Home/Stories of the Road /World Circus Day Marked by Multiple Celebrations in Bloomington-Normal
World Circus Day Marked by Multiple Celebrations in Bloomington-Normal
On Saturday, April 20, 2019, a full day of activities celebrated the circus and its legacy in McLean County. Festivities began with the re-dedication and blessing of the Ward Family plot at Park Hill Cemetery. The Ward Family of flyers, began with the brother-sister duo, Eddie Ward Sr. and Jennie Ward Todd. They were known for thrilling feats and they trained a great number of flyers during their lifetimes. The ceremony included an introduction of Ward Family members in attendance by Robert E. Handley, local photographer and past performer with Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus. A service was led by Donna (Ward) Skura, Pam Ward, and other Ward Family descendants. Fr. David Halt, Rector at Bloomington’s St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, also officiated the ceremony.

In the afternoon was a free presentation, "Come Fly With Me—Bloomington-Normal’s Trapeze Legacy," at the McLean County Museum of History. The presentation featured Maureen Brunsdale, Head of Special Collections and Rare Books at Milner Library, Illinois State University; Cherie Valentine, former aerialist with the Valentino Sisters, and Steve Gossard, Circus Curator at Milner Library, Illinois State University. In addition, rarely seen circus related artifacts from Illinois State University’s Milner Library Special Collections, and the private collections of Cherie Valentine and Steve Gossard, were placed on display at the Museum.

Immediately following the presentation, the maquette sculpture (created by local artist Andrew Jumonville) dedicated to Bloomington-Normal’s Circus Heritage was unveiled. When completed, the statue will be installed at the corner of Washington and East Streets in downtown Bloomington, the site of the former Y.M.C.A. The Y.M.C.A. would put on annual circuses from 1910-1941, and local performers continued to train there for many more years after the circus ended.

The day’s festivities concluded with an evening performance by members of the Gamma Phi Circus and a showing of the film The Greatest Show on Earth (starring Charlton Heston, Jimmy Stewart, and a variety of Bloomington-Normal flyers including Antoinette Concello and Tuffy Genders) at The Normal Theater; and a display of circus costumes and wardrobes from Illinois State University’s Milner Library, Special Collections at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. Proceeds from the evening performances benefitted Gamma Phi Circus.

"Thanks to Candace, George, Torii and the rest of the planning team for putting on a wonderful event on Saturday. These images are from the rededication and recognition of local Circus families at Park Hill Cemetery," said Jeff Woodard, Director of Marketing & Community Relations at the McLean County Museum of History.

This exciting day, filled with activities for the entire family, was sponsored by: the McLean County Museum of History; Illinois State University’s Milner Library, Special Collections; Gamma Phi Circus, Illinois State University; The Town of Normal; The Normal Theater; Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel & Conference Center; and Park Hill Cemetery.