetting everything for the next show. Then, when all was quiet and the folks were turning in or drinking at the local bar or sitting in the cookhouse telling lies, I'd go into the big top and sit on the ring curb at the center ring. I'd just be there, just being still with the circus. Sometimes the moonlight peeked through the bale rings at the very top of the tent, glinting off the steel cage walls stacked by the center ring.

It was, for a little while late in the night, magic.