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Shrine time: Circus delights Oak Harbor families

A circus acrobat wows the crowd with dozens of aerial stunts as she flies high in the air. - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
A circus acrobat wows the crowd with dozens of aerial stunts as she flies high in the air.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

Children wiggled in their seats as the adventure-inspiring Indiana Jones theme song played and a posse of tigers leaped onto sturdy metal pedestals during the opening act of the Nile Shrine Circus.

Animals, aerial acts, acrobatics and comedy entertained the all-ages audience during both sold-out shows in Oak Harbor Thursday afternoon and evening.

Acts appeared both inside and outside the blue big-top tent. During intermission, the crowd streamed out of the tent and craned their necks to watch a daring high-wire stunt involving a motorcycle. Families ate hot dogs and candy bars, rode the elephant, posed for pictures with miniature horses and got their faces painted.

Money raised from the circus supports the philanthropic work of the Shriner clubs, said circus chairman Chuck Cook.

The circus returned to Oak Harbor after a more than a decade-long absence, said Cook, who applauds Lt. Col. Gene Gilbert for the circus’ reappearance.

The retired lieutenant colonel, who formerly served at the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, contacted the Shriners and suggested the act travel to the island this year.

According to Cook, about 1,600 people attended each seating. Hundreds of families turned out to the 4:30 and 8 p.m. shows, said volunteer Carol Lehner.

“They had to turn people away from both shows,” she said. “We probably could have handled a minimum of one more show.”

The Shriners began more than 135 years ago as a social organization. Since then, it established a network of Shriners Hospitals. The specialized medical centers provide expert medical care to children at no charge. The first Shriners-supported hospital opened in 1922 and the group now finances more than 22 children’s hospitals throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico.

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