For well over 75 years, the 4th Fest Calliope has been a Fourth of July Parade tradition in Racine. Purchased for $200 in 1938, the calliope was built in Muscatine, Iowa for local dentist Walter “Doc” Gearen.
The calliope was mounted on the wooden frame from a 1922 Franklin automobile and was driven by a steam engine. Over the years, the instrument has been decorated with assorted circus ornamentation and is now powered by a gasoline engine and an air compressor. The compressor pushes air through ducts controlled by a 2.5-octave keyboard and into brass whistles that let loose with an ear-piercing sound.
According to accounts in the Journal Times, the parade wasn’t over until parade goers heard the high-pitched circus tunes coming from the calliope. “Doc” Gearen last played it in the 1979 and then the calliope was sold to circus collectors from Milwaukee.
In 1987, Ross and Terri Blomgren saw the calliope at an estate sale. Remembering it from their own childhood, they feared that the calliope would be sold to a circus collector from another part of the country. Their love of history and nostalgia led them to buy the calliope and return it to Racine.
Ross played the calliope for six years in the parade until they sold it to The Kiwanis Club of Greater Racine in 1993. Gerald “Jerry” Buck became caretaker of the calliope and would play it for the next 21 years, until he passed away in 2015. In 1999, The Kiwanis donated the calliope to 4th Fest of Greater