After 60-year journey, Vera Meyer’s one-of-a-kind circus display finds home in Tomahawk
By Sarah Greil
TOMAHAWK – A city’s treasures are generally displayed proudly in a public area such as a park or a museum. But Tomahawk has a hidden treasure that is displayed in an unlikely place with a story that is years in the making.
In 1962, Vera Meyer, formerly of Waukegan, Ill., received a gift with special significance from a dear friend. Her love of the circus life made the “Tiny Bros” miniature circus the perfect edition to Vera’s business, The Pet Shop. But owning a pet shop was not a life-long dream fulfilled for Vera. It began as more of a necessity.
In 1952, at the age of 22, Vera experienced quite a few complications with her pregnancy and ended up with some hefty hospital bills. In the same year, her husband had a heart attack and the bills piled up. Some family members helped out by giving them $3,000.00 to start a business. Vera and her husband already enjoyed the hobby of raising tropical fish. In fact, an entire room of their apartment was filled with tanks of tropical fish. So it seemed only natural that they open a pet shop.
Vera decided on a circus theme for The Pet Shop. She began collecting a variety of circus memorabilia, from books and posters to over 40 ceramic clowns and around 50 canvas paintings created by an employee of the Pet Shop, Charlie Cobb. Vera’s own father, Berger Winquist, made circus-themed display cases and shelving for The Pet Shop.
Because of her love for the circus, Vera was introduced to another circus enthusiast, Frank Sherry, also from Waukegan. After playing drums in the Ben Wallace Circus in his early years, Frank fell in love with the circus life. At the age of 80, Frank began assembling a miniature circus from kits he had purchased. It took him over five years to painstakingly assemble the miniature circus that he named the “Tiny Bros” circus. The circus contains over 135 pieces of wagons, people, and animals.
Frank first displayed his circus at the local Elks Club. After meeting Vera, he suggested displaying it in The Pet Shop. Frank had never married and had no one to pass the circus on to. Having become good friends with Vera, he decided to gift it to her. Vera’s father built some display cases for the circus, and Charlie Cobb painted scenery on their back walls.
Vera ran The Pet Shop for 27 years. After going through back surgery in 1976, Vera was unable to continue running The Pet Shop and was forced to sell it. A few years later, Vera and her husband moved to Rhinelander, Wis., because they had enjoyed fishing there for many years. When her husband died, Vera moved to Tomahawk, where she still lives today.
After merely storing the circus for many years, Vera felt it should go to a place where it could be displayed and enjoyed. In 2001, she tried to sell it on eBay, but the highest bid of $75,000.00 did not meet the reserve. Vera wondered how the circus could be used to glorify God. After much prayer, Vera decided to donate the circus to Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tomahawk, where she was an active member and sang in the choir. She thought the children of the Learning Center would enjoy looking at the circus as it fueled their imaginations.
After being in storage for many years, the circus lacked its original luster. Caroline Lemke, along with Vera’s daughter Katherine and several other volunteers, spent countless hours over a few months repainting the pieces and restoring them to their original beauty. In the spring of 2017, it was ready to be displayed once again. Some men of Redeemer hung the original display cases in the gymnasium at Redeemer and the circus was set up to once again be enjoyed. At The Pet Shop, the circus display layout was 20’ x 10’ in size, but in its new display at the church, it is more than 50 feet long.