Under the big top: Carson & Barnes Circus visits C.M. “Mike” Zito Multi-Purpose Center

Staff Writer
Plaquemine Post South
An Asian elephant act featuring acrobats concludes Carson & Barnes Circus' visit to the C.M. “Mike” Zito Multi-Purpose Center on Oct. 22. The circus has been touring for 76 consecutive years. 
POST SOUTH PHOTO/Peter Silas Pasqua

PLAQUEMINE - As part of its 76th consecutive year of touring the country, Carson & Barnes Circus, the largest traveling big top tent circus in America, visited the C.M. "Mike" Zito Multi-Purpose Center Oct. 22.

Carson & Barnes offered everything expected from a circus including clowns, acrobats, aerial trapeze artists, pageantry and a cast of performing animals led by the biggest – Asian elephants.

Owner Barbara Miller-Byrd is the third generation of her family to run the circus, which includes her daughters, Traci and Kristen, who also travel with the show.

After more than 60 years on the road as a performer and owner, she is still the number one fan of the traditional American circus.

"I remember getting on my first pony shortly after I started walking," she said. "Seriously, I never considered doing anything other than being a part of the family business, but in those early days no one imagined a woman would ever be the boss in a male-dominated business like ours."

The circus travels with a menagerie of exotic animals including a rare Sicilian donkey, two llamas, a miniature zebra, an alpaca, two camels, a half-dozen pygmy goats and Katy, the pygmy hippo.

England's Phillip Astley is credited with offering the first modern circus performance on Jan. 9, 1768 in London when he exhibited trick horseback riding in what he called "The Circle." He later added tumblers, wire walkers, jugglers, performing dogs and clowns. Astley also set the size of the circus ring at 42 feet, a size that still holds today.

The Carson & Barnes Big Top was made in Brazil and is 144 feet by 180 feet and 36 feet high. It folds into a long strip about eight feet wide and then goes on a specially designed reel mounted on a truck. It takes about four hours to get everything set up and ready.

"We have three elephants traveling with us," Miller-Byrd said. "We actually own 29, but we have a large breeding compound and leave the elephants of breeding age at home. We have the second largest genetic pool for Asian elephants in the country. We want to do our share to see the species doesn't die off."

The show lasts about two hours.