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May 28, 2014

Mr. Big Shot: Human cannonball will blast off at Shriner's Circus

Talk about crazy jobs. David "the Bullet" Smith Jr. gets shot out of cannons for a living.

The 37-year-old human cannonball is one of many acts in the 48th annual Ainad Shriners Circus, which begins this weekend in Belleville.

"My hardest acceleration was from zero to 74 miles per hour in one-fifth of a second," he said.

Smith holds Guinness world records for distance (194 feet) and height (85 feet) being shot out of a cannon.

The occupation is a family affair, starting with his father, "Cannonball Smith," and continuing with several of his 10 siblings.

"We have a reputation for doing the biggest and the highest cannon shots that we can possibly do," Smith Jr. said. "But there's a limit. Just because a cannon can shoot you farther doesn't mean that it's something that a body can handle.

"There's a balance between the science and the danger and the physical stress. But we push it to the limit. We're always looking for opportunities and places to train and try to do the monsters."

The metro-east circus season kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Friday with the Belleville Circus Parade, which goes from 17th and West Main to the 800 block of East Main.

That will be followed by two shows Saturday and two shows Sunday at Belle Clair Fairgrounds.

The excitement then moves to Waterloo on Monday, Jerseyville on Tuesday, Olney on Wednesday, Salem on June 5-6 and DuQuoin on June 7-8.

"A lot of people have the idea that the circus is for kids," said co-producer Alexandra Carden, a former trapeze artist who co-owns George Carden Circus.

"But this show is for everybody. We tell people to bring grandpa and grandma. They're going to enjoy it just as much as the kids."

This year's circus will feature a Chinese acrobatic troupe that is touring the United States for the first time.

Tigers, elephants, ponies, dogs and clowns also will take the three-ring stage.

"We have white tigers, and we have a liger (named Aztec)," Carden said. "He's half lion and half tiger, and he's really beautiful."

Also new this year is the Windy City Tumblers, a high-energy group of Chicago youths who perform to modern music.

Smith's parents were highly educated trapeze artists who traveled around the country and home-schooled their children. Then his father started designing and building cannons.

"I grew up watching my dad shoot out of cannons, and I woke up in a new front yard every morning," Smith said. "It was a wild childhood."

Smith dabbled in trapeze and trampoline work as a youth. He agreed to be shot out of a cannon at age 19 out of necessity. His father hurt his back and needed a substitute for a show in Wisconsin.

Since that time, the family has built eight cannons, and Smith has performed thousands of times. He has blasted over Ferris wheels, concert stages and even part of the Grand Canyon, landing in a net.

Smith appeared on "America's Got Talent" in 2012. He lost to his brother-in-law and nephew, who won a million dollars with their Olate Dogs pet tricks.

"I couldn't have been prouder," Smith said. "It was an adventure and a wonderful experience to go through with my family."

The Ainad Shriners Circus raises money for the group's operational costs, including building maintenance and private and public events.

Volunteers have been in high gear in recent weeks, laying the groundwork for 12 shows in six towns.

"It's family oriented, that's the biggest thing," said General Circus Chairman Kevin Fernandez, 55, of Belleville.

"I enjoy the parade that we have Friday night. I like seeing people lining the streets. There are folks who set up their chairs Friday morning to stake out their favorite spots. And I like seeing the faces of the little kids when the go-carts go by."

At a glance

What: 48th Ainad Shriners Circus

Parade: 7:30 p.m. Friday from 17th and West Main to the 800 block of East Main

Belleville: 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Belle Clair Fairgrounds

Waterloo: 7:30 p.m. Monday at Monroe County Fairgrounds

Jerseyville: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at American Legion Park

Olney: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Olney City Park

Salem: 7:30 p.m. June 5-6 at Marion County Fairgrounds

DuQuoin: 7:30 p.m. June 7 and 2 and 6 p.m. June 8 at DuQuoin State Fairgrounds

Admission: $14 for adults and $10 for children

Tickets: Can be purchased at Schnucks, Hucks or MotoMart stores or Ainad Shriners

Information: Call 618-874-1870 or visit

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