When the Kelly Miller Circus announced it wasn’t folding its tent and would instead do a full circuit this summer without elephants, zebras, camels, monkeys or other animal performers, the internet cheered and conveyed social media thank-you messages.
“It clogged up the Facebook,” says James Kendrick Judkins, a former fire-breather and Texas businessman who stepped in to buy the circus this year. Now, Judkins says he’d like those grateful animal-rights commenters to buy some tickets to support the circus traditions.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey closed down in 2017 after 50 years, in part because of pressure from animal-rights groups about the treatment of elephants, lions and other performing animals. Even Nabisco’s famous Barnum’s Animal crackers changed its iconic box design last month by freeing the animals that had been shown in cages on its boxes since 1902.
The Kelly Miller Circus, under owner John Ringling North II (the last of the Ringlings in the circus family), announced it was closing just before Judkins stepped in to keep it open for its 80th-anniversary tour and beyond.
“We’re planning the route now for next year,” says Judkins, whose circus performed in Addison during the holiday weekend, moves to Lombard today through Thursday, runs Friday and Saturday in Vernon Hills, does a one-day performance Sunday (CORRECTION: This should read MONDAY) in Round Lake Beach
“I couldn’t imagine all of them being out of work, so I bought the show,” says Judkins, who makes his living as president of a company that helps get work visas for people in the circus and carnival world. “Not only do I know them, but I know their parents, and in some cases, their grandparents. They’re good people. The joy of being a very intimate circus is just a good environment for families.”