Monday, June 28, 2010

The Power of the Press and the Pursuit of Photos

Who says no one is reading newspapers anymore?

Last week, The Crookston Times published an article about my recent trip to Crookston with my parents and our search for more information about my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs (here's the blog entry I wrote about the article).  The day the article ran, I received emails from two men who had read the story and had information to share.

One man had played in the high school band under G. Oliver's successor in Crookston, T.W. Thorson, and has a band program from a 1906 concert where G. Oliver was the director and his wife, Islea, was the accompanist.  He's going to look for it in his files and send it to me.

The other man is the grandson of Harry H. Chesterman, who moved to Crookston with his parents in 1892 at the age of 7 (G. Oliver arrived in town in 1898) and became an amateur photographer as a teenager.  Chesterman later had a photography studio in Crookston at 216 N. Broadway, next door to his father's funeral home.

The grandson who contacted me lives out of state and doesn't have many of his grandfather's early photos, but a cousin has a box of Chesterman's belongings, which may include photos.  He is hoping to get a look at the box in the next couple of months and will let me know whether it contains any band photos (including the Holy Grail of photos, one of G. Oliver with John Philip Sousa).

The Minnesota History Center has four of Chesterman's photos; a 1908 photo of James J. Hill at a birthday celebration in Crookston; a panoramic photo from 1915 of legislators taking a special train trip through northern Minnesota; one of St. Peter's Church in Gentilly, Minn., and one of former Minnesota Gov. Harold Stassen returning from service in World War II.

According to his grandson, many of Chesterman's photos were published, uncredited, in a 1954 book celebrating Crookston's 75th anniversary.  He has looked at the book and says it doesn't contain any band photos.  I may try to obtain a copy through interlibrary loan to see what kinds of photos it does contain.

Chesterman remained in Crookston until the 1930s and died in the mid-1960s.  I am sure that G. Oliver knew him.  I am now intrigued to find out more about this young man, who must have had acquired some fascinating stories as toted his camera around Crookston, snapping photos from the turn of the century through the Depression.  That's one of the fun aspects of this research; it introduces me to people I wouldn't otherwise meet, living and dead.

I look forward to hearing more from Chesterman's grandson, and from the man with the band program, and to meeting others out there who can help me better understand G. Oliver's life and career.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Read All About It: A ‘real-life music man’ in the Crookston Times

One of the challenges of researching my great-grandfather's life is that he was in the newspaper all the time.  It would likely take me years to track down every scrap of coverage of his band rehearsals, band concerts and band-related news published during his 60-year directing career.

I think he would be pleased to know that he's once again making news in one of those newspapers, the Crookston Daily Times, 90 years after he moved from the town. 

Here's the link to the article:  Riggs: A ‘real-life music man’ - Crookston, MN - Crookston Times

My appreciation goes out to Natalie Ostgaard, for meeting with us and writing the article; to Kay Hegge, for taking us into the newspaper office and introducing us to the staff; and to my mom, for being seen with Dad and me as we toted G. Oliver around (in his cardboard cutout form) to his old Crookston haunts.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

There's Something Fishy About These Men

A question: What do my grandfather, my dad and my husband all have in common?

If you answered that they're all musical, that's certainly true.  But the less obvious answer I was going for was this: they all like(d) to fish.

Me fishing with my dad, William, off the dock on Lake Brophy near Alexandria

How can I possibly connect music and fishing?  If you don't know, then you haven't read a joke book lately. 

• How did the fish practice piano? With its scales, of course. 

•What do fish sing to each other?  Salmon-chanted evening.

•And then there's this classic: What's the difference between a fish and a piano?  You can't tuna fish.

My grandfather, Ronald Riggs

My grandfather, Ronald, was quite a punster, from what I understand.  It also appears that he was quite the fisherman.  He died when I was 10 months old, so I never got to hear any of his jokes, or go fishing with him.  I would have liked that. 

My dad, William Riggs, fishing at his grandparents' cabin on Grace Lake near Bemidji.

My dad has baited many a hook, for my brother and me, and now for his grandchildren.  He also has told many a joke.  His jokes often concern Ole and Lena, but he probably has some music and fish jokes, too.  He has taught me that patience is necessary in fishing and in jokes.  Wait for the slight tug on the line, and wait for the punchline.  It will be worth it.

