Friday, January 15, 2010

Taken for Granite

Last year, when I was writing an article for AAA Living magazine about New Ulm's historical video podcast walking tour, I heard that St. Cloud had received a grant to create a similar tour.  I lost track of the project until last week, when I happened upon the site during a Google search.

I was excited to see that one of the St. Cloud podcasts was about Barden Park - that is, until I watched it and discovered a glaring omission. 

The video spot explains the history of the park, how it was first named Central Park and later renamed for Charles Barden, a longtime parks board member.  It also explains that the central feature of the park is the octagonal bandstand, built in 1925 out of St. Cloud granite.  And then - it neglects to mention anything about the band itself.

Hello, historians.  It's a bandstand - without the band, it's just a stand.  And I can't let that stand.

The year the bandstand was built, my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, was the director of both the St. Cloud Municipal Boys' Band, pictured above in the white uniforms, and the St. Cloud Municipal Band, wearing dark uniforms and sitting inside the bandstand.

In August 1925, 5,000 people thronged the park to attend a concert that included performances by both bands and concluded with a community sing.  Not all concerts attracted an audience of that size, but the band continued to hold regular, popular summer concerts at the park through Riggs' 20-year career as director. 

One former band member who went on to play in the U.S. Navy Band, Leonard Jung, told me there was always a popcorn wagon at the park during concerts, where people could buy popcorn and Cracker Jacks.  Some concertgoers wouldn't get out of their cars.

"They'd just sit in the car, and when a number was through, for applause, they'd all honk their horns," Leonard said.

The park is located in the St. Cloud State University neighborhood, and the St. Cloud Municipal Band still plays summer concerts there, in a showmobile near the bandstand.  Concertgoers enjoy root beer floats and sit on benches or bring their own lawn chairs.  The photo below was taken at one of those concerts, in August 2008  (My dad, William Riggs, is in the trumpet section).

So, to set the record straight: the history of Barden Park is entwined with the history of the St. Cloud Municipal Band.  You can't have one without the other.  Musical contributions to the park's history should not be overlooked or taken for granted.

1 comment:

  1. The band concerts in Barden Park are the stuff of which St. Cloud history is made! Inexcusable to fail to mention the band itself! Three of my uncles played in that band under the direction of G. Oliver Riggs.
    Karen Wittmayer Beckers
    Sierra Vista, AZ