Dan Rice is considered to be the father of political commentary...but why haven't you heard of him?
He also is the reason that we have the iconic "Uncle Sam" Army recruiting posters...those drawings were modeled after what he used to wear during his circus act. Learning about Dan Rice while living not far from where he made his home...was so much more than we expected!
Dan Rice: The most famous person you have never heard of
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A closer look at how the past continues to impact today. TWH was born from a desire to dive deeper in to the historical events that continue to impact our lives every day...without many even realizing it. Many episodes start from where we have walked in our YouTube journey and include details that may not have made the editor's cut!
Dan Rice 2
[00:00:00] Scott: greetings and welcome to the top of history podcast. I am your host. Here with my wife and historian Jen, on this podcast, we talk about history's continuing impact on society to today. As we try to teach you what we have learned in our personal journey through YouTube, as we continue to explore, record and share our history, walks with the world.
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[00:02:37] A lot of folks know that the United States has the nickname, uncle Sam. Um, but a lot of people don't know that the United States got the nickname, uncle Sam, because in 1813, there was a meat packer named Samuel Wilson from Troy New York, Samuel Wilson, supplied barrels of beef to the next. Army during the war of 18, 12, and he stamped them with us for United States.
[00:03:02] And eventually the soldiers began referring to the food as uncle Sam's after Samuel. Uh, local newspaper picked up the story and uncle Sam eventually gained widespread acceptance as the nickname for the U S federal government. But where did uncle Sam's iconic image come from? So, Jen, we're going to talk about that.
[00:03:26] So why don't you tell us about our subject today?
[00:03:29] Jenn: So before Ringling brothers, before Barnum and Bailey. There was Dan Rice. And today we're going to talk about Dan rice. He is the most famous person knew, never heard of, and he was our fifth episode of walk with history. And so why are we picking these subjects?
[00:03:53] So, number one, I found that interesting. That we get our depiction of uncle Sam from this circus clown personality named Dan rice. And that he was, he had a winter home from 1953 to 1975 in the town next to us when we lived 1853, sorry, 1853 to 1875. And the town next to us. Um, in Erie, PA and Gerard. Yes. So.
[00:04:31] The whole premise of walk with history is to have personal access to the locations. So there's a marker in the town and we would drive by it and we would read it. And I was like, there's more to this story this morning to this person. And so we've heard about Dan rice days. Yeah. So the first weekend and.
[00:04:49] Gerard does a three-day weekend of Dan rice days. They celebrate him. They have a pray, they have vendors come out and celebrate like a carnival. And they've been doing that since 1975. And so, um, I just wanted to learn more about this. So the, the whole premise of walk with history. Not just very interesting topics, but access to those very interesting topics.
[00:05:14] So being able to go to those locations.
[00:05:17] Scott: Yeah, we are, we are literally walking in the locations where history happened and we're, we're S we're looking at these historical markers and we're looking at not only the physical impact, but the impact that has kind of continued to resonate through today. So, so talk about. Talk about Dan rice and kind of what he did back then, that was unique that made him the most famous person that we have never heard.
[00:05:43] Jenn: Yeah. So Dan, he wasn't Dan rice. Wasn't born in Gerard. He was born actually in New York city in 1823. And like I said, he had the winter home for his circus in Gerard from 1852 to 1875.
[00:05:59] And that was kind of the height of his popularity. Circuses, you know, they're traveling exhibits. They come from the Roman times where you would bring. They used to be stationary were wooden buildings. So people would come and visit and see horses and there would be like combat and things like that. Dan rice was one of the first people.
[00:06:23] He claims he one of the first people to use canvas tents and move the circus around. So, cause it used to be in arenas. You could see the circus in big towns with big arenas, but once you start to have access to a 10th, you can move their circus to smaller parts. The country. So now you're getting into rural areas that don't have access to these big buildings, but you can have access to large fields and put up the tents and you're bringing all of that culture to the small town.
[00:06:59] Scott: Yeah. And if I remember right, I mean, you kind of drive home the point in the video of, for a lot of small towns throughout America. At that time in the late 18 hundreds, this was really. The only kind of outside influence and outside culture outside, anything that they saw.
[00:07:16] Jenn: Yeah. So this is like, you're getting these trains coming in. All these people, menagerie of animals and performance freak shows for. Lack of a better term. That's what they call it oddities. So all of this access to small towns that they've never had. So this influence of the circus, it's a huge influence on America culture. And so the circus clown. In areas that are too long or too big to hear speech, the circus clown has this dialogue that has spoken through acrobatic skill or big demonstrative movements or clothing and things like that.