My husband, Steve, on a fishing trip "up north" with his dad and brother-in-law.

Steve likes to fish, and he likes jokes.  Here's a special Father's Day joke just for you, Steve, as you count down the days until your summer 2010 fishing trip (it's less than a month away!):

Where are most fish found?  Between the head and the tail.

Finally, here's a joke for Sebastian, who is at Boy Scout camp this week (possibly fishing) and can't be home for our annual Father's Day breakfast-in-bed tradition:

What is dry on the outside, filled with water and blows up buildings?  A fish tank!

Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Summer Concert Season Kick-Off

The Northfield Community Band takes the stage at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 17, for its first concert of the 2010 season.  The band is playing on Bridge Square during the Taste of Northfield, and I'm looking forward to listening as I investigate the culinary offerings of the town's participating restaurants.

The Northfield Community Band has played summer concerts for more than 100 years.  It's a wonderful tradition.  I like the fact that the band is open to anyone, of high school age and older, who is interested in performing and is willing to show up for rehearsals.  It's a shame the talented group has such a short season – although I can understand why, given people's busy schedules.

My great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, demanded a longer summer commitment from his band members.  The typical summer season for his municipal and boys' bands began in early June and ran through early September.  The fall/winter season started in October.

During the summer of 1915, for example, the Citizens Band of Crookston had 20 concerts.  The band played 143 different songs from seven different categories: overtures, selections (like Victor Herbert's "Sweethearts"), novelties (anyone familiar with "Crazy Bone Rag" by Charles Johnson?); solos/duets, waltzes, marches, and popular songs (such as the World War I-inspired "I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier" by Al Piantadosi).
 The Crookston Citizen Band's summer 1915 brochure, which lists all 27 band members and their instruments.
The other side lists all 143 selections the Crookston band played in concerts that summer.

G. Oliver continued this tradition of weekly summer concerts throughout his directing career.  In some towns, like Crookston, Minn., Grand Forks, N.D., and Havre, Mont., these outdoor concerts were held at different locations in the business district, with the band playing on a moveable, lighted bandstand.  In St. Cloud, the bands sometimes paraded through the downtown streets, but the weekly concerts were rotated among the city's parks. 
I snapped this photo at the intersection of Kittson Avenue and South Third Street in Grand Forks, one of the concert sites for the Grand Forks city band in the summer of 1909.

Earlier this afternoon, while trying to cull some duplicate photos and unneeded documents from my computer files, I rediscovered an article I'd scanned about the Crookston Juvenile Band's debut summer concert in 1916.  The yellowed newspaper clipping, which was loose in my great-grandfather's scrapbook, includes a photo of the band – the same photo that my parents and I found hanging in the Polk County History Museum during our recent trip to Crookston, and that I mentioned in a previous blog entry.

The clipping is of two related stories; one about how the concert on Robert Street attracted an audience of more than a thousand people; and one about a community effort to raise money to purchase uniforms for the band before its appearance at the Grand Forks fair.

The newspaper clipping about the Crookston Juvenile Band.

A copy of the same photo, which we found hanging on a wall at the Polk County Historical Museum.  G. Oliver is in the center, with son Ronald to the left and son Percy to the right.

I must have noticed the photo when I first found the undated clipping in the scrapbook, but I had forgotten about it.  And since I didn't have the exact date (at that point, I didn't even know the year), I had put it aside until I had more clues that would help me date it.  It's one of the battles I constantly face, having acquired so much material about G. Oliver's bands; sometimes I forget what I have already seen, and what I've filed away for future research.

The cool thing about seeing the actual photo at the museum (and making a life-size copy) is that it's so much easier to see all the boys' faces.  Also, Floyd Meng, the man who donated the photo to the museum (and who is No. 2 in the picture), listed on the back all the names he knew or remembered.  If you look closely, you might be able to see the white numbers etched on each band member.

In the interest of assisting people out there who are researching their Crookston ancestors, here's a numbered list of all the boys in the photo.  Let me know if you recognize a name!  Even if you don't, it's fun to see the variety of names from that time.

