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Making a Big Impression : Elephants Lead Parade as Circus Comes to Town

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When a herd of elephants tromps single-file into the the parking lot of The Pond of Anaheim, it means one of two things: Either the Republican National Convention or the circus is in town.

The hundreds of parents and children who lined a mile-long stretch of streets weren’t applauding any glad-handers Wednesday afternoon; instead they were cheering the circus elephants and horses.

Halting traffic as it passed, the animal procession hoofed its way from the circus train on Sunkist Street to the arena, all to trumpet the arrival of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

“I liked the animals,” said Diana Jakemedes, 9, of Anaheim. “I like the horses. They were cool.”

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"(Elephants) are fun. I’ve seen them at the zoo,” agreed Autumn Thompson, 4, as the elephants strolled by single-file, linked trunk to tail.

“They were funny the way they grabbed hands,” she said.

The large mammals can be seen in all of the 19 performances staged by the 124th edition of the “Greatest Show on Earth” between Thursday and Aug. 14. In addition to the animals, the famed three-ring circus also will showcase Russian acrobats, French aerialists, animal trainers, dancers, clowns, a human cannonball, Cossack riders and a canine comedy show.

For many parents and grandparents, Wednesday’s animal walk was a pleasant journey back to their youth. A lifelong Anaheim resident, Ray Masciel, 69, remembers waking at daybreak as a youngster to watch the great beasts walk by.

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“When we were kids we’d see them come in on the other side of town,” said Masciel, a retired businessman, who brought his four grandchildren to Wednesday’s parade. “We’d stay until we saw the elephants raise the tents.

“It was the whole excitement of the circus coming to town,” he added. “Now, the excitement for me comes from (watching) the kids.”

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Marching down the streets of Anaheim was all the work the elephants had to do Wednesday. Circus crews erected the tents, which covered half a football field in the arena parking lot.

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At the end of the elephant’s walk, the large mammals received a soothing bath, trainers said.

“They get a tub of water and they spray themselves,” said Brenda Olson, a circus spokeswoman. “Then, trainers hose them down.”

When the circus train halted on the railroad tracks near Sunkist Street and Cerritos Avenue about 4 p.m., the elephants didn’t exactly bound out of the train. More than an hour passed before they emerged. The animals couldn’t be unloaded until the arena had been properly prepared for them.

As it did for many other youngsters, the wait proved very trying for A.J. Bessey, a tearful 2-year-old attending his first circus walk.

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“I thought he’d enjoy seeing the animals,” said A.J.'s mother, Kim, a preschool teacher from Anaheim. “It’s typical of the circus to be running late. But at least they should have some clowns out (in the meantime).”

But smiles broke out among the children, and adults, when the spectacle finally began. The crowd especially seemed to enjoy “Romeo and Juliette,” two baby elephants being pulled to the arena in a trailer. In their circus debut, the heavyweight youngsters are the first pachyderms born and bred at the circus’s elephant farm in Florida.

One of the happier faces in Wednesday’s circus crowd belonged to Fernando Rodriguez, a food-truck vendor. In the afternoon heat, beverage sales were brisk.

“There’s usually no business in the afternoons,” Rodriguez said. “I like the circus.”

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