Hoping to 'do something different' for charity, man will hold circus in his home

December 03, 1993|By Boston Globe

BOSTON -- When Back Bay multimillionaire Jay Cashman asked neighbors if they'd mind if he had an elephant or two over for a fund-raiser tonight, they were more than happy to oblige.

"It's important to be neighborly, and it's for a good cause," said Andrea Daskalakis, who, like many of Mr. Cashman's neighbors, has graciously donated her parking spot for the occasion.

Mr. Cashman's exotic plan -- he's holding a circus in his living room tonight, complete with goats and monkeys, to raise funds for battered women -- has hardly raised an eyebrow on Marlborough Street.

But then, Mr. Cashman, 40, who owns a large marine and general contracting firm in Boston, is a well-known extrovert and philanthropist with a flare for the unusual. And at this time of year, as every devoted fund-raiser knows, there are more worthy causes vying for donations than anybody has time or funds enough to support.

So Mr. Cashman was determined to hold a benefit so unique that it wouldn't get lost in the holiday crush -- something nobody could top. That's how he came up with the live-animal circus in his elegant five-story townhouse.

In his less than 10-by-8-foot front garden tonight, an elephant, some llamas and other exotic animals will hold court in an impromptu petting zoo. Meanwhile goats, a toucan, a rare Serval cat, a monkey, six performing dogs and possibly a python will meander through the five-floor home.

Mr. Cashman considers himself a "concept man," a big thinker who isn't terribly concerned about details, such as whether the goats relieve themselves on the carpet or the monkeys swing from the chandeliers.

"I have friends who are neatniks, but I'm indifferent to that," he said.

In the main arena, a.k.a. the living room, clowns, magicians, jugglers, a mime, acrobats and performing dogs will entertain more than 300 invited guests, who will be asked to donate from $25 to $500 or more, and are urged to dress in "circus chic."

Mr. Cashman described this as "something so bright or garish you wouldn't wear it anywhere but at a circus."

Jesters and face-painters will perform in the kitchen, stilt-walkers will ascend the catwalk, a psychic will hold forth in the study.

The fire-eater will entertain in the basement.

It's the ultimate at-home event.

"I wanted to do something different, something people would remember," said Mr. Cashman, sitting in his kitchen yesterday as workmen moved out much of his furniture and cleaners prepared for the circus's arrival.

Creative parties are nothing new for Mr. Cashman, who once staged an end-of-the-Cold-War party by building a 12-foot-high replica of the Berlin Wall in his front yard. But he thinks the in-home circus is his piece de resistance.

In keeping with the holiday season, the elephant, which is being trucked in from New Hampshire in an enlarged horse-carrier, will come dressed in Christmas regalia, said Ellen Marlette, a self-described "circus nut" who along with several circus pros is helping to organize the show,

"It's a rather small elephant," she added, "given the nature of Back Bay."

Mr. Cashman figures his novel variation on the circus theme will raise at least $25,000 for a permanent shelter where women and children who have run from abusive men "can get adjusted to a new life, ease that transition." The funds will be donated to DOVE shelters, in Quincy.

The Quincy native thinks an in-home circus is a perfect way to raise money for battered women and their children.

As a child, he said, he always thought "the biggest event of the year was when the circus came to town." He was particularly fascinated by a 300-pound circus performer known as Scuff, "who could open coca-cola bottles with his teeth" -- an act many neighborhood kids considered "very cool," Mr. Cashman recalled.

If domestic violence is the ultimate horror for children who see their mothers battered and abused, a circus to Mr. Cashman symbolizes the magic and innocent wonder of growing up, "what childhood should be," he said.

"Circuses," he observed, "are for the pure at heart."

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