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Early Years

William Thomas Tracy, better known as Bill Tracy, was born on July 16, 1916 in Toledo, Ohio to Newton A. Tracy, a general practice lawyer, and Juanita L. Tracy (Hooper), who was a housewife. As a result of Newton’s professional success, the Tracy family lived comfortably in the Old West End of Toledo and as of 1930 had a German maid living with them to assist with general household operations. The Old West End of Toledo was primarily a Jewish community, but was also the home of many professionals, such as doctors and lawyers. The Tracy family was known to support the Republican political party. Newton’s father, Thomas H. Tracy, was a devout Methodist and an active member of St. Paul’s M.E. Church. As a result, Newton was raised as a Methodist and these religious beliefs were then instilled in Bill during his childhood.

Bill Tracy as a boy.

Although Bill was brought up in a family of wealth and strong religious beliefs, his interests and hobbies would prove very different. On one occasion, Bill was able to talk his mother into taking him and his sister Laurabelle, who was one year older than him, to an insane asylum for a visit. On another occasion, Bill, who was a teenager at the time, went with his sister and some of their friends to a graveyard at midnight in an attempt to wake the dead. Not surprisingly, the only person they managed to awaken was the cemetery’s caretaker. Later in life, Laurabelle described the asylum visit as being one of the scariest activities that she had ever participated in. Aside from Bill’s odd and somewhat macabre childhood recreational activities, he attended school through the twelfth grade and had a higher than average intelligence quotient. Bill attended Cranbrook School, a private college preparatory boarding school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, from 1930 to 1932. Then, from 1932 through December of 1933, he attended Riverside Military Academy, an all-boys college preparatory school, in Gainesville, Georgia. From January until June of 1934, Bill attended Maumee High School, a public school located in Maumee, Ohio near Toledo. Next, he attended the prestigious Cascadilla Day Preparatory School in Ithaca, New York for one full year, from 1934 to 1935, including the summer session in 1935. Cascadilla School was founded as a preparatory school for Cornell University, a member of the Ivy League. Bill and his father generally expected him to attend Cornell University once he graduated from Cascadilla School in 1935. He even went as far as to pledge a fraternity at Cornell University while he was a student at Cascadilla School, which was an accepted practice in the 1930s. Finally, Bill left Cascadilla School before graduating and transferred back to his hometown of Toledo, Ohio for his senior year. From 1935 to 1936, he attended Scott High School, a public school in Toledo. Transferring from school to school had taken its toll on Bill, and as a result, his school years were spent in isolation, especially during his time at Scott High School where he did not participate in any sports, clubs, activities, nor have his senior picture taken. He went through the motions his senior year doing just enough to graduate; however, he did take Aviation I & II, a specialized program at Scott High School that would benefit him while serving in the U.S. Army in the years ahead.

Bill Tracy as a young man.

After graduating from Scott High School in 1936, Bill’s travels took him to the state of Florida where he eventually settled down in the town of Marianna. While living in Marianna, he taught navigation with the U.S. Army and later began sculpting with ceramics after relocating to Sarasota, Florida. Before long, Bill’s creativity flourished and he became nationally known for his ceramics after being featured in the November 11, 1940 issue of Life, where a photo of Bill Tracy’s ceramic creation, “Jonah in the Whale,” was published in an article covering the Syracuse Ceramic Show at The Museum of Fine Arts in Syracuse, New York, where his piece was on display. His unique sculpture featured a whale with a portion of its side removed to reveal a person trapped inside. Not long after his ceramic success, Bill met his wife, Irene, and married her during his time in Sarasota. In 1948, Bill and Irene gave birth to their only child, a daughter they named Willow.

Tracy’s “Jonah in the Whale”, as published in the
November 11, 1940 issue of Life.

Part II - Ringling Bros. >

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