Charlie Melvin Mad Bomber

Race for your Life


The Charley Melvin Mad Bomber Run For Your Life is a unique 10K/5K run and 3K walk that draws hundreds of runners and walkers from throughout the Midwest to Iola, Kansas each July. It commemorates the 1905 dynamite bombing of three saloons just after midnight by a local prohibitionist, Charley Melvin. This event brought national attention to the then-lawless boomtown of Iola, Kansas…and broke a whole lot of bottles! We’ve taken a destructive event and turned it into something positive for our community, and we have a whole lot of fun doing it.

Come join us on July 9-10 ( 10K begins at Midnight and 5K begins at 12:26AM on July 10) for an event you’ll never forget. And in addition to the run/walk, starting Saturday afternoon we’ll have a carnival, old time games and the Mad Bomber “drag race”—Iola’s mostly-dignified community members sprinting in drag. Forgive the pun, but it’s a blast, folks.

So here’s the story about how this all got started...


Mad Bomber PhotoIt was early January 1905. Charley Melvin, age 42, had suffered greatly from sleeplessness that had gone on so long that he was afraid that he would belong in a "mad house."

Although Charley was a strict prohibitionist, several of his co-workers at the Kansas Portland Cement Plant told him that beer and whiskey would help quiet his nerves. Now Charley was in such a bad mental state that notwithstanding his conscientious scruples, he purchased at an illegal Iola saloon three quarts of beer and one quart of whiskey.

Within two hours he had drunk nearly all of the beer and a little over a half of a quart of whiskey. He later remarked, "This with the highly nervous condition I was already in made me worse than ever." Concluding that beer and whiskey had brought him to a "fearful state," he decided to get a gun and kill about half a dozen of the Iola saloon keepers.

Mad Bomber PhotoSubsequently Charley professed to seeing a pillar of fire that twice led him around the Iola square before disappearing at the southwest corner of the square, at which time Charley purchased the guns he needed. Officers arrested Melvin before he could take action against the saloon keepers, apparently arresting him on the charge of insanity.

After being adjudged insane, Charley was taken to the state hospital at Osawatomie on January 14, 1905. There he remained until four months later when he was discharged in May as cured.

On West Street in Iola, across the street from the current US Post Office, were three of the many illegal saloons in Iola in 1905. Starting from the alley and going west were the Eagle, the Blue Front, and the Red Light saloons. The building where the Eagle was located looks very much like the Eagle did; the other buildings have been razed. These "joints" or "jiggers" were to be the targets of Charley’s wrath.

The clock read 12:26 a.m. on July 10. Charley stood in front of the Shannon Hardware building on the northwest corner of the courthouse square, slightly more than a block from these saloons. The night was suddenly split by the roar and flash from a massive explosion emanating from the Eagle; about a minute later another explosion ripped through the night coming from the Red Light. A bomb consisting of 150 sticks of dynamite had devastated the Eagle; another 250 sticks of dynamite ripped the Red Light apart.

Mad Bomber PhotoThe man standing on the Shannon corner had never before heard such a roar. Even though he did not know how much damage had been done, he believed that "... it was a great deal heavier than I really wanted." He then said, "God, I’ve done enough." Turning, he disappeared into the night.

The sound of these massive explosions was heard in cities as far away as Humboldt, eight miles to the south; LaHarpe, six miles to the east; and Neosho Falls, ten miles to the northwest. One resident of Neosho Falls believed that the safe at the local bank had been blown open and dressed and went to the bank to check on it.

Great holes were torn in the solid brick walls of the Red Light and of the Eagle, and their roofs were caved in, pinning the owner of the Blue Front Saloon, James E. Thorpe, in his second floor bedroom. The concussion from the bomb’s exploding caused damage to all of the buildings located across the alley on the east side of the block, and destroyed brick walls in many buildings in the vicinity of the explosion, including nearly all the plate glass and window panes for blocks.

The new Allen County Courthouse also took a tremendous blow from broken glass, with its two-day old clock being stopped by the explosion and the building losing 71 windows to the explosion. The damage to all buildings, including from broken glass, was estimated to be about $100,000, or $2.4 million in today’s dollars.

Mad Bomber PhotoShortly after the bombing Iola police officers searched for more dynamite. They found a sack containing 112 sticks of dynamite with a partially burned fuse attached lying against the back of the Mills joint on the north side of the Iola square; another bomb containing 120 sticks of dynamite and a partially burned fuse was discovered at the back of the Jones building on the east side of the square; and a third bomb with 18 sticks was found under the Campbell saloon in Bassett south of Iola.

Charley Melvin was not to be apprehended until August while working in a railroad camp near Keystone, Iowa. He subsequently was tried for burglary and larceny in connection with the theft of the dynamite. He pled not guilty by reason of insanity. One of the doctors who testified that he was insane noted that Charley had told the doctor that he was not insane and never had been, and that denying one’s insanity was a classic characteristic of an insane person.

