Rooster and I took a trip to the International Circus Hall of Fame. This became one of my favorite adventures in 2019. We learned a lot of circus history during our visit. #International Circus Hall of Fame #Peru #Indiana #Mr. Weenie #Bob Cline
International Circus Hall of Fame
Our most recent Saturday morning adventure was all about research. My latest work in progress involves a small town where a circus maintains its winter headquarters. The idea captivated me after we paid a visit to the city of Peru, Indiana, and toured the circus museum they have in near the courthouse square.
My writer’s imagination worked on me for a couple of weeks. I was compelled to start a novel in which all the people in the circus have superpowers. The small city of Pleasant View welcomes them because of the money they bring into the community during the winter months. They look the other way as far as the superpowers are concerned. The townies agree to guard the circus people’s secret from the outside world. The story is told by two teenagers. Denny is a circus kid and a star athlete on all the high school’s sports teams.
The storyline for new book
Destiny is a townie the cool kids call Rat Girl because she’s kind of geeky and has tiny pink ears. Things get complicated when Destiny starts exhibiting superpowers belonging only to the circus people.
Denny becomes involved when he is drawn to this strange town girl. He has an overzealous desire to protect her from the teasing of their fellow classmates and from herself as she struggles to control her newfound powers.
Rooster lacked excitement concerning the trip
Rooster was a little hesitant to make a return trip to Peru. Therefore, he wasn’t sure if a trip to the International Circus Hall of Fame would be worth the time it took to make the journey: however, we both grew astonished at the wealth of information and surprises waiting for us at the end of the winding country road next to the banks of the Wabash River.
Our original plan was to ride the Dark Horse. Even if we didn’t find an interesting adventure at the International Circus Hall of Fame, we wouldn’t be disappointed because there are a lot of twisty, scenic roads outside of Peru. The threatening skies and the radar changed our mind about taking the bike.
On our way to Circus lane
We climbed into the Sunshine mobile and headed in the direction the GPS told us to drive. We road into the scenic countryside and arrived at Circus Lane without hearing the first roll of thunder. We’ve driven past this road countless times without making the turn. I suspect it was because we’d always believed there was something mysterious and private down this lane which concluded in a dead end.
The biggest surprise of the day was the gracious and wonderful people we meet in the headquarter building. Rooster and I walked in on one of the organization’s workdays. People from all over were gathered to help restore the museum’s property. They all shared a mutual love for the circus and keeping the memory of its glory days alive. I met one gentleman who had traveled all the way from Vancouver, Canada to join in the work.
Who is Bob Cline?
The people in the office explained they weren’t set up to give tours for the season, but we could look around. We offered to pay the small entrance fee, but they told us not to worry about it because they weren’t open yet. Bob Cline met us as we started walking toward the large barn where the relics were preserved. He gave us an unofficial tour I will never forget. Bob grew up in the circus. He officially started traveling with the show when he was eighteen. His aunt and uncle were performers.
They did the rings, the tables, and the trapeze. Bob was a tiger wrangler. His act had five big cats. He told us the section of ground we were standing on was a small city when their circuses made the acreage their winter headquarters. It served all the needs of the circus people. They even had their own post office but had to go into Peru if they wanted to send a Western Union telegram. This was before the days of cheap long-distance telephone and internet. The telegraph was the fastest way to send information over long distances.
The first stop on our unofficial tour was behind an old white building where the three circuses received their marching orders. Train schedules, appearance dates, and agendas were all determined within the walls of the tiny building. People would gather behind the building to get their destinations for the shows they would perform that season. The circuses didn’t move unless the assignment came out of this main office. Bob led us around the circumference of the grounds and explain circus history to us as we moved from one information sign to the other.
He painted an interesting word picture of what life for the six-hundred circus employees was like back in the heyday of these traveling shows. At times there were over one hundred elephants on the ground at one time. They had two hippos housed in one of the barns with a large pond built into the floor. They had big cats and bears. The animals in the menagerie included everything from giraffes to hyenas. There were horse acts. It took a small army of people to keep these animals fed, watered, and trained.
The human encyclopedia of circus history
Mr. Cline is a human encyclopedia of circus history. He told us about the flood of 1913. The water in the river rose so high it washed away an elephant they couldn’t save from drowning. The poor animal’s carcass was found floating under the bridge in Peru. A tornado hit one of the barns and demolished it but didn’t touch the other standing next to it. He showed us the ring where they trained big cats, bears, and horse acts. It wouldn’t have been unusual to witness one of the skilled trainers staring down a lion in the middle of the large steel Cage surrounded the rustle of corn in a nearby field. We moved into the barn where the wagons were parked. These tributes to the days of the big top circus were colorful and interesting.
