Life in the Circus

Roger Every’s 54 years on the road

In clown makeup with partner at Magic Harbor, Myrtle Beach, S.C., in 1979.

In clown makeup with partner at Magic Harbor, Myrtle Beach, S.C., in 1979.

There once was a time when kids might say they wanted to run away with the circus. Roger Every actually did that and made a career for 54 years of being on the road. Today, he spends a lot of time as a volunteer at the Clemenceau Heritage Museum.

"Traveling and meeting people" was in his blood, plus a large dose of interest in animals.

"I was born and raised on a farm in the Catskills in Upstate New York and always loved animals."

Roger joined the service at 17, got out and worked for a while with his brother, then drove to Sarasota, on Florida's west coast.

Sarasota, during the 1920s, became the winter headquarters for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Roger worked with Ringling for seven years beginning in 1950. The circus moved by train at that time. Roger moved trucks from the trains to the lots and brought water to the horses. They traveled to the same 125 cities every year. When Ringling traveled to Havana, Cuba, the show went 90 miles each way by barge.

He left the Ringling Show and joined the Hunt Brothers Circus at the famous Palisades Park in New Jersey. That is when he started working directly with the animals. He worked a wild animal menagerie including a giant anteater, a spotted hyena, a female lion, three spider monkeys, two coatimundi, three Sicilian pongas, a llama, Bactrian camel, three rhesus monkeys, horses and donkeys.

Circuses are seasonal and after the Hunt show closed for the season in 1957, Roger went south and picked up the final days of the Christiani Brothers Circus, taking over the mixed animal act. A horse goat, llama and dog performed in a ring.

"Circuses were really popular then. Today there are 16 on the road."

Things have changed under the big top. For many circuses there is no longer a "top," or tent. Many, including Ringling, now perform in arenas or coliseums.

Are the animals temperamental?

"It is how they accept you. I had three, Frieda, Lizzie and Carry. There is a 'bull-hook' that is used with animals. I always carried it with the hook in my hand and would just tap her with the other end. She knew the routine better than I did. I could throw that hook down and she would pick it up and carry it for me. If I wanted to move hay to where the elephants were, I would take a pitchfork and slide it through the wire. She would pick up the handle end and I would pick up the pitch fork end and we would drag those three bales over to the elephants."

Horses and elephants are little used as work animals today in addition to the show.

"I was always the last truck to leave the lot with the elephants, so that if anybody got stuck, I could pull them out. I think it was down in Georgia I got stuck with a 40-foot truck and three elephants and nobody else was there. I took Frieda and put her alongside in the back of the trailer and she stood fast there. The two others were still in the trailer. And I got in the truck and put it in low gear and hollered to her to "move up" and she started pushing. I put that truck in gear and she got us out of the mud. That's how well trained they were."

Roger enjoyed his life in the circus. " I traveled to places I could never afford to see and met people from all walks of life.

"Traveling and meeting people, I enjoyed life on the road."

He first started working in the circus making $21 each week, working 6 a.m. until about 11 at night, seven days a week. The circus rests during the winter season, when there are no shows.

Roger often wintered in Oklahoma City and many times used his animal experience going to work for the Lincoln Park Zoo there.

When he was farther north, he wintered in Sioux Falls, S.D., and also he spent five years at Qu'Appele, Saskatchewan.

"I was not a landowner. I didn't want to pay taxes. When you are on the road, you get three meals each day, a roof and electricity. If you have your own trucks, you get fuel."

Changes in the circus trade were already happening in the late 50s when Ringling ended the tradition of outdoor shows under the Big Top.

Roger recalls the three trains that carried the circus originally. One went to Madison Square Garden, a second to Boston Gardens and a third met up with the two and formed the touring shows, a red and a blue unit.

After Ringling and Hunt Circuses, Roger Every went on to work for nearly two dozen outfits over the years in a variety of capacities. He worked the rodeo circuit for a time his wife and daughter operating midway attractions. He worked a Pow Wow circuit in 1976 in North and South Dakota. He owned a 28-horse merry-go-round. He worked one circus as an operations superintendent. He put together clown routines for another show. In Arizona, he established a magic show that entertained in area schools for five years.

In the late '80s, Roger put together two teams of draft horses and two stagecoaches and operated a stage business at a western theme park in Upstate New York, giving tours for five years.

He toured the northeast giving lectures on the Circus in America during the early '90s. He then operated a circus museum during the Tri-County Fair in Altamont, N.Y., until he sold out in 2004.

Roger made a stop with one show at the Verde Valley Fairgrounds in the mid-'70s and fell in love with Jerome, which whetted his passion for history. He decided when he retired, he would move to Cottonwood.

He joined the Jerome Museum Association and later the Clemenceau Heritage Museum, where he now volunteers three days each week. Roger recently also joined the Clarkdale Museum.

He can tell you about the graves in the Cottonwood Cemetery where he gives an occasional tour. He has catalogued every one of the more than 2,000 graves there and knows the history of many occupants, but that is a story for another time.

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