The jury rejected the insanity defense, and found him guilty. He was sentenced to six to fifteen years in the state penitentiary from which he was released in June of 1914 shortly before his death.

Download a 2016 Mad Bomber Run Brochure 

In front of the Shirt Shop

5PM - Midnight - Late Run/Walk Registration

On the Courthouse Lawn

5-9 PM Inflatable's Sponsored by the Iola High School and Middle School Bands

Main Stage (Washington Ave.)
5:30 PM - Live Music featuring Julia Martin
6:40 PM - Let's Make a Deal
7:30 PM - Live Music featuring Pompous Jack
8:45 PM - Red Carpet

9:30 PM -  Parade of Lights

Main Stage (Washington Ave.)

10:30 PM - Drag Race
10:50 - Live Music featuring Pompous Jack

West Street (In front of the Post Office)
12:00 AM - 10K Begins
12:26 AM - 5K/3K Begins

Live Music Featuring:




Click here to Register Online
Early Registration Prices - Thru June 30, 2016
Adult Runner - T-Shirt $20.00
Adult Runner - Dri-fit Style Shirt $25.00
Youth Runner (13 & under) - T-Shirt $14.00
Youth Runner (13 & under) - Dri-fit Style Shirt $19.00
Adult Walker - T-Shirt $13.00
Adult Walker - Dri-fit Style Shirt $18.00
Youth Walker (13 & under) - T-Shirt $10.00
Youth Walker (13 & under) - Dri-fit Style Shirt $15.00
Late Registration Prices - July 1 - July 10, 2016
Adult Runner - T-Shirt $25.00
Adult Runner - Dri-fit Style Shirt $30.00
Youth Runner (13 & under) - T-Shirt $17.00
Youth Runner (13 & under) - Dri-fit Style Shirt $22.00
Adult Walker - T-Shirt $16.00
Adult Walker - Dri-fit Style Shirt $21.00
Youth Walker (13 & under) - T-Shirt $10.00
Youth Walker (13 & under) - Dri-fit Style Shirt $15.00

Local Amenities


  • Around the Corner
    110 S Jefferson, Iola
    (620) 228-5779
  • A&W Drive In Restaurant
    1421 East Street, Iola
    (620) 365-3011
  • B&B Country Café
    324 West Garfield Street, Iola
    (620) 365-8691
  • Bollings Meat Market & Deli
    201 S State St, Iola
    (620) 380-6328
  • China Palace
    110 North State Street, Iola
    (620) 365-3723
  • Coronado Mexican Restaurant
    1401 East Street, Iola
    (620) 365-8352
  • Dairy Queen
    323 South State Street, Iola
    (620) 365-3691
  • Dudley's Done Right BBQ
    2402 North State Street, Iola
    (620) 380-6580
  • El Charro Restaurant
    17 East Madison Avenue, Iola
    (620) 365-7771
  • El Jimador
    902 N State Street, Iola
    (620) 365-7300
  • The Greenery
    1315 North State Street, Iola
    (620) 365-7743
  • The Inn Club
    1315 North State Street, Iola
    (620) 365-2975
  • King’s Sandwich Shop
    321 South State Street, Iola
    (620) 365-6271
  • McDonalds
    312 West Madison Avenue, Iola
    (620) 365-7571
  • Pizza Hut
    1612 North State Street, Iola
    (620) 365-5991
  • Renee’s Bakery
    2 North Washington Avenue
    (620) 365-2922
  • Rookies Sports Bar & Grill
    105 East Jackson, Iola
    (620) 228-5322
  • Sam & Louie's
    2150 N. State St.
    (620) 380-6900
  • Sonic Drive In
    301 West Madison Avenue, Iola
    (620) 365-5282
  • Subway
    708 North State Street, Iola
    (620) 365-8088
  • Taco Bell
    1602 North State Street, Iola
    (620) 365-6820


  • America's Best Value Inn
    1315 North State Street, Iola
    (620) 365-5161
  • Regency Inn
    14 North State Street, Iola
    (620) 365-2183
  • Storage & RV Park of Iola
    1327 US Highway 54, Iola
    (620) 365-2200
  • Super 8 Motel
    200 Bills Way, Iola
    (620) 365-3030



Charley Melvin Mad Bomber Run A Resounding Success!

by Chris Weiner - 7.9.2011

With over 800 registrants, the 2011 Third Annual Charley Melvin Mad Bomber Run was the greatest success we've had yet! We had numerous events and had great participation in all of them! The drag race and minute to win it games were especially popular. We had Dick Ross from seeKCRun out of Kansas City here to photograph the event. He took many photos throughout the night and if you would like to see your own picture, or just see how much fun everyone had, visit his website at!

If you participated in the race and would like to see your race results visit!

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Race Results

Click here for race results provided by Oz Endurance