30 years of festival free-form
By AMY WIMMER
© St. Petersburg Times,
ST. PETERSBURG -- The first time Kathy Patron came to Circus McGurkis, she sold her handicrafts while carrying a baby on her hip.
That was 16 years ago.
Saturday afternoon, Patron of St. Petersburg and her "baby" -- 18-year-old Gabriel -- sold hats, purses and jewelry under the shade trees at the 30th annual Circus McGurkis.
"My first experience at Circus McGurkis, I was just traveling through," Patron recalled. "It was so dynamic that we decided we could enjoy living in this area."
The "people's fair," which has survived three decades without much formal structure or even any electricity at the park where it is held, is in its second generation. A 19-year-old who attended Saturday said she'd gone every year of her life; for organizers, all the years blur together into one long, happy occasion.
The Circus, the brainchild of Christine O'Brien and a group of her hippie friends in 1971, got its name from the Dr. Seuss book If I Ran the Circus.
The event takes whatever form people want. Some dance and tell stories; others sell hippiewear and jewelry.
Groups that rally for peace, nonviolence and racial equality offer pamphlets and information. Artists, including many who find their inspiration in the psychedelic '60s, sell their wares.
The event is held at Lakeview Park on Lake Maggiore off 26th Avenue S in St. Petersburg.
The city offered the park to O'Brien and her friends in 1971 because it was out of the way, O'Brien said, but the beautiful lakefront location has given the Circus a home of its own.
Circus McGurkis is sponsored by the Religious Society of Friends and the Tampa Bay Peace Education Program.
The original group that helped O'Brien dropped out in the early years, leaving her to carry the torch and try to keep the Circus as true to its roots as possible.
"We've just let it unfold as it does," she said Saturday. "It's free-form."
A second generation now participates in the annual Circus McGurkis, a mostly unstructured "people's fair."
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