An X-Metal stunt jumper flies from ramp to ramp to cap off the 4:30 p.m. Ainad Shrine Circus at the Effingham County Fair, June 6.Families and thrill fans of all ages turned out to the Effingham County Fairgrounds on the afternoon of Thursday, June 6 for the Ainad Shrine of southern Illinois’ annual circus, visiting Altamont for two shows between performances in Belleville, Highland, and Marion.
Originally, the two performances were scheduled for Wednesday, June 5 and Thursday, June 6, but high winds and the threat of thunderstorms forced the circus to cancel its Wednesday show. A make-up performance was held at 4:30 p.m. on June 6, with the regularly-scheduled final show kicking off at 7 p.m.
Circus administrator Mike Strohl, taking a break from frosting funnel cakes at a booth near the grandstand, commented that he felt the circus had been “really going [well].” The rescheduled afternoon show at 4:30 p.m. had a moderate turnout, but he expressed that he was glad the circus “erred on the side of caution” in order to keep performers and audiences safe from potential weather.
Altamont resident and Shriner Josh Beccue, one of the Altamont circus organizers, agreed with Strohl’s assessment. 2019 was the first year in two decades that the Shrine circus was held in Altamont, and “[the Shriners] were very pleased with the turnout,” especially for an event at a new venue, Beccue said.
“We hope the good turnouts last for years to come,” he comments.
Beccue was unable to estimate the circus’ revenue, explaining that revenue figures usually took around a week to finalize. A group of Altamont High School and Altamont Junior High students, though, raked in a healthy paycheck for their respective dance and cheerleading teams by selling soft drinks and cotton candy to fans in the stands. “We were very pleased with their presence and work ethic… they were able to make money [on concession sales,]” Beccue says.
Dozens of feet in the air, Blake Wallenda looks down from the high wire while performing with the Ainad Shrine Circus.Finally, while circus costs were used to support the Ainad Shrine itself, a healthy sum was donated to the Shiner’s famous children’s hospital system thanks to a donation from the Coleman family. The Coleman family, in memory of Billy Coleman, has operated a memorial poker run for the past three years, and has directly donated funds from those poker runs to the Shriners Hospitals for Children twice. This year’s donated amounted to $3,300.
Changing Times, Changing Shows
According to a May 24 article from the Belleville News-Democrat, the Ainad Shrine Circus’ 2019 iteration features far fewer animal acts than in previous years, with only one animal act—Castle’s Bears—on the roster. Branded this year as the Circus of Thrills, headline performances featured human acts, particularly stunt drivers, gymnasts, and high wire acts.
The Altamont News and St. Elmo Banner’s office, as well as the offices of other media outlets in towns near the Ainad Shrine Circus performances, received a letter from Virginia-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals concerning treatment of the circus’ two bears, Nanook and Tutter. PETA’s vice president of communications, Colleen O’Brien, noted in this letter that PETA urges the circus to “go animal-free” and to retire both animals to a sanctuary.
Ringmaster Andre McClain announces the entrance of the first event, kicking off the 7 p.m. circus performance.Illinois was the first state to ban the use of elephants in travelling acts with SB1342, passed in early 2017 with a 55-0 vote in the state Senate and a 91-14 vote in the House. Two other bills circulated through Illinois’ legislature this year, SB0154 and HB2554, could require the Ainad Shrine Circus to remove Castle’s Bears from future rosters; SB0154 specifically mentions bears, as well as the previously-banned elephants, giraffes, hippos, lions, non-human primates, and tigers in its text. No action has been taken on SB0154 since March, and HB2554 was tabled in April.
About the Ainad Shrine
Shriners International, founded in Manhattan in 1870, is a fraternal order of Master Masons that “stress[es] fun and fellowship” well-known for their charity work in 22 order-sponsored children’s hospitals, their motor patrol performances in parades, and their distinctive fez caps. The Ainad Shriners of southern Illinois include members from around 30 Shrine Clubs, as well as numerous special units of color guards, bands, tin lizzie patrols, and clowns.
Proceeds from ticket sales at the Ainad Shrine Circus are used to support the Shrine’s operating costs, which helps the Shriners perform countless fundraisers for the community and for the 22 institutions of the Shriners Hospitals for Children system. 19 of these hospitals specialize in orthopedics, ten offer cleft palate and craniofacial anomaly care, another four offer specialized burn care units, and three offer spinal cord injury care. The hospital system estimates that it has treated 1.4 million children in its 97 years of care, regardless of a family’s ability to pay.
For more information about the Ainad Shrine of southern Illinois, as well as upcoming charitable events across the state, visit them online at AinadShriners.org. For more information about the Shriners Hospitals for Children system, including information about Shrine hospitals in St. Louis and Chicago, visit ShrinersHospitalsforChildren.org.