by Eric D. Lehman, Associate Professor, Communications Specialist
On August 23, 2022, the Barnum Festival named University of Bridgeport trustee George Estrada as ringmaster for its 75th anniversary year. Before serving on the Board of Trustees, Estrada served for 12 years as UB’s Vice President of Facilities.
As a lifelong resident of Bridgeport, Estrada loved the Barnum Festival since he first grew up on North Avenue, listening to the drum corps at nearby Kennedy Stadium and waiting for hours on the yellow line on his beach chair to get the best view of the parade in his neighborhood. “The Barnum Festival meant the beginning of summer to us kids,” says Estrada. “It is an honor to be named ringmaster for the 75th anniversary.”
Founded in 1948 to promote the greater Bridgeport region and named for the city’s most famous resident, this annual celebration is run by a nonprofit organization and is hosted each year by a “ringmaster,” who is responsible for leading and entertaining throughout the year. The celebration helps support the local businesses of the City of Bridgeport and builds public spirit among residents and visitors alike.
“When the civic leaders and industrialists started the festival, the economy was headed down, and they wanted to energize the community,” says Estrada. “Today, as we emerge from the pandemic, there is a similar level of anxiety. This festival is what the world and especially the region need.”
Estrada and his wife were invited by former mayor John Fabrizi to volunteer with the festival organization in 1992. At the time, they felt that they were all on a mission together and have put their hearts into the celebration ever since. This year, coming out of the pandemic, Estrada feels a particular responsibility to bring “a sense of pride, adventure, and happiness” to the festival. He also plans to bring more diverse communities to the table. “We’re trying to represent the whole Bridgeport,” says Estrada. “We need to honor the traditions and build toward the future.”
Along with the performances and parade in June 2023, there will be a full slate of activities throughout the year. The first is a pasta dinner at Testo’s restaurant on November 15 to announce the chairs and co-chairs of all the events. Traditional events include picking the “royal family,” a “sail the sound” cruise on the Port Jefferson Ferry, and a children’s “wing-ding parade” at the Beardsley Zoo. But Estrada plans to create many new events to maintain the festival throughout the year, building to the crescendo of the weekend-long “Barnum Palooza” that features concerts, fireworks, the parade, and more.
“Anyone who has lived in Bridgeport during the past 75 years will have a memory of their experience with the festival,” he says. “Its uniqueness is its direct connection to P.T. Barnum. He had his periods of struggle, but he came out of them stronger, and celebrating this is a celebration of the community he inspired.”
This is a great opportunity for UB students and staff to get involved with this important Bridgeport tradition. “I will need the support of my friends to volunteer financially and physically to help make this work,” says Estrada. “I hope the UB community will join me in making this the best Barnum Festival of all time.”
For more information, visit www.barnumfestival.org.