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Circus Culture: The Living Legacy in Indiana


Unknown to most and surprising to many, Indiana is home to one of the most diverse and rich circus cultures in the country. Indiana’s connection with the industry dates back to the late 1800s, when businessmen from a number of Indiana cities assembled traveling “mud shows” featuring exotic animals, performers, clowns and human oddities. These “mud shows” were instrumental in sparking a chain reaction of circus enthusiasts, not only in Indiana but across the United States.

By the early 1900s, the circus industry had grown &nash; becoming the most popular form of entertainment in the country. The first Indianapolis Fall Carnival was held on Oct. 9 through 12, 1900. The carnival drew people to Indianapolis because it reflected similar small-town street fairs. This grand event featured sideshows and races, as well as a different parade every day.

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Peru, Ind., is an example of the impact the circus industry had on Indiana. Peru has also hosted circus performances since the turn of the century, becoming fully immersed in the circus culture by even the 1890s, when many traveling circuses needed a centrally located town accessible to railroads. 


During, the winter in the late 1800s through the mid-1900s, a half-dozen of the nation’s premier shows set up winter quarters in Peru, establishing a lasting link between the circus and the Hoosier State. When these circuses left Peru in the 1940s, the small town, now known as “Circus City,” continued its bond with circus. Today, Peru is home to the world’s largest amateur circus and the International Circus Hall of Fame. 

The circus culture lives on in Indiana. The carnivals of the past have transformed into the present. The tradition has been passed down from generation to generation and circuses have continued to be jovial and entertaining for Hoosier families. The 14th annual Circus Day at the History Center celebrates the history of Indiana’s fondness with the circus industry. Circus Day takes place March 28 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The free event includes performances from the Amazing World of Animals, along with shows by jugglers and magicians.

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Guests can enjoy face painting, photo opps, balloon sculptures, crafts and kid karaoke; plus indulge classic circus food, such as popcorn, cotton candy and snow cones.

During the event, guests are invited to take full advantage of free admission by visiting the Indiana Experience, including its latest – You Are There: That Ayres Look, which allows guests to step into the famed L.S. Ayres and Co. Department Store – and eight new time-travel journeys that bring the total to 281 in Destination Indiana.

For more information, click here.



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