It’s hard not to love large, middle-aged men wearing funny hats who stuff themselves into tiny cars.
Belleville’s Shrine Circus Parade will soon mark its 49th year, stepping off down Main Street at 7:30 p.m., May 29, ahead of the two-day Shrine Circus. For this Throwback Thursday we look at the teen years — June 6, 1980 — when the parade was just 14.
The parade is always Friday night ahead of the weekend circus performances. The News-Democrat did not publish on Saturday, so a parade photo did not appear until Sunday along with coverage of the first circus performance. The front page photo by Bill DeMestri featured the Krazy Klowns at the parade “prancing” through downtown.
The clowns have been a fixture for decades, as well as the motorcycles doing figure 8s, the Tin Lizzy Patrol and the politically challenged Arab Patrol. Riding a horse, motorcycle or little car without your fez flying off must be as much of a challenge as it is fun, but you have to envy the guys in funky bedouin attire and pointy shoes painted gold, brandishing a chrome scimitar or wheezy instruments.
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The old photos and stories show some changes.
The circus parade was once an actual parade of circus animals — elephants walked down Main Street and there was a tiger in a cage in 1980. The parade was all about promoting and selling tickets to the weekend circus performances, which used to benefit the Shriners’ Hospital for burned and handicapped children.
Now the animals are gone, except for Shriners in furry costumes, and the circus benefits the Ainad Shrine in general. The Shriners view the circus as a way to let lots of children see a circus at little or no cost, and the proceeds go to run the Shrine and its various civic projects.
The circus itself dates back to the 1920s in East St. Louis, but there were some years missed. The Shriners moved it to Belleville in 1966, and the tradition continues.
Want to see more photos, that day’s newspaper or past episodes of Throwback Thursday, visit us at BND.com.