Barnum Festival Ringmaster John Stafstrom promised a Barnum blast Saturday night and he didn’t disappoint. Decked out in ringmaster red, he thrilled 500 spectators at the Ringmaster’s Ball at Seaside Park riding under the big top on a camel named Roosevelt, on land donated to the city by 19th Century showman P.T. Barnum whose statue was a stone’s throw away along the city’s waterfront park. In spectacular fashion, Stafstrom’s camel entry pulled a page out of the P.T. Barnum playbook lifting guests out of their chairs who included Governor Dan Malloy.
Stafstrom, former Bridgeport Democratic town chair and a law partner with the Bridgeport-based firm Pullman and Comley, is the 65th ringmaster of the Barnum Festival, the annual salute to the impresario. The Ringmaster’s Ball began a series of events for the final Barnum Festival week push that includes the Jenny Lind concert at the Bijou Theatre on Thursday, fireworks Sky Blast at Seaside Park on Friday, the Champions on Parade drum corp competition Saturday at Kennedy Stadium capped by the Great Street Parade starting at noon on Sunday June 30th. The ball helps to defray the costs of associated Barnum Festival events.
“Paint The Park City Red” was the theme of the formal and there certainly was no shortage of crimson shades among the crowd. Stafstrom chose Seaside Park as the venue for the ball in tribute to Barnum, the single greatest philanthropist in city history. Stafstrom also reached deep into his lengthy Rolodex to entice a broad section of politicians and business leaders to the event. In addition to Malloy, the event was attended by Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman, Attorney General George Jepsen, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and Congressman Jim Himes. Mayor Bill Finch did not attend the ball. He spent the weekend in Las Vegas for the National Conference of Mayor’s meeting.
Shortly after 8 p.m. event organizers began the traditional introduction of former ringmasters and dignitaries under a massive tent abutting the Seaside Park band shell just steps from the water. Stafstrom’s introduction went from enthusiastic to thunderous as he and husband Dennis Murphy emerged on a camel, ducking their heads underneath the tent flapping, that carried them to the dance floor rushed by dozens of photo-snapping guests. Roosevelt was draped in a red cover for the roaring introduction. The camel went about his business calmly, delivering Stafstrom and Murphy through the cheering crowd and to the dance floor where they dismounted.
Camel rides have become a hot item at Connecticut’s Beardsley zoo, but Roosevelt came from a farm in upstate Goshen, Connecticut. With martinis flowing throughout the night a number of guests wondered about the ingredients for a camel martini. Hmmm. Whatever’s in that must be mighty dry.
The audience was also entertained by James Bavolacco, an 8th grader at Flood Middle School in Stratford and Adrian Cardova, a 10th grader at Bunnell High School in Stratford, winners of Barnum’s Got Talent Vocal Competition, a new festival event. The students received $500 prizes and will also share a float with Javier Colon, inaugural winner of NBC’s The Voice, at the Great Street Parade June 30th. Colon was born in Bridgeport and raised in Stratford.