Circus World leaders say memories made during the 2017 summer season will live on long after the big top is taken down.
The Baraboo museum delivered its final show of the year Sunday, but Executive Director Scott O’Donnell said there was one summer performance that stood out from the rest.
On the eve of Baraboo’s Big Top Parade in July, Circus World held a private show for former Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus employees who were in town for the four-day circus homecoming celebration. Heavy rains fell as Ringling alumni packed the big top tent to watch ringmaster Dave SaLoutos and other performers sing, dance and showcase their circus acts.
O’Donnell said the performance was one of the most “raw, emotional” shows he has ever seen. There were at least 16 standing ovations at different times throughout the performance, he said.
“So many people who attended said that that show almost meant more to them than the last show of Ringling Brothers for whatever reason,” he said. “It was an electrifying night under the big top.”
SaLoutos said it was one of the most amazing performances he has ever been a part of. Both SaLoutos and O’Donnell agreed the show was on of the highlights of the summer.
“They hooted and hollered — you never felt so much love in your life,” SaLoutos said. “It was like getting 500 hugs. We were on such a high after that performance I don’t know if anybody slept that night.”
O’Donnell said many events from 2017 shared the same electric energy. From “the elephant stroll heard round the world,” to the state’s “generous support of the HVAC project nearing completion at the Robert L. Parksinson Library,” to countless other milestones for the Baraboo museum, O’Donnell said it was a historic year for Circus World.
“It’s been an interesting year of all kinds of emotions, from the initial shock and sadness of Ringling Brothers announcing their closing, to really a beautiful wave of nostalgia and recommitment to the art form and to the heritage that we celebrate here,” he said.
While operations are slowing as Circus World transitions from its summer to fall season, O’Donnell said the museum staff is already looking ahead to next year. He said next year’s performers will soon be announced.
“Of course, we’re rapidly putting together a stellar cast for next year as well,” he said. “We feel it will be an equally as fun theme next year as it was this year — something that people can connect with.”
O’Donnell said he’s pleased the museum was able to recommit to preserving circus history in wake of Ringling’s closing, but was quick to add that more can be done. Moving forward, he said Circus World staff will recuperate, finish off contracting for next year’s show, and prepare for the upcoming transition of control of the museum from the Circus World Museum Foundation Board to the Wisconsin Historical Society.
“You can’t put a pin in history and just stop — you have to take it, honor it and translate it forward into a positive momentum,” he said. “I think 2017 was that year for us.”