Ever wanted to run away to join a circus?

What was it like to live and work with a circus in 1976?

Looking back almost 40 years, if you were not one of the stars, it was long hours, long trips and little pay.

After the first show of the Sells and Gray Circus in Stroud Township ended on July 7, 1976, Ricardo Morales, then an 18-year-old Michigan native who had helped set up and break down the circus props for the past year, took some time to describe life in a professional circus.

“The work isn’t too hard, but there’s lots of it,” Morales said, after the performers and crowds had emptied the main tent.

In 1976, circus workers just starting out made $23 a week.

“We work from seven in the morning until midnight, seven days a week. We only get one day off on holidays, which are very, very rare. During a season we’ll travel almost the entire country — this year we’ll get as far north as Maine.”

What did the crew get in return?

“Three meals a day and a place to sleep.” Morales said, and not much pay: $23 a week for most circus workers just starting out.

“We lose workers all the time. A lot drop out every day, but we pick up more as we go along,” he said.

Morales said he joined the circus in 1974 when it came through his home town. “I just wanted something to do,” he said, but added that the ’76 season would probably be his last with the show.

The circus was on the road eight months out of the year, according Morales, and returned to its base quarters in Florida during the winter months, providing a three- to four-month vacation for the performers.

Life behind the scenes was not as glamorous as the performances.

Family teams

Most of the stars joining the circus during 1970s came from Florida, Cuba and Mexico, he added. Although the circus had talent scouts constantly recruiting new acts.

Many of the performers were family teams, Morales said, either husbands and wives or brothers and sisters.

Despite the long hours and low pay, Morales said of the circus, “It’s pretty much like on big family.”


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Text taken from “Circus life isn’t all glamour,” The Pocono Record, July 8, 1976

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