With the creation of the Davenport Levee Commission in 1911 and the building of the seawall starting in 1912, life along the river front changed for Davenport citizens. Instead of a garbage filled area used mainly by boats loading and unloading goods, the river front became a place to visit as businesses and entertainment created an ever changing environment of work and fun.
Fairs, carnivals, sports, and musical entertainment became part of levee life. One well-known annual event became the Owl Carnival held yearly in the beginning of September.
This event was put on by the local fraternal chapter of the Order of Owls. Founded in 1904 in Indiana, the Owls motto was “Owls do good, speak kindly, shake hands warmly, and respect and honor their women.” They organized to help each other’s businesses, help people find jobs, assist widows and orphans, assist each other as needed, and gather for entertainment.
The carnival was promoted as a “clean” event that was suitable for the entire family. Besides the death-defying act of Madame Garcia and her automobile, there were the usual carnival games, shows, and acts put on by Snyder Greater United Shows.
A picture of the carnival was taken on September 3, 1912 showing the tents, cars, Ferris wheel, and more along the levee near Harrison Street in downtown Davenport.
The image, taken by the Davenport Levee Commission, shows not only the carnival but also the levee wall. Recently completed, the wall was built by building a dirt dike along the harbor line away from the existing river bank. The levee wall was built with stone inside the sealed-off area with large stones hidden behind the rip rap design. Fill of dirt and garbage was also added farther in towards the original river bank. Raised to 15 feet, the new seawall helped expand the riverfront. The new level area being used for businesses to rent from the Levee Commission and entertainments such as the carnival.
Besides Madame Garcia, there was a high diving act, beauty contest that attendees could vote for a winner, a “City Circus”, and the “Texas Dancera”. The local fraternal organizations even hosted groups to attend the carnival. The Moose paid for local newsboys to spend the evening at the event on September 3rd. Much to the delight, we imagine, to the boys.
The event seemed to be an overwhelming success. The only issues being a few intoxicated carnival workers, the circus manager’s niece being diagnosed with Typhoid Fever, and one runaway girl from Muscatine being found after she ran away from home to see the carnival. Miss Rozella Carlton received over 10,000 votes to be named Carnival Queen over seventeen other contestants. Her prize, besides the title, was a $150 diamond ring.
In all, the carnival was deemed a great success. And for many in the community, we are sure they viewed the new and improved levee as an even greater success.
(posted by Amy D.)