Wallace Circus Winter Headquarters
Buildings and a circus wagon at the Hall of Fame
|Nearest city||Peru, Indiana|
|NRHP reference #||87000837|
|Added to NRHP||February 27, 1987|
|Designated NHL||February 27, 1987|
Wallace Circus and American Circus Corporation Winter Quarters, also known as Peru Circus Farm or Valley Farms, is located in Peru, Indiana. It was associated with the Wallace Circus. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.
The site is now the home of the International Circus Hall of Fame, which honors important figures in circus history. The museum exhibits posters, wagons and models, including a miniature replica of the 1934 Hagenbeck Wallace Circus. The museum is open from May through October. The International Circus Hall of Fame also hosts the seasonal Big Top Circus, a professional circus with performers from around the world.
The home of the Circus Hall of Fame had previously been in Florida. The Ringling Brothers Circus had established their winter quarters in Sarasota, Florida in 1927, with a large amount of help by Victor Sabattini (1916-2010), an insurance executive, who later became the president and chairman of the board. In the mid-1950s the idea to create a hall of fame to honor outstanding circus artists was conceived of by circus fans in the Sarasota community and in 1956 the Circus Hall of Fame opened. Located near the Sarasota airport, the Hall of Fame included exhibition space in several buildings filled with circus memorabilia, including personal effects from famous circus artists and impresarios - costumes, props, posters and circus wagons. In addition to the exhibits, the Circus Hall of Fame presented circus acts several times a day, during several months each year.
In addition to visits by Florida tourists, the Circus Hall of Fame received national exposure. NBC-TV broadcast "The Circus Hall of Fame All Star Circus" on Sept. 12, 1970. The host, Ed McMahon, conveyed congratulations to the four newly named inductees to the Circus Hall of Fame for 1970 including famous circus performers, The Rieffenach Sisters (bareback riders), aerialists Mayme Ward and Ira Millette, and circus impresario Billy Smart Sr.
Although up to 80,000 tourists visited the Circus Hall of Fame each year, by the late 1970s it was unprofitable and the owners prepared to close the museum. In 1980 the lease on the property expired and on May 27, 1980, the Sarasota Circus Hall of Fame had its last performance.
In 1981 a group of citizens from Peru, Indiana, learned that the effects of the Circus Hall of Fame were for sale. Interested in preserving the circus artifacts and concerned that they might be auctioned off separately, Indiana residents, businesses and the state government contributed to the purchase of the entire collection to bring it to Peru, Indiana. Many other items have since been added to the original Sarasota collection, including 16 historical wagons reconstructed in the Hall of Fame wagon shop and the Peru Wagon Works Shop.
Once the winter home of the three largest railroad circuses in the U.S., the International Circus Hall of Fame & Museum keeps the tradition of the Big Top alive April through October with live animal and trapeze acts, colorful posters, wagons, models and exhibits. The facility is one of Indiana's National Historic Landmarks.