Episode 6

The most famous person you have never heard of - Dan Rice

Dan Rice was a circus clown...or rathe a circus leader...in the mid 1800s. It is because of him that we have terms like "Jump on the bandwagon". He essentially made fun of politicians...before that was cool!

He also is the reason that we have the iconic "Uncle Sam" Army recruiting posters...those drawings were modeled after what he used to wear during his circus act. Learning about Dan Rice while living not far from where he made his home...was so much more than we expected!

Dan Rice: The most famous person you have never heard of

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Transcript
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greetings and welcome to the talk with

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History Podcast I am your host Scott

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here with my wife and historian Jen on

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this podcast we talk about history's

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continuing impact on society to today

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as we try to teach you what we have

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learned in our personal journey through

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YouTube as we continue to explore record

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and share our history walks with the

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world

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before we gently before we get into the

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main topic today before we introduce our

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topic

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um this is our section for the five-star

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question of the week and us being such a

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new podcast we have two five star

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reviews one from myself and one from you

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I know but we know other people are

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listening we do know other people are

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listening uh however they have not heard

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I think let's ask for this just yet

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um so

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for those listening if you want to ask a

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go on iTunes leave us a review ask us a

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will do our best I will do my best to

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answer your question on a future podcast

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episode but today I want to give a shout

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out to actually a YouTube subscriber of

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ours someone that comments on almost

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every single one of our videos I only

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know this person by the their YouTube

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handle as my daddy's green eyes and

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we got a public comment that's the only

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reason I'm talking about this publicly

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but we got a public comment from him or

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her I gonna guess it's a her I'm not

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exactly sure

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um but my daddy's green eyes commented

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on a recent video of ours and said hey

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I'm so sorry that I haven't commented on

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the last few videos I have daily videos

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that go up

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I've been in the hospital with covet in

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both lungs and it's it's been an ordeal

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um and so my daddy's green eyes if you

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ever get to listen to this podcast or if

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you if you transition from YouTube over

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to our podcast here we just wanted to

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give you a shout out let you know that

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we're thinking of you we're thinking of

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you we have you in our prayers and we

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hope you're doing better and feeling

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better by the time you hear this

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absolutely so shout out to my daddy's

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green eyes uh

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they comment literally on almost every

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single one of them and we love the

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comments we read all the comments so

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yeah so um shout out to my daddy's green

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eyes and and please go leave us a review

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in iTunes uh and tell your friends uh

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and family about the the podcast

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a lot of folks know

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that the United States has the nickname

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Uncle Sam

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but a lot of people don't know that the

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United States got the nickname Uncle Sam

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because in 1813 there was a meat Packer

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named Samuel Wilson from Troy New York

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Samuel Wilson supplied barrels of beef

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to the United States Army during the War

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of 1812 and he stamped them with U.S for

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United States

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and eventually the soldiers began

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referring to the food as Uncle Sam's

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after Sam Wilson

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a local newspaper picked up the story

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and Uncle Sam eventually gained

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widespread acceptance as the nickname

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for the U.S federal government

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but where did Uncle Sam's iconic image

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come from

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so Jen we're going to talk about that so

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why don't you tell us about our subject

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today so before Ringling Brothers before

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Barnum and Bailey there was Dan Rice and

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today we're going to talk about Dan Rice

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he is

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the most famous person you've never

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heard of yeah and

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he was our

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fifth episode

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of walk with history and so why are we

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picking these subjects

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so number one I found that interesting

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that we get our depiction of Uncle Sam

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from this circus clown personality named

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Dan Rice

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and that he was he had a winter home

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from

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1953 to 1975 in the town next to us when

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we lived oh yeah 1853 so 1853 to 1875 in

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the town next to us

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um in Erie PA in Gerard yes so the whole

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premise of walk with history is to have

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personal access to the locations so

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there's a marker in the town and we

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would drive by it and we would read it

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and I was like there's more to this

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story there's more to this person and so

