My father was a Presbyterian minister whose love of the circus came from his father who owned a grocery store in Lawrence, Kan., and restocked the commissaries of traveling circuses. Whenever a circus came to a town within driving distance, we would attend every performance. We would enter the big top and visit with Dad’s friends. We would always have an escort through the menagerie and other wonderful sights and to our seats.
Tom Mix traveled with the Sells Floto Circus. He was a big draw for the circus and guaranteed a full tent. When Sells Floto came to Erie, Pennsylvania, Dad took us to see him. It was July 16, 1929.
We visited Tom Mix in his private quarters. You will notice in the photo that his right leg is bare below the knee and that he is wearing one saddle shoe and one boot! He had scraped his shin on a steel tent peg during a performance. The other people in the picture are the famous clown “Poodles” Hannaford (now in the Clown Hall of Fame), my sister Margaret, me with Tom Mix’s hand on my head, Tom Mix, and my friend Billy Gant.
He served us Coca-Cola and autographed this picture of himself and Tony for me. He took us back to his pen and let us pat Tony, “The Wonder Horse.” My sister and I were probably the most envied kids in Erie.
One more circus story: once when we went to a nighttime performance there was a severe thunderstorm. When we finally got to our 1926 Willys Overland it was hopelessly mired in the mud. Mother and Sis stayed in the car while Dad and I slogged our way back to find help. Shortly the manager showed up with an elephant which an attendant chained to our car and quickly pulled us out. I regretted that my friends were not there to share my moment of glory.
This article originally appeared in Roadrunner Extra!, the resident newsletter of Beatitudes Campus.