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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

When she was a girl, Alyce Blum used to run away from her Pennsylvania orphanage every summer to join the circus.

"I climbed right out the window," she said.

With her older brother, Jack, she hitchhiked to Florida and connected with a circus troupe entertaining crowds during the Great Depression.

Now 93, Blum lives in Manor House, a retirement community in Seaford. But she can easily recall details of her traveling life as far back as the 1920s, as a child ensconced in a world that children all over are amazed by.

"I'm never sorry I did it," Blum said Wednesday, March 6. "The circus is my family."

Her family paid her a visit that evening, when four performers from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus dropped in at Manor House ACTS Retirement-Life Community for a surprise session with Blum.

Staff at the center had planned a trip with her to see the troupe perform at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center in Salisbury, Md., while the act was in town. But they kept her in the dark about Wednesday's visit right up until the moment she walked into the dining hall to find the four performers in full costume.

"We're here to celebrate Alyce Blum," said ringmaster David Shipman, dressed in a sparkling green-and-blue coat, as clown Dean Kelley presented a beaming Blum with a bouquet of flowers. Kelley, juggler Lanka Smaha and animal trainer Catherine Carden then performed a few tricks for Blum and the other residents.

As Blum tells it, her circus years were a wonderful way to grow up. She performed high-wire tricks, riding Indian motorcycles across the ring from a great height, and glided among tigers during shows. The motorcycles "were heavy machines, but they're powerful as heck," she said. "I never fell off. Never got hurt, ever, at all." None of her exploits, night after night, ever seemed dangerous to her, she said.

After the surprise was sprung and the performances over, the young performers chatted with Blum about her career. Carden, the animal trainer, deduced that Blum had worked in the circus ring with her father, now 90.

"I've heard my dad tell stories," Carden said. "I think he called her Goldy."

Blum's working name in the circus was "Goldy, the Circus Brat."