The Circus 4/5/23

Memories with Richard Bleil

Circus season, at least where I live, is coming up soon. If this posts as scheduled, it might even been a week or two. The circus to which I am referring is the Shriner’s Circus.

Before discussing the circus, though, I would like to quickly tell you a bit about the Shriner’s. The Shriner’s is an organization within an organization, housed in the Freemasons. To be a Shriner you must be a Mason, but not every Mason is a Shriner. The expressed purpose of the Masons is to make good men better. It does philanthropic work, but it is the only organization of which I’m aware that focuses on the members themselves. This is why it’s a fraternal organization. If a woman wants to improve herself as a woman, she wouldn’t want men telling her how to do so. So, the Masons are men trying to help each other be better men. I’ve heard it described that the Masonic Lodge is where men go to work on themselves, but the Shrine is where Masons go to play.

There is one and only one philanthropic cause for the Shriners, specifically, the Shriner’s Hospital for Children. The Shriner’s Hospital is the first completely free hospital in the United States. The clients pay nothing for their treatment, their medicines, their artificial limbs if they’re needed, and parents don’t even pay to stay in the area. The only requirements to be a patient for the Shriner’s Hospital for Children is to be sponsored by a Shriner (it’s an honor to sponsor a child, so it’s easy to get if you visit your local Shrine and explain your needs), under eighteen and the doctors at the hospital have to agree that they can help.

According to my resources, it costs over a million and a half dollars each day for the Shriner’s Hospital for Children to operate, and a vast majority of their funding comes from the Shrine. Yes, some people donate directly to the hospitals, and not every dollar that the Shrine raises goes to the hospital as they, too, have operating expenses, but it is their only charity. It’s astonishing to me to think that this club within a club is still large enough to raise enough money for the hospitals to operate without charging their patients. When you attend Shriner events, such as the Shriner’s Circus, you are supporting not only the Shrine, but the Shriner’s Hospital for Children as well.

I’m (sadly) no longer active in the Shrine or the Masons, but I certainly had fun when I was. The Shrine consists of “clubs”, each reflecting a different interest. The Motor Club are the Shriners who drive around in those fun little cars, the motorcycle club all have custom motorcycles available only to club members and police, the clowns, well, that’s self-explanatory. Besides, as near as I can tell, all Shriner’s are clowns to some extent.

I was a Highlander. Our club played drums and bagpipes. We were the guys in kilts. For the circus, we ran (in Sioux Falls, South Dakota) one of the cotton candy and Snow cone stand. I was the “shredder”. I was the guy in the crowd yelling at people as they came in, saying things like “get your kids tripping on sugar now so they’ll be knocked out on the drive home”, and “everything we sell is sugar free except for everything that we sell.” Nonsensical comments like that just make parents hesitate and say, “what did he just say?”

The circus is astounding. When I did it, there were, as I understand it, four traveling circus troops that worked for the Shriners traveling around the country. They are on a circuit, so they’ll probably be in your area again at approximately the same time that they were last year. I brought my wife when I worked there. She had been to a circus that was, apparently, disappointing when she was a kid. She was astounded by the quality of the Shriner’s circus. They had (when I went) a motorcycle on a high wire, clowns, tigers, elephants, clowns, comedy, and acrobatic acts. The show was so long, in fact, that it even had a halftime. Anything that you can imagine or expect in a circus was there and far more. Honestly, if you have a family, give it a try. It’s a great cause, and a fantastic time for the entire family. And if you go to the Sioux Falls circus and see a bunch of guys in kilts, tell them that I said hello.


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