[00:07:58] So the circus clown is using this flamboyant acting to convey. A motion and a story to the people. And so that's kind of where you're getting this universal communication from the circus clown to the people. Yeah. And if, if we go back to our per our previous episode, right. You're talking about Lucille ball and vaudeville, vaudeville is kind of an evolution of the circus.
[00:08:25] Scott: So think about these big performers. And that's one of the things I found so interesting. Right. Even back then, you didn't have to speak. Y people in living in rural areas, didn't have to be able to read the signs. They didn't have to be able to know this stuff. Right. It was physical comedy. Let's go comedy.
[00:08:42] Jenn: And Dan rice, they say is, he was the, the, the birth. The idea of vaudeville came from him because he did these. Shows he did a vaudeville type show. Novelty acts were part of his circus having the quick transition of novelty acts and to do something in between setting up the larger events, he would do little acts, just like a vaudeville show.
[00:09:09] So he, they say he was the father of. And he would, he would do it. So he was be wearing a flamboyant outfit, which was like the star Spangled coat and the red and white striped pants and a big top hat that's red and blue and white with a white beard. And so this very patriotic, American looking clown is. Becoming the most. They say if, because this is before radio, before TV, that he, he was a household name. He was a pop culture celebrity in a time when you didn't have radio and TV.
[00:09:51] Scott: Yeah. If people think about, if they can picture some of those old Ringling brothers posters, right. The things we know today because they kind of outlasted. Dan rice and his traveling circus a little bit better. Right. They, they translated further. But when in doing the research, as far as making the video for this, I found posters, uh, I mean, even he just Googled Dan rice and you'll, you'll find a hundred different things and it's big old posters and newspapers.
[00:10:21] Jenn: Yeah. Yeah. I was trying to think of like, what household name would you think of? Like Johnny Carson, maybe to our, our. Parents, maybe to us, maybe like a Jimmy Fallon, like someone who's doing commentary, someone who's doing something that he's a household name based on a show that he's producing daily or monthly, or his circus is traveling from town to town.
[00:10:46] Everyone is aware of Dan rice. And so that is who he is. Everyone knows him. And for a time it's the most famous show. I mean, he has. Mark Twain was a fan. Walt Whitman was a fan. So he's very influential. I think Zachary Taylor is a huge fan. The president is a huge fan, so it's. He does political commentary.
[00:11:10] Scott: Yeah. So, so you mentioned Zachary Taylor, the president. So, so there's some S there's more that kind of evolved around right politicians, right? It wasn't just the president. It was congressmen and
[00:11:20] Jenn: yeah. So he's making fun of both sides. Who's making fun of, I mean, cause America, you think in the 1850s, it's lots of angst going on. This is pre civil war. There's a lot of different points of views and he, since he's traveling America, he's. Inundated with these different points of political view. So what he does is he makes fun of both. He kind of gives both sides, a hard time for their ridiculousness and jokes about them. And I mean, Zachary Taylor thinks it's funny.
[00:11:52] It's like almost being roasted kind of thing. He comes up, he coined the term, get on the bandwagon. So one of his shows would have like a bandwagon jumping around. Different ideas. And you could jump on the bandwagon. If that was the idea you supported. Um, he also claims to come up with the greatest show, like that was his coined term.
[00:12:15] So here's this man who has this huge circus and he decides to come to Gerard. To winter. So what does that mean? That means in the winter months they would come there. They build these huge barns, these huge arenas to practice their acts over the winter and let the animals have a chance to rest and just convalesce for their winter months with the circus.
[00:12:40] So they're coming into this small rural town, Northwestern knowing yes, to being this big, huge circus it's popular across America. Into the small area. So the people at first I'm very welcoming, but he ends up, he ends up marrying an 1861. He ends up marrying one of the prominent businessmen's daughter. He marries her on her 18th birthday.
[00:13:07] He's 38 at the time. And they, you know, they quickly have children and. He gets accepted by the town and this really puts the town on the map, but in our video and you'll see, like, why does he pick Gerard? Right? Like what's the whole point. This is kind of our, one of our first experiences with going to a graveyard and you using find a grave.
[00:13:32] Cause it was Aliquippa Martin, who is an animal trainer and he actually is a famous animal trainer. He trained Hannibal the elephant. So again, if you look up famous circus acts, Hannibal was a famous circus.
