The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

July 19, 2013

Kelly Miller Circus workers entertain visitors as they prepare for Conneaut show

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — The Big Top went up Thursday.

Even before that time, dozens of people assembled in the morning at Lakeview Park in Conneaut to watch the Kelly Miller Circus come to town.

Sandra Baldwin of Conneaut was at the park with her 3-year-old granddaughter, Haylee Baldwin. “We wanted to watch them raise the Big Top,” she said.

Some of the spectators were disappointed that machines, not elephants, were used to set up the Big Top as billed.

Rebecca Ostroff, a tour guide and aerialist for the circus, said elephants weren’t used because of legal questions.

Nancy Guthrie, pastoral assistant at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Conneaut — the circus’ sponsor — cited an erroneous email regarding the use of elephants. The Conneaut Police Department is investigating, she said.

In advance of the circus’ arrival, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals announced they had advised City Manager Tim Eggleston and Police Chief Charles Burlingham to be on the lookout for the use of bullhooks by handlers to control elephants, a device outlawed in Ohio. Burlingham said he would investigate any complaints. None had arrived by early Thursday afternoon, he said.

A similar notice was sent to officials in Orwell, where the circus will pitch its tent today, according to the PETA statement.

Visitors to the circus saw workers and heavy equipment put up the huge tent like they do every day in small communities across the country. Ostroff said the circus needs only a relatively small piece of land and a fresh water source.

“We bring everything else,” she said.

A group of area residents circled Ostroff as she explained circus life. Many then wandered the grounds, looking at the elephants and checking out the large tent.

“We are traveling together for 38 weeks,” said Ostroff of the 96-member circus that performs 520 shows a year. “We are on the same team.”

Crew and participants come from around the world, including South Africa, Argentina, Mexico, Peru, France and across the United States, Ostroff said.

A circus employee arrives 24 hours ahead of the circus to do logistical work, Ostroff said. Mechanics are on staff to fix broken equipment, she said.

Elephants, tigers, zebras and many other animals are involved in a variety of acts.

“I like the whole traveling familial experience,” Ostroff said of her life on the road.

The Kelly Miller Circus is based in Hugo, Okla.

Staff writer Mark Todd contributed to this article