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we've heard about Dan Rice days yeah so

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the first weekend in August Gerard does

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a three-day weekend of Dan Rice days

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they celebrate him they have a parade

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they have vendors come out and celebrate

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it's like a carnival and they've been

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doing that since 1975 and so

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um

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I just wanted to learn more about this

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so the the whole premise of walk with

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history is not just very interesting

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topics but access to those very

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interesting topics so being able to go

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to those locations yeah we are we are

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literally walking in the locations where

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history happened and we're we're looking

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at these historical markers and we're

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looking at not only the physical impact

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but the the impact that has kind of

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continued to resonate through today so

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so talk about

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talk about Dan Rice and kind of what he

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did back then that was unique that made

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him the most famous person that we have

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never heard of

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so Dan

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born in Gerard he was born actually in

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New York City in 1823 and like I said he

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had the winter home for his circus in

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Girard from 1852 to 1875 and that was

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kind of the height of his popularity and

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circuses you know they're traveling

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exhibits they come from the Roman times

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where you would bring

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they used to be stationary were wooden

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buildings where people would come and

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visit and see horses and there would be

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like combat and things like that Dan

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Rice was one of the first people he

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claims to be one of the first people to

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use cannabis tents and move the circus

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around

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so because it used to be in arenas you

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could see the circus in big towns with

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big Arenas but once you start to have

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access to a tent you can move the circus

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to smaller parts of

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the country

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so now you're getting into rural areas

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that don't have access to these big

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buildings but you can have access to

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large

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fields and put up the tents and you're

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bringing all of that culture to the

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small town yeah and if I remember right

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I mean you kind of drive home the point

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in the video of for a lot of small towns

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throughout America at that time in the

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late 1800s

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this was really

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the only kind of outside influence in

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outside culture outside anything that

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they saw yes so this is like you're

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getting these trains coming in all these

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people menageries of animals and and

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performance freak shows for lack of a

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better term that's what they call it

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Oddities so all of this access to small

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towns that they've never had so this

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influence of the circus it's a huge

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influence on America's culture and so

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the circus clown

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in areas that are too long or too big to

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hear speech the circus clown has this

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dialogue that is spoken through

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acrobatic skill or big demonstrative

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movements or clothing and things like

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that so the circus clown is using this

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flamboyant acting to convey emotion and

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a story to the people and so that's kind

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of where you're getting this Universal

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communication

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from the circus clown to the people yeah

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and if if we go back to our previous

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episode right talking about Lucille Ball

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and Vaudeville Vaudeville is kind of an

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evolution yes of the circus so think

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about these big performers and that's

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one of the things I found so interesting

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right even back then you didn't have to

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speak

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people in living in rural areas didn't

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have to be able to read the signs they

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didn't have to be able to

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know this stuff right it was physical

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comedy it's physical comedy and Dan Rice

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they say is he was the the the birth the

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idea of Vaudeville came from him

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because he did these

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shows he did a Vaudeville type show

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novelty Acts were part of his circus

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having the quick transition of novelty

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acts and to do something in between

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setting up the larger events he would do

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little acts just like a Vaudeville show

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so he they say he was the father of

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Vaudeville and he would he would do it

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so he would be wearing a flamboyant

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outfit which was like the Star-Spangled

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coat and the red and white striped pants

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and a big top hat that's red and blue

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and white with a white beard and so this

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very patriotic American looking clown is

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becoming the most they say if because

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this is before radio before TV that he

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he was a household name he was a pop

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culture celebrity

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in a time when you didn't have a radio

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and TV yeah if if people think about if

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they can picture some of those old

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Ringling Brothers posters yes right the

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things we know today because they kind

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of outlasted

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Dan Rice and his traveling circus a

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little bit better right they they

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translated further but when in doing the

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research as far as making the video for

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this I found posters I mean you just

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Googled Dan Rice and you'll you'll find

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a hundred different things and it's big

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old posters and newspapers yeah I was