1. Lorenze Thomforde
2. Floyd Meng
3. Ray Lanatot
4. Wallace Lowe
5. xxx Bjorgo
6. Herman Heydt
7. Maurice Bratrud
8. George Bang
9. Joe Hovland
10. Harold Braff

11. Walter Henemuth
12. Vernon Bustrud
14. Ephraim Lee
15. Junius Holte
16. Ellory Storholm
18. Walter Meng
19. Truman Daniels
20. xxx Wheeler

23. Edward Risch
26. Ronald Riggs (my grandfather)
27. Laurence Berquist
28. Oliver Riggs, Director (my great-grandfather)
29. Cliff Strande
30. Dwight Darkow

31. xxx Rossberg
32. Chas. Smiley
33. Ronald Davies
34. Ken Lohn
35. Earl Berg
36. Joe Peterson
37. xxx LaCousiere

42. Harold Holte
43. xxx Brouilliard
44. Percy Riggs (my great-uncle)
45. Peter Fylling
46. Keith Sandberg
47. Lloyd Lobb
48. xxx Bjorgo
49. xxx Bjorgo

51. xxx Chabot
52. Ed Schuler
53. Howard Lohn
54. Hilmon Johnson
55. Ray Cochrane
56. Ed Swartzkopf
57. Perrman Nesselrod

62. Sven Vaule
64. Earl Gramer
66. V. Brouilliard
67. Glenn Sandberg
68. Ole Fylling
69. Oscar Berge (not present)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Thursday in the Park with George (and William and Joy)

My dad and I are booked to give a presentation about G. Oliver Riggs next month at St. Cloud's historic Barden Park.  The offer to pay us in free root beer floats certainly was an incentive.  But mostly we're excited to have the opportunity to discuss the connection between the park and G. Oliver (the G. stands for George), who conducted summer concerts there throughout his almost 20 years as director of the St. Cloud Municipal Band and St. Cloud Municipal Boys' Band.

We will give a 30-minute talk Thursday, July 22, beginning at 6:45 p.m., before the St. Cloud Municipal Band's 7:30 p.m. concert.  Mark your calendars now; the concerts are always a fun, family friendly event!

Sebastian, Elias and Louisa inspect the fountain in front of the bandstand at St. Cloud's Barden Park in May 2007.

Barden Park, originally called Central Park, has served the residents of the city's South Side/Barden Park neighborhood for more than 150 years.  It also holds a special place in the history of the Riggs family.  My dad and his two siblings grew up a block from the park, next to St. Cloud State University (formerly the St. Cloud Teacher's College).  My grandfather Ronald Riggs took a job in 1940 as the college band director, and eventually became a political science professor at the college.

Sebastian poses with the Harry Clay Ervin "A Citizen of St. Cloud" monument, in the park where my dad used to play.

From about fourth grade through his college student years, my dad lived in a house at 311 8th St. S.  In the 1970s, after my grandfather had died, the house was relocated and the property was turned into a parking lot for the expanding university.  When my brother and I were kids, my dad drove past the park and showed us the site of his childhood home.  I was glad to learn that he hadn't actually lived in the parking lot. 

The park's distinctive octagonal granite bandstand that I noticed as a child is still there.  It's been there since 1925, two years after a group of businessmen enticed G. Oliver to leave Bemidji and move to St. Cloud to direct the city band and form a boys' band.   As director, G. Oliver instituted a program of weekly summer concerts that rotated among the city's parks, including Central (renamed Barden in 1938).  He continued to direct these summer concerts through the 30s and early 40s; he retired in 1944.

I discovered this morning, while looking at old concert programs, that my dad and I give our presentation almost exactly 74 years after the day that G. Oliver and his younger son, Percy, co-directed a concert at Barden Park.  Percy was visiting from South Bend, Indiana, where he was director of the Riley High School Band.

This article about the concert ran in the July 24, 1936 issue of The St. Cloud Daily Times.

The July 23, 1936 concert featured a solo by Pullman "Tommy" Pederson, a student of G. Oliver's who became a famous Hollywood trombonist.

Another piece on the program was Karl King's "Barnum and Bailey's Favorite."  Unfortunately, we don't have a recording from the 1936 concert, but you can watch a YouTube video of the St Cloud Municipal Band playing that peppy King march at an Aug. 13, 2009 concert at Barden Park.

