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Step Right Up To Seattle's Most Astounding (and Only) Flea Circus

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Gabriel Spitzer
/
KNKX
Payne Fifield and his "humbug flea circus," in his Wallingford home.

This story originally aired on September 30, 2017.

There’s Ms Nimbus, Queen of the Air, and Drake, King of the High Dive. There’s the high-wire artistry of the fabulous Dmitry and Annette.

And then, of course, there’s Marcel, the world’s only “mime flea.”

These are just a few of the cast members of a unique Seattle attraction: Professor Payne’s Phantasmagorical Flea Circus.

Payne Fifeld’s breadbox-sized circus sits squarely in a long and proud tradition of performing fleas, dating back to when 16th-century watchmakers first harnessed Pulex irritans to demonstrate their fine craftsmanship.

“Once they’re harnessed, they’re harnessed for life. So they live attached to their little cart or dress for the rest of their little flea lives,” Fifield said.

Fifield’s own circus belongs to a more humane subgenre, the “humbug flea circus.” He gave Sound Effect’s Gabriel Spitzer a demonstration of his cast’s most astounding feats, from the trapeze act to the flea parade.

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Gabriel Spitzer is the Host and Senior Producer of Sound Effect, KNKX's "weekly tour of ideas inspired by the place we live." Gabriel was previously KNKX's Science and Health Reporter. He joined KNKX after years covering science, health and the environment at WBEZ in Chicago. There, he created the award-winning mini-show, Clever Apes. Having also lived in Alaska and California, Gabriel feels he’s been closing in on Seattle for some time, and has finally landed on the bullseye.