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Clarity found in clash of circuses

Culpepper & Merriweather will bring its circus to Lake County on July 18. (Photo courtesy of Culpepper & Merriweather)

The eye-catching fluorescent green signs are plastered on store windows and piles of promotional tickets have been distributed across Two Harbors. But the Family Fun Circus isn't coming to town.

Scheduled to take place July 2-3 at the Lake County Fairgrounds, the show was canceled due to miscommunication with fair officials and competition with another circus.

Family Fun's carpet bombing of fliers and tickets confused people who knew the Two Harbors Area Chamber of Commerce was planning a circus event of its own later in July. Family Fun seemed like some mysterious competition for circus-goers until the News-Chronicle made inquiries this week.

Rachel Bailey, co-secretary and manager of the Lake County Fairgrounds, said Family Fun asked if they could rent the fairgrounds for trailers and campers. She spoke with a woman from the company on the phone, but they never completed the contract Bailey sent them.

"They never mentioned having a circus, or that they needed the place for a tent," Bailey said.

Bailey didn't find out the group was planning to stage a circus until a call from a local business owner who received flyers advertising the event.

"Somebody called me and said 'What's with the circus at the fairgrounds?' And I had no idea," Bailey said.

Rachael Bellman, the booking agent for Family Fun Circus, said the group will not be coming to Two Harbors because of "a communication issue." She expressed disappointment at the outcome, especially because the group has "a great deal of time and money tied up in promoting Two Harbors."

Family Fun Circus is owned and operated by the Davenport family and travels across the country to small communities. It will set up in Superior this weekend and in Sandstone July 5.

The confusion began with the pre-emptive advertising and was boosted by the announcement of the chamber's circus.

Both circuses are modest companies catering to small towns and utilizing a single-ring tent.

The chamber sent out an e-mail to businesses clarifying that the two circuses were separate events and they were hosting the Culpepper & Merriweather circus July 18-19 in Two Harbors and Silver Bay.

Bailey said the fairgrounds board was aware of the chamber-sponsored circus but members were confused about it being advertised at the fairgrounds. The chamber event will be at the Lake County Arena grounds. The fairgrounds board called off the Family Fun booking entirely shortly after hearing about the chamber circus.

The Culpepper & Merriweather production will have two shows in each city, at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The Silver Bay site is in front of the AmericInn Lodge and Suites.

The circus tent goes up at 10 a.m. each day and spectators are welcome. The one-ring set-up ensures that no viewers are more than 40 feet from the action, the company touts. It features trapeze, unicycles, performing animals, and more.

The amount of performing animals Culpepper & Merriweather have in their revue has decreased due to a suspended license for one of its animal acts.

Compared to animal abuses discovered with other circus companies, Culpepper & Merriweather has a relatively clean record for animal care.

They were cited by the United States Department of Agriculture, which regulates exotic animals, in 2011 for improper care of tiger cubs in 2008. A license was suspended for six months in February and there will likely be no exotic animals as part of the Lake County shows.

The circus could not be reached for comment but photos on its Facebook page from recent performances feature only human and domestic animal performers.

Janelle Jones, tourism director for the Two Harbors Chamber of Commerce, is excited to bring the circus back to Two Harbors for the first time in eight years.

"We really wanted to do something fun for the locals and the community. We researched [Culpepper & Merriweather] and felt they were a good circus," Jones said.

Advance tickets will be on sale at local banks next week. Advance prices are $6 for children and $9 for adults. Tickets the day of the show will cost $7 and $12.

The chamber is also asking for ticket donations for those in assisted living, the Minnesota Veterans Home in Silver Bay, and for the Two Harbors Area Food Shelf to hand out to those in need.

Any businesses or individuals interested in donating tickets can call Jones at 391-5081.

Harbor Insurance Agency is sponsoring a coloring contest before the circus and two tickets will be awarded to each age group winner. Stop by its office or any Lake Bank branch to pick up a coloring sheet and review the complete rules. Pictures must be handed in at Harbor Insurance Agency by July 13.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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