WILKES-BARRE — It’s on with the show.
For its 65th year, the Irem Temple Shrine in Dallas Township brought the circus to town with bicycling bears, tightrope-walking tigers and daredevil motorcycle stunts performed by the acrobats and animals of the Royal Hanneford Circus from Sarasota, Fla.
With two performances daily, the local Shriners hope to fill the house for each show.
The nostalgic smells of cotton candy, lighter fluid from flaming rings and, yes, even a little elephant dung mixed in the air as the sunlight streamed through the skylights as folks filed into the 109th Field Artillery Armory on Monday afternoon for this year’s debut show.
Stephen Stemmler, 10, of Forty Fort, waited anxiously for the show to start with his friend Michael Jordan, 7, of Jermyn. The two boys were anticipating the motorcycle act and pointed to a large sphere-shaped cage sitting in the shadows outside the circus rings.
Jordan hypothesized how the riders stay upright on their bikes while zipping around inside the cage.
“Maybe they use sticky glue on the tires so they don’t fall off the tracks,” Jordan said.
The Irem Temple Shrine Circus, a long-running tradition of childhood delight in the Wyoming Valley, supports the Shriners uniform units, the men who drive in parades and serve as the face for the Irem Temple Shrine.
The money raised during the circus helps pay for the vehicles, insurance and their costumes, circus Service Chairman John Richards said.
Irem Temple Shrine has about 2,700 members; 500 of them, along with their wives, assist the circus committee and volunteer to sell snacks and souvenirs and coordinate the massive event that draws thousands each year.
The armory holds about 4,000 people, and nearly all the stands were full for the debut performance Monday afternoon.
Irem Temple Shrine Potentate Paul L. Detwiler III could not say the final bill the Shriners pay to Royal Hanneford. Staying mum on the price is part of the Shriner’s contract with the circus, but he said it is quite costly.
Shriners around the country raise money through dues and other fundraisers to support the Shriners Hospitals for Children, a network of 22 hospitals in the United States that provide free medical care to youngsters with spinal cord and orthopaedic injury and illness, burn victims and children with cleft palates.
The Shriners children’s hospital nearest the Wyoming Valley is in Philadelphia.
However, money from the circus does not go directly to fund hospitals, rather it helps the Shriners to pay for other fundraisers throughout the year, Richards said.
“It’s a fundraiser for the uniform units, so we can then go out and raise money for the children’s hospitals,” Richards said.
Money raised through fundraisers such as the Irem Temple annual golf tournament, concerts and private donations is directly transferred to the children’s hospitals.
Around the year 2000, the circus was actually losing money for Irem, Richards said, but the organization has since started bringing revenue back up by switching circus troupes and other cost-saving measures.
Richards said the circus largely is designed to provide families with an inexpensive outing that historically has fallen on the week after Easter.
“We want to put a family show on, but we want the cost to be affordable for every family,”Richards said. “You look at our prices for peanuts: $2. We haven’t raised our prices in three years.”