Coney Island Meets Palisades Amusement Park
The Coney Island Sideshow Circus comes to Fort Lee Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Jack Alter Fort Lee Community Center in the final Movies & Music Under the Stars program of the season.
The world famous Coney Island Sideshow Circus leaves Surf Avenue in Brooklyn and comes to the Jack Alter Fort Lee Community Center for a live free show on Saturday, Sept.8, as part of the Fort Lee Film Commission’s final Movies & Music Under the Stars program of the 2012 season.
This 10-week, free program has offered wonderful live music and fantastic films to the people of Fort Lee thanks to the support of the borough and our sponsors, including Universal Studios.
Our final program is one chosen carefully in that it connects in a real way to our past; that past being the colorful Palisades Amusement Park.
This weekly "Archives" column has covered the history of Palisades Amusement Park upside and down, but in all our columns about the park that lived atop our Palisades from 1898 to 1971, we missed one specific part of the park, and that is its connection to the all American circus/sideshow.
During the 1950s, the Clyde Beatty Circus had become a regular event at Palisades Amusement Park. According to Vince Gargiulo in his wonderful book Palisades Amusement Park: A Century of Fond Memories:
Clyde Beatty, originally associated with Ringling Brothers, struck out on his own after Ringling closed its tent shows and changed to an indoor format. Many of the featured performers from Ringling Brothers went with Clyde Beatty – including the world’s most famous clown, Emmett Kelly, and those death-defying aerialists, the Wallendas. The circus opened at Palisades Amusement Park at the start of each season and ran for six weeks. Eventually the Clyde Beatty Circus combined with the Hamid Morton Circus, and this new troupe was later replaced by the Hunt Brothers Circus. The circus remained a regular attraction at the Park for almost a decade, until concessionaires began complaining that patrons spent too much time at the circus and not enough in the Park. These complaints – in addition to the fact that the circus, which was set up in the parking lot, took away spaces for cars – led to the end of the big top at Palisades Amusement Park.
The Park also instituted a Freak Animal Show and Flea Circus in the 1950s. Arch & Maie McAskill ran The Palace of Illusions, which showcased Tom Thumb, the little horse and the two-headed calf.
In a tip of the hat to Palisades Amusement Park, we have imported a show from the boardwalks of Brooklyn for Saturday's final Movies & Music Under the Stars program of the year, the Coney Island Sideshow Circus.
This is a throwback show that children of all ages will enjoy. For one night, tear yourself away from your iPads, iPhones and iPods and get an old fashioned eyeful of a vanishing American art form.