Iowa's Greatest Outdoor Show was held at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, Iowa each Labor Day weekend from the 1930s to the 1960s. The show featured chariot races, covered wagon races, reenactments of the Oklahoma land rush, and other performances by horses and riders. In some years, horses and riders would parade through Davenport dressed in elaborate costumes. At times the Outdoor Show featured as many as 32 acts from places such as Chicago and New York. It was sponsored by the Farmer's Union for four years and later by the Davenport Lion's Club. Frank Karstens conceived and organized the show. Karstens was born in Davenport on July 28, 1892 and married Elfrieda Pahl in 1914. The couple farmed in Scott County until 1931 and organized Karstens insurance agency in Davenport. The Karstens were long time Donahue residents and Frank served as mayor. He also almost single handedly developed Camp Ses-Ko-Me operated by the Okiwa Council of Campfire Girls. The camp was funded by proceeds from the Outdoor Show. Frank Karstens died on February 21, 1977. His grandson, J.T. Harms remembers going to the Iowa Outdoor Show as a kid and not being able to walk in the bleachers because they were so packed. Harms recalls his grandfather hiring women riders and a wide variety of people because he wanted everyone involved in the show, not just farmers. One feature of a later Outdoor Show was the Ringling Brothers Two Hemisphere wagon, which was the largest circus band wagon which weighed ten tons and was pulled by large horses. Harms remembers the wagon going up Brady Street Hill by Palmer College of Chiropractic and men had to get out and push to help the horses.
Scott County Library System 200 N 6th Ave Eldridge, Iowa 52748 www.scottcountylibrary.org, 563-285-4794
Digitized by contributor from vintage projector footage in 2004.
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