HAMMOND | One by one, trailers full of tigers, ponies, acrobats and jugglers from the George Carden International Circus pulled into the Hammond Civic Center parking lot Tuesday afternoon, ready for what has become a Thanksgiving tradition.
"I've been here every Thanksgiving since 1980," Carden said. "We always end our season in Hammond."
Carden and his crew of more than 80 will kick off five days of performances today in the annual Orak Shrine Circus.
A "circus man" since age 6, when his mother married into the business, Carden has been performing for 52 years. He said the Hammond Civic Center is one of the smallest venues for his circus, but also one of his favorites.
"It's like a big top, the way it's shaped. It's so unique," Carden said. "Every seat's a ringside seat in the Hammond Civic Center. They don't build new buildings like the Hammond Civic Center."
Carden said the circus will feature three rings of continual entertainment on the Civic Center floor.
A portion of the circus proceeds benefit the Shriners' various philanthropic activities, such as the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
Fresh off a stop in Belton, Texas, Carden's wife Alexandra said the crew works almost year-round. After 11 shows in Hammond, they troupe will take three weeks off before beginning a string of performances at the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas.
While circuses have been performing in Hammond for decades, first at the demolished Masonic Temple in the city's downtown district and now at the Civic Center, Alexandra Carden said this year's event will feature a never-before-seen balancing act performed by a Chinese acrobat.