The last time Melissa Jackson, 86, stepped in the center ring of a circus she had a 50-pound chandelier balanced on her head
Jackson, originally from Montgomery, Ala., was a special guest Sunday at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s final Lexington performance at Rupp Arena. She worked as showgirl for Ringling Bros. in the 1950s to save money for art school. She did it while dressed in intricately detailed costumes.
“We were under tents during that time,” Jackson said. “It weighed a ton; we’re talking about 60 some odd years ago.”
Jackson’s visit was coordinated by Derek Combs as part of the Life Enrichment Program at Lexington’s Morning Pointe Senior Living. Jackson, who suffers from dementia, is a resident there. Combs created a scrapbook of her photos to show to current Ringling Bros. performers and staff members. Ringling Bros. general manager Robert Lange, who has worked in the circus for more than 39 years, smiled as he leafed through Jackson’s photos.
“We would have health issues if we did that now. People don’t quite toughen up as they used to,” Lange said. “Back in the day, it was two shows a day. They’d be doing 800 shows a year. We did 450 last year. It’s a marathon more than a sprint.”
Fernando Alfonso III: 859-231-1324, @fernalfonso