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trying to think like what household name

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would you think of

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like Johnny Carson maybe to our hour

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parents maybe to us maybe like uh Jimmy

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Fallon like someone who's doing

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commentary someone who's doing something

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that he's a household name based on a

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show that he's producing

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daily or monthly or you know his circus

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is traveling from town to town everyone

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is aware of Dan Rice and so that is who

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he is everyone knows him and for a time

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it's the most famous show I mean he has

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fans

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Mark Twain was a fan Walt Whitman was a

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fan so he's very influential I think

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Zachary Taylor is a huge fan the

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president is a huge fan so it's um

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he does political commentary too yeah so

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you mentioned Zachary Taylor the

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president so so there's some there's

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more that kind of evolved around right

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politicians yes right it wasn't just the

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president it was congressman and yeah so

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he's making fun of both sides he's

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making fun of I mean because America you

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think in the 1850s there's lots of angst

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going on This Is pre-civil War

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there's a lot of different points of

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views and since he's traveling America

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he's inundated with these different

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points of political view so what he does

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is he makes fun of both he kind of gives

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both sides a hard time for their

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Ridiculousness and jokes about them and

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I mean Zachary Taylor thinks it's funny

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it's like almost being roasted kind of

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thing he comes up he coins the term get

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on the bandwagon so one of his shows

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would have like a bandwagon jumping

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around for different ideas and you could

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jump on the bandwagon if that was the

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idea you supported he also claims to

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come up with the greatest show like that

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was his coin term

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so here's this man who has this huge

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circus

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and he decides to come to Gerard

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to winter so what does that mean that

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means in the winter months they would

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come there they'd build these huge barns

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these huge Arenas to practice their acts

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over the winter and let the animals have

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a chance to rest

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and just convalesce for their winter

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months with the circus so they're coming

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into this small rural Town Northwestern

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yes to bring this big huge circus that's

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popular across America

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into the small area so the people

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at first aren't very welcoming

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but he ends up he ends up marrying in

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1861 he ends up marrying one of the

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prominent businessman's daughter he

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marries her on her 18th birthday he's 38

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at the time yeah and

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they you know they quickly have children

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and

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he gets accepted by the town and this

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really puts the town on the map but in

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our video and you'll see like why does

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he picture yarn right like what's the

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whole point and

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this is kind of our one of our first

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experiences with going to a graveyard

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and using Find A Grave because it was

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alegrippa Martin who is an animal

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trainer and he actually is a famous

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animal trainer he trained Hannibal the

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elephant so again if you look up

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famous circus acts Hannibal was a famous

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circus yeah and even I right again not a

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his not a history buff even I was like

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I've heard of that particular elephant

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yes so this is before elephants are I

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mean they're being brought over to

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America and again they're being shown to

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the the country and they're training

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them so Hannibal they would train him to

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kind of like

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you know stand on one foot and swing

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from the tusks and I know it sounds

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crazy but he people would swing from the

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tusks and stuff like he would do those

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things he was a trained elephant and

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Ella gripper Martin was his trainer and

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he was from Gerard

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and he was friends with Dan Rice he was

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part of his circus so when Dan Rice was

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looking for an area he suggested his

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hometown and that is why he brought it

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to Gerard so we find his grave so you

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know when you're doing this work most

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cemeteries have an office where you can

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go in and ask where is this grave

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located Girard Cemetery does not

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about what we were able to find was a

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picture of the Grave so you and I drove

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around trying to match that picture yeah

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and I believe you said the the website

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that we use and if folks I've never

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heard of it's called find a great yeah

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it's great it's it's a fantastic website

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it works very well but we found it and

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we were able to stand this if you watch

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the video we stand there but like I'm

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I'm learning things along the way we

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missed like he Dan Rice's widow

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um Charlotte

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his his wife that he marries 18 year old

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that he marries

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um Charlotte McConnell is actually

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buried there

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so we didn't go to her grave they

