When I was little, my family said we had relatives who owned a circus. Their last name was Kelly. They wintered in Illinois on a farm. Supposedly, they once dyed their elephants pink and were in Life Magazine. I think I remember seeing that picture. I have been trying to find out if all this was fact or fiction. My grandfather, who was an irish storyteller, used to tell us that he used to hang by his teeth in the circus. (Now that very possibly could have been fiction.) Anyway, would you be able to suggest where and how I can research the circus. My cousins and I feel sure some fragment of the family story is true.
I’m related to the Kelly’s and just today we had pictures of the Kelly’s through the years out, to include Pat (my great grandfather), Dan and the whole family, along with many circus pictures of the family. My grandmother Berniece Kelly-Morris is Pat’s daughter and Jobernie Morris-Weaver and William Morris Jr.’s mother. If you or anyone has any information to share please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank You, Kelly Weaver
Just an update: My thanks to Mr. Polacsek who directed me to William Morris of Elephant Encounter. He was most helpful. I have since found that the Life Magazine is the March 7, 1960 issue and the pink elephants are featured on P. 45. I now have a copy. My great grandmother Kelly was the sister of the original Kelly Bros. I would now love to track down copies of any pictures of Patrick and Dan and/or the circus that might be out there.
The history of the Kelly Bros. goes back to Patrick and his brother Dan Kelly who once had the circus ringbarn at Petersburg, Illinois about 1910 which was originally managed by the Shipp Family. The show was out as Kelly Brothers World’s Greater Shows in 1914, and played in Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. In 1922 it was Kelly Bros.and they did a number of fair shows. In 1927 & 1928 they went out under canvas again and called the show Singer Brothers. Dan was the clown and Pat was an acrobat. In 1946 & 1947 they played a number of indoor dates under Kelly & Morris, and had a winter quarters at Havanna, Illinois. For the 1948 season the show went out under canvas as the Kelly & Morris Circus. A few years later the show moved their winter quarters to Oak Hill, Florida and in 1956 & 1957 the title was changed to Benson Brothers. It closed that year. Pat Kelly then took their star attraction an elephant named Blanche and did elephant rides at the Circus World Museum for a season or two. Pat Kelly had a son named Paul Kelly who married Dorothy and they purchased the old Cole Bros. Winterquarters at Peru, Indiana, and had the pink elehants which were on the cover or Life or Look magazine. Pat had a daughter named Bernice who married William Morris. They had a son named William Morris who with his wife Cindy is currently booking his elephant act – The Elephant Encounter, and their son William Jr.and his wife are also working an elephant act on various circuses.
There was a husband and wife team who bought the old circus winter quarters in Peru Indiana. Her name was Dottie Kelly. They used to dye their elephants pink. I think it was the old Cole Brothers Winter Quarters. This was about 40 years ago.
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