The Greatest ‘Oops’ on Earth
The frantic clown streamed out of the Ringling Brothers – Barnum and Bailey big top at Baraboo, Wisconsin. His over-sized shoes flip-flopped across the pavement as he ran toward us screaming “Dr. Bob! Dr. Bob!!” We thought something had happened inside the tent and a doctor was urgently needed.
I was the one-man-band camera/sound crew on a week-long trip across Wisconsin for “The Home Show” on ABC. We had already filmed segments in the cranberry bogs, marveled at the collections of…everything…at “The House on the Rock.” The Baraboo Circus Museum guaranteed a fascinating look at the history of the Circus in America. We roamed backstage shooting echelons of elephants chained to concrete blocks, got a close-up view of lions and tigers in cages, and conversed with the various “freaks” of the show as well as stagehands and the ringmaster himself.
After watching rehearsals of the high-wire act, trapeze acrobats, and various typical circus entertainers, our assignment was completed inside so we headed for the lunch wagon where carnival corndogs waited. We exited the massive canvas structure along the main path leading in and out of the three-ring theater.
“Dr. Bob! Dr. Bob!!” The clown was in panic mode as he approached the on-camera presenter. “Turn off your mic!” Our wireless microphone was still powered up and Dr. Bob, producer-director Joel and I had been jokingly discussing what we had just explored. What we didn’t know was that the transmitting frequency of our mic was on the same channel as the ringmaster! Everything we said was being broadcast to hundreds of parents and children who had gathered in the bleachers to enjoy the performances.
I grabbed the transmitter from behind the blushing doctor and quickly switched the power off. Dr. Bob was now beet-red and worried that he (or any of us) might have said something not fit for the G-rated audience inside. I assured him that our conversation was clean, but Bob’s embarrassment had him concerned. The clown laughed (as clowns tend to do) and verified that nothing untoward spewed into the ears of excited children. We did our part to give “The Greatest Show on Earth” a little extra excitement.
We left the Baraboo Circus behind as we headed for our next adventure in Wisconsin. The renowned Circus World announced in 2017 that Ringling Brothers would be shutting down after 146 years. The Milwaukee Journal wrote about the shock to the community.
Also visit the Baraboo Circus World website.