Sunday, December 13, 2009

....Brad Belk: Circus fans organized in Joplin and honored longtime band leader from Columbus, Kan.....

December 12, 2009 11:03 pm

— Through the years, Joplin has been blessed with many local clubs and organizations. Seventy-one years ago, the Merle Evans Circus Tent No. 27 was established at the Connor Hotel. This historic ceremony occurred in the Connor’s Colonial Room on Dec. 17, 1938.
To create the tent, members of the Circus Fans of America (CFA) met to formalize the organization. At the time, Joplin had only two members who belonged to the CFA. They were Paul Van Pool and Warren E. Cogilizer. Additional representatives of the CFA were asked to participate in the inaugural ceremony. CFA members from Kansas City, Wichita, Kan., Houston, Texas, and Shreveport, La., were present at the afternoon business meeting and the evening banquet.
Cogilizer presided over the business meeting, in which a cabinet of officers was elected and the organization formally established. Van Pool was elected president. Other officers were H.W. Fields of Picher, Okla., as vice president; S. Warren Cogilizer, Joplin, as secretary-treasurer; O.N. Walters of Kansas City, historian; and George Potter, Joplin, chaplain.
The group took its name from Merle Evans, the band leader of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Evans, a legendary band director, was the guest speaker for the dinner. At the evening banquet, Evans told members of the newly formed “Tent” that the circus probably would not become extinct but would change its form in accordance to the times. As he stated in The Joplin Globe, the next year (1939), “Circus-goers will see motorized vehicles taking places of horses, the circus tents will be air conditioned and the circus acts will conform more with the public taste.”
Merle Slease Evans was born one day after Christmas in 1894. A native of Columbus, Kan., Evans received his big break in December 1918. According to author Gene Plowden, in “Merle Evans, Maestro of the Circus,” a telegram signed and sent by Charles Ringling read: “Have position for you as leader of the Ringling Circus Band. Report at your earliest convenience.”
The timing could not have been better for Evans, because one year later the Ringling Circus and the Barnum & Bailey Circuses merged to form “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Evans would continue to direct the band for the next 50 years.
And what an exciting and exhausting job that would be!
The band would travel 15,000 miles per season. The massive musical score book contained 226 sections, with each one carefully chosen to fit every minute of every act precisely. Each circus day consisted of two shows, with two introductions as well as a street parade. The band would play a total of seven hours every day except Sunday.
In 1938, Evans came back to the area to spend the Christmas holidays with his mother, Mrs. S. E. Evans of Columbus. He also was accompanied by his wife, Nena. At the banquet, Evans was presented with the official charter of the tent and a number of congratulatory telegrams and letters.
In today’s fast-paced, high-tech modern world, we tend to forget the power of the circus and what a cultural phenomenon it represented. For decades, Joplin residents relished the days when the circus was in town. The entire production was worth seeing. Obviously the show itself — death-defying acts accompanied by an entire zoo of animals — was a visual spectacle. But from the initial parade to the setting of the tent, culminating with the incredible show, a circus was an unforgettable experience.
At the turn of the century, with so few entertainment venues in some communities, schools closed when the circus was in town. Even the electric light was introduced to Joplin residents in 1882 when the Cole Circus came to town. According to Joel T. Livingston, in his “History of Jasper County,” the Cole Circus tent and grounds were illuminated with lights generated from a dynamo and apparatus carried by the show.
For many years, members of the Merle Evans Circus Tent No. 27 and their spouses would travel annually to Tulsa, Okla., St. Louis and Kansas City to watch big traveling circuses.
One tradition still continues every December — a handful of club members meet for dinner at Twin Hills. The evening is always full of conversation about the good ole days when club membership was strong and involvement was high. Unfortunately, as time passed, so have many of the members and their spouses.
Last year the club celebrated its 70th anniversary. After dinner, we participated in a customary toast to honor past members.
“May we recognize our club forefathers as well as our recently departed fellow club members and spouses. For all of us who remain, may we savor the gentle spirit of our club and this special holiday season.”


arlee bird said...

This coming Wednesday I will be posting an article about my mother who was a dancer and a juggler. You and some of your readers might enjoy this.

By the way----
check out the VBT Writers on the Move blog today. I won an opportunity to be profiled on their site and it appears today: