Shoppers at Harundale Mall treated to really big show

September 08, 1992|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Staff Writer

In the parking lot of one of the oldest malls in America, out among the sea of cars and Labor Day shoppers, an elephant stood placidly munching hay.

An elephant at a mall is a rare sight indeed. Bessie was a show-stopper, drawing crowds just by eating her breakfast.

Small children giggled and pointed when she raised her trunk and made a loud squealing noise before swooping down and snatching another pile of hay in the parking lot of the Harundale Mall.

For the second consecutive year, the Glen Burnie shopping center is playing host to the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus. Yesterday's morning drizzle didn't stop hundreds of people from standing in line in front of the elephant pen to watch Bessie and her companions Pete, Helen, Jule, Ola, Conti, Sue, Debbie and Freida.

"I'm going to ride that elephant," crowed 8-year-old Danny Haines, watching Bessie eat. "I'm not scared."

Bessie and her friends are originally from Thailand and have been performing with the circus for about 20 years, said Walter Logan, an assistant trainer.

"Some of the elephants will give rides and the others will perform in the show," he said.

The elephants eat about 30 bales of hay a day and 300 to 400 pounds of grain, he said.

Danny was not the only one who planned on riding the elephants.

A pair of 6-year-olds, Melissa Smith and her friend Erica Windle, stood behind the orange fence staring at the animals.

Melissa said she had seen elephants on television, but never munching hay a couple of feet in front of her.

"Can two people ride together?" she asked. "We want to ride together."

Her mother, Carol Smith, was less enthusiastic. "I don't know about riding those things," she said, eyeing the huge animals suspiciously. "I hear they are smelly and scratchy."

Being part of a circus is not all tricks and games for the elephants. Bessie, Pete and Helen had to work hard at the circus opening day yesterday, putting up the big top.

Mr. Logan and three other men stuck the elephants in harnesses and led them out of their pen to the big top. Workers had almost completely assembled the tent, leaving it to the elephants to pull the large tent supports off the ground.

The crowd followed the three elephants clumping in single file with chains around their ankles to one end of the tent, where they were hooked to poles.

As they pulled the poles upright, the tent lifted off the ground.

In addition to the elephants, the circus also features 10 Bengal tigers.

Cheyenne Armstrong, who has been with the circus for two years, said the tigers range in age from 1 to 14 years. They weigh from 300 to 400 pounds and can eat up to 15 pounds of raw steak or ground beef a day, he said.

Yesterday, they were pacing nervously inside their cages as they eyed the growing crowd of spectators.

"If you walk too close to the cage, they can stick their foot out and scratch you," Mr. Armstrong said.

The tigers will also be part of the twice-daily shows under the big top, starting today.

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