That was a more prevalent thought in the 1950s, when the mystique of the circus was a lightning rod, especially for young boys.
Not so much today, what with all the distractions.
In fact, a spot check of the men who brought their families to the Boone County Fairgrounds on Monday showed not one of them entertained thoughts of joining the circus.
Yet Carden said, “I still have people asking how old you have to be to join the circus. Years ago it was 13 or 14; today it’s 18. More boys than girls.”
And, yes, he added, “Some still do it.”
Carden himself became part of the circus when he was 5 years old. He was being raised by a single mom who met a circus man and they left town with him. That was 55 years ago, he said, and he’s been with the circus ever since, now as the owner.
One of the aerial performers in his show decided to give up a more traditional lifestyle to join the circus.
“It’s the circus! How cool a job is that?” Katie asked while helping the ticket crew before the start of the 4:30 p.m. Monday show. “I had been interested in it for a long time.”
She was 22 when she started as an assistant to the man who shot a performer out of a cannon. She trained for a spot in the aerial show and was successful in becoming part of the troupe.
The Carden circus travels 40,000 miles a year and has a 42-week season. That’s just fine with Katie, who said, “I like to have time off – for a week. I prefer to be busy.”
It’s been a year since she joined the circus and she said she doesn’t regret the decision one bit. “We’re like a nomadic tribe in a modern setting,” she said. “It’s so much more intricate than it looks.”
Joined a carnival
Wendi Fisher, a new resident of Candlewick Lake, was at the circus with her 2-year-old daughter and heard a man seated near her being asked if he had ever thought about joining the circus.
“I ran away and joined a carnival,” she interjected. “Does that count? It’s almost the same thing.”
She said she was 16 when she did that and stayed with the show, on an off, for two years. “I was in a car crash on the way to the show and wound up in the hospital,” she said. “I never went back.”
But she enjoyed it while she was there. Among her jobs were operating kiddie rides and running games on the midway. “The people were really friendly,” said Fisher, who’s now 37. “I’m glad I did it; it was a learning experience.”
She added, “Travel was an attraction but we were too busy to see much of anything.”
While she followed in the footsteps of two brothers, who also worked with carnivals, she doesn’t want her daughter to go that route.
The circus has changed over the years, Carden said. “It was a tent circus in the old days,” he recalled. “We’d use 100-200 people to help set up. That’s not the case as much today.”
His show also was open-air, operating with the traditional rings at the base of the grandstand, where the demolition derby rages during the annual Boone County Fair. Acts were traditional, too, including tigers, aerial performers, an elephant and a clown among others.
Despite the changes, he said, “We still get big crowds all over the country, even with all the competition. Children still love the animals, the acts, the clowns. There’s still a place for this kind of family entertainment.”