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actually have one of their children is

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buried there we didn't go to their grave

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so we there was more things we could

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have seen there that we didn't go to

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um they actually they actually get

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divorced in 1881 so they're only married

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for 20 years

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but and I don't think she ever remarries

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and she stays there in Gerard yeah and

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and one of the interesting things about

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these videos

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especially when we're when you're

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filming at a location where it's

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relatively Rural right we lived in the

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Erie area for a couple years

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and learning stuff from the locals so

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I'll tell you one thing that I learned

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while while making this video so I and

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it was actually after the after we made

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it or maybe just before and I remember

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being at work and talking to now retired

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Navy chief angelikowski

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and I remember saying hey yeah we were

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just down in Gerard and we were filming

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this thing and I ended up talking

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somehow this Dan Rice came up and the

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monument there's a monument in Gerard

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yes there's like a kind of a pedestal

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it's a civil war Monument Civil War

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Monument right so I start talking about

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the monument and he just looks at me

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he's like and I see this the look on his

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face and he's looking at me like I know

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more than this about you

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and all of a sudden so I stopped talking

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and he's like well do you know why the

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eagle that's on top of the monument is

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facing the direction that it was and I

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was like oh I'm about to get a lesson

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and he starts telling me how the eagle

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is facing west because that's where yes

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that's where the person who made is from

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Chicago is from Chicago the person who

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made the monument he starts telling me

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all these facts about Dan Rice yes rice

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days and all this stuff and that's one

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of the cool things about doing these

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YouTube

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videos and our history walks is we talk

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to people from the area yes and you'd be

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surprised when you do things like this

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at how much local people know like oh

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yeah I've been doing Dan Rice days for

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like my whole life exactly from Gerard

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and they just kind of rattle off all

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these things about

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again the most famous person that we've

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never heard of we've never heard of and

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so you have the marker there so what

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he's talking about is a civil war in

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1863 Dan Rice commissioned a civil war

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Monument to go up in the middle of

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Gerard and it's a pillar not an obelisk

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and it has an eagle on top and it's he

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commissions it by um a sculptor named

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Valk and Valk is kind of famous he did

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Abraham Lincoln's death mask

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that's right so

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he's commissioned to do the sculpture

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and he pays all this money for it and he

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brings it in huge 10 000 people show up

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and the city again this is two years

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after he has married Charlotte

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people think is he doing this to get in

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our good graces because this is

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considered the first U.S Civil War

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Monument to be erected in in

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the us because it's the very first one

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yeah because it's 1863. Civil War isn't

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even over yet oh wow so

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is he doing it to get in everyone's good

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graces is he doing it because he

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actually feels this way no one knows for

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sure I kind of talk about that on the

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video but he commissions it it comes

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into huge Fanfare and it's it's erected

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right in the middle it's still there

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today

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and so we show all of it and what's also

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neat

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is the city is proud of Dan Ryan so they

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still have the pillars

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markers and they have the two lions that

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were in front of his house that are in

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front of city hall and then the pillars

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there's four pillars so two of them are

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right there by the monument and two are

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where we used to take the boys to

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baseball remember they had they moved

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the two pillars there too so they they

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keep that history in and they eat those

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used to Marcus property lines desert

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Marcus property lines for his house his

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huge mansion that he built and then they

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also have that big mural and that's kind

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of where we talk in front of in the

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video and we depict his outfit and how

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that outfit was used as the model

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for Harper's Bazaar when they depicted

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when they drew Uncle Sam they drew Uncle

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Sam off of what Dan Rice wore when he

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was the clown in his circus yeah so if

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people get a chance to go watch the

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video it's it's very interesting but

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this mural we're standing there for a

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while so it's not a quick picture you

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get to see it for quite a while you'll

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see this character and you think like

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that's just a poor copy of Uncle Sam and

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it's actually not that's actually the

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the depiction of Dan Rice in his

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standard what became standard Dan Rice

