Labor Day parade will turn McGregor into a circus Sept. 5

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McGregor’s annual Labor Day parade will begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 5. This year’s theme is once again “Circus, Circus.” (NIT file photo)

One of the special events at the McGregor Labor Day parade will be “Billy Rainbow,” who will lead a portion of the parade like his cousin did decades ago for the first circus parades of the young Ringling Brothers. Billy Rainbow is sponsored by Café McGregor, owned and operated by Brenda Boeke. (Photo by Al Anderson)

No clowning around—McGregor is the place to be Saturday, Sept. 5, as the McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce hosts its annual Labor Day festivities. 

The day will kick off bright and early, as the Smith and Bulldog Childcare and Learning Centers put on a 5K run/walk. The race will begin at Triangle Park, with registration from 7 to 7:45 a.m. and the start time at 8 a.m. All proceeds will benefit the childcare centers. If you have any questions, please contact Stephanie Wikner at (319) 360-7473 or

The parade will step off at 11 a.m., beginning near St. Mary’s Church and continuing north on Main Street. This year’s theme is once again “Circus, Circus,” in celebration of the upcoming 150th birthday of John Ringling, co-founder of the Ringling Brothers Circus, and later co-owner of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. 

“Come line up on Main Street for the fun, stay for the Hole in the Sock Gang’s theatrical performance in front of Uncle Sam’s Saloon at 1 p.m, enjoy lunch at one of our many eateries, enjoy a historical boat tour and get in some shopping while in town,” said McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Carolyn Gallagher. “There is plenty of fun and activity for everyone of all ages.” 

Anyone who would like to participate in the parade or would like more information may contact Gallagher at (563) 873-2186 or All entries are encouraged to be in the theme of “Circus, Circus.” Prizes will be given to the top three entries according to originality and theme orientation.


Parade to include special guest appearance

By Lucy (Rodenberg) Anderson  

Nearly everyone loves a parade, especially kids! McGregor’s Labor Day parade this year will tickle kids’ and grown ups’ fancy more than ever with the special guest appearance of “Billy Rainbow.”

Area residents who are familiar with history might recall Billy, as he was connected to the Ringling Brothers of worldwide circus fame. To those unfamiliar with this history, let’s go back to the time when the Ringling family lived in McGregor from 1860 to 1872, when four of the sons were born.

Augustus Ringling was a harness maker in several places before settling in McGregor, where he operated his own shop. One day, a circus visited town and the family received a family pass to the performance due to the fact that Augustus had repaired some leather for one of the performers.

The older boys were enthralled by the performances they viewed and decided they should have a circus of their own. The boys disregarded the fact that they had  no money or other resources to accomplish this, and used what they had available. With determined perseverance, they presented their first show. This mostly consisted of a moving panorama picture show from old wallpaper with scenes from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Bluebeard” and others. By putting their heads together, the older brothers put creativity into play by providing rollers to move the shows along. A frame covered with brown wrapping paper disguised the apparatus.

This proved not to be successful enough, but the  brothers were more determined than ever to make their circus better and learned new tricks such as acrobatics, juggling and plate spinning. As time went on, they added pets with imaginative names and learned to play some instruments. Now, we finally reach the point where Billy Rainbow came into play.

Seeing a goat wandering around much of the time, the boys adopted the apparent abandoned Billy goat, painted his horns red and, presto, Billy Rainbow became the leader of some of the first parades by the brothers. History shows that Billy led at least two of the brothers’ more accomplished  parades in McGregor before the family moved to Prairie du Chien due to Augustus Ringling’s decreasing business. It’s not shown in records what happened to Billy Rainbow, but it’s hoped he had a happy life and that the present Billy Rainbow, who will take part in the parade, will again bring a smile to parade-goers as the first goat did so many decades ago.

Aside from Billy Rainbow’s guest appearance, the parade will include fortune teller “Madame LuSay,” who will give parade-watchers their fortune for a mere 10 cents. Another very special appearance will be that of the Shriners, as they once again provide entertainment at its best among other fun entries. Those interested in participating in the parade can call the McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce at (563) 873-2186.

An added note of interest is that the parade will honor the upcoming (2016) 150th birthday  of  John Ringling, who, with his brothers, gained the title of “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

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