I've been to Barden Park twice in the past couple of years: in May 2007, when Steve, the kids and I stopped there on the way to a St. Cloud Municipal Band concert at the Paramount Theatre; and again in August 2008, to hear my dad play with the band at its circus-themed concert.  Both times, I was impressed with how inviting the park looked.  Thanks to the efforts of neighborhood residents like Juliana Elchert, chair of the Barden Park Committee, the park has benefited from $500,000 in improvements over the past several years.  The bandstand, designed by St. Cloud architect Louis Penault, has been restored.  New lighting and pathways have been installed.  And just last week, four 6-foot granite columns were installed to mark the corners of the park.  The project was explained in a recent St. Cloud Times article.

I'm grateful to all those who've had a hand in preserving this wonderful park for future generations.  I hope that a century from now, people will still visit a lovingly maintained Barden Park to enjoy the simple pleasures in life, like a drinking a cold root beer, and listening to a live band.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Getting in Tune with G.: the Soundtrack

You can't have a proper adventure without a good soundtrack.  As my dad, my mom and I drove around northern Minnesota and North Dakota earlier this week, researching the life of my great-grandfather, we had the perfect musical accompaniment: songs that G. Oliver's Crookston band performed in the early 1900s.

Songs The Crookston Band Played
Volumes 1 & 2
Crookston Road Trip 2010

The Crookston City Band, circa 1900.  Director G. Oliver Riggs is in the center.

Unfortunately, we don't have recordings of the actual band concerts.  But thanks to my husband, Steve, we had the next best thing: a two-volume CD of vintage concert tunes.  By searching sites like iTunes, eMusic and Amazon, Steve was able to find many of the songs listed in the Crookston concert programs that G. Oliver or his wife, Islea, had pasted into a family scrapbook.  Steve downloaded the songs, burned them on two CDs, and designed an origami paper case for each volume.  

Having the appropriate background music helped put us in tune with G. Oliver's creative genius, which may be why the research trip was so successful.

As I listened to the CDs, I was struck by a couple of thoughts:
• It's clear that G. Oliver valued keeping concerts fresh and up-to-date with the latest music; there are few repeat songs.  He must have challenged his bands to keep learning new music each week (kind of like the TV show "Glee," now that I think of it).
• Each concert included a variety of music, and not just what you might think of as typical band music.  The program usually included a march, by Sousa or another composer, but the band also played popular songs of the day, and classical music that highlighted the talents of soloists – out-of-town guest vocalists, Islea on the piano, or G. Oliver himself on violin or cornet.
• Some of the songs I enjoy most are ones I'd never heard before; it's a shame they aren't more widely known and more frequently performed.

Here is a list of all the songs on the CDs, with the name of each composer and the date the song was performed at a Crookston concert, if known (some programs are undated).  I've included Amazon links to some of them, if you'd like to hear a sample. 

A favorite of Steve's and mine is the The Bohemian Girl, Galop by Balfe, performed the day before my birthday in 1900 (it's No. 12, Vol. 1).

Volume One:
1. Robin Hood: Overture
Reginald De Koven
performed on December 18, 1899

