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The show must go on, and faced with 340 costumes to press, 130 faces to make up, 28 intricate acts to rehearse, and 240 kids to coordinate, the Peru (Indiana) Amateur Circus needs a lot of help from its friends. So the whole town gets in on the act every year.

This month-July 15-22-the show goes on for its 30th year. By the end of the week, after the sawdust has settled, thousands of circus fans will have cheered the antics of kiddie and senior clowns and gasped at the courage of flying trapezists and agile acrobats. "You almost forget when they're performing that they're kids," Circuit Court Judge Bruce Embrey says. "Then they smile and show their braces."

Embrey is one of three ringmasters who oversee the ten annual performances. He rotates duties with the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce and the local Baptist pastor. There's a j ob for everyone. Just ask Lloyd Hill, the family practitioner who heads the show's medical team and doubles as a clown; or Don Grubbs, a retired reporter still playing in the circus band after 25 years. The townspeople's investment of time has paid big dividends to their community. "The circus is one of the best anti-delinquency programs around," Embrey says. "It gives performers self-confidence and keeps them out of mischief. I've never had a circus kid come before me in court. "

The all-American extravaganza is a year-round hobby for a town that has hosted circus folk since the 1880s. At one time the area served as winter headquarters for such famous traveling shows as the American Circus Corporation (owned by Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey), Sells-Floto, Hagenbeck-Wallace, and the John Robinson Shows. Some performers became so attached to the quiet, rural life that they returned after retirement. Now, the Peru telephone book is filled with the names of circus greats.

"I grew up with lions and tiger cubs in our home here," says Joyce Ferguson, daughter of the famous animal trainer Clyde Beatty. "My dad had his own railroad car, and we traveled together in the summer. I rode horses and elephants." Another Peru resident with colorful memories of the circus is Eva Mae Lewis, who traveled the circuit with her husband, Emmett Kelly. She and her son Pat, a veteran professional clown, still live on the outskirts of town.

It is this link with the past that has given the city such a bright future. The amateur circus began when two former bareback riders, Tom and Betty Hodgini, agreed to train local high schoolers in the fine art of circus performance. Other retired stars joined in the effort, and soon the city and its three-ring show were back in the circus spotlight. Their fame has grown steadily, and last year the old winter quarters were dedicated as a national historic landmark. Plans are now under way to move the Circus Hall of Fame (once located in Sarasota, Florida) to town. When this feat is accomplished, Peru's nickname-the "Circus Capital of the World"- will finally be validated.

The most positive aspect of the circus revival is its effect on local youth. "I use the circus to teach much more than tricks," says Bill Anderson, the head trainer for the show. "It teaches responsibility, goal setting, how to work with others, and the importance of following directions."

Unlike the good old days when the circus came to town, now the town is the circus, and everyone pitches in to make each performance and each performer a winner. As Joyce Beatty Ferguson puts it, "In Peru, Indiana, nobody plans anything until after circus week."
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Title Annotation:Peru, Indiana, Amateur Circus
Author:Miller, Holly G.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1989
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