WASHINGTON – A gloved crowd of about 16 people carrying garbage bags, buckets and shovels waited patiently Friday afternoon outside the D.C. Armory, where Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was wrapping up a three-week stay.
But the bystanders weren’t there to cart away trash. They had their eyes on a more potent prize.
“Have fun and get dirty!” said Pete Cimini, the circus’ stable manager, as he let the door to a green dumpster swing open.
It was filled with about 20 tons of manure from a variety of the 100 or so animals at the circus, including llamas, ponies and tigers.
But those waiting in line wanted only pachyderm poop.
It is valued by gardeners and farmers because of its high concentration of nitrogen, phosphorous, calcium and other valuable minerals, said Cimini, who has been with the circus since 1976.
“This is the first time that I’ve seen this many people,” said Jerome Shelton, a 52-year-old attorney from Fairmount Heights, who has been coming for free dung for five or six years. “It seems as though word has gotten out that this is some really good fertilizer.”
Those in front quickly climbed atop the hay-laced mountain of manure to pick out the largest pieces, filling bags and buckets.
Shelton, who waited patiently for his turn with a wheelbarrow, said he planned to use the manure to grow tomatoes, string beans and peppers in his garden.
Others had the same idea.
Robert Barber, 40, a free-lance TV producer from Alexandria, said he planned to grow “elephantine-sized tomatoes.”
Barber, who pulled up in a blue Volvo station wagon with his 2- and 4-year-old sons strapped into the back seat, said he had showed up in the morning for fear of missing the event.
“I’ve always heard that elephant poop was the best,” he said. “And when I heard it was available today I cleared my schedule, packed the kids up and threw some flower pots, shovels and recycling bins into the car.”
Cimini said Washington is one of the better stops, “attendance-wise.” He predicted that up to 40 people would appear at the D.C. Armory by 5 p.m., when pick-up trucks are allowed to take home larger loads.
He said giving away elephant manure has been a circus tradition for at least 20 years. It is given away on one day only at selected stops for liability reasons. The circus wants to avoid being held responsible if someone gets hurt, Cimini said.
Everything seemed to be going smoothly Friday compared to 1993, when the dumpster was stolen on April Fool’s Day, Cimini said.
“The next year, we hired armed guards,” he said.
They only used the guards for one year.
The 18 elephants at the circus consume tons of hay, carrots, apples, lettuce, bread – by the loaf – and specially mixed elephant chow each day to produce the valued dung.
“I’ve been looking forward to this all year,” said Sheila Blake, a 56-year-old artist from Washington, D.C., who spreads the manure along flower and vegetable gardens. “It’s really a big day.” – 30 –