[00:13:48] Scott: Even I write again, not a hiss, not a history buff, even IO. I've heard. Yes. That particular elephant.
[00:13:56] Jenn: Yes. So this is before elephants are, I mean, they're being brought over to America and again, they're being shown to the, the country and they're training them. So Hannibal. Would train them to kind of like, you know, stay, stand on one foot and swing from the tusks. And I know it sounds crazy, but he, people would swing from the tusks and he would do those things.
[00:14:19] He was a trained elephant and aloe gripper. Martin was his trainer and he was from Gerard and he was friends with Dan rice. He was part of his circus. So. When Dan Rice was looking for an area, he suggested his hometown and that is why he brought it to Gerard. So we find his grave. So, you know, when you're doing this work, so most cemeteries have an office where you can go in and ask, where is this grave located?
[00:14:47] Gerard cemetery does not. But what we were able to find was a picture of the grave. So you and I drove around trying to match that picture.
[00:14:57] Scott: And I believe you said that the website that we use and if folks had never heard of is called find a grave.
[00:15:02] Jenn: Yeah, it's great. It's a fantastic website very well, but we found it and we were able to stay in this.
[00:15:08] If you watch the video, we stand there, but like I'm, I'm learning things along the way we missed, like he Dan rices, widow, um, sure. Well, his, his wife that he marries 18 year old that he marries. Um, Charlotte McConnell is actually buried there. So we didn't go to her grave. They actually have, one of the children is buried there.
[00:15:29] We didn't go to their grave. So we, there was more things we could have seen there that we didn't go to. Um, they actually, they actually get divorced in 1881, so they only married for 20 years, but, and I don't think she ever remarries and she stays there and Gerard, and
[00:15:43] Scott: one of the interesting things about these videos. Especially when we're, when you're filming in a location where it's relatively rural, right. We lived in the Erie area for a couple of years and learning stuff from the locals. So I'll tell you one thing that I learned about while making this video. So I, and it was actually after the, after we made it, or maybe just before, and I remember being at work and talking to now retired Navy, Chief Anglikowski and I remember saying, Hey, yeah, we were just on a Gerard and we were filming this thing and I ended up talking and somehow this Dan rice came up and the monument there's a monument in Gerard. It was like a kind of a. Pedestal. It's a civil war, monument, civil war monument. Right. So I start talking about the monument and he just looks at me.
[00:16:29] He's like, I see this look on his face and he's looking at me like, I know more than this, about you and all of a sudden, so I stopped talking and he's like, well, do you know why the Eagle that's on top of the monument is facing the direction that it was?
[00:16:41] And I was like, oh, I'm about to get a lesson. And he starts telling me how the Eagle is facing west, because that's where, that's where the person who makes.
[00:16:52] It's from Chicago is from Chicago. The first thing he made the monument, he starts telling me all these facts about Dan rice, rice days and all this stuff. And that's one of the cool things about doing these. Videos and our history of walks is we talk to people from the area and you'd be surprised when you do things like this at how much local people know like, oh yeah, I've been doing Dan rice days for like my whole life.
[00:17:15] Cause I'm from Gerard and they just kind of rattle off all these things about, again, the most famous person that we've never heard of. We never heard of.
[00:17:23] Jenn: And so you have the marker there. So what he's talking about is a civil war in 1863 days. Commissioned a civil war monument to go up in the middle of Gerard. And it's a pillar, not at all. and it has an Eagle on top and it's he commissions it by, um, a sculptor named Volk and Volk is kind of famous. He did Abraham Lincoln's death mask. So. He's commissioned to do the sculpture and he pays all this money for it and he brings it in huge 10,000 people show up. And the city, again, this is two years after he has married. Charlotte people think, is he doing this to get in our good graces? Because this is considered the first. Us civil war monument to be erected in, in the U S because it's yeah, because it's 1863, civil war isn't even over yet. Oh, wow. So. Is he doing it to get in? Everyone's good. Graces. Is he doing it? Cause he actually feels this way.
[00:18:25] No one knows for sure. I kind of talk about that on the video. Um, but he commissions it co it comes into huge fanfare and it's, it's erected right in the middle. It's still there today. And so we show all of it. What's also neat is the city is proud of Dan rice. So they still have the pillars from his house.
