William Paul Byroad won dance marathon at Hannibal's Rose Garden in 1929

MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

Like Dick and Jerry Van Dyke, William Paul Byroad grew up in Danville, Ill. Unlike the Van Dyke brothers, Byroad also had a connection to Hannibal, albeit a small connection.

The Lincoln Evening Journal reported that Byroad was the winner of a dance marathon at Hannibal in 1929-30, after dancing 1,608 hours to outlast his competitors.

After heading back to his hometown following the marathon, the 22-year-old partook on another adventure – he traveled cross-country with his best friend, Elmo Hilleray, 20, hitch hiking across the United States in a stunt that was expected to take three weeks.

While many people used this means of transportation during the Depression Era, Byroad and his friend did so in a unique manner – they were handcuffed to each other.

The handcuffs were placed on their wrists by

, Danville Sheriff, who subsequently mailed the keys to sheriff at Los Angeles.

The Omaha World Herald met up with the pair and reported on their antics for the Sept. 12, 1930 edition.

“The pair started out with a penny apiece and a half package of cigarets (sic). By the terms of the wager they cannot ask for a ride, but can accept one if offered. Twenty two lifts have been given them in the seven hundred miles they have traveled.”

The newspaper included a picture of the adventurers.

An entry on Find A Grave indicates that Byroad made it back to Danville, married Iva King soon thereafter, and the two operated the Oak Grove Motel on Route 136 near Danville. He later went to work for the railroad, from which he retired. He died in 1995.

The marathon

Dance marathons were an inexpensive means of entertainment and a diversion during the Depression years. While frowned upon by many, and believed to be a scam by others, marathons were wildly popular for both participants and spectators.

Although no mention of Hannibal’s dance marathon could be found in the Hannibal Courier’s microfilmed editions, other area newspapers detailed the events.

The Moberly Monitor Index of Oct. 9, 1929, reported that Miss Ardath Hartsborn and Bill Winn of Higbee would be partners in the marathon at Hannibal. The Hannibal marathon was scheduled to begin Oct. 14, 1929, at the Rose Garden Ball Room in Hannibal.

The Moberly Monitor Index of Oct. 23, 1929, reported that, “Fourteen couples entered the marathon dance yesterday at Brookfield, according to world received by the Monitor-Index from Miss Ardath Hartshorn, a Moberly entrant. She invites anyone wishing to send her or any of the other dancers a world of encouragement to address them at 224 S. Main street, Brookfield, Miss Hartshorn is the partner of Bill Winn, Higbee, and among the other entrants are Miss Hazel Earsom and Jerry Yeager, Vincennes, contestants in the Moberly marathon recently.”

The Chillicothe Constitution Tribune of Nov. 4, 1929, told about such event staged at the Winter Garden in that community. “North Missouri dance marathoners will take off in an endurance test at the Winter Garden here tonight, with competing couples entered from all parts of the north central section of the state.”

The dance at Chillicothe was a preliminary contest in preparation for a north Missouri final to be held at Kirksville in December 1929. “Other preliminary contests are to be held at Moberly, Macon and Hannibal. A contest was recently completed at Brookfield,” according to the Chillicothe newspaper.

The Rose Garden

The 1922 Hannibal City Directory located the Rose Garden at 605A Broadway, operated by Mrs. Mattie M. Demmer, dancing teacher. She was married to Harry J. Demmer of Hannibal.

The hall was on the second floor of the building most recently identified as River City Billiards, and most notably remembered as the old Rialto Theater. The blue façade on the building was added after the Rialto opened for business at this location.

Dancers “moved” on the dance floor for 45 minutes out of each hour. Spectators could watch for as long as they wished for the payment of a small fee. Marathons lasted for days. The 1,608 hours that William Paul Byroad danced at Hannibal equates to 67 days.

HistoryLink.org offers an essay on dance marathons, an excerpt of which follows:

“Dance Marathons (also called Walkathons), an American phenomenon of the 1920s and 1930s, were human endurance contests in which couples danced almost non-stop for hundreds of hours (as long as a month or two), competing for prize money. Dance marathons originated as part of an early-1920s, giddy, jazz-age fad for human endurance competitions such as flagpole sitting and six-day bicycle races. In these dance endurance contests, a mix of local hopefuls and seasoned professional marathoners danced, walked, shuffled, sprinted, and sometimes cracked under the pressure and exhaustion of round-the-clock motion. A 25-cent admission price entitled audience members to watch as long as they pleased. Dance marathons … occupied a slightly disrespectable niche in society, and many towns banned them, finding them disruptive, disturbing, and even repugnant.”

PHOTO: Steve Chou generously shared this photo from his extensive collection. It shows the Rialto Theatre building prior to the refacing. Photo was taken during an American Legion parade in 1939. A few years earlier, the Rose Garden was located on the second floor.

If you are interested in Big Band-style music, you might be interested in the following story on Albert Haug, a Hannibal music legend of that era. Click here to read the story.

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