The Last Circus and the Quilted Elephant
It was 1920 when the circus last stopped in Iron River. Since that time the circus has only played to the larger, more metropolitan towns, where the barons could draw the biggest crowds to feed their ever growing appetite for the biggest, grandest, Greatest Show on Earth. Iron River, you see, full of farm boys and miners without a dime to their names, didn’t fit into their big-time dreams. Iron River, in their minds, was a small town, with small means. Some say that such is the reason for the circus never returning. But others remember a far different and more moving history.
These others say that the circus never returned due to a tragic accident that occurred during that infamous last show. You see, they say that in the middle of the that wonder-filled spectacle, during one of those glorious elephant promenades, the lions escaped and attacked and skinned one of those elephants right before the audience’s horror-filled eyes. Not only was the gruesomeness of it shocking to the assembled crowd, but, you see, over the years of the circus making its rounds through their town, they had actually grown to love that particular elephant that met with such an unfortunate end. So, you see, the town was painted in grief and they say that the town was so grieved at this sweet elephant’s loss and the circus barons so embarrassed at the incident, that it was agreed that the annual visits from the circus should be heretofore cancelled for all time or, if nothing else, until the memory of that night be forever erased from the people’s memory.
However, the very next year, on the night when the circus was traditionally the attraction of the town, as the men and women, boys and girls lay in the emptiness of their loss, struggling to wipe the etching of the year before from their memories, they say (some do) that the ghost of that slain elephant came to roam the streets of that town of big dreams and small means.
At first the people were terrified of the ghost, but soon they came to accept, and even embrace, its annual visits. And they say that some came to even converse with the ghost, in-so-far as one can converse with the ghost of a slain elephant. And it is said that on one particular occasion, when being comforted and assured by the elders of the town, the grey ghost began to
weep, saying, “Oh! how I long to have my skin once again, then I wouldn’t have to wander, in this frigid North Country, a cold and naked ghost, such as I am”. Well if those elders didn’t immediately set to stitching that ghost a quilted skin, made from the collected bedsheets of the grieving town. And on the tear-stained bed sheets was written the history of the quilted elephant and the story of the last circus.
So now, each year, on the day when the circus used to come to town, the quilted elephant comes to visit, no longer a forlorn ghost wandering the night, but a glorious quilted beast, promenading proudly and gently down the sun-drenched streets. It just so happens that this is the day that the, now-famous, Iron River Blueberry Fest culminates on (Perhaps the people had scheduled it, initially, to distract themselves from the painful memories associated with that day). Now the quilted elephant steals the day and reminds the people, in its own wondrous way, that the circus never really ends.
This year the glorious beast is accompanied by a pride of remorseful and penitent lions, perhaps in an attempt to clear their kind’s name from the unfortunate disaster and its stain in the minds of the townspeople. A tribe of apes and a three-headed giraffe have forgone their otherwise busy big top schedules to pay their tributes as well.
This near-forgotten bit of history was discovered by puppeteer Chris Lutter from Minneapolis.