Palos Hills says city was unaware circus was fundraiser for rape victims
BY CASEY TONER firstname.lastname@example.org August 9, 2013 11:18PM
Franchesca Cavallini, left, Jacque Hollander, center, and Rick Hawthorne, right. The Carson & Barnes Circus is scheduled to visit Palos Hills next week. | Photo courtesy Robbie Gunn
Updated: September 12, 2013 6:47AM
A traveling circus is scheduled to visit Palos Hills next week, but officials in the city, which is sponsoring the event, say a major misunderstanding is accompanying the peanuts and elephants.
City officials say that unbeknownst to them, the Carson & Barnes Circus has been billing the sixth annual event as a benefit for sexual abuse victims — complete with an informational booth from a major statewide support network for sexual assault victims and a display of T-shirts created by victims.
The benefit was the idea of an Illinois-based circus performer who once claimed in a federal lawsuit that soul music legend James Brown sexually assaulted her.
But the city isn’t on board with the charity aspect of the performances, which are set for 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 19 and 20 at Sunny Creek Drive and Roberts Road.
“When I go with my grandkids to this, I want to leave all the troubles behind me and go and have fun for a couple of hours and see the magic of the circus,” said Mary Jo Vincent, Palos Hills’ resource and recreation department commissioner. “I support rape victims, and it’s not right and it’s a horrible thing to happen to anybody. But there is always a time and place for everything. All I booked was a circus.”
Vincent said she was unaware that the Hugo, Okla.-based circus planned to turn the shows into charity events until she read about it in a newspaper ad. She said the city pays a few hundred dollars to sponsor the circus and is responsible for selling tickets — and the charity benefit was not part of the deal.
“If we were doing something where we sponsored military families under the stars, that would be fine, but I don’t want you to take out an ad explaining the whole war,” Vincent said. “People don’t want to read about that. They want to read about the fun they will have at the circus.”
As part of the circus’ performances throughout Illinois, it will donate to the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Messages to that group, seeking comment, were not returned Friday.
The circus also will allow the coalition’s local chapters to set up information booths outside the football-field-sized tent during its stops throughout the state. The chapters also will be allowed to display a line of T-shirts created by sexual assault victims, who often are encouraged to make T-shirts to express what enabled them to survive their ordeals.
“It’s their story and it’s their banner,” Jacque Hollander, who tours with the circus, said. “The T-shirt line is one of the most moving and beautiful things people can see.”
Hollander said it was her idea to use the circus to shed light on sexual abuse. She sued Brown for $106 million in federal court in Chicago in 2005, claiming he raped her at gunpoint in South Carolina in 1988. The case was dismissed, and she now is suing Brown’s estate in South Carolina, claiming that she’s a partner of his multimillion-dollar trust, the I Feel Good Trust.
Hollander started touring this year with the 77-year-old circus as a songwriter and music producer.
A newspaper ad for the Palos Hills event promises a vigil at the 7:30 p.m. Aug. 19 show to honor all survivors and families who have experienced rape, missing loved ones or murder.
The performances, titled “Survivors Under the Stars,” are scheduled in several Illinois towns in August and September, Hollander said, starting Wednesday and Thursday at Rockford Speedway.
Greg McKarns, the speedway’s general manager, said he didn’t know about the charity aspect of the circus performances either.
“As far as I know, there will be a circus with a tent and camel rides for the kids — that kind of thing,” McKarns said.
Hollander said she spoke with Vincent on Thursday and was upset by their conversation. But Vincent said she just told Hollander that “everybody here would support her as an individual, but we can’t support her as a city.”
Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett agreed, saying there’s a time and place for everything.
“We don’t let everybody and their brother in with their booths to try to solicit stuff,” Bennett said. “It’s a family festival, and people go there with their families and not to be solicited by whatever causes are out there.”
Carson & Barnes Circus office manager Kristin Parra said the whole situation had been “blown out of proportion.” She said she planned to call the city Monday to clear up the charity angle.
“It’s my fault because I didn’t communicate what I should have with our hosts,” said Parra, whose family runs the circus. “I want to stress that our main goal and the goal of the Palos Hills Resources and Recreation Department is to bring families out for good old-fashioned entertainment under the big top.”