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Preservation in the center ring

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CATS AND ELEPHANTS: The entrance to one of two remaining circus barns owned by the International Circus Hall of Fame on Monday.
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HISTORY: John Wright, president of the International Circus Hall of Fame, looks over a model on display at the organization’s museum on Monday.
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BARNS: Two barns, built in 1922, as part of the old circus “winter quarters,” stand at the International Circus Hall of Fame on Wednesday.

BY JARED KEEVER - jkeever@perutribune.com

Sometimes it’s a juggling act for John Wright. Particularly this time of year.

The president of the International Circus Hall of Fame, Wright lives in Illinois but he routinely makes the trip to Peru to help get work done around the organization’s property or get ready for various activities they take part in. He is also focused on preserving the history of the property that served as the “winter quarters” for various circuses since the late 19th century.

On Monday, he was seated at a table in the office on Peru Circus Lane just off State Road 124 preparing an inventory of items they were taking to Circus Day in French Lick later this month.

Next month he will be back as his organization participates in Peru’s Circus City Festival Week.

“I’m here all week,” Wright said of the annual event.

And in May, he was in town for his group’s “work week” that members set aside to get work done around the property

This year they got portions of the property’s two barns painted.

And it’s those barns, built in 1922, that sit, perhaps, at the top of Wright’s mind these days.

“These two barns are the last two circus barns in the state of Indiana,” Wright said.

Paul Hayden, director of the northeast field office for the non-profit Indiana Landmarks, said that’s pretty close to accurate. It almost certainly is for the Peru area, with the impending loss of the Terrell Jacobs Circus barns (one of which has already collapsed) along U.S. 31 near the S.R. 218 West interchange, he said.

The Indiana Department of Transportation now owns the property where those barns sit and is expected to clear them as work continues along U.S. 31.

“So those are going away and there again we are chipping away at the history,” Hayden said.

Nichole Hacha-Thomas, spokeswoman for INDOT, said the agency is sensitive to the loss of that history which is why they are working to mitigate it.

Part of that seems to be what Hayden called a “casual agreement” to help the Hall of Fame in improving its property with around $35,000 of matching funds to re-roof one of the barns.

They got more help when Indiana Landmarks, which seeks to generate awareness and provide guidance and assistance for historical preservation throughout the state, placed the barns on its “10 Most Endangered” list of imperiled landmarks this year.

The organization also helped the Hall of Fame get a structural report written up for the barns with needed repairs totaling north of $1 million.

Wright said all of that help is a big step in the right direction.

“Now all we need to do is get more community involvement,” he said.

Focused first on securing the state money for the roof repairs, Wright said they’ve put together a GoFundMe page and will be hosting a July 18 dinner and auction during the Festival Week.

Bob Cline, a historian and treasurer with the Hall of Fame, said they’ve got about $3,500 already and hope to raise $40,000 to not only match the $35,000 but have money for incidental expenses as well.

Walking through the museum area in one of the barns on Monday and looking at the artifacts, Wright said he hopes they can get the money raised and preserve what they have.

A circus model wagon builder originally, Wright said, someone invited him to join the Hall of Fame so he could get to work on the “real thing” – restoring and repairing many of the old full-size wagons they maintain.

The love of the history caught on, he said, noting the old saying of circus performers.

“This sawdust runs through my veins for this place,” he said. “(We are) trying to keep it going and save it. I don’t want to see them tear it down and build something more modern.”

For more information about the International Circus Hall of Fame and its fundraising dinner visit: www.facebook.com/CircusHallofFame. The GoFundMe page can be found at: www.gofundme.com/reroofing-the-north-barn.