Thursday, August 11, 2011

Peru and Nappanee, Indiana


For those of you who enjoyed Water for Elephants a visit to Peru, a little town 60 miles south of South Bend, must be on your “bucket list”. This is where five of the largest circuses’ used as winter quarters in the late 19th and early 20th century. What a pleasant surprise when we visited, frankly we did not know what to expect when driving there – it turned out to be much better than we had anticipated. At one time, as you can imagine, housing five circuses required many acres of land – today’s area is about a fifth of the original with one enormous big barn full of circus memorabilia, costumes, trunks, animal cages, organs, histories of famous circus people: trapeze artists, animal trainers, tightrope walkers, clowns, ring masters and owners.

In a smaller barn there’s a an unbelievable collection of model circus’s  all built to different scale and showing the progress in transportation: animal cages for trainer and animals, horse drawn circus wagons (to move the circus from place to place), trains and lastly, articulated trucks.  At the center of all is a scale display of a 6 acre circus campus including the animal menagerie, changing tents, dinning tent, cooking tent, a 3 ring big top with performers and a large audience sitting on bleachers.
Once more our accents secured us a VIP tour from one of the Directors who told us that we had missed their big festival -by a week - the festival comprises of locally trained children who perform under a Big Top following a parade down Main Street. After our tour we enjoyed an hour long circus of professional performers who are brought in for the 2 weeks; we were lucky that we caught the second week. So under the Big Top, sitting on bleachers we relived our childhood watching clowns, acrobats, high wire performers, elephants, horses and performing goats it was a great experience. A particular pleasure for us was being introduced to the world famous clown “Weary Willie” now played by Thomas Patrick (Pat) Kelly son of the creator of “Weary Willie” Emmett Leo Kelly and Eva Moore who were, before the introduction of “Weary Willie” to the world, known as the Aerial Kelly’s – for their dare-devil trapeze acts; Eva was for a period of time a “white faced clown”. Some of you must have seen “Weary Willie” played by Emmett Kelly Sr., Emmett Kelly Jr, or Pat Kelly.

From there we went back into the center of Peru which has a museum, part of which is dedicated to Cole Porter who was born and grew up in Peru.  His father owned the local pharmacy and his uncle was the local lawyer. Among the memorabilia is his Chevrolet which was refurbished at the cost of $15,000 - it cost about $4000 when originally purchased – he had the car shipped to and from Europe on numerous occasions. Looking at Peru today there’s no doubt that the town economy was dependent on the circuses wintering nearby.

Nappanee has an Amish theme park, originally an old Amish farm bought from spinster sisters by a local businessman who wanted to give tourists a sense of how the Amish people live. In summary, all one experiences is a superficially vague idea of Amish life. As we were driving into town we passed an Amish couple  cycling along on the side of the highway which had very little shoulder and looked very dangerous with great big trucks barreling by at 70mph. The vacuum from the trucks passing the RV causes it to wobble so we wondered what kind of vacuum must a cyclist experience. This bothered both of us. While in Nappanee we went for a coffee and saw a Mennonite lady on her laptop computer - that burst a bubble!  Sitting in the coffee shop we saw several Amish men ride by, one of them on those silly bikes you lie back on. After coffee we saw the couple we had passed on the highway cycling into town with not a bother on them. They must have been 10 miles out of town when we saw them initially. We saw several buggies driven by Amish ladies with other Amish ladies as passengers holding their little trophy dogs – Amish Hollywood? We went for a “Thrasher Dinner” in the theme parks dining room (2 old barns put together). The meal was a disappointment, saved somewhat by the pie which was delicious - next time we’ll just have the pie.
Unfortunately, I had two beautiful raccoon pups shot in the campsite; when I went to the recycle bins there they were at the bottom of two of the bins hissing up at me - they must have fallen off the fence during the night into two separate bins.  I was going to kick the bins over but as there was a man nearby I thought I should tell him. He said not to release them that he would report my find to the office. I wondered why he didn’t ask me to do it. Next I know, out comes the owner loading his gun to shoot them, I looked in surprise at the owner’s wife who said it must be done as they may have rabies and domestic animals could be infected.  The poor time I’ll tell no one!

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