The story of the circus in Indiana is one of resilience. In the face of unimaginable challenges and setbacks, the circus workers of the state demonstrated the mantra of the entertainment industry: The show must go on.
The Indiana Historical Society’s newest exhibit, Circus City, explores the circus primarily as a story of people and labor in the 20th century. Now open at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, Circus City examines different aspects of the circus in our state.
The story of the circus in Indiana is also a story of contradictions. Although it was multi-racial, multi-ethnic and included people of all social strata, it also enforced hierarchies and segregation based on race and occupation. The circus could be a harmful place, especially for many animals and those billed as “freakshows.”
As the winter headquarters of some of the biggest circuses in the country — including Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus and the American Circus Corporation — Peru, Ind., became known as the “Circus Capital of the World.” Other circuses such as the Cole Brothers Circus wintered in Indiana and left an indelible mark on the culture of entertainment in the state.
Hagenbeck–Wallace circus, Peru, Indiana, Indiana Historical Society, P0248
The Circus City exhibit runs through June 8, 2024.