By Kimberly Eddy
This weekend the streets of Girard, Pennsylvania will be filled with the alluring smells of kettle corn, funnel cake, BBQ Chicken, and hot sausage sandwiches, booths packed with hand-crafted collectables will line the streets, and with the bands that can be heard playing in the park, the Dan Rice Days celebration has begun!
Yet another fantastic edition of the fun filled family experience known as “Dan Rice Days” begins tomorrow, Thursday, August 3rd, with the Opening Ceremony at 6 pm Immediately following the event’s kickoff, patrons can browse the countless crafters from our area, visit what seems like endless vendor booths filled with wonderful treasures, and finally grab a bite to eat at one of the many magnificent food merchants scattered about the event grounds.
For more than 20 years, the people of Girard, Pennsylvania have gathered annually to celebrate the life and times of famous circus performer, Dan Rice. Dan Rice was a charismatic and charming entertainer, a quick-witted comedian, and a gifted animal trainer, singer, dancer, and speaker. He was an amazing showman and friend to the community.
The 3-day festival includes sports tournaments, carriage rides, pony rides, a parade, Civil War History segment, a crafters area, live musical performances, a children’s play area, wine tasting, auctions, and classic car show, and more!
Dan Rice was the first truly great American clown, as well as the first clown star of the circus. Dan Rice was born in New York City in 1823. Dan Rice’s first appearance as a circus clown was in Galena, Illinois, in 1844 at $15 a week. Gradually his popularity as a wisecracking, aphoristic, cracker-barrel philosopher, a forerunner of Will Rogers, became so great that he was able to buy his own shows, both wagon and riverboat. By 1862 he was earning $1,000.00 a week, twice as much as President Lincoln. He and President Lincoln were good friends, as were Dan and Jefferson Davis. He was called the President’s court jester. He was well-known for his Shakespearean quips, as well as for a biting tongue.
As a philanthropist, he gave generously to many charities and erected the first monument to soldiers killed during the Civil War. Dan Rice was an accomplished animal trainer, specializing in pigs and mules, which he trained and sold to other clowns. He also presented an act with a trained rhinoceros, and is the only person in circus history to present a tightrope walking elephant.
A composer, he created many popular topical songs. He campaigned for Zachary Taylor for President. One of the things he would do was invite Taylor to ride on the circus bandwagon in the circus parades. Local politicians would clamor to ride as well hoping his popularity would benefit them. People would comment, “Look who’s on Taylor’s bandwagon,” inspiring the phrase “jump on the bandwagon.” His untraditional costume consisted of red, white, and blue-striped tights, a star-spangled cloak, a top hat and chin whiskers, the regalia that would later be associated with “Uncle Sam.”
Today, he is arguably best-known as the political cartoonist Thomas Nast’s model for Uncle Sam. Rice’s style as a clown was based on that of William Wallet, who was an English “Shakespearean” clown who could respond to comments from the spectators with appropriate quotes from the Bard.
Throughout the Civil War, Rice prospered and became a figure of national prominence. He was active for politics, besides serving as a political commentator; he ran for office in 1864, and ran for President in 1868.
In 1853 Dan Rice brought his “Great Show” to Girard for the first time, looking to expand his appeal to the northern United States. For the next several years, Dan Rice’s Great Show arrived in Girard via canal boats every October. Zebras, giraffes, monkeys, and polar bears paraded down Main Street, followed by a special performance exclusively for the people of Girard before the animals were settled in for the winter.
Delighted with the small town atmosphere, Rice settled on Girard as his residence and began building a magnificent home on the north side of the town square, decorated with fine art pieces and surrounded by exquisite English-style gardens.
Please keep in mind that Dan Rice Days is much more than simply another summer event, proceeds for the event benefit many local Community needs. The Dan Rice Days Committee donated $365.00 to repair the Wells Park Clock located on the north side of Girard’s Main Street.
The family friendly activities of “Dan Rice Days” will continue through this Saturday evening, and will, in the spirit of the man himself, continue to entertain countless folks from our area.
For more information and schedule of events, please visit Dan Rice Day’s Website at www.danricedays.com