[00:18:46] You have the historical markers and they have the two lions that were in front of his house that are in front of city hall. And then the pillars there's four pillars. So two of them are right there by the monument. And two are where we used to take the boys to baseball. Remember they had, they moved the two pillars there too.
[00:19:03] So they. That history in Marcus property lines would mark his property lines for his house is huge mansion that he built. And then they also have that big mural. And that's kind of where we talk in front of, in the video and we depict his outfit and how that outfit was used as the model. For Harper's bizarre when they depicted, when they drew uncle Sam, they drew uncle Sam off of what Dan rice wore when he was the clown in his.
[00:19:33] Scott: Yeah. So if people get a chance to go watch the video, it's, it's very interesting, but this mural we're standing there for a while, so it's not a quick picture. You'd get to see it for quite a while. You'll see this character and you think like, oh, that's just a poor copy of uncle Sam and it's actually not.
[00:19:49] That's actually. The depiction of Dan rice in his standard, what became standard, Dan rice circus costume. That Harper's bizarre who ended up coming up with that uncle Sam poster. The, I want you, and you see that all the time. We based it off of him. And that's uncle Sam. I mean, that's the representation of the United States.
[00:20:12] If you say like this picture, Uncle Sam. All right.
[00:20:16] Jenn: That's yeah. I mean, school house rock. I think we'd use him talking to people as America. Like this is America talking, so yeah, that Dan Rice. So he's like, again, the famous person you never heard of. And there's a book that has that same title that goes all into his life and gives all the information.
[00:20:35] But, um, yeah, that's why we picked that video. That's why we did it. And I think we did it on a day date. So made it easy for us to film it. Without the kids.
[00:20:44] Scott: Yeah. And it's interesting because we talk about some pretty famous comedians have kind of mentioned him, you know, like Jon Stewart, like folks like that, right. Political commentary, it is birthed you know, he, we call him in the video, we kind of call him the father of political commentary. And back then, that was part of his circus act. Just making fun of. The people that everybody know, and back then it was politicians, the president, stuff like that.
[00:21:10] Jenn: Yeah. And so, and his, after he divorced his Charlotte and he kind of succumbs to alcoholism his star falls relatively quickly.
[00:21:19] And then after the civil war and I talk about this. After radio after the civil war, really after world war two, circuses basically fall because you have TV, you have access to exotic animals and great shows and movies, and
[00:21:37] Scott: it transitioned. Right. Think of, think of the transition of circus to vaudeville, to. Television television. Right. So think about the podcasts that we've done. We've done Dan rice circus. We've done some vaudeville folks. Bob hope, Lucille ball on to television, Jimmy Stewart, Lucio ball. And again, Bob hope as well. So there's that, there's an interesting transition there that I. Again, I don't think you, until you started learning about Dan rice was just like, holy cow, like this guy, the, the, the ripples and in history and time that he has left.
[00:22:15] Yeah. People see them, but they don't know that he was the stone that was dropped in the lake.
[00:22:20] Jenn: He did it. And. So, yeah, and he, he dies pretty penniless and obscure. I think his, his grave is in New Jersey. I think people still leave flowers and things, but, um, he has his last tour in 1885 and then he dies in 1900, 77 years old.
[00:22:39] So most people have forgotten Dan rice, but his impact is still felt today. For sure. Anytime you see political commentary, that's Dan rice started all of that and he, it works. It was the people want to see that the people want to see when they're being ridiculous in their ideas. And they, I think people still want to laugh at themselves and he was very good at doing that and people today, you know, when they're really good at doing that as well.
[00:23:08] Scott: Yeah. Yeah. So, yeah, th this was just a, such an interesting one to make, because it was a small town, Pennsylvania, but here's this historical character who really. When you learn about him and the effects that he had. Um, just super interesting. So again, not many people know Dan rice, the circus performer, but most people will do know that iconic image that inspired the army recruiting posters with our very own uncle Sam on there pointing at you.
[00:23:39] With that statement of, I want you for the us army. And while Dan rice may have passed away too little fanfare, his impact on society echoes throughout today through the political commentary of so many late night comedians. And even through something as simple as inspiring the phrase, jump on the bandwagon just as we hope you, our listeners are jumping on the talk with history bandwagon today.
[00:24:04] So again, thank you for listening to the talk with history podcasts, and please reach out to us at our website. Talk with history.com, but more importantly, if you know someone else that might be enjoy this podcast, please share this with them. We rely on you, our community to grow, and we appreciate you all every day.
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