There was no creature in Quad-City dogdom compared to Bozo. He was the consummate downtown pet and panhandler, whose favorite dish was chili at the Best Ever Café in Rock Island. From friend and stranger, he begged candy bars that he buried for future hungry days. When mooching failed in Rock Island, he would hop on the ferry to try his luck on the other side of the river, downtown Davenport. He once had been jailed but was always loved, and at death it’s claimed that 150 attended his funeral.
Someone should write a little Bozo Book. Some facts that have been passed around are largely illusory, but they make a good story. He often made news copy in the 1940s and ’50s.
NOW, I HAVE found some truth from two Rock Island people who knew Bozo. Francis “Cork” Steen, 88, is enthused when the dog’s name is mentioned. Effie Skafidas, who is on the sunny side of 90, remembers Bozo with affection. Most others who remember Bozo are no longer with us.
“Everyone loved him,” says Steen. “I grew up with that dog. He had the run of downtown Rock Island. My dad, Jim, ran the barber shop in the old Harms Hotel. Bozo would greet customers, then go outside to visit the guys sitting in green chairs. Everyone gave him candy bars; he never tore the wrappers. He buried the candy bars, like a squirrel buries nuts. He always remembered where they were and dug them up on days when he was hungry.”
Effie remembers how Bozo would wander into the Best Ever Café that she and her husband, George, ran near the bus depot. She says, “Bozo loved our chili in a plastic bowl. He circulated the tables to get scraps.”
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OVER THE YEARS, through old clippings, the legend of Bozo emerges. If no one was feeding him, he would board the W.J. Quinlan ferry and try the pickings in Davenport. The late Charley Witt, a cheery Davenport traffic police officer, told how Bozo could follow traffic lights. “He had different woofs to tell red from green.”
Bozo made the front page of the Rock Island Argus when an attorney tried to enter him in the elite Tri-City Kennel Club show at the Rock Island Armory, in what is now Schwiebert Riverfront Park. Lynn Ash of the Argus wrote, “Bozo got the bum’s rush because he didn’t have a health certificate.”
Bozo often lacked good manners. He was once hauled off to jail after he relieved himself on a woman’s leg while she waited for the bus, A police officer made bond and Bozo was released.
Bozo grew old and blind and was painlessly put to death at the insistence of friends. He was laid to rest in a flower-decorated casket. News clipping say that 50 cars were in his funeral procession to a Coal Valley pet cemetery and there were more than 100 mourners. Before Bozo’s casket was closed, an admirer placed a candy bar alongside his head.