Remembering Roberts Stadium: the Shrine Circus

This is an excerpt from a post I wrote a few years ago. I think it’s worth sharing again because the Hadi Shrine Circus is one of the very fond memories I have of Roberts Stadium…

(You can read the entire post here)

I guess I was spoiled as a child. Of course, I didn’t realize it at the time – but who does when they’re in the middle of being spoiled? Every Thanksgiving, my Grandpa would buy tickets to the Hadi Shrine Circus. I didn’t realize how special that was until I experienced other circuses. I had always assumed they were just like the ones I had seen growing up. The arena would be full of excited kids and their parents. There were death-defying acts from the high wire and trapeze. The clowns were funny. There were lions and tigers and elephants (oh my!). The three rings were full of activity, usually with multiple acts occurring simultaneously. I seem to remember a human cannonball at one point, too. And there were always special guests. I remember Daisy Duke was there one year. Batman was there another. And I’m pretty sure the Transformers were there another year (although I think I was old enough at the time that I thought it was a little lame). And I seem to remember Smurfs. Were there Smurfs one year? I understand that the Amazing Spider Man was this year’s special guest. The circus was full of wonderful sights and sounds and smells (except when it came to the animals’ special odors…). And looking back on my childhood, some of my strongest memories include the circus. I loved the circus so much as a kid that I wanted to be a lion tamer. And I remember convincing my cousins to perform circus shows with me in our front yard.

Since the Hadi Shrine Circus was the only circus I had ever known, I had assumed that all circuses were as big of a deal as the one I had always known.

That delusion ended the day after I turned 21. For my birthday, Christy got us tickets to go to a traveling circus that had come to the Tri-Cities (we were still at Milligan at the time). I thought, “Oh, cool! It will be just like the ones I went to growing up.”


We both agreed halfway through the show that this was the worst event we had ever experienced. First it was in a small auditorium. I think it was in a school’s gym. Christy remembers differently. It’s OK – she’s allowed to be wrong sometimes. And instead of a cast of thousands, I think there was a cast of…four. Maybe five. After performing such death-defying stunts as hula-hooping for a whole minute and walking & chewing gum at the same time, they’d rush out, change their costumes, run back out with a ‘new’ name and perform something equally as lame. Every two minutes, the ring master would come out and try to guilt the parents into buying something else that was ridiculously over-priced as a momento of this stellar event. The highlight was supposed to be an act with a white Bengal tiger. The act was the audience paying five bucks to stand next to the tiger’s enclosed trailer and take a picture, hoping the tiger didn’t stick its rear end in the glass as it paced around the small box of a cage (obviously annoyed to be there and trying to figure out a way to escape so it could maul us all on its way to “Freeeedoooom!!”). After the intermission where you could get your picture taken with the obviously annoyed giant cat, annoying him even further, it was time for the big song and dance number. Out came someone in a large character costume (he was probably supposed to be a well-known character, but I really don’t remember who it was…and it really doesn’t matter), accompanied by two ‘dancers’ (the same people who could hula-hoop and chew gum & walk at the same time) and they proceeded to dance the Macarena. Not only was this song quite played-out by then, but they didn’t even do a good job of doing the simple dance. I think my kids would have done a better job (remember how quickly they picked up the Cha-Cha Slide?). I don’t know if we left early, but we were both tempted. But hey, we were young and in love (still are…OK…maybe not the ‘young’ part anymore…) and had fun being with each other anyway.That experience almost turned me off to circuses forever.

Fortunately, my Dad bought us tickets to the Hadi Circus when Aiden was a little pup. I’m pretty sure Alyson wasn’t old enough to go yet. While he wasn’t quite old enough to realize all that was going on, it did manage to restore a little bit of my faith in my childhood memories. I was scared that the circus I had known growing up was just as lame as the one Christy and I went to. It wasn’t. That was good. It would have shattered my childhood and I’m sure it would have required years, if not decades, of therapy.

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Howdy. I'm Matt Todd. My wife and I have four kids and a dog,. I'm passionate about orphan care. I'm a die-hard fan of the Evansville Aces, the Indiana Hoosiers, and Star Wars. I'm trying to live life by the Todd family motto: "It behooves us to live!"

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Love this. The circus is one of my favorite memories as a kid, too. Pop always got tickets for the WHOLE family. and before the Lloyd was an expressway, we’d walk across the street from him house for the circus and then go back to his house for chili afterwards. We still go every year. (yep, Vivian even experienced her first circus as a 9 month old this past Thanksgiving). I’m wondering how different it will feel next year!