2. The Charlatan March
John Philip Sousa
performed on April 21, 1899

3. Squeegee Polka
performed on January 18, 1899

4. Polonaise No. 1 in D major, Op. 4
Henryk Wieniawski
performed on December 9, 1898

5. La Serenata
Paolo Tosti
performed on April 19, 1901

6. Coronation March
Giacomo Meyerbeer
performed on February 15, 1901

7. The Year's at the Spring
Amy Beach
performed on March 3, 1908

8. Kamenniy-ostrov
Anton Rubinstein
performed on February 15, 1901

9. Valse Brillante
Herbert Clarke
performed on March 16, 1909
Mr. G.O. Riggs, cornet soloist

10. La Czarine
Louis Ganne
unknown date of performance

11. Faust: Overture
Charles Gounod
performed November 9, unknown year

12. The Bohemian Girl, Galop
Michael William Balfe
performed on December 12, 1900

13. The Stars and Stripes ForeverThe Stars and Stripes Forever
John Philip Sousa
performed on February 17, 1899

Volume Two:
1. Angel's Serenade
Gaetano Braga
performed February 8, unknown year

2. Don Giovanni: Overture
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
performed on April 21, 1899

3. Star Spangled Banner
John Stafford Smith
performed on March 16, 1909

4. Caeser's Triumphal March
G.F. Mitchell
unknown date of performance

5. Rigoletto – Paraphrase de Concert
Franz Liszt
performed on April 21, 1899
Mrs. Islea Riggs, soloist

6. Standchen (Serenade)
Franz Schubert
performed on December 18, 1899

7. Boys of the Old Brigade March
William Paris Chambers
performed on April 19, 1901

8. Roméo et Juliette: Ah! Je veux vivre
Charles Gounod
performed on March 3, 1908

9. Poet and Peasant: Overture
Franz von Suppé
performed on January 18, 1901

10. Il Trovatore: Miserere d'un'alma già vicina
Giuseppe Verdi
performed on December 12, 1900

11. The Bride Elect
John Philip Sousa
performed August 11, unknown year

12. Waltz in E major
Moritz Moszkowski
performed on january 18, 1899

13. Cavatina for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 85, No. 3
Joseph Joachim Raff
performed on December 9, 1898

14. Mattinata
Paolo Tosti
performed April 17, unknown year

15. Legende, Op. 17
Henryk Wieniawski
performed August 11, unknown year

16. Chicago Tribune March
William Paris Chambers
performed on December 12, 1900

Friday, June 4, 2010

Ruminations on a Road Trip

I’m back in Northfield after a three-day whirlwind trip that took me more than 350 miles north of home and more than 100 years back in time.

Seeing so many cool old buildings still intact in downtown Crookston and Grand Forks gave me a feel for what it might have been like to live there in the early 1900s.  I hope the residents of those towns recognize and appreciate what they possess, which is something so many communities would love to replicate: a sense of place that’s meaningful and unique.

Sadly, not all the important buildings from my great-grandparents’ time are still standing, or are in good condition.  The Grand Opera House in Crookston, for example, was the place where G. Oliver’s bands often performed during his first stay in town (from 1898-1909).  It's also the place where John Philip Sousa’s band played in 1899 and 1902, and where Mark Twain spoke a few years before G. Oliver and Islea moved to Crookston.  The building was destroyed by fire in the 1980s.

This photo was taken at the Grand Opera House in March 1909, at a joint concert of the Citizens' Band of Crookston and the Burnham Creek Band, both directed by G. Oliver Riggs.  The photo hangs on the wall at the Polk County Historical Museum.

On a walking tour of downtown Crookston, preservation advocate and blogger Kay Hegge showed us the vacant lot where the Opera House once stood.  She remembers being at her dad’s nearby store the day of the fire, and worrying that the fire could spread to other buildings.  When my parents and I visited the Polk County Historical Society on Tuesday, we saw pictures of the fire-damaged building.

Dad and G. Oliver on the former site of the Grand Opera House.
It was interesting to stand on the site, now a parking lot, and imagine how large the building must have been.  But it would have meant so much more to walk inside an intact, renovated structure that had reclaimed its role as the center of important community events, a place so lovely and enriched with history that it gives you goosebumps.

That's how I've felt when I've attended concerts at the renovated Paramount Theatre in St. Cloud, where G. Oliver and Islea performed later in their careers.

Another Crookston structure from G. Oliver's time that is in danger of becoming a parking lot is the Palace/Wayne Hotel, built in 1891.  G. Oliver and Islea probably walked by it almost every day.  I know that the band marched past it during parades.  When you look at the abandoned building and envision what it could become, it makes me wish that a modern-day James J. Hill or Andrew Carnegie would step in with some financial muscle and save the day.
The Crookston Band, in about 1899, marches past the Palace Hotel on Second Street near the intersection with Main Street.
 The abandoned Palace/Wayne Hotel today, at the corner of Second and Main.

I can see why Crookston appealed to G. Oliver.  It was an up-and-coming place a century ago, but small enough that people probably felt that the other residents knew and cared about them, a quality it seems to have retained.  And after visiting historic downtown Grand Forks, I can see why G. Oliver might have decided to move in 1909 to that even more up-and-coming city, with its bigger buildings, fancier homes and wealthier music benefactors.
The former home of Mrs. W.A. Gordon, president of the Thursday Musical Club, at 411 Reeves Drive in the tony neighborhood southeast of downtown.  Islea belonged to the club while the family lived in Grand Forks.

Grand Forks must not have been utopia, though.  After a year directing the Grand Forks Military Band (a city band that played military-style music), G. Oliver left for Tacoma, Washington, to put together a professional band.  When that effort failed – one of the few times in his career that he wasn't able to work his band-organizing magic – he returned to the Conservatory of Music at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mt. Pleasant to teach, before taking a band directing job in Havre, Montana. 

