• The big cats are one of the highlights of the show. This tiger, Delilah, was rewarded for her behavior with a scratch under the chin. - Culpepper and Merriweather Circus — Contributed

  • Leo, the circus clown, is also a tour guide during the tent-raising at each city the circus visits. - Culpepper and Merriweather Circus — Contributed

  • Simone Key — who performs using the name Miss Simone — is the resident trapeze artist. - Culpepper and Merriweather Circus — Contributed



The Culpepper and Merriweather Circus, which is pulling into Southern Humboldt County May 10 and 11, has something for everyone, one of the owners of the circus who also performs said.

“We get people that are 2 that enjoy it and people who are 99 that enjoy it,” said Simone Key. “There is basically something for everyone. Kids love the animals. Parents love the costumes and even our clown Leo has humor for younger kids.”

Soroptimist International of the Redwoods is sponsoring the circus, which will perform four shows over two days at The Diamond, in Benbow.

The president of Soroptimist International of the Redwoods did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The circus brings with it big cats, unicycles, a trapeze act featuring Key and something that Key calls “The Wheel of Destiny.” There is also a high wire act and contortionists.

Culpepper and Merriweather, which is based in Hugo, Oklahoma, is on the road 32 weeks out of the year, according to Key. This year the circus will be visiting 220 towns in 17 different states. A show in Eureka is set for May 12 following the Southern Humboldt visit, as the circus works its way up the West Coast.

“We go to the West Coast every other year,” Key said. “Garberville we’ve been to more often. I think we’ve been there 15 or 20 times in the show’s history.”

Key said one of the fun parts of arriving in new locations that the audience might enjoy seeing is the setup the morning before the first show. On May 10 around 9:30 a.m. the tent-raising will begin, Key said.

“We do a tour a 9:30 a.m.,” she said. “We encourage people to come out and see that [the animals] are happy and healthy. We encourage people to come talk to us and come see us.”

Key said the clown, Leo, leads the free tours and tells visitors about what life is like in the circus.

She said one of the highlights of the show is the big cats, all of whom have distinct personalities.

“People love getting to see the cats,” she said. “Cats are amazing. We’ve had our cats for 12 years now. It’s about the interaction between the handler and the cats. We base our act off what they want to do that particular day. It’s just fun.”

Key said the shows last about 90 minutes.

“It just the right amount of time for kids. It holds their attention,” she said. “If you can keep the toddlers on board, you must be doing something right.”

Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.

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