The hometown of Joe St. Clair and his glass works, the Elwood Glass festival promotes his work, family fun and general smalltown comforts. Read the Story of Joe St. Clair and Wasbash Valley Shows
This article that I've written was published in the December 2000 issue of Carousel magazine pages 16-18 Lori S. Maynard
ELWOOD, IND. -- A family atmosphere permeates the Elwood Glass Festival in Madison County, Indiana. Played by Wabash Valley Shows of Queenfield, Indiana, the carnival promotes that feeling of family, both, on and off the lot. "Last year, we stamped 39 relatives on bracelet day," boasted Ken Hayward, owner of the show. "If they're blue-eyed and blond-haird, they may be related somehow."
Ken and his wife, Anna, started their small carnival from scratch. "We bought our first rides with the money we both earned from teaching," said Anna. "Believe it or not, we both have our Masters Degree in teaching." Ken and Anny, both, attended Indiana State University to obtain their teaching degrees. Declared Anna, "We both taught high school classes. I taught classes at Monrovia High Schoo, Ben Davis High School and Peru High School. My husband taught at Plainfield High School and Machonaqua High school." She continues after interjecting a giggle, "Your first job at Machonaqua (Pronounced: Mah-con-a-quah) was to spell that name. It's an Indian name." All of these high schools are located in central Indiana. "We also have four sons who became teachers and teach down in Florida. They have all bought a piece of equipment out here and come out when they can help. We're on our fourth generation now," she adds.
When asked why they decided to operate the carnival full time adn give up teaching, they both replied: "When it [teaching] didn't pay enough."
"Back then," Anna confessed, "it was only about fifty cents a head. It came out to about three dollors an hour. We made more money out here."
Ken and Anna Hayward are no strangers to the carnival business. "We've been in business for 41 years now, and Ken's father has been in the business since the early 1940's." [Ken's father passed away and was cremated this past spring] Ken idicated, "My father died just as we were heading out on the road. He's making the 'Millennium Tour' with us... When we are off the road, he will be buried in the Showmen's Cemetery in Gibsonton, Florida."
Wabash Valley Shows has ten employees that travel with the carnival. "We're like a huge family out here now," said Anna. "We have competitions andgo out to drive-ins. In August, we through an 'unbirthday' party for everyone because some birthdays are in the winter and some birthdays are just about every other week during the season. I got tired of making so many cakes." Pausing to look around at their lot, she thought some more, "Tomorrow, everyone's going to the State Fair (in Indianapolis). We send them down every year."
Eager to share their stories of fun and games, Anna spoke of a competition they had in which everyone had to ride every ride carrying an egg on a spoon. "The Round-Up did them all in and hardly anyone could go down the slide and carry an egg." Another friendly competition involving eggs was to stand at teh bottom of the Wild Slide with a pan held over one's head. Someone would drop and egg from the top of the slide and the object of the contest was to catch the egg in the pan. "Believe it or not, we actually had a couple of people catch the egg." Safety and rules for the competition are a top priority. Anna continued, "We had a game called 'Who wants to win $100?' They were divided into four teams of four and asked questions about ride inspection. They'll also be asked questions such as 'Who holds the key to the midway?' Of course, those who've been out here the longest have the advantage. We also hold scanveger hunts out here and just have fun."
Some of the rides that Wabash Valley Shows carries, include the Zipper, Round-Up, Astro Liner and a 1952 Jay Warner Merry-Go-Round. According to Ken, "We plan on refurbishing the Merry-Go-Round and a Rampage."
When asked about the Astro Liner, Ken replied, "That's a virtual reality ride." Jokingly, he smiled and said, "We're the Disney Land of the Midwest with that virtual reality ride. But, thank God we don't have to compete with them. We just don't have their rides; however, the Astro Liner is somewhat comparable to it if you've ever been in Space Mountain." Ken also boasted, "All of our rides are made out of American steel."
1. The Elwood Glass Festival is an annual event sponsored by the Elwood Chamber of Commerce. In 1885, John St. Clair, a craftsman who handmade glass, immigrated to America from Alsace-Lorraine, France. He, in turn, passed the trade to his son, John, who became known as "Pop." John, the son, married a woman, Ellen, and together they produced five sons: Edward, John, Joseph, Paul and Robert and five daughters.
With the discovery of an abundant supply of natural gas and the availability of sand in central Indiana, the area boomed. The gas, which they claimed would last forever, eventually dwindled and the Depression closed many factory doors. "Pop" and three of his sons moved to West Virginia. Son, Joe, remained in Indiana and built another glass shop in the back yard of North 5th street in Elwood. It had a small furnace and very little equipment. Two years later, "Pop" and his three sons returned adn started the St. Clair Glass Works. In 1958, Joe assumed operation of the glass factory following the death of his father. The 1936 factory was destroyed in a fire in 1964 and a larger, more modern facility was constructed.
Joe retired in 1971 and sold the factory to Bob St. Clair, who moved it and renamed it The House of Glass." In 1974, Joe St. Clair returned to his craft and started the Joe St. Clair Art Glass. The House of Glass is now owned by Joe Rice, a newphew of the St. Clair family, and maintains the family tradition in Elwood, Indiana.
The Elwood Glass festival celebrates its glass heritage and the event sponsors a carnival, car show, vendor (flea market) area, concessions and several family-oriented events. One of the scheduled events, was a hula-hoop competition, held among the ranks of chrome bumpers, suicide doors and the backdrop of fifties music. The 2000 event was the 29th celebration, and Wabash Valley Shows set up from August 15-19. Other Glass Festival events included the Scholarship Pageant, Gospel Fest, a parade, a golf tournament and tours of The House of Glass were also offered.
Ken and Anna Hayward look forward to setting up at the festival each year. "We tend to do well," Ken said. "A lot of relatives come out, though you know how that goes...free rides." Wabash Valley Shows has played the Elwood Glass Festival for 15 years, and prior to that, it was handled by Joy Time Amusements. Wabash's routing is primarily festivals in central Indiana. "We mainly do the same festivals every year," said Ken.
From teaching to running a carnival, the Haywards have successfully built their world in central Indiana.