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I am trying to find information about my great uncle, Oral C. Marsh. All I know about him is he left Hendricks County, Indiana in April 1933, after borrowing a suit from my grandfather, to join the circus in Kansas. He was never heard from again. I found his grave in Missouri and his tombstone says The Tentman on it. He died in 1968. I can only assume that he put tents up at the circus. Thank you for any help.

Tina Funkhouser

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Your best chance of finding information about Oral C. Marsh would be to search for his name, and variations thereon, in pages of the weekly theatrical journal Billboard. There is some coverage up to about 1922 in Google Books and Fulton History, but the 1920s-1930s are largely available only on the paid ProQuest website. They provide key word searching. Perhaps you can visit a local metropolitan or college library that subscribes to the service? I would also encourage checking Kansas newspapers of the period that have been digitized and are available with key word searching.

In addition to the circus, tents were also employed to house ‘back end shows’ with traveling carnivals and also repertoire tent theaters. The Midwest and Great Plains states were filled with such operations. Kansas City, Missouri was the regional hub for traveling shows. Showmen gravitated to the Coates House hotel, where they would meet.

His obituary stated he was born c1896 (c1894 in 1910 and 1920 censuses) in Indiana (Brown, IN in 1910, 1920 censuses; Google ref to an April 1916 land deal in Brownsburg, Hendricks County, IN with an Oral C. Marsh); resided in Belton 22 years (1946-1968?) and passed in Harrisonville. He was in the equipment rental business. There were and are tent rental outfits spaced across the US; perhaps that was part of his trade? ‘Oral’ doesn’t come up in census searches, which seems unusual; yet, secondary sites do make listings of it, suggesting different qualities of OCR capability.

You can look at the actual circuses that were in operation in the 1930s on this website, in the virtual library, the Sturtevant list. You might also look at winter quarters lists, to determine those that originated or wintered in Kansas and connected states, like Missouri. It seems somewhat unusual that he would simply leave the Indianapolis area and venture west to join a show; it suggests some connective element that remains to be discovered; a friend; possible past employment; some other circumstance.

I would also recommend contacting Pete Shrake at the CWM library and ask him to check the name finding aids for your great uncle’s name. There is a collection of issues of the Opera House Reporter, a journal that catered to Midwest tent shows, at the repertoire theater museum at Old Threshers in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. You might also contact the good people there and ask about your great uncle.

Fred Dahlinger Jr., Curator of Circus History, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL

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