years now, a small town in the middle of Oklahoma has been throwing an annual
event called Sucker Day, an observance that proves an entire community is capable
of having a sense of humor. It also shows that the folks of Wetmumka have no problem
laughing at themselves.
Down in the Lone Star State, had residents of Andrews
been as mellow back in 1950, West Texas might be able to claim the unusual festival
instead of Oklahoma. But in those days the oil field workers and others who called
that Permian Basin town home, apparently didn’t view getting taken by a scam artist
as particularly funny.
Sucker Day north of the Red River traces to one summer day during the Truman administration,
when a fellow who said he was F. Bam Morrison (some accounts say his first initial
was “J” not “F”) showed up in Wetumka. Checking in first with local businesses,
he made it known that a circus would be coming to town on July 24, only three
weeks away. Back then, that was big news in a small town.
he worked as an advance public relations man for Bonn’s United Circus Shows, which
would be raising its big top in Wetumka as a new stop on its annual tour. Local
merchants, thrilled to have a major circus coming to their trade area, cheerfully
paid for large display ads in the circus program that Morrison said he was preparing.
That’s because Morrison said his company would only buy supplies from advertisers.
In addition to collecting cash for the program ads, Morrison sold discounted early-bird
admission tickets by the hundreds. And since elephants and other circus animals
have to eat, Morrison asked local feed stores to order extra hay for the show
At the Wide-A-Wake Café, Morrison told the owner that 38 hungry
circus workers soon would be hitting town. Cheerfully, the resturanteur bought
a big ad from Morrison. Then Morrison booked rooms for the circus roadies at the
Meador’s Hotel, which also ponied up cash for a nice ad.
on the part of Wetumka residents of soon being able to enjoy a reasonable version
of the greatest show on earth rose as Morrison’s wallet grew thicker.
when the big day came, the circus did not. Nor could Morrison be found. The good
people of Wetumka had been left holding the proverbial bag of peanuts. The conman
had skipped town with hundreds of dollars back when that was real money.
Oklahoma, Morrison may have come to Texas, where
he is reputed to have pulled off the same scam in Andrews.
He seems to have preferred relatively isolated, small towns and probably struck
elsewhere in Texas and the Southwest.
in Wetumka didn’t like having been taken for suckers, but what bothered them more
was the impact that the circus scam had on their kids. The younger set had been
looking forward to the big show. To at least somewhat mitigate their disappointment,
civic leaders decided to spring for free hot dogs and sodas for the kids.
modest event marked the beginning of an annual celebration called Sucker Day.
Soon it grew to include a parade (with people on floats throwing free candy suckers
to the spectators), a fair, a car show, a street dance and competitions ranging
from foot races to horseshoe tossing.
Sucker Day not only garnered national
publicity for Wetumka, it exposed Morrison’s modus operandi. In fact, he is said
to have eventually been busted somewhere in Missouri.
Little is known
about Morrison. The Museum of Hoaxes web page makes note of him, but the internet
offers no insight into where he was from or what became of him. No self-respecting
grifter would do business under his real name, which likely explains the paucity
of information concerning him.
Supposedly, Wetumka civic leaders were
so willing to turn the other cheek that they invited Morrison to come back to
town and serve as grand marshal in the Sucker Day parade. Morrison agreed, but
only if they sent him money to cover a bus ticket. Burnt once, Sucker Day organizers
said no thanks.
Cox - March 20, 2013 column
Related Topics: Columns
| People |
Texas Town List | Texas