Kind friend Dale Lincoln checks in a story that again makes us think about life and how we should enjoy the people and times who are dear to us:
In the early part of the 20th century the arrival of a circus in a city or town was a big
event. It was especially exciting to children. They watched the circus parade, saw the
bright lights and heard the music, but many children never saw the show under The Big
Top. My mother often told stories about the circus arriving by train in Eastport, Maine.
She lived near the railroad station and the circus grounds, but she never had enough
money to see the show. One evening in her youth she walked to the circus grounds and met up with Elizabeth Greenlaw. Both of them were in the same financial status and were unable to see the show, but lack of money doesn’t always prevent kids from having fun. I can imagine that the young ladies stepped lively with the music and enjoyed the happy crowd. They could dream of seeing the main event another year.
Before continuing the rest of that story, some personal memories and changes with
the circus must be mentioned.. The last circus to visit Eastport, Maine arrived in trucks.
The music, bright lights, large animals, clowns, and acrobats, witnessed at my first circus
were very exciting. At age 8, the little circus at Eastport seemed greater than the circus I
attended with my family at Boston Garden twenty-five years later. When a person is
overwhelmed with happiness as a child, it is not unusual for them to help their children
experience the same thrills. For that reason adults make arrangements each year for
many Maine children in Grade 5 to attend the circus. My children have good memories of
that special day in May when they went to Bangor with their classmates and attended the
In 1970 I was living in South Portland with my wife and growing family. One
afternoon in April my wife stayed home with our infant twins while my assignment was
to take our daughter Carol, and her friend Winnie to the circus in Portland. The early spring day was cloudy, windy, and cold. The previous day I ran the Boston Marathon in a drenching rainstorm. My body was sore and I thought I was freezing to death as we waited in the long line outside the Expo. When the people directly ahead of me reached the ticket booth the Fire Marshall closed the gate. We had to go home! Conditions were better for Winnie and Carol than they were for my mother and Elizabeth. They only waited one day before they enjoyed the circus.
Martha Spinney and Elizabeth Greenlaw returned to their homes after visiting the
circus grounds. Years passed. Both of them would leave Eastport to live in larger cities. They met the man of their life, married, became good parents, and made efforts for their children to attend the circus. To my knowledge my mother never had a ticket for the main event.
Three years after they married my parents felt the bite of The Great Depression when they were living in Philadelphia. In my mother’s words: “We lost everything, ended up on a park bench, then returned to Maine!”
That is why my family was living in Perry, Maine on July 6, 1944. It was my Dad’s birthday. My mother made a cake and we had a party in our little home near the swamp. On that same day, Elizabeth Greenlaw Roberts, her husband, and children, went to the circus. During the afternoon performance the Big Top of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus went up in flames. Elizabeth Greenlaw Roberts died in the worst fire in circus history.
On July 6, 2008, sixty eight years after that disaster, many people will be shedding tears as they remember that bad day in Hartford, Connecticut.
Dale C. Lincoln
for Skillin's Greenhouses
March 20, 2008
The first day of Spring