Seniors Speak Out

Circus Among Beloved Amusements

After over a century of circus performances, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey closed their curtains this past May, most notably due to a decline in popularity and significant battles concerning animal rights.  Residents and short stay guests of Barclay Friends Continuing Care Community in West Chester share their views on the circus below.


Donna Reinikka

“Well, it’s hard to understand why [the circus] would close,” Donna says—she’s never been to the circus, and doesn’t know anyone who has.  “We take our grandchildren to the Reading Phillies.  It’s so much fun for the family and for kids, and it’s less expensive.  We get hot dogs and there is entertainment—can that be the circus?” she laughs.  “I’m [also] very active with my church, Great Valley Presbyterian.  I’m in the choir, a member of the Women’s Missionary Society and I’m the Sunshine Chairman—I write cards to members who are ill or going through hard times.”

“My husband Arnold and I have done a lot of Christian missionary work,” she adds.  “We’ve been to so many different countries, but we’ve been to Alaska [the most].  We would fly into Anchorage on a small airplane and land on a dirt road [surrounded] by beautiful snow-covered mountains.  Arnold and I grew up in Oregon where he was a logger, so in Alaska he prepared lumber for building while I worked in the kitchen at the lodge making hundreds of desserts.  I became known as The Cookie Lady because I was always making five or six times the recipe.”  And Donna doesn’t need to go to the circus to see bears.  “There are elk and bear in Alaska,” she describes.  “Once during a Sunday church service at the retreat center, a bear walked down into camp, and thank goodness all the children were inside!”


Betty Barlow

“I remember going once when I was growing up—at that age the three ring circus is so much to absorb that I think you miss a lot, but I always found them interesting and entertaining, and I liked the popcorn.  I can’t believe they’re ending—it’s a shame, but I can see both sides [of the controversy].  I would think, though, that Ringling Bros., with the reputation it has, wouldn’t do anything to harm the animals, but anything could happen once in a while.  A lot of people will be out of work, and what will they do with the animals?  There were so many different kinds of animals and I remember wondering how they could perform—were they wild animals that were trained or were they zoo animals?  It must have taken a lot of patience to take the time to train them.”

Betty recalls the high wire acts with wonder.  “Steve Harvey [hosts] a show called Little Big Shots and he sometimes [showcases] seniors in their late 80’s,” says, referring to Little Big Shots: Forever Young.  “On one of these shows a woman climbed up a pole and did all these fancy things—she was twirling around and people were applauding.  She’s one of the Wallendas, a family of acrobats.  You’re born into it, whether you like it or not—she [probably did it every day of her life.  You don’t see many women shaped like that at that age—that’s what impressed me the most.”


Theresa Hassinger

Theresa took her daughters to see the circus when they were younger.  “The girls must have been around six and nine, and they liked the flying trapeze,” she recalls, “and the clowns—and of course, the cotton candy,” she smiles.  “It was Barnum & Bailey and we got tickets in advance when we knew it was coming to the Harrisburg area.”  Theresa does recall worrying about the animals.  “You hoped that they were generous to the animals and fed them well—they would perform day after day for the whole week, and they must have been exhausted.”

More often, Theresa and her husband would take the girls to Lake George in upper New York State where they stayed at a cottage.  “We cooked our own meals and the girls swam in the lake.  My husband was a fisherman and went to Canada every year in May, July and September—I took the girls up in July because they had school in the other months.  It was a great area for catching salmon, but you had to declare what you brought across the border,” she adds.  At the circus, you’re more likely to declare an upset stomach or a sugar high!