Zachary Morecraft plays the calliope as the Miami County Honor Guard stands by during the memorial tribute for veteran circus clown and Peru resident Pat Kelly at the Circus Hall of Fame in this staff 2021 file photo by Kelly Lafferty Gerber
Zachary Morecraft plays the calliope as the Miami County Honor Guard stands by during the memorial tribute for veteran circus clown and Peru resident Pat Kelly at the Circus Hall of Fame in this staff 2021 file photo by Kelly Lafferty Gerber
PERU — Get ready to hear the cacophonous screech of steam calliopes and the perky bounce of organ grinders at the Circus Calliope and Mechanical Music Festival.

The first event of its kind will be held from 9 am. to 5 p.m. June 17 and 18 at the International Circus Hall of Fame, located at 3076 Peru Circus Lane. Tickets are $20.

Organizer Bob Cline said the festival will bring together 14 calliopes and over 20 other historic instruments, such as riverboat pipes and small, accordion-like concertinas. He said it will be largest gathering of such instruments — which will come from all over the world — on the planet.

“You’ll never see 14 calliopes in the same place anywhere in the world,” he said. “You’ll be able to see something that you’ve never, ever seen before in your life, and that’s special.”

Cline said that with so many calliopes blasting out circus tunes in one place, it’s going to get loud. The screech of a steam calliope can be heard for miles. But don’t worry — free ear plugs will be provided.

The festival is part of the hall of fame’s 100th anniversary celebration of the two historic barns on the property, which were constructed as part of the city-sized circus winter quarters once located at the site.

Cline said he wanted to organize something truly unique for the century birthday party, and figured what better way to celebrate than bringing

together instruments that have become synonymous with the sound of the circus?

“We basically wanted to do something that you’ll never see again, and this is what we came up with,” he said.

But Cline never anticipated how big the festival would grow after a number of groups joined in the event.

The Carousel Organ Association of America members signed on and are now bringing band organs from around the world. The whistles from the historic Delta Queen riverboat will be there, as well as the famous steam calliope owned by Indiana University.

Cline said that one of the most unique instruments is a calliope made from a giant block of granite. The owner is hauling it down to Peru from his home in New Hampshire.

“I can’t wait to see that one myself,” he said.

The oldest calliope that will be there was built in Peru in 1901 by Sullivan and Eagle, and it may be the oldest calliope in the nation, Cline said. Other instruments are coming from as far away as North Carolina, Tennessee and Missouri.

The two-day festival will have tons of music, but there will also be bounce houses and other activities for kids, along with presentations by leading experts on the history, development and creation of the calliopes.

Capping off the entertainment at 11 a.m. Saturday will be a live concert from the Peru Circus City Festival Band, which will perform on top of the former Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey bandstand. The wagon was recently restored, and the concert will be the first time a band has played on it since 1956..
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