In the ancient Roman Republic, there was an elected official with the title of aedile. The aediles preserved public buildings and temples, maintained the city’s infrastructure, managed the public water and grain supplies, regulated public markets and organized festivals. The aedileship was one of the offices held by Romans on thecursus honorum (course of honor), the path politically ambitious citizens took to become consul. We call such people today “career politicians.” Many famous novels were aediles including Marcus Cicero and Julius Caesar.
The aedile role disappeared under the emperors. But today we can find modern analogs in building commissioners and historic preservation officers. The Muncie Sanitary District and the Public Works Department both discharge some “aedilic” duties, as does the Parks Department. But who plans the city’s festivals? Historically, such tasks often fell on the mayor’s office, a steering committee, or some other department head.
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Muncie’s first official municipal Fourth of July celebrations, for instance, were organized by Karl “Creamy” Tuttle during the Great Depression. Muncie Mayor George Dale had hired Tuttle in spring of 1930 to serve as the parks department’s director of recreation. Within a month of his appointment, Tuttle had added several features in the city’s playgrounds and relaunched the inter-city baseball team, the Muncie Citizens.
Tuttle also inaugurated Muncie’s first Fourth of July festival that same year. The Muncie Star wrote on July 5 that “Muncie had a real Fourth of July celebration yesterday and it was estimated that 20,000 persons attended the fireworks display held at McCulloch Park last night under the direction of Karl Tuttle. It was one of the finest programs ever staged in Muncie.” Tuttle repeated the celebration in 1931 with over 30,000 in attendance.
When the parks superintendent position opened later in November of 1931, Mayor Dale promoted Tuttle to the role. He was an ideal candidate. A lifelong Munsonian and a World War One veteran, “Creamy” was known locally for his vaudeville acts and his involvement in 1920s Democratic politics. The Muncie Star remembered him in 1948 as a “man of talent, pleasing personality and a flair for promoting big events.” Tuttle earned the nickname “Creamy”‘ in high school after friends learned he worked at a dairy creamery. The moniker is equally inscribed on Tuttle’s tombstone at Beech Grove Cemetery.
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Perhaps channeling the aediles of yore, Creamy planned an epic Fourth of July festival in 1932. The Muncie Star told readers that if you “are trying to think of an enjoyable way to spend the holiday, then the program and fireworks display which will be staged at McCulloch Park will be the answer.” Tuttle, the “supervisor of Muncie’s parks and famous for his entertainment de-luxe, has promised an elaborate program and fireworks display to please the most particular.” For the Depression-weary public, “those who witness the spectacle can go away feeling they have spent an evening to perhaps the best advantage without having drained the pocketbook.” The day-long event at McCulloch Park was to feature horseshoe and croquet tournaments, an inter-city baseball game, live music, vaudeville acts, and of course, a “mammoth display of fireworks.”
Festivities began promptly at 9 am in McCulloch Park. Fifty participants took part in the horseshoe and croquet tournaments. The entire south section of the park was closed to traffic, though the northern area was turned into a makeshift parking lot. Then “as the morning wore on, the crowd grew in size, giving promise of increasing by night to the several thousand spectators anticipated by Karl K. ‘Creamy’ Tuttle.”
When the tournaments were over, Mayor Dale rose to introduce Boyd Gurley, the day’s speaker. Like Dale, Gurley was a prominent anti-Klan publisher in Indiana during the 1920s, serving as the editor of the Indianapolis Times. His paper even won a Pulitzer Prize in 1928 for their exposés of Klan politics in the Hoosier state.
The crowd booed Dale when he started speaking. Earlier that spring, the mayor had been found guilty in federal court, supposedly for conspiring to violate state and federal liquor laws. Specifically, Dale and a few members of his administration were indicted for illegally trafficking liquor and providing police protection to friendly bootleggers. Dale was also accused of being drunk at the 1930 Policeman’s Ball and at the state Democratic Convention. The mayor believed he was framed and found the charges politically motivated.
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Regardless, Dale was found guilty that May and sentenced to 18 months in Leavenworth and given a $1,000 fine. He appealed the decision, which apparently kept him out of prison. As his case languished in court, Indiana’s Senator Frederick Van Nuys helped Dale secure a full pardon from President Roosevelt in 1933.
Politically motivated or not, Munsonians didn’t really care. An “impatient crowd booed Mayor George R. Dale, preceding the ball game, when he gave a brief address introducing Boyd Gurley. The boos grew in volume as Mayor Dale referred to Gurley’s articles in vindication of the Muncie mayor…Dale was forced to pause at various intervals.” Gurley then climbed the elevated platform to speak about George Washington and “the spirit of the day. ”
After his address, 7,000 Munsonians packed the stands at the McCulloch Ball Diamond (today, Francis Lafferty Field) to watch the Muncie Citizens take on the Richmond Ball Club. The game ended in a 3-3 tie after 12 innings.
Vaudeville and live music followed, beginning with a performance by the Aerial Solts, who have “an exhibition of trapezes 60 feet from the ground.” They were followed by the Dumonts, a comedy acrobatic team that performed “an aerial perch act, in which a man balances on his chin a 40-foot pole surmounted by a girl.” Additional acts included Vergdol’s Dog and Pony Revue, “a menagerie of trained dogs, ponies, monkeys and mules” and the Tudor Troup of contortionists. Live music was provided by the Four Tennesseans.
By nightfall, a crowd of 50,000 Munsonians and regional Hoosiers packed McCulloch Park for an epic fireworks display that lasted two hours. The show featured “patriotic displays, flowers painted in the dark sky, battles of historic fame, summer storms and aerial phenomena par excellence.” Each firework had a name like ‘Battle of Dardanella,’ ‘Trip to Mars,’ or ‘Battle of the Clouds.’ The spectacle’s music was provided by the Elkin’s Concert Band.
The celebration was a complete success. The Star praised Tuttle’s informal aedileship in an editorial, “Muncie entertained one of the largest crowds it has entertained in many a day, and Karl Tuttle, who was in charge of the program, is entitled to much credit for the manner in which he staged the affair.”
We may not have aediles in our local government, but folks like Karl Creamy Tuttle did much to whip together the civic celebrations we hold dear. We can also give Tuttle much credit for establishing a beloved tradition that continues to bring Munsonians joy every year on our nation’s birthday. Happy Fourth!
Chris Flook is a board member for the Delaware County Historical Society and is the author of “Lost Towns of Delaware County, Indiana” and “Native Americans of East-Central Indiana.” For more information about the Delaware County Historical Society, visit delawarecountyhistory.org.