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The Lion King

PERU, IND. (WPTA21)-For a hundred years it was arguably the star attraction at any circus, the wild animal trainer,cajoling, forcing, bullying the world’s most dangerous animals to perform stunts that took the audiences breath away. And arguably the world’s most famous animal trainer hailed from Peru, Indiana.

He was an amazing trainer,” says circus historian Bruce Embrey. “He put lions and tigers in the same cage at times which is a tough thing to do. They don’t get along well.”

His name was Terrell Jacobs, ‘The Lion King’ he was called, the greatest wild animal trainer of all time. Jacobs worked for Ringling Brothers and all the big circuses, had his own circus in Peru for a time performing now legendary feats like stuffing forty lions, leopards and tigers into one cage. And when the snow fell and circus season ended for the year Jacobs returned to Peru, to this eight acre plot just off Highway 31. Abandoned now for 30 years the giant elephant barn has collapsed but this barn still stands, performance ring in the center surrounded by cages for the big cats. Here Jacobs worked his animals daily keeping them in shape for next seasons tour. For decades circus and history buffs tried to buy Terrell Jacobs winter quarters and restore it, never successful. And now the Indiana Department of Transportation says it’s taken over the property and will demolish everything still standing.

Oh it’s in horrible shape,” says Embrey. “It just sat there and fell into ruin and it’s a shame. We lose some history.”

Embrey says numerous attempts to save Jacobs winter quarters have been made but one argument always defeated the effort. Once the property is restored what do you do with it? There just aren’t enough circus buffs who’d want to pay money for a tour no matter how historic it might be.

History just as history doesn’t have much meaning,” says Embrey. “If history doesn’t add something, if it’s not something more than a building you drive by it doesn’t really serve a purpose anymore.”

So INDOT’s bulldozers will soon come in and finish the work time and the elements didn’t complete and very few of us will care. Another page torn from Indiana’s history book, a book growing slimmer every day.

Eric Olson

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