In reflection, one can just picture Chef Al laboring over a large black cauldron from the Ben Wallace Show, fired by several pieces of wood from a just discovered 1929 Sells-Floto center pole. In the smoke, images of Tom Mix, Mable Stark, Poodles Hannaford and the Flying Arbaugh Troupe could be seen if you looked closely enough. Chef Al had a potpourri of ingredients at the ready. Into the mix he inserted a couple of circuses performances, a county museum that was ready to meet the varied needs of the hoard of historians whose interests might even extend beyond the circus; try Broadway composer Cole Porter as a thought, included a circus parade that is the measure of any today, blended a private concert of a 35 piece band that augmented, or better yet, enhanced several papers on two circus composers and band directors, stirred in a fulfilling visit to a circus museum of note, and added a meaningful dash of auction activities that had the traditionally penurious circus historians reaching deep into previously unexplored areas of their pockets for spare cash. As if the foregoing wasn't enough, he garnished the offerings with a healthy array of papers, all of which received the riveted attention of the audience. With such a repast, was there any appetite unsated? We think not. Chef Al clearly did it again. In fact he bested Toronto and we all were so glad that he did so in beautiful downtown Peru. Because we feasted on relevant circus history in all forms over four straight days, we returned to our sundry homes already planning to attend Chef Al's next convention, wherever it may be. Life is indeed good.
It all started innocently enough during the afternoon of July 16th in the lobby of the Best Western Inn. There President Al Stencell and Treasurer Alan Campbell greeted the almost 70 folks who had previously registered. Lots of social mingling took place with old friendships reinforced and new ones made. In the evening, to the great pleasure of all those who partook, Al Stencell had arranged for fine seats at the Circus City Festival Circus performance. Hard seats and sore rears notwithstanding, it is amazing what these youthful, non-professional performers accomplished in the circus arts. Vigorous and well deserved applause was noted from all areas of the arena. The next morning President Al formally opened this 2003 convention with appropriate remarks of welcome and administrative heads-up. He was followed by a reading of Stuart Thayer's paper entitled "Horseless in Nashville," a most interesting reflection on the tribulations of circusing in Nashville during the Civil War. Photo above left: Presenter Stuart Thayer (right) and CHS President Al Stencell (left)
Frequent presenter Fred Dahlinger shared his work-in-progress on the Great Wallace Shows focusing upon some of his (Ben Wallace) notable parade wagons over the years. One senses that there will be more Dahlinger's papers on the Wallace Shows in the future and we will welcome all that he offers. The morning session was completed with a very interesting photologue by Steve Gossard, focusing on Bloomington, Illinois flyers of note during the first 40 or so years of the 20th century. Good stuff, for sure. Photo left: Presenter Fred Dahlinger, Jr., Made in Peru: Parade Wagons of the Great Wallace Shows
The afternoon session had a totally different flavor. It commenced with a long distance traveler from Australia, Peta Tait, discussing her theories on female aerialists' accomplishments in the distant past. She observed that the notion of male aerialists first achieving difficult turns is simply a myth. It is Ms. Tait's belief that females frequently led the way but because males controlled the press, such was not always properly recorded. She acknowledged that some of her views were subject to dispute but so be it. Bill Schreiber then presented a very interesting paper on his experiences with "outlaw circuses." In essence what he discussed was the severe damage to the circus industry that these grifting circuses cause, burning up territory that sometimes lasts for a decade or more. As a circus person, he would be delighted that these "outlaw circuses" be eliminated from the business, and the world would be better for it. There wasn't a whimper of disagreement from his audience. The final paper of the day was Jim Alexander, who lives the story of animal training in zoos every day. His commentary peppered with real time experiences which clearly demonstrated that animal training is a daily but enjoyable challenge. Correctly pursued, much can be accomplished in the realm of animal training while ensuring their safety and integrity during the process.
As evening was broached Atlanta personages Ray Gronso and Gordon Taylor continued their annual foray into the art of libation distribution. Once again it was successful in every regard with participants pouring out of the room into the corridor of the Inn to the probable consternation of the neighbors. But this social disturbance did not last too long because there was the scheduled annual auction of prized circus memorable. Suffice it to say after the closing of the auction, Treasurer Campbell had a sly smile on his face as he counted in excess of $1,750 of revenue to be placed in the CHS coffers, probably not to be seen again in our lifetime. Gone but not forgotten. Photo right: John Polascek checks a scrapbook at the Auction