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Column: Under the big top, those were the days years ago

WORTHINGTON — The U.S. Postal Service offers a sheet of circus poster stamps. Barnum and Bailey. Ringling Brothers Shows. Sells Floto Circus. Al C. Barnes Circus. I am certain you would like one.

Why circus posters? Because with their arrays of clowns and creatures and splashy colors the circus posters are some of the finest things ever to roll from printing presses. Treasures. The stamps brought to mind one of the things I wanted most and never got.

There is a north-south alley that runs near the old Daily Globe building on Third Avenue. At the north end of the alley, across Second Avenue, was the warehouse of Tuthill Lumber Co., long as a baseball diamond. One summer afternoon as I was riding my bike down that alley — lo — there was a circus poster stapled to that yellow-painted warehouse wall. Oh. I wanted that poster the instant I saw it. A wondrous thing it was.

I made a plan. On the day after the circus I would stop and ask if I could have the poster. I doubted the men at the lumberyard would want it. There would be no charge for it. Posters were left to soak up the rains and tear to shreds in the winds. When the lumberyard people said, “Take it,” I would climb atop my bike and bring that wonderful poster down. I could see myself doing it. I knew the corners probably would be damaged when I tugged at my prize but — no matter — it still would be fine. I made a point to see my poster day by day.

The morning after the circus finally arrived. I peddled down the alley. That beautiful sheet would give me courage to go inside the lumberyard. As I got to Second Avenue, reality punched me for the first time. I didn’t know how I would stand upright on my bicycle to get at the poster. Lean the bike against the wall and stand on the seat? I didn’t know how I could pull that off. And another thing — I had not appreciated this before — that poster was stapled so high I really could not reach it, even if I managed to get atop my bike. I surrendered. I didn’t weep, but I gave up. I remember that circus poster still, for circus posters were marvelous things.

When was it — 30 years ago? Randy Lindemann was photographer at the Daily Globe. There was a tent circus scheduled for Adrian. Randy was assigned to cover the big show. And then — who goofed on this? — the Carson & Barnes Circus was scheduled to set up its big top at Worthington on the same day, the same afternoon. Well, I said, I will cover Carson & Barnes. The Daily Globe had two circus events to report in its next edition.

No one would have guessed: those were the last two tent shows ever to set up in Nobles County. After a century of county history, summer-day tent circuses were leaving the scene.

The Internet reports Carson & Barnes Circus is the last circus in America that still travels with a big top. You and I missed our best bet. The closest Carson & Barnes will come to Worthington this year was on Monday, when they it up at Centennial Park at Hoisington, Kan. We should have been there.

No one has set up circus tents at Worthington in three decades, although the town has not wanted for circuses. El Riad Shrine Circus is scheduled once again in Worthington’s Ice Arena on the fairgrounds on June 22. Two performances, 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

One might say, “Bless them,” for the Shrine Circus is faithful. They are a fine show and, of course, kids love the spectacle. How often do you see an elephant? Where else around here do you find performing horses?

A.P. Rose wrote a fine history of Nobles County through 1909. We all make mistakes. Rose records that circuses at Worthington began in 1872 when Barnum & Bailey came to town. This is not true. Barnum & Bailey was only organizing in 1872. But there was a circus in town, and many big tops did come and go through the years.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.