Bob Mitchell: Summer experiences remembered

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Within a few days of arriving in the month of August, past generations once called this the Dog Days of summer, which signaled there would be many fewer trips to Flat Creek, which was usually at a lower level than usual and prepare for hot days and nights.

The arrival of August also was a much awaited time for Cassville as that was when the Old Soldiers’ and Settlers’ Reunion arrived in town, and for many decades was held on what is now known as Rocky Edmondson Memorial Park, a part of the R-4 campus along Flat Creek. For years, the Reunion was a hometown-grown activity that usually attracted many businesses in town showing their wares and services. All these displays required an individual tent that shielded the carnival goers from hot sun and frequent thunderstorms.

This was my first involvement with the Cassville Democrat’s resting area where subscriptions and renewals were sold for $2 a year. As I remember my involvement, it was a big deal for this pre-teenager, whose reward was a couple of coins to try my skill at the Treasure Digger.

First petted snake

A major attraction with the carnival was the Snake Show whose outside exhibition offered an opportunity to pet a viper. That was my first opportunity to pet a Rattlesnake, which had poison pits and fangs removed.

For the older boys there was the opportunity to sneak into the Girly Show, which was usually located adjacent to Flat Creek. By entering through the back of the tent, which required first entering the creek and crawling up the sod bank. This was accomplished by several of the boys before the back of the tent was more tightly secured.

Rides among trees

Carnival rides of the time had to be located exactly among the trees before they could operate, giving an added attraction to the highth of many of them. Ferris Wheel and Swings were those who gave a view from on high of the entire grounds.

A grandstand and speakers’ platform provided an opportunity for political orations for both political parties on alternative days. This area was also used to begin many activities for young people including climbing a greased pole, coin toss and beginnings for assorted races. The pole climb seemed to attract the most attention. Coin tosses from the platform, with money sometimes landing in gravel, usually resulted in extended searching for the coins for several days afterward.

Despite some segments of the community opposed to dancing, evening hours resulted in spirited square and round dancing programs at the south end of the grounds next to the street. Immediately adjacent to the dancing platform was the watermelon stand, which kept the melons cold with large chunks of ice from the Railway Ice Co.

Bridge construction

Access to the grounds via vehicles was to a parking space on Sime Pierce’s land across Flat Creek to the north. This meant there had to be a bridge constructed over the creek for foot traffic onto the grounds. Youngsters at the time were often conscripted to do some of the work that required getting in the water. There was no compensation, but the thought of getting in the creek and helping to build the crossing was sufficient.

During the early days access for those from town who were without transportation could be obtained from Harold “Hoot” Gibson and his two-seat Model A.

Near the bridge area, Gene “Speedy” Blankenship provided boat rides in the deeper portions of the creek, featuring one of the first outboard motors to reach this area. In adult life he served in the Army and had a dental practice with his father, Dr. E.L. Blankenship.

Legion sponsored

For years known as the oldest such event in Missouri, the Reunion visited Cassville for over 100 years, missing only two, once during WWII and the second when a carnival refused to honor their contract.

The American Legion Auxiliary operated a food service on the grounds as did the Lions Club. K.E. Brown’s peanut-popcorn and lemonade stands were always a surprise and well attended.

The American Legion sold chances on a new car for many years, even during the war years, for a buck a chance, and the sale reached out into other communities. One year a Legion official, Clarence Oldecker’s ticket was drawn, and he stepped to the stand announcing no sponsoring member should win. A citizen named William Baker was the next ticket drawn.

Carnivals more scarce

During later years, carnivals became more difficult to contract, but one had a date with Grape Festival activities in Arkansas, which made Cassville’s show date compatible and lasted for a number of years.

Something happened between the Legion and this company one year with them vowing never to return to Cassville. After that conflict there was no first rate show people to contract here. With only second-rate operations being on the grounds it spelled the end of the Old Soldiers’ and Settlers’ Reunion.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.