It’s not unusual in Fort Worth’s Stockyards to see four-legged creatures parading down the streets. That’s what tourists come for. But it is unusual to see elephants instead of cattle or horses making their way down Main Street. That’s exactly what happened on Sunday, Nov. 9 as the Moslah Shrine Circus announced its presence at the Stockyards Station, the first time the annual circus has set up in a big top after 71 years at Will Rogers Coliseum.
Following the parade featuring the two 3-ton elephants, Shelly and Marie, the circus erected the big top, two 70-foot tall, seven-story tents. “It was so much fun on Sunday to see elephants on Exchange Avenue in place of the longhorns during the circus parade,” says Gary Brinkley, Stockyards Station general manager. The parade was sort of a last-minute thing, says Dora O. Tovar, a spokeswoman for the Shriners. “We gathered together several different groups – 18 different special needs children’s groups, Father [Stephen] of All Saints [Catholic Church] had a group, the Northside High School Band, the Mariachi band, two riding groups and eight rider cars [the famous Shriner cars], along with our two elephants,” she said.
Brinkley said the circus is a good fit with other family-friendly events in the area. “There have been smaller circuses at Cowtown Coliseum throughout the years but nothing of this scope, ‘under the big top.’ The tent in the North Forty is a really cool sight to behold. Both the Moslah Shrine Circus and TZ Productions have been great to work with to keep this historic event in Fort Worth,” he said. The Moslah Shrine Center was founded in 1914 as Moslah Shrine Temple and currently has over 2,200 members in the Fort Worth area. Moslah Shriners founded the Circus in 1942 as their primary fundraising event for their local Shrine operations. The circus also supports other causes in the community. For instance, Karey Moore, winner of this year’s Score A Goal in the Classroom Baird H. Friedman Hero Award for most outstanding science-chemistry teacher in Texas. A teacher at Aledo High School, she was honored at the circus and got a ride on one of the elephants and joked around with the clowns.
For people born before we had 500 plus cable channels, video games, cell phones and other diversions, the circus coming to town was a rite of passage and a much-anticipated source of entertainment, recalls John Fletcher of Fletcher Communications. He often attended visiting circuses with his best friend, Ned James, now a hedge fund manager in Fort Worth. “It was a simpler time then, the circus and rodeo were the most spectacular entertainment that came to town,” Fletcher says. “There was not much competition for events when we were little boys. The circus came to town at a different time from the rodeo. Aside from the circus, rodeo, Harlem Globetrotters and Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars, we can’t recall what other major events came through.”
KERA was not broadcasting Cirque du Soleil then either, so seeing feats of wonder by acrobats were not easy to come by. “Ned and I remember seeing the girl spinning around from high up, and the circus provided our first chance to see actual acrobatics with the trapeze artists,” he said. For the Shriners, this new location brings some excitement as well. “We had a couple of tough years where attendance waned for various reasons,” says Tovar. “Now with the tent and a new venue, we think we’ve repositioned well. The community is engaged with us. It feels right.”