2016-08-19 / Community

Sells & Gray Three Ring Circus comes to town

By Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo
South Portland Historical Society

Miniature horses had plenty to eat in the pony ride area. (Courtesy photos) Miniature horses had plenty to eat in the pony ride area. (Courtesy photos) As we continue to catalog our artifacts, documents and photographs, every day offers the potential for new discovery within our own collections. This was certainly true this past week when we came upon five photographs in our collection that had not been previously identified. In several columns over the years, I have put out the call to residents for photographs of any circus that came to South Portland in years past. We know that circuses came and set up in Mill Creek, and also out at Clark’s Pond in the area where Home Depot is, but we have no photographs of them.

These newly discovered photographs are terrific because they provide the first photographic record we’ve seen of a circus that set up in South Portland. Those who know me can surely imagine my excitement when I was looking at these photos and realized that two of them showed the very recognizable green tanks of Portland Pipe Line. Unlike the fuel storage tanks of other companies, Portland Pipe Line has painted its tanks green for decades, ever since they found out that the baseball team at the high school on Highland Avenue was having a problem. When the kids were playing, the baseballs would “disappear” in flight when the then-white tanks at the tank farm on Hill Street were in the distance behind the ball. The pipeline solved the problem by painting their tanks green so the kids could see their baseballs during games, and they have painted all of their tanks that same color ever since.

The second identifying feature in the photographs, besides the tanks, is one that shows a distinctive blue warehouse building. When you add together the warehouse building with the green tanks, there is only one place in South Portland that you would find both of those, and that is at Cushing’s Point, near Breakwater Drive and Madison Street.

The Sells & Gray Three Ring Circus came to South Portland in 1971 and set up its big tent on that large piece of land that used to be home to the World War II shipyards. The photos are dated August 1971, but we can’t be sure if they were taken in July or August that year.

According to www circusesandsideshows.com, the Sells & Gray circus was a mid-sized show that was established in 1960 and had many years on the road in the 1960s and 1970s. The company ceased operation in 1978.

I’m hoping that by publishing this photograph, not only will residents enjoy this look into the past, but perhaps some resident out there might remember going to that circus and/or might even have a ticket stub, program or other item from that or any other circus that came to South Portland. If you have anything to share related to circuses in South Portland, please give us a call at the historical society at 767-7299 or stop in to see us at the museum at 55 Bug Light Park – we’re open daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of South Portland Historical Society.

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