Peru, Indiana, only has 11,000 people, but an inordinate number of them are circus performers or otherwise have the circus in their blood. The town is the home of the Circus Hall of Fame, a school for children who want to learn everything from putting up a tent to walking the high wires, and an annual right-day circus festival.
Peru got its first taste of the circus in 1884, when Civil War veteran and established livery owner Benjamin Wallace acquired a few rail cars worth of circus equipment and started his own show. It was called Wallace and Company’s Great World Menagerie, Grand International Mardi Gras, Highway Holiday Hidalgo and Alliance of Novelties. While the name wasn’t exactly catchy, the show proved successful. Wallace solidified his victory when he purchased the rights to the famous Hagenbeck Circus and rebranded as The Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. Each spring the tour began in Peru with a parade featuring the circus band and exotic animal menagerie.
Circus troupes and acts like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show once lived like family at the Winter Quarters where Wallace kept his livery, just outside Peru along the Mississinewa River. Wallace built his village and painted every inch yellow, opening to his circus employees and animals in 1892. There were barns for the elephants and big cat standards, but also for ostriches, giraffes, camels, and even a hippo. There were equipment sheds, wagon shops, a clubhouse, and hospital. The community was quiet in the summer months, but every fall the railcars rolled in and circus migrants strode back through town toward the winter quarters to the tune of “Back Home Again in Indiana” streaming from the calliope.
More than a hundred years later, descendants of those circus performers live in Peru, and some of them carry on the family business. Other circus performers made their way to Peru over the years, and established lives among their kindred spirits. Read about the “Circus Capital of the World” at Atlas Obscura.
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