Grandpa Joins the Circus

Grandpa Joins the Circus

Aunt Penny shared this story with me. I had heard bits and pieces, but never the full story. I had certainly never seen the photographs! Also…do you see what I did there with that first sentence?  I realized recently that instead of saying “Margaret”, “Margaret’s daughter Penny”, my step-dad’s mom, etc. I’m starting to say “Grandmother”, Aunt Penny, etc. The more of these stories I read, the closer I feel to this side of my family. It makes my heart happy! This story, however, is a bit of a tear-jerker….

Grandpa Joins the Circus
While some people say they’d like to run away and join the circus, some actually do.  Let me tell you what my mother Margaret Marie McGinness Cunningham told me about the man she adored, her father Lorenzo Dow McGinness.


At eight years old in Casey, Illinois, I was sure I was Daddy’s favorite.  He always teased me.  He teased ten-year-old Nelda, too, but she didn’t like it.  Four-year-old Mary Lou giggled at everything.

Margaret in elementary school

Daddy did magic tricks for us.  He pulled a penny out of my ear when I didn’t even know one was there.  He taught me and Nelda how to stand on our heads, do cartwheels and somersaults.  He did them too.  He walked on his hands, bent over backwards and even balanced on only one hand.  He juggled anything.  

The summer of 1933 Daddy raised a pole in the back alley with a two-foot-square platform on top.  The pole was as high as our one-story bungalow house.  After shinnying up the wobbly pole to the platform, he took hold of its edges with his hands and flipped himself on top of it.  Once up there, he stood on his head or balanced on one hand.  He wiggled and made us think he was going to fall.  On occasion when he did fall, he landed in a pile of straw scattered in a wide circle around the pole.  Sometimes he juggled balls and did magic tricks standing on that tiny piece of wood.

He gradually made the pole higher and higher until it reached 75 feet into the air.  Rather than just slide down the pole, Daddy fastened a leather collar around his neck and attached it to another leather strap wrapped  in a ring around the pole.  With his head flung back against the collar and his arms and legs outstretched, he twirled around the pole until he almost reached the bottom.  Then he flipped into an upright position on the ground.  As exciting as it was, it still scared me.

Daddy, who owned a battery and automotive electrical shop in Casey, Illinois, never ate breakfast at home.  Mommy didn’t like to get up early, so Daddy ate at the restaurant close to his shop.  He talked about the nice waitress and the good food.  Often on Saturday he took us girls with him for breakfast and then to his shop for a little while.  We all walked home for the lunch Mommy had waiting.

Lorenzo Dow McGinness

On a morning early in the spring of 1934, Mommy was crying.  My very stoic Mommy almost never expressed her emotions. She told me and Nelda, “Daddy left a note.  He and the waitress at the restaurant have left to join the circus.  He’ll send money and be back when he can.”

Daddy did come home for a couple of days a few months later.  When he pulled up in the alley behind the house, his car towed a little trailer.  Painted on the side was a big red wave-like design while on the back were blue and red curlicues.  As I looked at the side, I read the white letters.  ‘Dare Devil Daniel. A sensational high aerial attraction.’  Was Daddy Dare Devil Daniel?  Why, yes! 


Dare Devil Daniel’s Trailer

It was thrilling and nice to have Daddy home although it seemed Mommy was not at all pleased.

He put on a show for the neighborhood in the alley behind the house before he hit the road again.  I cried when he left.  I wanted him to stay.

On May 21, 1938, Grandpa Guinny, Daddy’s father Coss McGinness, came to our house to tell us of Daddy’s accident the day before in Kirksville, Missouri, where the circus performed.  The leather strap had broken at the fifty-foot mark on Daddy’s descent.  Since he performed without a net, he fell straight to the ground breaking almost every bone in his body.

There were no words for how sad I felt. 

The circus people, who take care of their own, buried him near Chicago in the Showmen’s Rest part of Woodlawn cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois.


From Penny –
In 2005, I took my mother to Showmen’s Rest to find her father’s grave.  We never were really sure we found it.  We did go the area marked in a picture Grandma Callie had given her.  However, the stone was not engraved.  No reference to Daredevil Dan or L.D McGinness existed in the cemetery archives.


Grandpa’s leaving influenced the rest of my mother’s life. She thought Grandpa left because Grandma Callie didn’t pay enough attention to him. My mom tried to make sure that did not happen in her marriage. One way in which she did this was to rise early every day and fix my dad’s breakfast and lunch bucket. She wanted him to know she cared and loved him and appreciated his hard work.  Life was hard for the family he left behind, but Grandma Callie, my mother and her sisters made the best of the situation.


From Heather:

OK. Now for a quick running and  fundraising update! We had a great team run yesterday and got to meet our Team Hero afterwards. Here is a link to his inspiring story Team Hero’s Story. I’m getting my allergy and asthma meds sorted out for morning runs, but need to working on eating properly. Haven’t got that down yet. I’m feeling much better right now than I did at about the same point when training for my last half marathon. In addition to learning I’m likely celiac, I found out recently I have a MTHFR genetic mutation. This means  my body wasn’t using some of the B vitamins effectively. I’ve been taking some special vitamins (methylfolate, methlyB12, magnesium, VitaminD) and fish oil lately and it’s really making a difference. My doc said I would feel like a different person in a few months…and he was right! After only about a month I can tell a huge difference. I can’t wait to see what the next couple of months are like!

I’m currently about $125 away from my goal of raising $750 total by July 31.  If I hit that mark, I’m going to face a fear and go to the Butterfly Pavillion and pet Rosie the Tarantula!  See this post Risk-Free Sibling RivalryWho is going to “sponsor me” and put me over the top?? This link Margaret and Me will take you to my Team in Training fundraising page. Any contribution is appreciated!  For the record – I’m about $1400 away from my overall fundraising goal (gulp). If you were planning on contributing – now is the time! 🙂


Happy Sunday everyone and as always, thank you for all of the support and encouragement!










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