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“But like everything else, circuses experience cycles, ” Pratt said. “The economy, birthrates—today we’re beginning to see an upsurge in attendance as baby boomers bring their children,” the echo boomers.

Families may have fewer children, but parents tend to spend more on them, according to Pratt. Although the circus may play more engagements per year—a hundred engagements today compared with sixty to seventy in 1977—each date runs a shorter time—two to three days per engagement today compared with three or four in 1977. And while some costs have continued to increase—insurance is up 200 percent since 1977, for example—those increases are covered by the rise in attendance.

The circus has also benefited from a new marketing strategy, which has limited its range. Now it no longer even plays the Midwest.

” We’re an I-95 show, ” Pratt says. “Florida and north up the East Coast, then back south, over to the Gulf Coast, New Orleans, and back to Florida. ”

And although some kids may resist the idea of going to a circus, once they’re under the big top they fall under the circus’s spell.

“A real lion is not a movie,” Pratt says. “The experience is unlike anything else. They may not know it going in, but they know it coming out. Today it’s not a new golden age, but maybe it’s a silver age. Are things better? In some ways. Are things different? In some ways. We’ve survived.” He pauses. “Nineteen seventy-seven . . . that was the end of an era.”

The first day I had spent with the circus, I had asked Noderer what circus life was like. He told me the following story:

“There was a manager of a circus who had a pet dog. And the circus was doing a lot of one-night stands. Every night the dog would bury a bone outside the manager’s trailer; then it would go inside. While the dog slept, the circus would move on to another town and set up. And a circus always sets up in exactly the same way, so it always looks the same no matter where you are. Anyway, in the morning the dog would trot out of the trailer and go to dig up its bone. No bone. It would sniff around, puzzled, and finally give up. That night it would get a new bone, which it would bury again in the same place outside the trailer. It would go inside the trailer to sleep, the circus would move, and the next morning, no bone. The dog lived a long time. Every night of its life it buried a bone. Every morning it dug where the bone should have been and found an empty hole. ”