It’s been a few weeks since C.W. Parker Carousel Museum Director Jerry Reinhardt brought back to Leavenworth what was bound to be one of the facility’s most unique pieces — now if they can only figure out what it is.
Reinhardt said he and his wife Marilyn picked up the two canvas rolls during the most recent National Carousel Association conference in Washington, D.C. They were donated by Barbara Charles, a partner in a Washington-based museum planning firm.
Even for Charles, Reinhardt and the other volunteers at the Leavenworth museum who have access to archives and other information about the carnival magnate who had a factory here after moving from Abilene, the two pieces are somewhat mysterious. One is 45 inches tall and the other about 32 inches tall. Both, however, are about 200 feet long and weigh about 100 pounds.
“It’s not easy to handle,” he said.
The banners, hand-painted with oil on canvas, depict in detail two different scenes — one seems to follow a creation story from the Ice Age through the dinosaurs and the first appearance of people. The other is something of a travelogue, with scenes from nearly every continent, including Jordan’s Petra Cave City. They were likely rolled up between two poles, with viewers seeing between 6 and 12 feet of the painting at a time.
Reinhardt said his thought is that the two canvases were part of Parker’s traveling carnivals, a sort of surrogate visual sideshow in the days just before movies became commonplace and certainly before “talkies.”
“They would see this rolled across in front of them and I think that somebody had to be reading some kind of narrative,” he said.
But, Reinhardt also cautioned, there’s no hard proof yet that there was a story with it.
“That’s my theory, and that’s just the theory, believe me,” he said.
Three different groups in three different locations — Leavenworth, Washington, D.C., and Spokane, Wash. — are now combing archives for information on the artifacts.
Here’s what Reinhardt said they do know — he has seen a photograph of a “drawing card” used to attract visitors to different carnival sideshows with the word “Creation” and a painting similar to that on the scroll.
One of the researchers, Bette Largent of the National Carousel Association, also has a good idea of who painted them — a man named Thomas G. Moses.
“He was the sign painter and he was in the Kansas City area and the Salina area at the time period,” Reinhardt said, of about 1900.
As much as what they are, Reinhardt said volunteers at the museum are working on what to do with them. He said the size of either banner prohibits a full display.
Page 2 of 2 - “They’re both 200 feet long,” he said. “This entire building’s only 200 feet long.”
Reinhardt said there was talk of editing footage of the painting into a video to show in the museum’s theater. Or display the banners during special occasions.
But in addition to what he said could be months of research, Reinhardt said there is some damage on the outermost parts of the scrolls due to exposure to the air, so the museum is looking into some restoration work.
It’s bound to require some more effort. But Reinhardt said having seen the scrolls in their entirety, he said it’s worth it to have something of this nature.
“We know it’s valuable, we know it’s unique,” Reinhardt said. “It’s likely one of a kind.”