The old calliope

The old calliope pictured in this undated photo.

Local historian Gary Craver has always loved Pancake Day. He had taken photos of the whole parade and he has videotaped the whole parade for years. But something has been missing for the past 50 years: the calliope.

L.J. Johnson and his brother Hugh Johnson purchased an old calliope back in the 1960s and fixed it up. They also bought a circus wagon to be able to pull it through parades. It was a Tangley Calliophone. It was equipped with a keyboard, and Mabel Warren traveled with it where ever it went, playing the little keyboard and making every place they went sound like a festival.

It was in the Pancake Day parade every year that they owned it. The unique music that comes from a calliope was heard throughout the square. That sound was part of Gary Craver’s fond memories of Pancake Day.

In 1971, the calliope was sold to a museum of musical memorabilia in Manly, Iowa. Not long after that, the museum closed and the artifacts were sold at an auction, so we don’t know where it ended up. But Gary Craver has been reminiscing about the calliope for many years and this year he decided to do something about it. He offered to buy a calliope for the Appanoose County Historical & Coal Mining Museum for them to enter into the Pancake Day parade this year and every year hereafter.

Curator Lisa Eddy got to work looking for a calliope. It really wasn’t too hard to find the Miner Company. But what she discovered is that this is the only company still in existence making true, brass-whistled calliopes. The best part: that lone manufacturer is located in Kirksville, Missouri. And the calliope he produces, one at a time, by hand, is the Tangley Calliophone, just like the old one that L.J Johnson owned and Mabel Warren played. We don’t know the entire history of the company, but we do know that the company originated in Muscatine in, Iowa in 1922 and has continued over the years in the same area, southern Iowa to northern Missouri.

So Lisa contacted the builder, Dan Dohman, and he said he had one that was nearly complete. He would need about two weeks to finish it up. Old calliopes could either be played by hand on the keyboard or many of them could play using player piano-type rolls. This is a brand-new calliope and technology allows us to play it with MP3 files. It also has a small, 43-key keyboard if we wish to have someone play it.

It was delivered on Sept. 4 to the museum. A makeshift group of board members, including Gary Craver, came to the museum to hear it for the first time. We took it outside onto the landing of our new ramp to play it (it might blow out the windows if we played it inside). It was loud and it could be heard all over town.

Craver and the whole board of the Appanoose County Historical Society are excited to enter it in this weekend’s Pancake Day parade. We don’t have a wagon built for it yet, but we have an old circus wagon float from a few years ago that will hold it nicely, and the fellows at Lockridge Lumber have agreed to haul it on the back of their classic truck.

Look for it at the very end of the Big Parade. We have dubbed it “Craver’s Calliope,” a lasting legacy for former Pancake Day Grand Marshal, Gary Craver.

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