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circus costume that Harper's Bazaar who

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ended up coming up with that Uncle Sam

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poster the I want you yeah and you see

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that all the time they based it off of

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him and that's Uncle Sam I mean that's

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the representation of the United States

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if you say like this picture oh you're

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like oh that's Uncle Sam all right

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that's yeah I mean school health Rock I

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think would use him talking to people as

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America like this is America talking so

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yeah that's Dan Rice so he's like again

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the famous person you never heard of and

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there's a book

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um that has that same title that goes

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all into his life and gives all the

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information but um yeah that's why we

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picked that video that's why we did it

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and I think we did it on a day date so

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made it easy for us to film it yeah

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without the kids yeah and it's

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interesting because we talk about some

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pretty famous comedians have kind of

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mentioned him yeah you know like Jon

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Stewart yes yes like folks like that

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right political commentary it is birthed

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you know he we call him we in the video

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we kind of call him the father of

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political commentary and back then that

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was part of his circus act just making

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fun of the people that everybody know

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and back then it was politicians the

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president stuff like that yeah and so

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and his after he divorces Charlotte and

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he kind of succumbs to alcoholism his

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star falls relatively quickly and then

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after the Civil War

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and I talk about this

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after radio after the Civil War really

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after World War II circuses basically

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fall because you have TV you have access

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to exotic animals and great shows and

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movies and it really it transitioned

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right think think of the transition of

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circus to Vaudeville yes to television

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Television right so think about the

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podcast that we've done we've done Dan

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Rice circus we've done some Vaudeville

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folks Bob Hope Lucille Ball yes on to

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television Jimmy Stewart Jimmy Stewart

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and Lucille Ball and again Bob Hope as

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well so there's that there's an

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interesting transition there there is

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that I never

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again I don't think you until you

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started learning about Dan Rice was just

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like holy cow like this guy

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the the Ripples and in history and time

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that he has left people see them but

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they don't know that he was the stone

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that was dropped in the lake

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he did it and so

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yeah and he he dies pretty penniless and

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obscure I think his his grave is in New

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Jersey I think people still leave

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flowers and things but

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um he has his last tour in 1885 and then

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he dies in 1900 at 77 years old so

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most people have forgotten Dan Rice but

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his impact is still felt today for sure

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anytime you see political commentary

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that's Dan Rice started all of that and

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he it worked it was the people want to

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see that the people want to see when

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they're being ridiculous in their ideas

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and they I think people still want to

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laugh at themselves and he was very good

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at doing that and people today you know

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when they're really good at doing that

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as well yeah yeah so yeah this was just

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such an interesting one to make because

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it was a Small Town Pennsylvania but

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here's this historical character who

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really when you learn about him and the

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effects that he had

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um it's just super interesting so again

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not many people know Dan Rice the circus

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performer but most people do know that

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iconic image that inspired the Army

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Recruiting posters with our very own

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Uncle Sam on there pointing at you

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with that statement of I want you for

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the US Army

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and while Dan Rice may have passed away

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to little Fanfare his impact on society

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Echoes throughout today

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through the political commentary of so

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many late night Comedians and even

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through something as simple as inspiring

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the phrase jump on the bandwagon

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just as we hope you our listeners are

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jumping on the talk with history

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bandwagon today

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so again thank you for listening to the

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talk with History Podcast and please

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reach out to us at our website talk with

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history.com but more importantly if you

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know someone else that might enjoy this

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podcast please share this with them we

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rely on you our community to grow and we

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appreciate you all every day

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we'll talk to you next time

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[Music]

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[Applause]

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[Music]

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[Applause]

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[Music]

About the Podcast

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Talk With History
A Historian and Navy Veteran talk about history inspired travels, their YouTube channel journey, and examine history through conversations with the curious, the explorers, and the history lovers out there

About your host

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Scott Bennie

Host of the Talk With History podcast, Producer over at Walk with History on YouTube, Editor of the Hashtag Historic newsletter.