The circus, summer of '42

By Terry Economy | Aug 27, 2015

The summer of 1942, World War II had come to Rockland. Some of our boys had already enlisted in the armed services, others would soon be drafted to help fight and defend our country. Gas and food rationing was upon us, as were evening blackouts along our coastlines. But we still had Popsicles and Fudgesicles, bubble gum and candy, soda pop from our local bottlers, but no Coke or Pepsi.

The summer of 1942, all the adult talk was about the war. But for us kids, little had changed. We still went swimming, played summer games, went to the movies, where we watched the news reels showing us actual combat of our servicemen fighting the Germans in the desert of Africa and our first ground offensive of the Pacific, an island called Guadalcanal. An island nobody had heard of.

In the middle of the summer, for a few days, a circus was coming to Rockland. We saw posters on telephone poles and on vacant windows of stores in town. There was excitement among us kids -- a circus was coming and we all must go!

My sister Virginia and I begged our older brother Richard to take us to the circus, and when he agreed we both jumped up and down with glee. It was to be our first circus. Almost every child, and that includes me, remembers their first trip to a three-ring circus under the big top, a truly magical experience.

As my sister, brother and I neared the circus lot on upper Pleasant Street, I noticed a mammoth tent set up in an empty field. It appeared to be a small city set up in the middle of nowhere. We entered the show grounds via the midway, which was an area outside the main entrance lined with concessionaires, rides, and in many shows a sideshow or menagerie. We bought tickets at a ticket wagon and got in line to enter the big top. When the doors opened, we were ushered into the big top and noticed the performance rings in the middle of the tent, surrounded by a dirt track.

Around this track were the grandstand seats which my brother Richard had bought. As soon as we sat down, the concessionaires started passing by us, selling everything from peanuts and cotton candy to souvenirs and programs. As I glanced at the crowd, it seemed every seat was filled. When the performance was started by the ringmaster, wearing a colorful top hat and tails, he used a whistle to signal the start of each act.

A live circus band, heavy on brass, played lively music to start the opening parade of all the animals and performers around the track, followed by several displays of jugglers, acrobats, aerialists, and, of course, clowns. After one ring performance, another would start in the other ring, and then the third ring. Each act was a thrill to watch. The performance concluded with a parade of circus elephants going around the track with the circus performers waving to the audience, like goodbye.

Following the show, we walked around the midway to revisit some of the sites we missed on the way in. Richard bought us candied apples and cotton candy cones. When it was time to leave, he grabbed my hand and my sister's hand and said it was time to go home and say goodbye to the circus.

As we walked away, I turned and waved, not realizing that it would be five years before another circus would come to Rockland. And as for the circus performance, for the many individuals in attendance, for a couple of hours, laughter and joy took the place of the reality of war.

Comments (1)
Posted by: William Pease | Aug 31, 2015 13:10

Well done, Terry. Many thanks for the memories.

 

Bill Pease (RHS 1952)

Lancaster, Pa.



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