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The Circus is Coming to Town

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

Located in storage at the museum is a miniature circus model. A group of volunteers felt this would make a wonderful display as a way to fill the museum floor. As each artifact came out of storage, boxes and the circus train cars were meticulously opened and carefully cataloged to ensure when this exhibit goes on display in the future, and when it comes down, our staff knows exactly how it should be put away and stored safely for generations to come to enjoy. This is a very cool artifact, but you may be wondering where did this circus come from? What’s its story?

The model circus was built by Paul McGregor, a previous resident of Indiana County and a member of the International Circus Model Builders. He worked tirelessly over fifteen years on his own version of the “big top.” McGregor modeled his circus, not after any particular circus, but something typical of all circuses during the period of approximately 1938 to 1945.

He named the circus the “Lane & Kedy (L&K) Circus, using initials from his own name and the names of his wife Jane and their three daughters. The scale is three-quarters of an inch to one foot. He was constructing his model circus in the early part of the 1970s.

As a result of the scale, the wagons were able to be loaded in the same way the circuses did when they took their show on the road. This is something the original volunteers who thought about putting up this display did not know, but as the trained volunteers who have put this exhibit up in the past showed them, each wagon opened and was filled with animals, the big tops, and other circus items.

Among the wagons were those which hauled the wild animals, commissary wagons to dispense food and generator wagons to provide power for all the circus’ needs. All the wagons are finely detailed and are packed with all the necessary tools and equipment which were normally needed by a circus.

Most of the wagons are designed to be horse-drawn, and have iron-rimmed wheels, but some are rubber-tired wagons, which kept with the transitional period, from which the L&K is based.

When fully erected, the circus covers an area of approximately 30 by 60 feet. The big top itself is about three-feet high and is big enough for a person to sit inside. About 95% of the circus is hand-made by Mr. McGregor, however, the animals and human figures were purchased, but then modified to fit his purposes.

Everytime Mr. McGregor erected his circus, it always attracted a crowd of people, young and old alike. You may wonder where Mr. McGregor constructed his circus, since it is so large, in the logical place - his own backyard. Many people may remember when the circus was a highlight of the summer season, coming to town year after year, but it has slowly disappeared from the American scene. Mr. McGregor commented to the Indiana Gazette that, “Children today can only experience the old-style circus through pictures - or better still, through models such as these.” The Historical Society hopes to keep Mr. McGregor’s dream alive of educating the public about the history of the circus.

Who was Paul McGregor?

Paul Clark McGregor was born on October 21, 1909 in Gnadenhutten, Ohio. He became a lifelong resident of Indiana, and was very active in community and civic affairs for many years. Among his achievements include starting the Indiana Area Recreation and Park Commission, on which he served on the board for 41 years, and chairman for 35 of those years. He served as a member of the Indiana Borough Council for 12 years, serving also as president.

Mr. McGregor was a founder and chairman of the Indiana County Tourist Bureau, which celebrates its 60th Anniversary this year. He was also the general chairman of the first Christmas Tree Festival. He was also an avid and loyal support of IUP football and served as president of the Big Indian Scholarship Fund. In addition, he was a member of the Grace United Methodist Church.

Paul McGregor passed away on January 15, 1996.

The Circus

The history of the circus dates back to Rome, over 2,000 years ago with the “Circus Maximus,” which was a grand spectacle providing entertainment through a mixture of chariot races, athletic exhibitions and displays of tremendous violence and bloodshed. Of course the modern circus is much different, and almost no comparison, as the modern circus is an exciting display of athleticism, humor, and showmanship.

The first mention of the modern circus appears in England in 1768 by Philip Astley. His circus featured horses and riders performing in a circle. In 1793, the first circus in North America was started in Philadelphia by John Bill Ricketts.

Beginning in the late 1700s, traveling shows called “menageries” exhibited exotic animals in many parts of North America. By the mid-1800s, many circuses had incorporated exotic animals into their shows.

A newspaper article from The Indiana Gazette, announces the coming of the circus. The circus was called the Russell Bros. Circus, to be in Indiana on Tuesday, July 10, 1934. An even earlier mention of the circus coming to Indiana comes from The Indiana Gazette on May 4, 1928 announcing the John Robinson’s Famous Circus. The circus featured many acts, one being Miss Mable Stark, “a little lady weighing about 90 pounds and wrestles a full grown Bengal tiger.” Also featured were elephants, clowns, and a wild west show.

Join us at the Museum on June 17 from 1-3 as we celebrate the opening of this exhibit, there will be circus memorabilia and circus related activities for everyone to enjoy. The circus will be on display through July 25, 2023, at which time it will pack up and “leave town” (be put back in storage) until the next time the circus rolls back into town.

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