Elephants and Creams

By Phineas J. Stone

Maybe I’m the only one left, but I find it very disheartening, and more than a little depressing, to see that the Barnum & Bailey Circus has folded up its bigtop tent.

Never again will the elephants, clowns and Ringmaster make their grant entrance into the Hub for a week of old-time entertainment that doesn’t involve a television screen or a phone charger.

The Circus here in Boston carried so many great memories for me – from going to the old Garden to see it to sitting down at the TD Garden with a new crop of youngsters to see wonderful sights and exotic, well-trained animals.

There were things you just couldn’t see anywhere else, like motorcycles riding at full speed in a cage, and Barnum was a show that was sewn into the fabric of America.

Or at least what used to be America.

It’s yet another institution that has become defunct or inaccessible.

The American pastime, baseball, is no longer a place we can go either. Before the recent racist taunts – which I would argue have been there for a long time – the place was inhospitable to those of us in the City looking for a pleasant evening at the ballpark with family. If it wasn’t for the obscene prices, then it was the obscene language – mostly carried on by out-of-towners who tie one on during their big night on the town and let their tongues loose. These suburban yahoos treat our city like it’s a trip to Las Vegas where they can do whatever they please and then go home to the quiet, safe, and sanitary place they call home – leaving a wake of hurt, broken things and chaos for us to clean up. It’s too bad they can afford to come here.

Therein lies the death of the ballpark for those of us who err on the side of tradition, who enjoy these things that are American in a country that mostly has nothing that isn’t imported or fused from another culture.

But back to the circus.

That, too, was ours. Apparently the Greatest Show on Earth expired due to the lack of elephants, which were cut out of the show due to recent protests. The grand beasts, which used to prance so proudly through the North End when the show came to Boston – delighting the neighborhood kids and adults, were the big draw and always had been. Without them, the good old circus couldn’t keep it up. It’s like the lottery at a convenience store: the scratch tickets pay the rent, and the chocolate bars bring home the bacon.

I think of all those performers. What will they do? The Big Apple Circus isn’t faring much better. These are unique talents, and now, they’ll have nowhere to show them.

I also think of the kids of today, and what they’ll miss.

A few years ago, I took a young relative to Barnum’s circus at the TD Garden. As we were walking in past the statue of Bobby Orr, a young man wearing a bandana over his face rushed at us with pictures of slaughtered elephants in Africa.

He bypassed me and knelt down, getting in the face of my little niece and shoving the pictures of dead and bloodied elephants in her face. Keep in mind he was in a mask and wearing all black.

He screamed at her, “They’re killing the elephants. You want dead elephants kid? If you watch the elephants you’re killing them.”

She freaked; scared the life out of her. I pushed him away. What an inappropriate thing, but a dozen or so young people like him were doing the same in the crowd filing in to the circus – families thinking only about cotton candy and clowns and some respite from the daily grind and sadness of life.

Only to be ruined by a bandit.

Likely someone who rationalizes keeping a large dog, maybe even a Labrador Retriever, cooped up in a small city apartment all day while he or she goes about their business of scaring little kids. Don’t you love these phony balonies? It’s wrong for the circus to lock up an animal, but it’s fine for me to lock up a big dog whose nature is to be free, to run in open fields and to hunt birds. That’s the world we live in, like it or not. It’s the ‘everyone’s wrong but me’ generation, and as I’ve said before, we live in an incredibly arrogant time on Earth.

In any case, the saddest part here is that the circus was one of the only ways for young City kids to see these great and majestic animals. I developed a love for animals and a concern for them in meeting the elephants in the North End or at Barnum’s when I was a kid. So did many others.

You see, the Circus in Boston was a bastion for low-income kids. The rafter seats every October when they came to town were filled with poor children from less affluent neighborhoods who got free tickets from local organizations so they could spend a night laughing and filling up on sugary junk food – a break from the street violence, crappy public schools and broken hopes that many of them face every day.

But who’s thinking of kids anymore?

Pictures of bloody, slaughtered elephants pull at the heartstrings of the public in a much more profound way than happy smiles on the faces of kids in our own city who, most days, face sadness and frowns.


Mr. Boston can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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