Shortly after midnight on July 10 — 105 years after “Mad Bomber” Charley Melvin used 1,500 pounds of dynamite to blow up three illegal saloons on the west side of the courthouse square — Thrive Allen County and Allen County Crime Stoppers will once again recreate the infamous night.
The second annual “Charley Melvin Mad Bomber Run For Your Life” kicks off the afternoon of Friday, July 9, and will feature an inflatable carnival, car show and assorted other activities to fill the eight-plus hours until 12:26 a.m. Saturday morning.
That’s when the scene shifts to the 100 block of West Street — where Melvin blew up the Eagle, Red Light and Blue Front saloons — for the start of the race. Runners will take part in a 5-kilometer road race, while those in favor of a more leisurely pace can partake in a 3K walk.
Organizers hope to build on the overwhelming popularity of the inaugural run, in which nearly 400 runners and walkers joined the midnight trek through town.
David Toland, executive director of Thrive Allen County, hopes to double those numbers. Elizabeth Donnelly, president of Allen County Crime Stoppers, is even more ambitious. “I’d like to see 1,000 people there,” Donnelly said.
The event serves as the largest fund raiser of the year for both Thrive and Crime Stoppers.
Organizers have put in place a crammed schedule to appeal to everyone from local history buffs wanting to learn about Iola’s past to those solely in town for the run.
Blow Up Park, an inflatable carnival for the young and young at heart, will be set up on the Allen County Courthouse lawn, courtesy of the Iola Area Chamber of Commerce. A car show will precede lawnmower races which will feature a blindfolded driver aboard a riding lawn mower being directed through an obstacle course by a bystanding guide. O’Malley Equipment will provide the mower.
Local saloon keeper Mark Wade of Sidelines Bar and Grill will face off against Mad Charley himself — played by Don Burns of Gas — in a joust with inflated clubs while trying to knock each other off pedestals. Invited to participate as well are members of Iola and Allen County ambulance staffs.
An outdoor movie, “Back To the Future,” will precede a “drag” race in which several of Iola’s most prominent men will dress as the opposite sex — wearing 1905 attire — for a light-hearted relay race. A drag race queen will be crowned at the race’s conclusion. Special mention to the prettiest — and ugliest — queens also is a certainty.
Racers take center stage at about midnight, but not before the Four Days Barbershop Quartet — Ken and Jim Gilpin, Jim Rausch and Dan Johnson — sing a medley of tunes.
The telling of the Melvin story follows, and at the stroke of 12:26 — precisely when Melvin lit the fuses 105 years prior — a single firework explosion will serve as the starting gun.
The runners will head north up Washington Avenue before winding their way through Highland Cemetery then down Jefferson Avenue. The race ends at the courthouse band stand, near the jail where Melvin was held briefly after he was apprehended days after the explosion.
Walkers go up Washington to Buchanan Street, then over to Jefferson and back.
IN A NOD to competitive runners, the 5K course has been certified by USA Track and Field, the governing body for long-distance runners. The certification is important because it may draw participants who might not otherwise be interested in Melvin’s story.
“Back To The Future,” the 1980s film starring Michael J. Fox, was chosen because of a quirky parallel to the Mad Bomber story.
As movie buffs recall, a key theme to the story featured a courthouse clock that quit working at 10:04 p.m., after it was struck by lightning. In real life, the concussion from the explosion shattered windows for blocks around and caused the clocks on what then was the sparkling new Allen County Courthouse to quit working.
“That’s how we know the exact time of the explosion,” Toland said.
Toland also recalled also recalled setting up a loudspeaker prior to last year’s run while standing on the steps of the Iola post office. Nearby storm clouds caused an occasional flash of lightning. “It almost felt like we were in a scene from the movie,” Toland said. “We got a chuckle out of it.”
And the Four Days Quartet is so named because of the 2009 run, “because I asked those guys to sing with only four days notice,” Toland said. “They were happy to do it.”
TOLAND said some of Melvin’s descendants will be in Iola for the festivities.
“We’re very grateful to the family members. This was something that was devastating and hurtful to their family, but they’ve helped us turn it into something that’s positive to help the people of Allen County.”
Donnelly said Crime Stoppers also is grateful for the support the community has shown for the Melvin run.
“We’d talked about different activities as fund raisers,” Donnelly said. “Having Thrive involved means we are assured that this will be done well.”
Donnelly encouraged those planning to attend to let their friends and neighbors know about the event.
“It should be a lot of fun,” she said.
Further information and registration forms are available on the Internet at madbomberrun.com. Another page has been set up via Facebook, or inquiries can be phoned to Thrive, 365-8128, The Shirt Shop, 365-5050, or Mike Ford at 365-9494.
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