Cover image for The circus in winter
The circus in winter
1st ed.
Publication Information:
Orlando : Harcourt, c2004.
Physical Description:
viii, 274 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.
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From 1884 to 1939, the Great Porter Circus made the unlikely choice to winter in an Indiana town called Lima, a place that feels as classic as Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, and as wondrous as a first trip to the Big Top. In Lima an elephant can change the course of a man's life-or the manner of his death. Jennie Dixianna entices men with her dazzling Spin of Death and keeps them in line with secrets locked in a cedar box. The lonely wife of the show's manager has each room of her house painted like a sideshow banner, indulging her desperate passion for a young painter. And a former clown seeks consolation from his loveless marriage in his post-circus job at Clown Alley Cleaners. Cathy Day follows the circus people into their everyday lives and brings the greatest show on earth to the page.

Author Notes

Cathy Day grew up in Peru, Indiana, once the winter home of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. One of her great uncles was an elephant trainer; another claimed to be the world's fastest ticket taker. A former Bush Artist Fellow, she teaches at The College of New Jersey

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Day's debut collection spins graceful, elegant circles around the inhabitants of Lima, Ind.-especially the acrobats, clowns and circus folk of the Great Porter Circus who spent their winters there from 1884 to 1939. The poignant opening tale reveals how Wallace Porter, distraught by the death of his beloved wife, came to own his eponymous menagerie. The second, "Jennie Dixianna," introduces the dazzling, tricky Jennie, who wears her wound from her Spin of Death act "like a talisman bracelet, a secret treasure" and plots her way into Wallace's heart. Other stories tell of the young black man who plays at being an African pinhead; the son of a trainer killed by his circus elephant; the flood that devastated the circus. Thanks to finely observed details and lovely prose, each of these stories is a convincing world in miniature, filled with longing and fueled by doubt. Day, who grew up in a town like Lima and descends from circus folk herself, uses family stories, historical research and archival photographs to weave these enchantments. Though her stories often contain tragedy and violence-death in childbirth or from floodwater, cancer, circus mishap-they're also full of beauty. In "The Bullhook," Ollie, a retired clown, spends long decades with his frigid wife, waiting, armed with his father's bullhook, for death to come for him. In "Circus People," Ollie's granddaughter reflects on her fellow itinerant academics, "my latest circus family," and muses about people all over America who leave the place they grew up: "when the weather and the frequency are just right, we can all hear our hometowns talking softly to us in the back of our dreams." B&w illus.. Agent, Peter Steinberg. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

The secret lives and loves of circus people and their descendants are revealed in these 11 linked short stories. From 1884 to 1939, the small town of Lima, Indiana, hosts the Great Porter Circus during the winter months. Wallace Porter buys the circus on the eve of his beloved wife's death, claiming he has seen the elephant. He never remarries but has a secret affair with Jennie Dixianna, the erotic acrobat who seduces men and keeps their secrets locked in a cedar box. Bascomb Bowles and his wife, Pearly, recount their sideshow adventures as pinheads, and the tales are handed down to their son, Gordon. Gordon becomes an expert on elephants and witnesses a horrific accident involving his favorite elephant and the trainer. Ollie Hofstadter, son of the elephant trainer, leaves a career as a clown after the murder of his best friend. Years later Gordon tells Ollie the true story of his father's death. A fascinating period in American history inhabited by colorful characters and told in a lively manner. --Kaite Mediatore Copyright 2004 Booklist

