Children yelled as a lion and tiger entered the cage just a few feet in front of them. It was perhaps the first time that many in the crowd had seen these wild animals in the flesh.
The big cats were part of the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus that put on two shows under the big top Wednesday evening at the Scott County Fairgrounds in Winchester.
“We do two shows a day over 220 days from March through October,” circus general manager Trey Key said. “We move every day. We get things done. There is an organization to it.”
Circus day consists of Culpepper & Merriweather performers presenting two 90-minute shows, which include a trapeze act, prancing ponies, unicycle riders, tight rope walking and, of course, the big cats. Key said the circus has two tigers, one lion, seven horses and six performing dogs.
“It’s the best place to work to be with your pets and your family, because you’re with them all day,” Key said. His wife, Simone, serves as ringmaster and also is a trapeze artist and juggler in the show.
Simone’s father, two sisters and brother are also among the circus’ 28 members. The troupe also includes one of the circus’ three founders — James Hebert — who is now the show’s concession manager.
The Culpepper & Merriweather Circus was sponsored by the Winchester Kiwanis Club as a fundraiser.
“The circus is part of our efforts to help fund our Christmas basket project, a countywide benevolent program for our people of need in Scott County,” said Christy Pence of rural Walkerville, vice president of the Winchester Kiwanis Club and chairwoman of the Kiwanis Circus Planning Committee.
“We pre-sold a number of tickets for adults and children, and a number of businesses in Winchester and the surrounding area purchased advance tickets for children, and quite a few of them donated the tickets back to us so we could distribute them to needy families,” Pence said. “We appreciate all of the support that communities and individuals have given us in our endeavors.”
The Culpepper & Merriweather Circus will give shows at 5 and 7:30 p.m. today in Barry and at the same times Friday in Camp Point.
Greg Olson can be contacted at 217-245-6121, extension 1224, or on Twitter @JCNews_Greg.