BY JULE OBERMILLER
Special to the US&J;
“Ladies and gentlemen, step right up to the biggest little show in Lockport!”
Fifty years ago, the ringmaster of the Exchange and Lions Circus called out to more than 2,000 circus-goers at the Lockport Armory on Willow Street. This weekend, The Exchange Club Charity Ring Circus celebrates its golden year with another fun show at the Kenan Arena, carrying on a great tradition of chuckles for charity.
After William Donald ran away from home as a child to join the circus (he didn’t get far), he carried his fascination into adulthood, attending every circus within driving distance.
When the Lockport Lions and Exchange clubs decided to try to put on a circus in 1960 to raise money, they put Bill, a newspaper photographer, at the helm as chairman. Henry Hubert of the Lions Club and Niel DeWolf of the Exchange Club were co-chairmen.
The original Lockport Clowns made their own costumes and props and devised zany acts for the crowd. Bill Donald was joined by butcher Don Kaufman, DeWitt Clinton Principal Wes Arnold, musician George Bridgeman, sales manager (and later Lockport Mayor) Ray Betsch and ad salesmen Ed Moran and Dave Seekins to become the “cavalcade of clowns” advertised for the show. Overflowing crowds had organizers scrambling to put tumbling mats on the floor for children so adults had the seats. The original ticket price was $1 for adults and 75 cents for children. A profit of $1,200 went to the American Cancer Society and Sight Conservation, a Lions project. The success of the show launched an annual event. Fifty years later, the price is still only $4 for adults and $2 for children.
The 1961 circus featured a young Tom Jolls as ringmaster, in top hat and red riding coat. There were Carl Hackman and 25 acrobats from the Buffalo Turners, a fire-eater named Harold Rupp, a human cannonball and an 18-piece band. Darcy Brown’s High Beam athletes and the Esther Wallace dancers were some of the 20 thrilling acts. Indians from the Tonawanda Indian Reservation mesmerized the crowd with tribal dances, and promoters promised “a small animal menagerie will include the haughty South American llama, the delicate deer, ponies, monkeys and an assortment of dogs and pigs, and a lone duck.”
BY JULE OBERMILLER
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