Uproarious laughter meets the question of “What kind of preparations have you been going through for the parade?”
The reason for Mona Larsen and Gretchen Roltgen’s amusement is because they, as Circus World Museum wardrobe volunteers, have spent “a lot” of hours since May sorting through and assigning costumes from the museum’s vast collection. By the time Baraboo’s Big Top Parade takes to the streets Saturday, they will have fitted almost 200 people.
“It’s pretty much a labor of love,” Larsen said. “We care about it and we try to take good care of everything and keep stuff clean, keep stuff organized, but a lot of people wander in and out so it’s kind of an endless task.”
To exemplify her point, several people — including West Baraboo Village President David Dahlke and local business leader Merlin Zitzner — stopped in at the bustling Water Street wardrobe building Friday morning to pick up their parade outfits while someone else tried on a dress and another struggled to get a glue gun working.
“This is how it goes,” Larsen said.
The seventh annual Big Top Parade will march through downtown Baraboo starting at 11 a.m. Saturday, creating a spectacle like circus parades of the past. About 15 restored antique circus wagons will roll through the streets pulled by horses, said Harold “Heavy” Burdick, the museum’s facilities and wagon restoration director.
Amid the wagons will be a clown band, its members Baraboo High School students. Larsen and Roltgen went to BHS in May to fit band students in classic clown costumes made of red-trimmed white ruffled shirts and pants. To complete the look, the students will don red wigs and clown hats at the staging area before they begin their march, Roltgen said.
“They sweat like pigs because of the wigs, you know,” Larsen said. “It’s like wearing a wool hat.”
But they enjoy it, or they wouldn’t return every year, she said.
“A lot of them do it because they’re really excited to do it, some of them do it for band points, some of them do it because their older siblings have done it and it’s a family tradition,” Roltgen said.
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More than 50 “top riders” — those who ride on top of the wagons — and other band members will wear costumes from the museum’s collection, as will some “dignitaries” joining the procession in cars. Others, like Baraboo Mayor Mike Palm and his wife, will supply their own outfits, Larsen said.
She and Roltgen “whipped up” a new drum major outfit to coordinate with existing ones, since they didn’t have enough this year. They’re currently working on fitting about 55 teamsters in red jackets and pants, of which the museum has 500 pairs.
The two have been involved with Circus World for decades. Larsen served as the wardrobe superintendent from 1996-2001. Roltgen started as an organist in the Big Top Band in 1986. She spent some time as a volunteer, became Larsen’s assistant and then took over as superintendent for a few years after Larsen retired.
Larsen said she started volunteering again roughly five years ago — ever since the year rain fell on the parade and caused her to wonder who was going to clean and dry everything. She “popped down and everything was out on the sidewalk,” she said.
This year, the weather so far looks as if it’ll cooperate. Temperatures in Baraboo near 90 Saturday with sunny skies, according to the National Weather Service.
Circus World Executive Director Scott O’Donnell said the museum has a week of special events planned.
After the parade, the downtown Square will travel back to the 1960s — in conjunction with the museum’s summer theme — for Boostock with live music, grilled cheese, beer and more, he said. Circus World will offer $5 entry that day. The Al. Ringling Theatre will hold showings on Friday and Saturday of “The Greatest Showman.”
O’Donnell said the parade committee, under the Baraboo Area Chamber of Commerce, has been working “non-stop” on preparations for the last year.
“At the end of the day, it’s Norman Rockwell Americana at its best. We get to come together as a community and celebrate the great family tradition of circus, not only within Baraboo but the state and nationally,” he said. “It’s an only-in-Baraboo kind of event.”