Saturday, February 20, 2016

Dancing in the sky on top of the courthouse

I'm speculating this morning about how Lucas County's insurance provider would react if Larry, Steve or Dennis --- aka the supervisors --- called up and said, "Hey, we've told the Fourth of July Committee it can put a 100-foot pole on the courthouse roof and send two acrobats up on it to dance around; just thought you should know."

Those big companies can be so petty these days about liability concerns.

That apparently was not the case in 1940, when Tom and Betty Forrest, aka the "Sky Dancers," did indeed erect a 100-foot pole --- more of a light-weight ladder, actually --- on top of the courthouse, secure it with guy wires and at 2 and 9 p.m. on Thursday, July 4, climb to the top to dazzle a crowd of thousands gathered in the square below.

Lloyd Moore, who over the course of the years took many photographs for the Chariton newspapers in addition to being a pioneer in other fields, was on hand to capture the moment --- the first photographs here were published in The Chariton Leader of July 9, 1940. These versions are from the Lucas County Historical Society collection.

Water fights between the Chariton Volunteer Fire Department and departments from Russell and Williamson followed the Forrests' first performance, at 4 p.m. --- Chariton and Williamson were facing each other when the second photograph was taken.

The Leader estimated that the crowd in Chariton that day for the Fourth totaled about 12,500 --- the biggest ever assembled, although crowds during World War II would meet and exceed it. Cars were parked to the edge of town.

The entertainment featured a carnival midway, located on the north and east sides of the square, multiple performances by the Junior American Legion Band, races, a speech by Berry Halden whose topic was "Americanism," stage acts, boxing and, of course, fireworks after the second sky dancing performance. Sponsor for the event was Carl L. Caviness Post No. 102, American Legion.

"Greatest single assembly of merrymakers was at East Park during the colorful fireworks display at night," The Leader reported. "It was impossible to even estimate the number that jammed the park to watch the Legion Junior Band drill and see that part of the program.

"Despite a hot afternoon sun, the night was cool and the evening crowd was much larger than that during the day program. Everyone appeared to have a good time and estimates of the cold drinks, food, ice cream, beer, etc., consumed are tremendous. Places dispensing those refreshments were crowded all day, one firm selling 252 pounds of hamburger alone, or enough for 2,700 sandwiches."

The other photos here show the west side of the square as it looked in 1940, before post-World War II owners began remodeling their buildings in an effort to give them a "modern" look. Note the elaborate cast-metal cornices still in place on the three buildings at the south end of the block and the fact that the Manning & Penick Building, just north of the alley, still had a front rather than the bland wall of brick we've become accustomed to. So far as architectural integrity was concerned, 1940 was a banner year for the square, too.

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