John Ringling North II is the last circus man of his kind.Baraboo's five Ringling Brothers had a sister, who is Mr. North's ancestor. There are still circus families, and there are still itinerant circuses.
Clad in a blue plaid shirt, a brown vest and cowboy boots, the 71-year-old strides out into the front of the circus ring and cracks his old bullwhip while the aerial act sets up behind him.
He first learned to crack the whip as a boy growing up with his family's circus, the legendary Ringling Bros. Mr. Ringling North spends about half of each year traveling in recreational vehicles with his own smaller circus -- the Kelly Miller Circus -- and attends every show twice a day.
"They put the show on; the least I can do is watch it," he said, as if he could not imagine a better way to spend four hours every day than watching the same performances time and again.
The Ringlings are true circus lovers, and the Ringling name has become synonymous with great American circuses.
The Feld family threatened to sue Mr. Ringling North for advertising his circus with the words "John Ringling North presents the Kelly Miller Circus," but the issue was resolved out of court. Mr. Ringling North was allowed to use his own name as long as it came below the circus' name. The sign now reads "Kelly Miller Circus, John Ringling North Proprietor."Carson and Barnes and Kelly Miller both have winter quarters in Hugo, Oklahoma, and the names of Al G. Barnes and Miller Brothers live on in these names. I've documented Carson and Barnes in these parts. Kelly Miller also pass this way. Perhaps this will be a good year to document their show.
Kelly Miller is not the only circus founded by the Miller family. In 1999, Mr. Ringling North's friend Jim Royal invited him to the Miller-owned Carson and Barnes circus. The two had met in Ireland in 1985 while Mr. Royal was working for the Chipperfield's Circus in England, and they often dreamed of putting on a Christmas circus show together.
See you down the road.