Lid geworden op: do jul 21, 2011 3:38 pm
Zoveel valt te lezen in de Journal Courier
in Jacksonville: https://www.myjournalcourier.com/inside ... 798914.phpNeighbors: Jacksonville’s Jamison finds adventure
of a lifetime under the circus big topJay Jamison as he portrayed Carson and Barnes Circus owner D.R. Miller for the Jacksonville Chautauqua series.Jay Jamison ran away and joined the circus in 1983 and it ended up being “the greatest adventure of my life.”
Jamison — now 64 years old — was 27 and unemployed with a master’s degree in philosophy when fellow Jacksonville resident John Carpenter recommended him for a job with the Carson and Barnes Circus, one of the nation’s largest itinerant spectacles.
What followed was two years on the road that gave Jamison an immersion in the true meaning of hard work, adaptability, and the definition of the term “home.”
“I had come from academics so the circus was a world I knew nothing about,” Jamison said.
“For example the whole idea of, where is home?
Well for these people, home is wherever the show is.”A selection of memorabilia from Jay Jamison’s two years with the Carson and Barnes Circus.Jamison was living at his parents’ home in Jacksonville when the circus’ publicity director, Charlie Bellatti, offered Jamison the job of “engagement coordinator,” or press agent.
Bellatti had worked in the Illinois College administration with Jay’s father, the late Wallace Jamison, before Bellatti succumbed to the siren call of the circus.
“In 1977, my dad came home and told my mother, ‘you wouldn’t believe what just happened.
Our alumni director just quit and joined the circus’,” Jamison said.
“So here I was six years later and I’m telling my parents ‘I’m going to join Charlie Bellatti on the circus trail.’
The blood just drained out of their faces.
You could see them thinking, ‘good upbringing, good education, all the right boxes checked, so what happened?’”
Jamison went to the Carson and Barnes winter quarters in Hugo, Oklahoma, where he received a crash course in what would be his job for the next two circus seasons, staying one town ahead of the constantly-traveling show to do advance work and generate news media interest in each community.
The first thing I had to do was drive from the circus lot in the town I was in to the next circus lot and get the mileage and check the road conditions,” Jamison said.
“Even to this day I know the bridge height limits, we had to have a 13 foot 6 inch bridge if we’re going to go under it, and it had to support 40 tons if we were going to go over it.”
“When I got to the next town, I had to step off the lot to make sure it was big enough, we needed 6 acres and it almost never was,” Jamison said.
“Then I would contact the local sponsors and made sure they did what they were supposed to do and had sold enough advance tickets, and after I was satisfied that everything was copacetic, I would contact the media.”
Rather than try to sell local newspaper editors on the concept that Carson and Barnes was the “biggest show you will ever see,” Jamison would often pique their interest with a mundane series of numbers.
“When talking to a skeptical editor, I’d try to break the ice by asking ‘do you know how many truck tires we have on the road at any given time?’ I’d tell him it was between 500 and 600,” Jamison said.
“That’s why we had an entire department devoted to nothing but maintaining and replacing truck tires.
We moved that monster show every single day with an 80-vehicle convoy, an entire department whose job was to provide fuel, cooks who had to do meals for 250 people on the road, and a mechanic’s division that could replace an entire diesel engine in a tractor trailer on the lot.”
Jamison was only on the job for a short time and was in Jasper, Texas, preparing for a show when he ran into his first major problem.
He arrived on scene and didn’t realize until the next morning that the once grassy lot where the circus was to set up had been bulldozed and was nothing but red Texas clay.
Worse, the circus convoy was on its way and “a Biblical downpour” had commenced.
“The convoy had to make a left turn across northbound traffic, jump the curb, and get onto this mud lot that was like tapioca pudding.
The first truck, which holds the big top, bounced over the curb and sank all the way to the axles,” Jamison said.
“The second truck, a big long semi, got its front wheels over the curb and sank all the way to the axles, and now we were blocking both lanes of northbound traffic at morning rush hour.
The convoy was stacked up over a slight rise as far as you could see.”
That’s when Jamison learned a lesson in adaptability.
The circus’ owner, D.R. Miller, walked up to the scene, calmly held four fingers in the air, and a short time later four elephants sauntered down the turn lane and pulled the entire 80-vehicle convoy onto the lot.
“I’m depressed, standing in mud, and the circus treasurer walked up behind me, slapped me on the back, and said ‘boy, this is circusing!’” Jamison said.
“Every kind of condition, rain, heat, high winds, they have to put on two shows a day and move onto the next town.
I cannot adequately express the respect I have for the hard work that went into that.”
“And then they had to put on a show like they were enjoying themselves.
They are on a mud lot, it’s terrible, but then they come down from the trapeze in those sequin outfits and they go ‘ta da!’” Jamison said.
“They have to act like they are just thrilled to be there. They are real pros in front of an audience.”
Jamison was also on the job in California, where the circus lot was composed of densely packed mine tailings that would not permit the driving of metal tent stakes to hold up the big top.
It posed no problem for the circus people, as they circled their fleet of semis and anchored the tent to the parked trucks.
“The people I worked for were hard but fair people. They were great to me, but you had to produce, period,” Jamison said.
“There was no safety net for people like me. Back then we had to bring in between $9,000 and $10,000 every day, seven days a week.
John Carpenter summed it up right when he said ‘we eat pressure for breakfast.’”
Jamison worked for Carson and Barnes through 1984 and returned for a few weeks in the summer of 1985 to help Bellatti train another press agent.
Although Jamison was usually alone and a long way from home, it was a time that he will never regret.
“I got paid to see most of the contiguous 48 states as a young man. Don’t get on a plane and fly over it, you should see what’s out there,” Jamison said.
“It’s the greatest show there is, especially in the far west, and when you set a gigantic show with the mountains in the background, it’s a postcard.”
Jamison turned part of his circus experience into a Jacksonville Chautauqua performance in 2019 when he portrayed the show’s owner, the late D.R. Miller, complete with promotional circus hat, trademark eyeglasses, and ubiquitous envelope of Red Man chewing tobacco.
“Mr. Miller had owned a circus for 50 years so he had seen it all,” Jamison said.
“I was one of the few performers who actually knew who I was impersonating.
I met with his daughter and she gave me an interview that was golden, she told me snippets of her dad that nobody knew.”
A few years ago Jamison was privileged to witness another circus spectacle just a mile from his home, as three separate circus convoys converged in Jacksonville on their way to their next shows.
As you can imagine, hundreds of brightly colored vehicles trying to follow the correct directional arrows planted by their respective advance people was a sight to behold.
“They were all doing this at sunrise and it was a circus unto itself.
These trucks with great big clown faces on the side were turning around, going back and forth, they had obviously lost their way.” Jamison said.
“It was hysterical, and I knew exactly what was going on.”