Ten-year-old Caleb Kors, who entertained farmers-market visitors with juggling and magic tricks, died suddenly this week.

Share story

For thousands of people who attended the weekly farmers market in Bellingham, he was the “circus boy” — entertaining visitors with juggling, magic tricks and acrobatics delivered with unbelievable aplomb.

Ten-year-old Caleb Kors died suddenly this week apparently while rushing around the house to construct a new circus costume. His death leaves Bellingham residents grief-stricken over a boy they knew mainly for his four-club juggle toss — performed with a wisecrack and a rakish smile — and for his fearless compulsion to perform.

Whatcom County sheriff’s officials said Caleb died in an accidental hanging — though exactly what happened still is unclear.

“As far as we know, the young man died in what appears to be an accidental hanging. How he got there, we’re not actually sure. There did not appear to be anything suspicious or nefarious,” Chief Criminal Deputy Doug Chadwick said.

Initial reports suggested Caleb died while trying to perform a circus trick, but it later appeared more likely that he was climbing on something to collect material for a costume, with the truth perhaps remaining a sad and enduring mystery.

Medics took him to a Bellingham hospital Monday from his home in nearby Sudden Valley. He was subsequently airlifted to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, where he died Tuesday.

“He was so charismatic, such a little entertainer,” said Nikki Kilpatrick, a longtime friend of the family whose son was best friends with Caleb. Even as a baby, Kilpatrick said, Caleb walked early and had an appetite for performing — possibly to keep up with his two energetic older brothers.

“Caleb was the youngest steam punk I ever met. He absolutely adored dressing up. That kid was wearing costumes from the time he could pull clothes on,” Kilpatrick said. “You’d see him in the store, and he’d be wearing pajamas with a cape and flippers and goggles.”

Friends said Caleb was at a concert in a local park about two years ago when he saw members of the Bellingham Circus Guild performing — and was smitten. He signed up for guild member Strangely Timothy Doesburg’s youth circus workshop, and was quickly a star.

“That kid was in the best shape of any 10-year-old kid I’d ever known. You don’t meet many 10-year-olds with a six-pack. So many kids are playing video games and stuff, and this kid was outside climbing trees and jumping fences, all the time. He was a ball of energy,” Doesburg said in an interview.

Caleb, he said, had an “innate” sense of his own body, could perform a perfect handstand before he even started training.

“He learned to juggle really fast. He could juggle four balls, which is a big deal for a kid of 10. Four is a whole different level of mental acuity and knowing what to do. And he could juggle clubs, which again, a lot of kids can’t,” Doesburg said. “He just kept continuing to progress. And it drove me in a way that no kid ever has. I all of a sudden had to be 10 times better, because this kid was just ravenous.”

Caleb performed with the circus guild under the stage name “Flip.”

He quickly figured out how to increase his draw. His mother, Melanie, has a weekly booth at the farmers market, where she sells handcrafted journals and jewelry, and Caleb calculated that he could earn money if he put on magic shows and juggling acts next to a discreetly opened briefcase.

Much of the money, friends said, went to buying pizza for himself and other young buskers at the market after the show. But soon, Caleb was earning serious cash.

“He was making more money during those nine months when the market was open than I was,” Doesburg said. On the rapidly growing Facebook page set up to share memories and condolences, Caleb’s family said the outpouring of support from Bellingham — a donation site to help pay the medical bills, a food-donation station at the local food co-op, a bakery offering to help make school lunches for Caleb’s brothers — has been “unreal.”

“I’m a firm believer that this is the work of Caleb,” the family said. “Even though he’s not with us physically, he’s still doing magic tricks.”