Sometime in the late '70s, folks at the now-defunct Whole Earth health food store in Fairbanks got the idea of putting together a medicine show and peddling sandwiches and such on the side. And they knew just the guys to pull it off -- Bob Bell, whom everyone called Bob-O, and Bo Brom, whom everyone called Bobo.
Brom had just bought a used truck from Ogstad's furniture company, so Bell became Dr. Ogstad and Brom Capt. Bumstead. Together with a bunch of musician friends -- Graves, Danny Consenstein, Thomas Hart, to name a few -- they launched Dr. Ogstad's Traveling Medicine Show in time for a festival on summer solstice.
"We'd cure people onstage with our magic elixir," Brom said. "We had a lot of cures and a lot of laughs."
It was such a smashing success, they took the show on the road, to the state fair in Palmer and beyond, eventually touring down in Southeast. Like Visa Quest, it just kept getting bigger and better.
"We had a blues band and a rock band, a bluegrass band," Brom said. "We had clowns, acrobats and puppets. We bought a school bus, and we had costumes all down one side and props all down the other."
A typical skit went something like this: A woman dressed in black begs Dr. Ogstad to use his magic elixir to bring her dead husband back to life.
"So we lift him out of the coffin, put his head on one folding chair and his heels on another folding chair, and he's totally rigid. Bob builds up the crowd: 'You think we can do it?' They go, 'YEAH!'
"So we get this big funnel, pry open his mouth ... and pour in a whole bottle of elixir. And then he shoots it all back up into the air and jumps up, and the crowd goes crazy. Then he'd go, 'I feel like a new man!' And he'd look at his wife. 'I feel like a new woman, too,' and he'd take off."
"So we did this medicine show for seven or eight years," Bell says. "And then it sort of died out. Danny ended up in Washington, D.C. Bobo ended up in California. I fish in Southeast Alaska, so we scattered to the four winds."
Scattered maybe, but they never lost their connection to one another. One year at the Juneau folk festival, a bunch of these guys were sitting around the old Fiddlehead restaurant, missing their friend Bobo. So they called him up.
"It was 2 o'clock in the afternoon," Brom says. "I'm down in California in the Bay Area standing out in my front yard in my shorts, a little sweat coming down; it's like 80 degrees. My wife steps out of the house, 'Hey there's a bunch of crazy guys on the phone.' "
Could he come to Juneau, they wanted to know.
"I said, 'OK, I'll call.' So I ran in the house and called Alaska Airlines, and they wanted like $1,200 to leave right then. So I called them back, told them, 'Naw, I ain't coming. They want 1,200 bucks.' They said, 'Hang on just a second.' Silence for about a minute. Then they come back and say, 'We'll get your ticket.' "
By 9:30 that evening, Brom was among old friends, dancing to live music in Juneau.
..other acts of theirs that I recall involved a stumbling fellow in Buster Keaton-style clothing. He'd lurch on-stage and just about hang himself with his own necktie. They'd give him a dose of elixir to fix him up and.. *poof* ..he could juggle. It was the first time I'd seen someone do the Onion+Egg+Apple juggling trick (juggle all three, taking bites out of the apple when it comes around. At one or two points the juggler 'accidentally' takes a bite out of the onion. The big finale is when the egg lands on the juggler's head while he catches the apple and the onion in his hands), and also the only time I've seen someone juggle a hand-axe, a machete, and a chain-saw.
Yes. A chain-saw. Running. Mind you, they'd taken the teeth off of it so it was pretty much just a quickly moving metal band on a motor, but still..
Yet another Ogstad trick had to do with someone who was hurt by anything. He'd hobble on-stage complaining about his shoes, the MC would pat him on the shoulder and he'd yelp in pain, etc.. After a dose of the elixir he'd take off his shirt and lay down on stage. Another person would come on-stage, set a watermelon on his stomach, take out a katana (!!) and cut the watermelon in half. No trick there, just someone who was really talented with a sword (one year he cut a little too close and there was a narrow paper-cut of blood along the elixir-taker's stomach).
Yeah, this was how I spent my summers in Alaska.
Oh! And allegedly! Where is it that we know the song, "I wanna sing-a! About the moon-a and the June-a and the spring-a!" from?