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Cyril Griglak’s Backyard Zoo

Perryopolis in Fayette County is a 200-year-old town built on land owned by George Washington before the Revolutionary War. It boasts a gristmill built by the General that was once used in conjunction with a distillery and barrel-building facility for the production of hooch. But the town’s best attraction is a backyard sculpture garden built by a charming local character named Cyril Griglak.

In the spacious corner lot behind his home stand dozens of plaster animal sculptures with a rough, folk art look to them. Standing around on the lawn

are a tiger, a lion, a cheetah, a bear, and a zebra. A little joey pokes his head out of his mother kangaroo’s pouch. Suspended on a large spring tucked away at the back of the lot is a fabric-coated gorilla that bounces maniacally at the slightest provocation. And on a pulley system spanning the width of the garden is a smiling spider, chasing a delicately wrought dragonfly.

Here and there, you’ll see a store-bought deer and alligator, but most of the animals are Cyril’s own work, a hobby he began a decade ago. He was in his eighties at the time, and when Weird PA came a-knocking at his door in the summer of 2004, he was 95. He looked fifteen years younger, and twinkled like a man half his age. He was in his garage at the time, surrounded by friends, and tinkering with the carnival float he puts into the Pioneer’s Day parade every October.

As I walked up the drive, I saw a For Sale by Owner sign. The first words out of my mouth were “You’re not selling the house are you?” Cyril smiled and said, “No, just the jet-ski. You don’t need one do you?”

Cyril’s a man who likes to keep active. He took up building the animal sculptures when he was forced to give up flying Cessna light aircraft. “Before that, it was motorcycles,” he reminisced, “I used to be able to stand up on the seat, with my arms out, like at a rodeo.”

I must have looked skeptical, because he launched into an explanation of the feat that was clear, detailed, and checked out as accurate. “You don’t

ride, do you? Well, you can set the throttle—it has to be a good bike to stay straight—then you just have to keep your balance. I wish I had a photograph, ‘cause when I tell young fellows about it, they don’t believe it.”

So what makes an octogenarian take up animal sculpture? In Cyril’s case, it’s something to keep him occupied (the animatronic wire-work that’s build into some of the sculptures is quite challenging), but the real payoff is the entertainment his backyard zoo provides. Unlike many old-timers, he doesn’t seem to mind neighborhood kids tearing around his lawn. In fact, he gets a kick out of it, as long as they steer clear of the pond, which is surrounded by model alligators to reinforce the point. He’ll pull wires to make the animal’s heads move, set the gorilla bouncing, and watch the glee unfold as he chats with any adult who’ll stand still long enough.

After a nice long chat and a lot of photography, I was ready, reluctantly, to move on. But before I left, Cyril stopped me.

“Sure you don’t want the jet-ski?” he asked.

“No,” I replied, “But I’d make you an offer on the house.”

He smiled, said nothing, and turned back to his friends and his carnival float. He had more work to do before October, and he’s a man who likes to keep busy.

You can read more about all of Pennsylvania’s other uniquely Personalized Properties in Weird Pennsylvania.

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