Monday, July 13, 2009

....From John Goodall....

Great Circus Parade: Borgnine says 'best parade ever'

By Jackie Loohauis-Bennett and Meg Jones of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

July 12, 2009

After a six-year absence, the Great Circus Parade brought its own rainbow of razzle and dazzle to downtown Milwaukee on Sunday, wowing fans with golden wagons, black horses, and costumes of purples, yellows and reds sparkling on a flawless summer day.
Along the 3.4-mile parade route, crowds ranged from three to 12 deep of folks who watched more than 400 horses of varying sizes clip-clop by, 80 clowns in greasepaint, 30 bands on foot and on top of horse-drawn wagons, and 50 antique circus wagons featuring themes ranging from the Wild West to the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe to the Golden Age of Chivalry.

Many had staked out their spots hours and even days before the first antique cars rolled by signifying the start of the parade. Quite a few passed the time waiting for the parade by playing "poop bingo" - drawing chalk circles on the pavement and waiting to see if they "won" when a circus animal left a deposit.

As the procession drew near, the crowd murmur grew, kids got even more antsy, toddlers were hoisted onto broad shoulders and people who had sat in what seemed like forests of lawn chairs stood and waved, clutching cameras to record their memories.

The crowd clapped for military units, cheered for dignitaries in period garb, "oohed" at the wild animals in caged circus wagons and "eewed" at horse apples left by performers.

Here are some Great Circus Parade sights and sounds.

*** There were plenty of impromptu plans made Sunday to see the parade. All the reserved hotel and park bleachers were sold out, and people hung out of building windows, parking ramps and on top of concrete planters to see the parade.

But one man had the best view. Stiltwalker Gary Soule has been in Great Circus Parades for decades portraying Uncle Sam from a height of about 10 feet. He lumbered down the route to make it back to the assembly point in a record two hours. Was he tired? "Yes, but the show must go on, and it's a great day," he said.

*** Yes, there were clowns everywhere, and they worked the funny bones of parade-goers, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.

*** What was parade day like for the men who brought it back?

Great Circus Parade co-chair Bill Fox called it "a historic day for Milwaukee and for Wisconsin. This is as good a parade as we've ever had. If this is the last parade, it's a triumphant one."

And co-chair Jack McKeithan said he had been bombarded with comments from parade fans who want to see the parade return sometime in the future. "We're hearing 'Use your best effort to bring it back,' " he said.

The parade was dedicated to its founders, the late Chappie Fox and Ben Barkin.

Chief parade clown Ernest Borgnine and his wife, Tova, drew a standing ovation all along the route. "This is the best parade ever, because it's in memory of Ben and Chappie," the 92-year-old Borgnine said.

*** What were the biggest crowd-pleasers?

You could judge by the whoops, shouts and applause. The sound of the crowd clapping almost drowned out some of the music, even from such boisterous units as the U.S. Bandwagon, with its 15-piece band pulled by 10 snorting sorrel Belgian horses.

When the Bell Wagon clanged out "Ode to Joy," the parade fans sent out a chorus of cheers to match. The unicyclists were beloved. All the big-band wagons got a hearty hand.

But it would be hard to match the reception given the White Wingers, those magnificent men at the parade's end with the little carts and the brooms.

*** And who were the biggest fans? Again, hard to choose.

Maybe it was the Royce family - all 40 members - who started setting up their grill and their sofa along the route on Friday, just like they have for the previous 16 circus parades.

Or maybe it was Marlene Cone, temporary resident of Camp Barkinville, the mini tent city that popped up at the top of the Lincoln Memorial bridge. She displayed a 5-foot-long "check" she had created. It was made out to "Mr. Ben Barkin" for "bringing out the kid in all of us." The amount: "Billions of Smiles."

*** On Water St. between Wisconsin and Mason a sign spelled out "The Leubners." Chris Leubner and his two brothers have come to every circus parade since 1963, 30 altogether. Since then, they've added family and friends and expected about 80 people to show up.

The Leubner brothers have been here so long that others recognize them, including other parade-goers, parade participants and at least one motorcycle officer who recognized the Leubners from the last parade - six years ago. The three Leubner brothers wore Hawaiian shirts, red foam noses and multicolored beanie hats.

"We used to come as early as 9 a.m. on Wednesday. We kind of pride ourselves that we're always here," Chris Leubner said, pointing out familiar parade-goers sitting nearby. "We know those folks and those people. It's like our old neighborhood, six years removed."

*** On Kilbourn Ave. across from the Wisconsin Historical Society, Kris Yakich of New Berlin had staked out her spot at 6 p.m. Friday, the earliest city officials would allow. The spot featured plastic sheeting and wooden figures painted in the shapes of clowns, elephants and a tiger.

Yakich has come to the circus parade since she was a little girl. Dressed in a handmade tie-dye T-shirt, Yakich came with 32 family members, representing four generations ranging from six months to 65 years old.

"People stop and talk to us. It's so neat," Yakich said of the display. "One man from Chicago said 'You could never have this parade in Chicago, all your chairs would be gone.' "

At the end of the parade, Yakich continued snapping photos even of the street-sweeper brigade that cleaned Kilbourn. Among her list of favorites was the curious giraffe that calmly stared back at the human crowd and the clowns stopping at her spot to pay homage to the wooden clown figures adorning her spot.

"We are so glad this parade is back because all the other parades here in Milwaukee are gone," Yakich said.


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

July 12, 2009

Selected photos from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. If yopu want to see all 29 go to -

Circus World performers greet the crowd from atop the i [#400 GCP] ntroductory wagon.
Credit: Kristyna Wentz-Graff

The Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus cage wagon [#23] makes its way down the road while eight Percheron horses pull the Columbia Bandwagon [#62] behind it [Teamster: Sid Post of Marshfield] . Credit: Rick Wood

Eight Percheron horses pull the Columbia Bandwagon as it rounds N. 6th St., with the Wild West section behind it. Credit: Rick Wood

Three tigers occupied the Sells-Floto cage wagon [#19]. Credit: Rick Wood

Six sorrel Belgian horses [Teamster: Dana Stitchert of Chili, Wis] pull the Christy Brothers band tableau, with a 10-piece circus band under the direction of Nicholas Contorn. Credit: Rick Wood


Actor Ernest Borgnine, 92, and his wife, Tova, greet adoring fans. He called it "the best parade ever." Credit: Rick Wood

Borgnine served as the chief parade clown. Credit: David Leshok

A horse-drawn wagon rolls through the streets. [101 Ranch Covered Wagon pulled by four mules. Teamster: Glenn Rodewald of Manitowoc]. Credit: Kristyna Wentz-Graff

Three Carson & Barnes elephants make their way along N. 6th St. [Riders: Barbara Fox-McNeillor, Nancy Meinerz, and Faye Fox]. Credit: Rick Wood

#47 Ringling Bros. U.S. Bandwagon trails 10 Sorrel Belgian horses. [Teamster: Walt Schaefer of Winfred, S.D. 15-piece Milwaukee American Legion Band, Richard Schwartz, director] .Credit: Rick Wood

Carson & Barnes elephants parade down N. 6th St. [Riders: Barbara Fox-McNeillor, Nancy Meinerz, and Faye Fox]. Credit: Rick Wood

The Baraboo High School Marching Clown Band performs dressed for the day's festivities. Credit: Kristyna Wentz-Graff

A giraffe pokes its head out of a Ringling Bros. wagon. Credit: Kristyna Wentz-Graff

A giraffe enjoys an ice cream cone as it rides in the #39 Ringling Bros. Giraffe Wagon. Credit: Rick Wood