Who was Merle Evans, and why is a Columbus street named in his honor?

When this question was asked at a recent Chamber of Commerce meeting, several of the older members were shocked the local icon had become unknown to younger residents.

During their discussion, a committee was appointed to develop a celebration which later became known as “Merle Evans Circus Day.”

Columbus native, Merle Evans for over 50 years was the band leader for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. He appeared in concerts all over the world in addition to his circus duties. He returned to the community often to visit his mother and other friends. During the 1940’s and 1950’s Evans was a major celebrity in the entertainment world.

During their first meeting the Merle Evans Circus Day committee decided it would be held the evening of May 30 in the Columbus Park. The highlight of the evening will be the showing of Cecil B. DeMille’s epic film “The Greatest Show on Earth.”  Merle Evans played himself in the movie and was introduced by star Betty Hutton.

In addition to Hutton, James Stewart, Cornel Wilde and Charlton Heston star in the color spectacular. The movie won the Academy Award as the Best Picture in 1953.

Though the movie was but a small part of Evans’ career it does leave a lasting example of his work, not only as the leader of the orchestra but the importance of his music to the circus. The drama of disaster combined with the trials and tribulations of a traveling tent show. The magnitude of the picking up, packing up and moving a city the size of Columbus twice a week.

It is the hope of the Chamber of Commerce committee to recognize and restore Merle Evans, place in the history of the community.

Someone noted how ironic it was that on the day the committee met to make plans to honor Evans, the Kansas Department of Transportation closed the street named in his honor. However it will be reopened in the next few months.