It was in early November 2001 when the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus saw the perfect opportunity for a stunt in the suburbs.
The circus was in Rosemont for its annual appearance at the Allstate Arena, and one of its star elephants, Bo, had sniffed out a box of doughnuts brought for the TV crews filming rehearsals.
He took his 10,000-pound self over to the table and scarfed down doughnut after doughnut, until the box fell empty onto the floor.
In this brazen act of thievery, his handlers saw the perfect photo op. So on Friday, Nov. 9, Bo lumbered up to the Krispy Kreme drive-through near the Allstate. He peered inside, smearing the glass, and nodded eagerly when his trainer asked, "Do you want some doughnuts, Bo?"
Ringling Bros. is gone now; its tigers, monkeys and junk food-loving elephants either are retired or have been sold to other circuses.
And by Jan. 1, elephants will no longer be allowed in any circuses performing in Illinois. The state is the first to ban elephants from circuses and similar traveling shows, a victory for animal welfare activists who have been protesting it for years.
Whether you view this as an unnecessary and sad turn of events or are relieved that these animals will no longer be forced to perform, it is the end of an era for all of us. And worth some reflection, if only to honor the hundreds of elephants who've been put on display for us over the years.
Ringling Bros. is gone but the smaller circuses remain, and in Illinois, anyway, will carry on minus the pachyderms. The Kelly Miller Circus was in Elk Grove Village this week, the last time it will include elephants. The circus says it will retool its show for next year, and return to Illinois without elephants. We hope it will bring new ways to delight and entertain suburban families.
Katy Dolan Baumer, secretary for the Elk Grove Lions Club, which sponsors the circus as a club fundraiser, is a little skeptical.
"Who knows if they (the circus) will come back?" she told reporter Chacour Koop on Wednesday. "People are buying tickets (now) because they know it's the last one with elephants."
Maybe. But for generations, people have crowded beneath the Big Top, to be entertained by the clowns and their little dogs, the beautiful trapeze artists, the handsome young daredevils, the death-defying aerialists and the guy who shoots himself out of a cannon.
But nothing drew us like those animals. Beautiful and awe-inspiring, so close you could almost reach out and touch them. Watching them interact with humans was thrilling, coupled with that electrifying touch of fear.
The elephants were the kings of the circus animals. That chapter has closed and the elephants walk away. Long live the kings in their new world outside the realm of doing tricks to entertain humans. And long live the circuses that for more than a century have turned the exotic into family-delighting magic.