This Youth Circus Was “The Greatest Little Show on Earth” in 1965. That’s True in 2019, Too.
Sunset featured this impressive small-town Washington youth circus in 1965. Turns out, it’s still flying sky-high.
The June 1965 issue of Sunset features a two-page black-and-white spread of “The Greatest Little Show on Earth,” Washington’s Wenatchee Youth Circus. In the largest photo, nine performers balance precariously from two tall ladders, working as a symbiotic organism. On the opposite page, a set of smaller photos exhibit feats of derring-do by mere teens: precarious tightwire walking, Scottish dance atop rolling balls, and aerial acrobats suspended mid-air, their toes (hopefully) securely clasped around swinging ladders.
Wenatchee Youth Circus featured in Sunset, June 1965
Many a circus is short-lived, and busy teens can hardly be expected to sustain a full working circus. But for 67 years, generations of children in the all-human Wenatchee Youth Circus have done just that, carrying a torch lit by Paul K. Pugh, an English teacher at Wenatchee Junior High School who became the circus’ leader and mentor until his death in 2017.
At the request of his principal, Pugh started a tumbling team in 1952 that performed at school sports games. Soon, the group was practicing tightwire and trampoline tricks at the local YMCA. A popular teacher and later the school principal, Pugh recruited and trained students from 7th to 12th grades, amassing 80 students who traveled as far as Anchorage, Alaska and performed at prestigious events like the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle.
View this post on Instagram
Today it is with great sadness that we convey that our founder, Paul Pugh, has passed. He will be remembered as an educator, an entertainer, our founder, and our beloved Guppo, the Clown. We are grateful to have known him and received so much from him. Because of you, Guppo, we'll never get the sawdust out of our hearts. Till next time, Guppo. God bless you. Thanks to all who have shared the ring and have been enriched by this amazing man and his traveling circus. #circus #circusinspiration #circuslife #circuseverydamnday #circusarts #circusaroundtheworld #wenatcheeyouthcircus #youthcircus photo credit Arlene Trotter
“Dad was a cross between the Pied Piper of Hamlin and the Music Man,” David Pugh, Paul’s son, said. The younger Pugh became a clown from age three until age 11, when he began the four circus T’s: trampoline, tumbling, trapeze, and tightwire. Despite falling several times from the trapeze, and being knocked unconscious as a 17-year-old in Portland in 1967, Pugh was back in the saddle two weeks later.
The circus was David’s life, as it still is today for 35 to 50 Wenatchee kids throughout the summer season, who still perform the circus’ classic acts, swinging ladders and Spanish web. However, they have kept the performance fresh with new acts like aerial silks, where the aerialist twists two long stretchy pieces of fabric around his or her body to pirouette through the air.
Haven Ploch, 16, who specializes in aerial silks, hopes to attend Florida State University in Tallahassee after she graduates, where she would perform in their big top circus.