Sunday, October 11, 2009

....Sparks Circus marker dedicated ....

Saturday, October 10, 2009 3:00 AM

By Mark Wineka

Several hundred people soaked in sunshine, history, popcorn and peanuts Friday afternoon in attending the dedication of the Sparks Circus marker, located on the side of the Yadkin House at Council and Depot streets.

The bronze plaque recounts the days, from 1910-16 and 1918-19, when Salisbury served as the winter home for the Sparks Circus.

In 1917, because of restrictions imposed on rail traffic by World War I, the Sparks Circus had to spend the winter in Cincinnati, but it returned home to Salisbury to open its 1918 season.

Here's how the text of the new History and Art Trail marker reads:

"Charles Sparks chose Salisbury as the winter home for his Sparks World-Famous Shows (1910-1916, 1918-1919) because of its north-south and east-west railways and the nearby Spencer Shops that could refurbish the circus train. Each year, before loading over 50 red and yellow railroad cars to begin the annual tour, Sparks treated the town to two performances. Circus Day was declared a holiday for schools and businesses. Thousands lined the streets to watch the parade of gilded wagons, steam calliopes, exotic animals. Local citizens welcomed the performers and their families, and Salisbury was known as the town that loved the circus."

A highlight of the dedication Friday was Germaine Bundy Beard Whitaker's presentation of an original Sparks Circus season pass to Rowan Museum Inc. Accepting on the museum's behalf were President Paul Brown and Director Kaye Brown Hirst.

Whitaker is the great-granddaughter of Albert H. Graf, to whom the season pass was given by Charles Sparks.

Graf was among a circle of Salisburians who became good friends with Charles Sparks and others with the circus. The family artifact was used as the main graphic element for the bronze marker.

"To him, it was a keepsake," Whitaker said of her great-grandfather. She added that it now belongs in the Rowan Museum where others can enjoy it. Hopefully, it might lead to the finding of other Sparks-related history left behind in Rowan County, she said.

Other stars of Friday's program included Clyde Overcash, who served as ring master for the dedication; R.C. Kesler of Bernhardt Hardware, who roasted 200 bags of peanuts; Gretchen Witt of Rowan Public Library, who prepared 200 boxes of popcorn; and John Lowery, who played the street organ.

The Yadkin House, formerly the Yadkin Hotel, was chosen as the site for the marker because the hotel served as headquarters and home for the Sparks executives once it was completed in 1912.

Salisbury owes much of what it knows about the Sparks Circus history to Paul Bernhardt, who was unable to attend the unveiling because of sickness. His daughter, Eva Bingham, unveiled the marker in his place.

Those who attended the dedication also received programs with an extensive six-page history on the Sparks Circus and its connection to Salisbury, compiled by Betty Dan Spencer from Bernhardt's research.

Spencer served as chairperson for the dedication, which included a calliope from Dan Nicholas Park and Cheerwine from the Carolina Bottling Co.

Salisbury's Public Art Committee, chaired by Barbara Perry, is behind the continuing growth of the History and Art Trail.

"For the first time," Mayor Susan Kluttz said, "our rich history is being made visual."