HOPE — After a seven-year absence, Dr. Hope will return bigger than ever to this weekend’s Hope Heritage Days — but not without a lot of help from his friends.
At first glance, the character of Dr. Hope doesn’t seem to quite belong in this annual celebration. Family, history, agriculture and faith always top the list of what folks in Hope say they celebrate about their heritage during this annual fall festival.
In contrast, snake oil hucksters and “hoochie-coochie” girls don’t even rank an honorable mention.
But when long-time community leader Merrill Clouse was spearheading efforts in 1967 to create the first Heritage celebration, he recalled how medicine shows would occasionally set up on the Hope Town Square during the Depression era.
When the promise of a “miracle medicine” wasn’t enough to attract the men of Flat Rock-Hawcreek townships, the huckster would lure them in with a scantily-clad belly dancer.
Those memories are what inspired Clouse — a business owner, World War II veteran, fire chief and respected community advocate — to make his debut as “Dr. Hope” during the 1968 inaugural event.
Dressed in a top hat, striped vest and bow tie, Dr. Hope deploys dubious, high-pressure sales gimmicks to prey on unsuspecting customers with his bottles of snake oil.
“It’s good for man or beast,” was the huckster’s pitch, as quoted in the Oct. 2, 1969 edition of the Hope Star-Journal. “It’s good for the stones, liver, kidney, bladder and achin’ back, as well as corns and flat feet.”
For doubting skeptics, Dr. Hope would bring forward satisfied customers (played originally by Raleigh Reed and John Glick) from the audience to offer seemingly unsolicited testimonials about the wonders of Swamp Root, the Star-Journal reported.
In the late 1960s, sensibilities in rural, conservative Hope were on the line after Dr. Hope promised to bring out his “hoochie-coochie” dancer, who was billed as “Little Eva.”
But when the belly-dancer emerged in the form of Robert “Lefty” Robertson, the audience erupted in laughter, according to community volunteer and historian Linda Glick.
“They made people cut up,” Glick fondly recalls. “It was really funny.”
Of course, the joke got old after a few years and Clouse decided to put the character into mothballs.
Almost 40 years later, Dr. Hope was briefly revived by Bobby Waddell for the 2008 Hope Heritage Days with assistance by Mike Asher, according to Heritage of Hope CEO Michael Dean.
When the character returns for the 48th annual Hope Heritage Days this Friday through Sunday, the bad doctor will be portrayed by David Miller, Hope branch manager for the Bartholomew County Public Library.
In Dean’s opinion, Central Casting in Hollywood couldn’t have done better in filling the role than Miller.
“David is a fantastic actor and a ham — and that’s exactly what we need,” Dean said.
A presentation of the Dr. Hope Medicine Show is planned for 12:30 p.m. Saturday on Jackson Street.
Although Merrill Clouse is now in his 90s, his son — Hope Utilities Manager David Clouse — has agreed to play one of the men who provides testimonials, Dean said.
But what’s likely to really catch the eye during Sunday’s Hope Heritage Days parade will be Dr. Hope’s medicine wagon — a joint effort by Glick, Hope Hardwoods owner Tom Miller, welder and fabricator John Caldwell and Hope resident Greg Hall.
After Glick rescued the top frame of the deteriorating wagon from her parents’ barn, it was Caldwell who constructed the wagon from the bottom up with lumber donated by Miller, Dean said.
Hall contributed a part of a wagon he owns to the project, as well as supplying Flash, the wagon-pulling pony.
While Linda Glick’s father, Lynn Glick, will be steering the wagon for Dr. Hope in the parade, his daughter will be driving another vehicle that was featured during the first Heritage Day parade in 1968.
It’s a 1926 Dodge Brothers truck that was originally used for egg deliveries, Linda Glick said. Her maternal grandfather, Fred Solomon, originally purchased the vehicle about 70 years ago specifically to be featured during special events, she said.
“He always loved parades, carnivals and circuses,” said Donna Solomon Glick said of her father.
Although the red truck has been under canvas in her parents’ barn for decades, it took remarkably little work to revive the almost 90-year-old antique vehicle and get it running again, Linda Glick said.
Whether or not the belly-dancing “Little Eva” will also return seems to be the biggest unanswered question about the return of Dr. Hope.
When asked, Dean declined to comment. He just looked down and sighed.
“They’re trying to talk me into putting on a dress,” Dean said. “Nobody wants to see that.”