Story of Big Top Changes, As Kelly Miller Circus Returns to Holly Animal-Free

Story of Big Top Changes, As Kelly Miller Circus Returns to Holly Animal-Free

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Aug. 6, 2018)

Holly, MI – “The Greatest Show on Earth” ceased to exist in 2017 when Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus ended their nearly 150-year run of traveling the country to delight and amaze ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, from small farming towns to the big cities with a variety of performances held under their iconic giant tent.

The Kelly Miller Circus was facing a similar fate. With increasing expenses and technology competing for kids’ attention, it seemed that the Oklahoma-based traveling circus would join the trend of taking down the big top for good.

But James Judkins could not let that happen.

“I have been in the circus business in one job or another since 1976 and am friends with many of the wonderful people in the circus,” Judkins said.  “I worked with and knew their parents, and in many instances their grandparents, and when I heard that the Kelly Miller Circus, after 79 years on the road was going to close, putting these third and fourth generation circus people out of work, the only work that they had ever known, I could not let that happen. “

He bought the circus and refined the lineup not to include any exotic animal acts. In spite of lawsuits, protests, and other pressure by animal rights activists to eliminate animal performances from traveling circuses, Judkins maintains it was a creative decision.

“It was not a decision to go animal free , it was a decision to go with the best possible acts that we could find and when we compared the available acts there were no animal acts that we felt were as entertaining or exciting as the human acts,” he said.

So when the Kelly Miller Circus returns to Holly – after four years since their last visit – the fun will be centered on human talents, maintaining much of the pomp and circumstance that makes going to the circus a memorable experience.

“This year we have a six person troupe from Mongolia, a ‘bounce juggler’ from Egypt, Rolla Bolla from Peru, as well as wonderful artists from the USA, clowns, hula hoop, announcer, wire walker, aerial acts, fire eater – all packed into a 90 minute show in a tent where no member of the public is seated more than 50 feet from the performance area,” Judkins said.  “The circus itself, in its 80th year on the road, being presented in small towns and cities across America, under the big top, in an intimate, up close, friendly setting is the draw.”

Holly Downtown Development Director Katy Hughes is excited for the Aug. 11 and 12 performances.  “I can share a story of my elderly grandmother who attended the circus the last time that it came to Holly,” Hughes said.  “She has dementia, but as soon as she was under the big top, sitting near the ring, it was as if she was transported back to her childhood.

“Grandma told me about the time that she snuck into a circus when she was a kid.  The smell of the animals and the peanuts, the lights, the sound of the band, watching the trapeze artists fly high above her head.  When she sat ringside watching the acts and clapping along in her eighties, it was as if she was a kid all over again.”

The circus last came to Holly four years ago, sponsored by the Friends of the Holly Township Library.  This year it’s the Holly DDA and a number of business sponsors supporting the event, with proceeds of pre-event ticked sales going to help the HollyDays fireworks which happen September 8 as part of a day of fun.

“It’s a community event paying for another community event!  Bringing the circus to town is a wonderful tradition.  It’s wholesome fun for the whole family!  And the ticket prices are incredibly reasonable,” Hughes said.

Judkins and his circus family are looking forward to their visit.  This year they are visiting 160 cities before returning home Hugo, Oklahoma, which is known as “Circus City” USA because it’s the wintertime home to so many performers. There is even a cemetery for circus people, complete with unique headstones and memorials.

But of course it’s being on the road, visiting many cities and villages, that keep the circus and its performers going.

“Circus people are not strange and unusual people, they are simply wonderful people like your friends and neighbors, who have strange and unusual talents and abilities and lifestyle and want to share those unique presentations with your families,” Judkins said.

Six businesses have agreed to serve as ticket outlets; they are selling the tickets in their stores now. Buying in advance helps fund the HollyDays Fireworks show, though tickers are available at the door if they don’t sell out.  Visit these businesses for tickets:

o   Elysian Emporium

o   Holly Donut Shop

o   Holly Foods

o   Holly Township Library

o   The State Bank

o   The Vintage Farm House

The shows take place Aug. 11 and 12, 2018. More info:

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