Kirkus Review

Day's wise, warmhearted debut reveals the private lives and secret yearnings of clowns, acrobats, and pinheads as they interact with the locals in a circus's midwestern off-season home. Herself the descendant of a ticket-taker and an elephant trainer, the author integrates family history with documentary research to create a multifaceted portrait of Lima, Indiana (stand-in for her hometown, Peru). It could be any American town filled with men stuck in dead-end jobs and women looking for more from life than another baby--except for the galvanizing annual stays of the circus folk. Immigrants, misfits, dwarves, and former slaves reinvented as African royalty, they incarnate the intoxicating possibilities of freedom and pleasure beyond the edge of town, even though their lives are scarred by loss, disappointment, and tragedy. As the narrative moves forward across the 20th century in a series of stories about interconnected characters, the Great Porter Circus shuts down, its performers and roustabouts retire, and their children become dry cleaners, railroad clerks, and bank tellers. Traces of glitter and sawdust in the air add a ghostly poignancy to the later tales of small-town restlessness. "The King and His Court," a brilliant, bitter chronicle of Laura Hofstadter, whose dreams are stymied by an unwanted pregnancy, launches the second half, in which all the thematic strands come together. "There are basically two kinds of people in the world," Laura tells her daughter Jenny before vanishing. "The kind who stay are town people, and the kind who leave are circus people." Jenny becomes a modern-day circus person, an academic who moves from place to place and job to job. But when she returns for the funeral of Grandpa Ollie, a former clown, Jenny realizes, "the world is full of hometowns . . . . And just because it was hard to leave Linden Avenue in Flatbush or the Naperville city limits or Lima doesn't mean you can't ever go back." The book closes on that moving note of reconciliation and understanding. Funny and tough-minded, yet tender and touched with magic: this is a real find. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Day, who spent her childhood in Peru, IN-winter home of numerous circuses-transforms her experience into a fanciful debut novel featuring elephants, clowns, and Jennie Dixianna's Spin of Death feat. Part of Harcourt's "Debut Fiction" drive. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



WALLACE PORTER- orWhat It Means to See the ElephantCIRCUS PROPRIETORS are not born to sawdust and spangles. Consider this: P. T. Barnum was nothing more than a dry-goods peddler-that is until he bought a black woman for $1,000, a sum he quickly recouped by displaying her as George Washington's 161-year-old mammy. Barnum's business partner, James Bailey, was born little Jimmy McGinnis-an orphaned bellboy transformed into circus mastermind, a man who taught army quartermasters the science of transporting masses of men and equipment by rail. Before trains, circuses traveled by horse-drawn wagons (and were called "mud shows" for obvious reasons) and by riverboat. If it hadn't been for paddle wheels and tall stacks, brothers Al, Alf, Charles, John, and Otto Rungeling might have become Iowa harness makers, like their father. But one morning along the Mississippi in 1870, the brothers were smitten with an elephant lumbering down a circus steamboat gangplank and became forever after the Ringling Brothers, owners (along with Barnum and Bailey) of the Greatest Show on Earth.For many years, their greatest rival was the Great Porter Circus, owned by one Wallace Porter, a former Union cavalry officer. After Appomattox, Porter took his hard-won equine knowledge, applied it to the family's business, and became, at the age of thirty-eight, the owner of the largest livery stable in northern Indiana. How he became a circus man is another story altogether.EACH SUMMER, Wallace Porter boarded a train in Lima, Indiana, and headed due east through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey to the strange land of a million people, New York City. He employed a number of lawyers and bankers to oversee the profits from his stables and dutifully met with them once a year to discuss markets and dividends. These obligations dispensed with, he hailed a carriage and disappeared into the swarm of the city, following the true impetus of his trip. Wallace Porter went to New York to indulge in extravagance.During his weeklong stay, he hardly slept, so intent was he to glut himself on the city. In the mornings, he had a shave and walked along the avenues down the length of Manhattan, which, in the late 1800s, was not an arduous undertaking. He handled his business over lunch, and afterward, he visited the finest men's tailors in the city and bought new shirts, Chesterfield coats, leather boots, and bowler hats-all of which were shipped back to Lima in enormous Saratoga trunks. At night, he dined out in the best restaurants, gorging himself on pheasant and artichokes. He drowned in vintage French wines. After dinner, he took in a play or the symphony, and then, until the small hours of the night, he roamed the parks alone. In Lima, such lavishness was a mark of poor character, a flaw almost impossible to hide, which was why Porter enjoyed the brief anonymity of the city. On the train ride back home, Porter tallied his expenses and hid that figure in his breast pocket like a guil Excerpted from The Circus in Winter: Fiction by Cathy Day All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Display No. 1 Wallace Porterp. 1
Display No. 2 Jennie Dixiannap. 24
Display No. 3 The Last Member of the Boela Tribep. 45
Display No. 4 The Girgus Housep. 80
Display No. 5 Winnesawp. 98
Display No. 6 The Lone Star Gowboyp. 111
Display No. 7 The Jungle Goolah Boyp. 137
Display No. 8 The King and His Courtp. 157
Display No. 9 Boss Manp. 186
Display No. 10 The Bullhookp. 212
Display No. 11 Girgus Peoplep. 245