Kankakee County: 89-year-old Woman Relives Circus Days
Published: April 20, 2010
Watching Betty Shockey Monday, there was one lesson to learn: It's never too late to feel like a kid again.
The 89-year-old resident of Provena Meadowview Lodge relived childhood memories, thanks to the facility's executive director, Donna Worth. While attending a performance didn't fit into her schedule, Worth took Shockey to see the Pages Circus setting up for its one-night stand at the Kankakee County Fairgrounds.
"My children are not going to believe this happened to me," Shockey said with delight after hand-feeding one of the elephants. "I can't believe I'm seeing all of this again."
For days, Shockey has been telling Worth about her experiences from 80-plus years ago, when it was the biggest day of a child's summer -- the day the circus came to town. And Worth decided to make those memories come alive again.
"We lived in Freeport then, and it was a quiet town, except for the day the circus train stopped there," Shockey said. "They would unload the wagons (from the train) and the parade ... through downtown and out to where they held the circus ... it went right by our house.
"I remember that mom would make spaghetti on that day, and my sisters and I would get to eat on the porch and watch the parade go past. Then we would go down and watch them put up the big tent. The men would drive the big, long stakes and the elephants would pull the ropes. It was so exciting."
And while these days a circus in town inspires much less excitement and sometimes even anger from animal rights activists, there was no trace of anything but excitement as Shockey and Worth watched the cages with the white tigers and lions being unloaded.
"A boy I knew got a job with the circus in those days. He hauled the water for the animals. I think he got paid with a ticket to see the show.
"Oh, we thought he was so lucky."
Shockey and her three sisters would go to the show with their dad.
"We always had popcorn and cotton candy. And then we would go home and play circus. They would put pillows under my clothes and my sisters would pull me in the wagon, so I was the fat lady.
"We would play circus until the snow flew."
Circus owner George Pages provided Shockey an up-close visit with the elephant, Miss Daisy. "This is almost like a dream, being so close to the animals. It's almost better than when I was a little girl."
So, was there ever a thought of running away to join the circus?
"No, not really. Not then," she said. "But maybe now? I'm not too tied down now."