NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

May 16, 2013

Two local men and their love of the circus

As I See It
Joe Callahan

---- — It is said that everybody loves the circus. That is probably so, but probably no one loved the circus more than two men who lived in Newburyport during the last century. One was a writer and the other a Catholic priest.

George Brinton Beal was born and brought up in Lawrence. He attended Harvard and was a graduate of a famous writer’s program there. He then worked for the Worcester Telegram and there started his love for the circus. A circus press agent took him to a performance and then gave him a behind-the-scenes look at circus life. From that day on, George was hooked on the circus.

Mr. Beal then took a job as an editor for the Boston Sunday Post and he also taught part-time at Emerson College in Boston. He took advantage of these two positions to write and talk about the circus and his love for it. He also used all of his vacation time every year to travel with different circuses and wrote extensively of these experiences, thereby gaining the trust of the circus people he encountered, who began to refer to him as “Beal of Boston, the Circus Man’s Friend.”

In 1938 Mr. Beal wrote a book, “Through the Back Door of the Circus,” in which he described the inner workings of circus life and the people who lived it. He toured the country and parts of Europe lecturing and showing film of the circus. In his later years he published a magazine called “The Call of the Calliope,” which was subscribed to by circus people and fans around the world. At the time of his death he was working on a book about women in the circus.

George Brinton Beal lived for over 40 years at 82 High St. in Newburyport. He never married. I can remember him, and I am sure many others can also, as a familiar figure walking on High Street to and from the train station daily. Mr. Beal died at Anna Jaques Hospital in early April 1957 at the age of 69.

All of Mr. Beal’s circus materials, and it was a voluminous amount, was left to the Harvard College Library. “Through the Back Door to the Circus” may be seen at the Archival Center in the Newburyport Public Library.

The other local circus person was the Rev. Edward S. Sullivan. He was assigned to the Immaculate Conception Parish in Newburyport from 1924 to 1931. Father Sullivan was commonly known locally and elsewhere as the “Circus Priest.” His love of the circus started when he was a young boy. He, like Mr. Beal, was also well known and respected throughout the circus industry.

There are probably not too many local people still alive who can remember him, but there are many who most likely remember their parents or others referring to the beloved “Circus Priest.”

For many years up until the time of his death, Father Sullivan was the national chaplain of The Circus Fans of America, Inc.

In July of 1952, Father Sullivan visited Camp Sea Haven on Plum Island and gave a talk and showed films of the circus to the great enjoyment of the children there recovering from polio.

On Jan. 10, 1970, Father Sullivan conducted the annual blessing of the circus at the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey winter quarters in Venice, Fla. Moments after the ceremony he was stricken ill and he died almost instantly, surrounded by his “Family.”

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Joe Callahan is a former fire chief of Salisbury who is interested in historical accounts of the area.