A musician. An actor. A storyteller. Magic.
Call him whatever you want, Daniel Claps touched the lives of millions through his 50-year career performing as the beloved cowboy Marshal Wild Windy Bill McKay.
Marshal Wild Windy Bill's act in Ghost Town was a staple at Storytown U.S.A. in upstate New York (which later became the Great Escape and then Splashwater Kingdom). His routine epitomized the triumph of good over evil as he deputized children with special tin badges so they could help him capture bank robbers and keep the streets of Ghost Town safe.
Even if you never had a chance to see the Marshal in action, or even ever heard of him, the news of his death this week should cause every American heart to ache at the loss.
To begin to understand why, transport yourself back to 1966 in this YouTube video of one family's truly American vacation. Wild Windy Bill McKay becomes the star at the at the 6:55 mark in the video:
So, when Claps passed away last Saturday at the age of 90, did he take a chunk of the young Americana heart with him? Is there a special hole in the kid soul gaping to be filled with dazzling songs and stories of a tough cowboys fighting for good?
"It may sound like a cliche to say part of my childhood is gone, but it’s the absolute fact in this case," writes Jay Bobbin in a response to a blog post on timesunion.com by Chuck Miller.
But the outlook isn't all bad. Not to belittle Claps, but one writer suggests The Marshal was more of a symbol anyway.
"The Marshal was in many ways iconic of what is good about this country; he was a positive role model when positive role models are at times difficult to find; he crossed all political, social, religious and racial barriers," Tony Fappiano writes. He remembers Daniel Claps as, "a man who made a huge difference."
Daniel Claps and his character made a difference to James Pavoldi, too. Pavoldi looks back fondly on the trips to the park and says he's held onto his tin badge, like the one below, for at least thirty years since he earned it helping The Marshal fight robbers.
"I doubt even he truly understood the impact he was having," Pavoldi said. "The highlight of these trips was often making sure we had enough caps and our cap guns were in good working order before being deputized by Marshal Wild Windy Bill and going on a community patrol to pretty much save the town from the bad guys," he said.
Can you even imagine a new amusement park in America today allowing kids to run around with guns shooting bad guys?
For more pictures of Wild Windy Bill over the years, check out a great slideshow by the TimesUnion here.
Miller tells The Blaze:
What Marshal Wild Windy Bill McKay did for 50 years was epitomize the true spirit of a children's entertainer. He created a world where the good guys always win over the bad guys, and that if you grow up - doing the right thing - saying your prayers and believing in yourself - you can achieve anything in the world. How many of those junior deputies have gone on to law enforcement or the military or to be EMT's or firefighters or leaders of society? How many thousands of kids kept their Ghost Town badges as treasures of their youth? Too many to even begin to count.
I believe that with the passing of Wild Windy Bill McKay, a chapter does close on the type of regional entertainment that these theme parks were best known for. We don't have children's TV show hosts any more - there are no Sally Starr or Major Mudd to guide our growth; they've been replaced by entertainers like Barney or the Teletubbies or Harry Potter. It's not the same. And I don't think we'll ever experience anything like that again.
Marshal Wild Windy Bill McKay is gone, but the lessons learned from the man in the 10-gallon hat will, no doubt, long live on in the hearts and minds of every kid that ever walked out of Storytown holding a tin badge and knowing they had helped win the day.