September 26 - November 5, 2023
Buzzard Creek may seem like a quintessential western town with its general mercantile, barbershop, and saloon. But don’t be fooled by the quaint building facades, this western outpost is home to a cast of ghostly characters and animated skeletons. Long-time Tucsonans might remember this creepy little community as one of several dioramas displayed at the Hidden Valley Inn Restaurant on Sabino Canyon Road in Northeast Tucson during the 1980s and early 1990s. Created by woodcarver Jean LeRoy, the town features gun-slinging ghouls and emanates eerie lights and sounds from its buildings.
Born in 1910, Jean LeRoy began carving when he was seven years old under the tutelage of his older brother. This childhood hobby became a passionate pursuit and eventually a profession for Jean after he returned from military duty served during World War II. Carving was a vehicle for him to depict another youthful passion- circus life. Prior to the war, Jean and his brother Charles ran away with the Cole Brothers Circus joining hundreds of performers, workers and animals, who crossed the country by rail presenting three ring circus shows. Fueled by his love of the circus life and his firsthand experience, Jean developed his skill as a carver and model builder, producing an accurate and finely detailed miniature circus brought to life with lights, music and moving characters.
In 1964 while working for the Detroit-based company Display and Exhibits, Jean’s carving talent won a commission to build Gardens of the World, a miniature display designed by Walt Disney Studios. Jean spent two years creating the display that was for the Ford Pavilion at the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, NY. By the 1970s, Jean was making a living as a miniature artisan, and he travelled around the Midwest delighting young and old alike with his miniature dioramas. It was during this time that the Circus World Museum commissioned Jean to create a diorama of the Ringling Brothers Circus to commemorate their 100th Anniversary. Two years of work culminated in eleven dioramas that toured the country and now reside in the Circus World Museum located in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
Though Jean was from Michigan, he was enchanted with the old west, and every summer he took his family on a southwest vacation. These vacations always included exploring western ghost towns. In 1973, he decided to build Buzzard Creek, a miniature ghost town. The original town included twenty buildings plus wagons, a hearse, water troughs, plank sidewalks, prickly pear cactus and saguaros. With black lights, moving characters and eerie sounds, the project took three years to complete.
Jean moved his family to Tucson, Arizona in 1978. He opened a museum at Trail Dust Town on the city’s eastside and continued to make miniature carvings until his premature death in 1981. Following his passing, Jean’s miniatures became a featured exhibit at the Hidden Valley Inn Restaurant in northeast Tucson. The Hidden Valley Inn display included a Three Ring Circus, nineteen Indian Nations dioramas and Buzzard Creek Ghost Town. Serendipity played a role in the fate of the dioramas. Just a few years prior to a fire that destroyed the building they were removed from the restaurant. Since their removal from Hidden Valley Inn, Jean’s daughter Judy LeRoy-Siegling has maintained the dioramas. As a child, Judy worked side-by-side with her father learning the art of miniature carving. Judy has been lovingly restoring all of her father’s miniatures with the help of her husband Fred, who maintains the mechanics that animate the pieces.