Joe Blundo | DISPATCH
“Calliope King” Myron Duffield playing his favorite musical instrument
Joe Blundo is a Dispatch columnist.
FROM: columbus dispatch.com
Sunday May 6, 2012
The Calliope King of the World lives in Gahanna. Who knew?
He’s Myron Duffield, a jovial 79-year-old with a passion for playing tunes on unusual instruments. You should hear him on the musical skillets.
On Thursday, the king will enter a prized calliope realm: the circus.
When the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus comes to town, Duffield will perform on the instrument for 20 minutes at the “pre-show” (a warm-up event preceding the main performance).
“I was a little bit shocked,” Duffield said.
Calliopes, high-pitched keyboard instruments that force air through tuned whistles, were once fixtures at circuses and on riverboats. Myron fell in love with their happy sound in his boyhood home of Middleport on the Ohio River.
Later in life, he built his own calliope, and for the past 40 years he has played it at thousands of parades, fairs and festivals.
His son, Jeff, of Westerville, decided it was high time for his dad to play at a circus, too. He contacted Feld Entertainment, producer of the Ringling Bros. circus, and asked whether Myron could appear. Feld passed him onto Irvin Public Relations, its representative in Columbus, and pretty soon the king had his gig.
The Calliope Queen of the World will be there, too.
She’s June, his wife of 58 years. It’s a love story that began in the seventh grade.
“I kissed her for the first time by the big oak tree in the schoolyard,” he explained.
They married after Myron’s military service. They had two children and moved frequently during his career in data communications. They were living in northern Ohio in the 1960s when Myron decided to build a calliope for a Cub Scout parade float.
He assembled it from organ pipes, whistles, a vacuum cleaner motor and a piano keyboard. The float won first place, but Duffield wasn’t satisfied with the calliope.
“I said to my wife that I’ve got to have a real one.”
He bought what he describes as a pile of old calliope parts from a mechanical music dealer in Troy, Ohio, and turned them into an authentic instrument. The dealer is the person who first jokingly dubbed Duffield “Calliope King of the World,” a title he quickly adopted.
Then he researched circus vehicles and, using salvaged and homemade parts, built a red wagon with wood-spoke wheels to transport his prize.
The calliope made its debut at a Fourth of July parade in 1972 in Medina, Ohio. Since then, it’s been all over the Midwest. The Duffields charge a fee, but the calliope business is no way to get rich, they say.
“We wore out five cars and seven transmissions,” Myron said.
June, 78, did most of the driving until a couple of years ago, when Parkinson’s disease forced her to stop. Their son does the driving now.
The Duffields moved to Gahanna from Coshocton about a year and a half ago. When he’s not touring as the Calliope King, Myron is often found at schools or retirement centers as “Professor Myroni.” He has an hourlong act in which he plays antique instruments, such as cowbells, medicine bottles, musical saws, rattles and skillets.
But the calliope seems to be his biggest musical joy.
“Very few of the present generation have ever heard the joyous, exciting music of a calliope,” he says in a brochure.
The Calliope King aims to remedy that wherever he can.