Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fresh Spaghetti and Sweet Music in Old Market Omaha

Our house is rarely quiet, but it's certainly been quieter than usual since Louisa left Thursday morning on a tour to Omaha with the Northfield Youth Choirs.  So I was happy to hear the phone ring yesterday afternoon and hear her voice on the other end of the line.  She was calling from the Omaha Strategic Air and Space Museum.  She told me a little bit about the fun she's having, but most of the short conversation involved me reading off the cast list of the Northfield Arts Guild's upcoming production of The Phantom Tollbooth.  The cast was announced yesterday, and Louisa will be playing the parts of Lethagarian #6 and the gatekeeper.  It should be great fun.  The performances are in June, and rehearsals start next week.

The choir was scheduled to eat dinner last night at Spaghetti Works in Omaha's Old Market District.  If we'd had more time to talk, I might have mentioned to Louisa that she would be walking over cobblestone streets that her great-great grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, likely traversed as a 19-year-old man.  About six blocks from Spaghetti Works there once was a theatre called Boyd's Opera House.  In 1889-90, G. Oliver played first cornet at Boyd's as a member of the National Salsbury Orchestra.  I know he was proud of this because he mentioned it a few times in his writings, and it's listed among his accomplishments in his entry in the 1941 edition of Who’s Who in Minnesota.

According to the Omaha Public Library website, Boyd’s Opera House was built in 1881 by James E. Boyd.  It was the first prominent theatre in town.  Located at the northeast corner of 15th and Farnam streets, it could seat 1,700 people.  Boyd later built a new theatre at 17th and Harney streets, and he leased the original Boyd's Opera House to L.M. Crawford, who changed the name to the Farnam Street Theatre.  The building was destroyed by fire in 1893.

I'm not sure why G. Oliver ended up in Omaha; whether he went there for the job, or if he found the job because he was already living there with his parents and sister, Daisy.  I do know that he was on a temporary break from his schooling, trying to earn enough money to return to the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where he studied violin, piano, cornet and the history and theory of music.  When his family left Omaha in August 1890 and moved back to Joy, Illinois, G. Oliver moved, too.  He got a job in Albia, Iowa, directing a band, and he also played solo cornet for the Third Regimental Band in Centerville, Iowa, under the direction of George Landers.  He returned to Oberlin and graduated in 1891.

Louisa will be home tomorrow evening, and it will be fun to hear all about her adventures in Omaha: the visit to Boys Town, the performance of Mister Roberts at the Omaha Community Playhouse, singing at St. Michael's Lutheran Church with the Nebraska Children's Chorus, the visit to the Henry Doorly Zoo.  I'm especially interested to hear what she thought of the Joslyn Art Museum.  I learned from the website that the Art Deco museum opened in 1931 and was given to the city by Sarah Joslyn in memory of her husband, George Joslyn, who made a fortune in the ready-print news business.  The Joslyns moved to Omaha in 1880.  They were huge supporters of music and art and – who knows? – they may have attended one of G. Oliver's concerts.

The only time I've been to Omaha was in 2006, when our whole family went with Louisa's Girl Scout troop.  We also ate at Spaghetti Works, although I didn't realize at the time that I had an ancestral connection to that historic part of the city.  The most memorable experience of that trip was our overnight at the zoo, where we slept in sleeping bags in front of the penguin exhibit.  It was not a restful night.  I'm hoping Louisa gets more sleep on the choir trip, although that's probably wishful thinking.

Sebastian and Elias pose with the gorilla statue at the Henry Doorly Zoo, June 2006.

Louisa at Spaghetti Works, in Omaha's Old Market District, in June 2006.

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