Even the circus animals got into the Halloween spirit Wednesday as Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus kicked off their month of shows in the Chicago area with its elephants celebrating the spooky holiday.
Students from Uno Charter School in Rogers Park watched as three elephants strutted their stuff, snacked on fall vegetables and smashed pumpkins with their feet as part of circus' arrival for a 10-day stay in Rosemont.
The most artistic of the group, Kelly Ann -- a 6,500-pound pachyderm -- picked up a paintbrush with her trunk and began painting her pumpkin with flair, all while wearing an elephant-sized witch hat.
"She's very talented," said Ringling spokeswoman Bonni Pear.
The event replaced the traditional walk-in done by the elephants and trainers as the circus arrives in town. Circus officials said they no longer do the walk-in because of the weather.
"Elephants are brought in with trucks now, it's a welfare issue for them with the cold weather," Pear said, adding that the new format gives the circus a chance to reach students in a more interactive way.
The group of kindergarten through 8th graders who made the trip to the Allstate Arena on Wednesday got to decorate their own pumpkins before watching the elephant show.
"I want to go to Africa and ride the elephants," said Maritsa Guerra, a 9-year-old at Uno Charter School. Guerra said she wasn't scared of the large animals, and wanted to know how they learned so many tricks.
Handlers answered student questions, including how young the elephants are when they start training (six months) and if they are difficult to wash (not as hard as you'd expect).
"This was more creative than the walk-in and incorporated Halloween with our show," said Emily Ritter, event coordinator with Ringling. "It's always fun to see what the elephants will come out and do."
After a few minutes of painting and pumpkin smashing, the elephants waved goodbye to the students with their trunks and headed back inside from the cold.
"We hope the students got a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be so close to these elephants and see what they can do," Pear said. "For them to gain an appreciation of such an endangered species is good for all of us. I don't think the kids will forget it."
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will perform at Allstate Thursday through Nov. 11, then will shift to the United Center Nov. 14 through Nov. 25.
Tickets are still available at www.Ringling.com.