The skeleton of the main tent is uncovered these days because of a rip in the aged canvas. The insurance company won’t allow them to raise it anymore. There was a shop on the grounds where colorful horse-drawn circus wagons were made. It was astonishing the detail which went into creating each one of these amazing works of art. Artisans applied a great amount of creative energy into creating these rolling works of art exciting and eye-catching. There were three samples outside the main barn built for Knox Berry farm in California.
What we saw inside the building
They were shipped back to the International Circus Hall of Fame when they were no longer on display there. The last stop of our tour was in the big barn at the back of the property. This building was filled with circus memorabilia. The display of a circus parade that filled the middle of the floor was an exact replica of what happened when the circus came to town. The small figurines contained the exact number of elephants, acrobats, roustabouts, and circus wagons used to create one of the “Biggest Shows on Earth.”
It was a perfect representation down to the small dog rolling over on its back to get its tummy rubbed. Rooster and I had a wonderful time exploring this page of circus history. We found the people working on restoring the property to be warm and hospitable. They even offered to feed us since they were sitting down to eat lunch. We would have taken them up on their offer except we’d had breakfast right before we started our adventure.
International Circus Hall of Fame’s mission to preserve part of circus history
Bob Cline and his friends are working feverishly to preserve this unique part of our American history. They don’t have deep pockets and the labor force we saw assembled were leaning toward middle age. They could use our help. If you live anywhere near central Indiana and are looking for adventure, make a trip to 3076 E. Circus Lane Peru, Indiana. You might call ahead to see what project they are working on at the time of your visit. If you would like to help save the International Circus Hall of Fame, there are several ways you can donate. Their GoFundMe link is https://www.gofundme.com/sn96ep-buildingrestoration?fbclid=IwAR3Dx28awiXnm2u9TWWOQMBNE5ScAKDWGJbQxU1dGk6FpQbZV_tKmlNMLow. You can find out more about them on their web page at http://visit.circushalloffame.com/. They also have a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/CircusHallofFame/.
Why you should give
As a rule, I don’t include a request for monetary support for an organization in my blogs, but I feel preserving this portion of our history before it slips into total decay is important. We Americans are forward-thinking people. Our tendency to keep our minds focused on the future leads us into the neglect of the past. This results in vital pieces of our history being forgotten. This piece of circus history should be preserved for future generations. I doubt we will ever see anything as spectacular in our history as “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
Frustration at the coffee shop
Rooster and I continued our quest for the best coffee shop in Indiana. We ran into the worst on this stormy Saturday afternoon. I won’t mention the name of the business, but there were so many issues Rooster told me not to even bother unloading my computer. I hate to give bad reviews. A restaurant or coffee shop might be having an off day during my visit.
My philosophy is to give the business a pass for the day. We found a few issues with the coffee shop where we stopped which guaranteed we wouldn’t be back. The first was the fact they didn’t have a restroom. They told Rooster he could use the facilities at a place two doors down the street. The sign on the door informed us Clown Twn Cycles closed for the day.
The second issue was the use of flimsy paper cups. The lid to my cup came off when I took my first drink. Hence, hot coffee spilled all over me. (I take partial credit for this development because I might not have sealed the lid properly. Still, it wouldn’t have happened at all if the use of a mug was in place. Mugs are classy and better for the environment unless you don’t have indoor plumbing.) At least it was a warm dry place to ride out the storm which moved in while we were drinking our caffeinated beverages.
Lunch at Mr. Weenie
We stopped at Mr. Weenie on our way out of town. The visit to the old school drive-in restaurant was interesting. The young lady who waited on us was very friendly. Rooster and I sat at the picnic tables beneath menu signs.
Our young waitress served our Spanish dogs and root beer with a smile. The sauce on the hot dog was flavorful, and the root beer was refreshing. If you are in the mood for an old-fashioned curbside meal, stop by 600 N. Broadway in Peru, Indiana. The small city of Peru was in our rearview mirror seconds after we pulled onto the highway.
Our second visit to Circus City was a memorable event. We met some interesting people, learned some fascinating circus facts, and ate at a Mr. Weenie. We both agreed it was a wonderful day.
Who is Molly Shea?
Molly Shea is an accomplished fictional short story writer from Indiana, who writes short stories and novels about a fictional town called Tecumseh. To read more of her short stories and adventures click here.
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