Hernandez Commemorates the Living Legends of Circus



There was once a time when children ran away to the circus; Tony Hernandez ran away from it. Now, more than 20 years later, the author/performer/photographer returns to his hometown with Circus Legends, a tribute in book form, commemorating various titans of the circus arts through new interviews and photography. Releasing this Thursday, August 23, Hernandez and some of the local circus legends featured in the book will celebrate with a book signing at Bookstore1Sarasota on Palm Avenue at 11am.

The youngest of five siblings in a circus family, Hernandez remembers afternoons in the backyard playpen, watching his brothers and sisters—all at least 10 years older than he—learn the circus arts from his performer parents. He remembers learning alongside them on the teeterboard, being launched through the air to the top of a human pyramid. He remembers appearing on Captain Kangaroo and working for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for five years. And he remembers when it ended. Some of the family went into management. His sister opened a circus arts school. Hernandez went to Chicago to pursue acting and photography.

But as he forged his own path and created his own shows, Hernandez never strayed too far from his circus roots, and when he heard the Ringling Bros. circus was closing down for good, he knew he had to do something. “I need to make sure the circus gets remembered, at least,” he says. Circus Legends was born.

A coffee table book by design, within its mammoth pages readers will find spreads dedicated to several of the living legends who made the circus arts’ storied past possible. Alongside candid interviews detailing inspirations and memories, conducted by Hernandez, archival shots and old photographs grant a further glimpse into the past, while new portraits from Hernandez’ lens catch these greats in their element today—most just as entertaining as ever. See the great juggler Dieter Tasso and the tiger trainer Trudy Strong, and even Hernandez’ own mother, Lisa Hernandez, still never far from her old teeterboard.

Many archival photographs are nothing short of amazing, says Hernandez, like a circus couple getting married while dangling from a helicopter. (The question of the priest’s location in all this remains unresolved.) Yet they remain unframed, sometimes dog-eared, deposited in boxed of mementos. “Because it wasn’t amazing to them,” says Hernandez. “It was everyday life.” With Circus Legends, he hopes to show the world how amazing these people really were, and what that means for everybody coming after. “They’re not superheroes and they’re not born with this,” he says. “They trained.”

“I want people to learn that the circus was great, it was important,” Hernandez continues. “It was a huge part of our history, and it might be going away, but I don’t want it to be forgotten.”

Circus Legends comes out this Thursday, August 23. Hernandez and more will be at Bookstore1Sarasota for a book signing at 11am on the same date.

Pictured: The great Dieter Tasso elevates the art of juggling. Photo courtesy of Tony Hernandez.

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