'Your Country's' Circus Past Quickly Fading

By Eric Olson

June 18, 2010 Updated May 21, 2010 at 1:05 PM EDT

PERU, Indiana (Indiana's NewsCenter)--Just south of Peru, Indiana, right on Highway 31, a page of American history is quickly fading. They may look like common hay barns but these relics have no connection to farming. Their connection is to another world entirely, before computers, television. even radio, when the traveling circus was rural America’s best entertainment.

“Circus day was a holiday,” says Circus Hall of Fame director Tom Dunwoody. “When the circus came to town all the schools closed all businesses closed and everybody went to the circus.”

And among the greatest circus acts ever was Terrell Jacobs, the Lion King, the world’s most famous wild animal trainer ever, holding the record for fifty-two lions in an arena at one time. And when the circus season was over this Wabash, Indiana native would come here, to Peru, to wait out the winter.

“They'd come back here the end of October, unload the train,” says Dunwoody. “He'd bring his cat animals out here put them in their permanent cages. And they also worked on equipment; they repaired the tents, painted the wagons and trained new acts for next year.”

This is where the Lion King spent most of winter, in the cat barn, the animals in these ornate steel cages that still line the walls, the arena where Jacobs worked his animals still there. And everywhere circus relics; piles of posters, animal stools. This is the harness room, elephant harness rotting on the floor. Terrell Jacobs died of a heart attack Christmas Eve, 1957 at age 55. His winter quarters have been deteriorating ever since.

“All the big winter quarters are gone,” Dunwoody says, “P. T. Barnum in Bridgeport, Connecticut are gone, the Ringling Brothers in Sarasota is gone, the Ringling Brothers in Baraboo Wisconsin is gone, the Sells Brothers in Ohio, their winter quarters are gone. This is one of the very few left in the entire United States.”

And in time the curtain will come down here as well, and books will be the only place to go to experience the greatest showman on earth, and certainly in ‘Your Country’. This is Eric Olson reporting.





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