G. Oliver was enticed into returning to Crookston in 1914.  He directed adult and juvenile bands there until the spring of 1919, when he was lured to Bemidji.

I wonder what G. Oliver would think if he knew we'd taken a trip to his old musical haunts in Crookston and Grand Forks.  I'd like to think that he would be pleased to know that my dad and I are fascinated by his life story, and that we feel a responsibility to make sure he is remembered.  

Louisa has said that she hopes her great-granddaughter is interested in knowing about her life one day.  I'm glad my work has her thinking about family history.  If my kids get nothing else from my adventures into the past (besides the souvenir box of “Chippers” from Widman’s Candy Shop), I hope they develop a sense of pride in knowing where they came from, and a sense of appreciation for those who made it possible.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Old Haunts and New Friends

It was great having G. Oliver with us Wednesday as we retraced his life in Crookston and Grand Forks.  Even though this G. Oliver was only a cardboard cutout, the handsome, tuxedo-clad bandmaster helped us break the ice as we tried to explain to people we met why we were so interested in old photos and historic buildings.

I especially felt that the force of G. was with us when we entered the Crookston Times building seeking information and left as the subjects of a news story.  G. Oliver constantly was feeding news items to the Crookston papers about his bands back in the early 1900s.  He recognized the power of promotion long before people commonly used the term "public relations."  My dad and I are hoping the upcoming story in the Crookston Times will help us find more band-related items or information about G. Oliver's career – and perhaps inspire others to investigate their family histories.

Here are some highlights of the day:

 G. Oliver and Dad outside the Riggs family's former home in Crookston. 
 • Old haunt: the former family home on Washington Avenue, south of downtown.  This is where my grandfather Ronald and great-uncle Percy lived as teenagers.  The house certainly has seen better days, but it was a thrill to find it still standing.

 The former City Hall, 123 S. Broadway, once was used for band rehearsals.
• Old haunt: The former City Hall and Fire Station, where G. Oliver once had an office.  It's now owned by Ellen and Larry Leake, who operate a beautiful gift shop, Willow & Ivy, on the building's first level.  Larry took us on a tour of the upstairs to see the council chambers room where G. Oliver conducted band rehearsals.

Kay, G. Oliver and I pause for a photo toward the end of the tour.
 • New friend: Kay Hegge, a Crookston resident and preservation dynamo who blogs about efforts to save Crookston's historic buildings, including the Palace/Wayne Hotel.  Kay accompanied us on our walking tour and introduced us to several people.
A side view of the Palace Hotel, which already was a town landmark when G. Oliver moved to Crookston in 1898.
 • Old haunt: The Palace Hotel, built in 1891, once was considered the most impressive building in Crookston.  It's still impressive, but it's vacant and in danger of being demolished.

The Morris Building, which now houses the Crookston Convention and Visitors Bureau.
 • Old Haunt: The Morris Building, designed by architect Bert Keck, a friend of G. Oliver's.  Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it originally housed Morris Jewelry.  Did G. Oliver ever buy his wife, Islea, something there?

The new library, right, was built adjacent to the old library, now used for storage.
 • Old haunt: The Carnegie Public Library.  G. Oliver's orchestra played at the library's dedication in 1908 (see my previous blog post).

 New friends: The chocolates at Widman's Candy Shop in Crookston, and ...

 ... at the Widman's in Grand Forks, N.D.

A postcard of the Metropolitan Opera House from the University of North Dakota library archives.
Old haunt: the Metropolitan Opera House where G. Oliver's Grand Forks Band played concerts in 1909-1910.

New friend: the Metropolitan Opera house as it looks now.  Wow, what a building!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Feeling "Chipper" about Ancestral Sleuthing Finds

My parents and I spent the day in Crookston, the northwestern Minnesota town that was home to my great-grandparents a century ago.  Here are some things I learned:

1. The best color shirt to wear on a road trip to Crookston is green.  G. Oliver clearly didn't get the memo.

Dad, G. Oliver and me before the 3 1/2-hour drive from Alexandria to Crookston.

2.  Chocolate-covered potato chips ("Chippers") are delicious, and you can get them dipped in milk, dark or white chocolate at Widman's Candy Shop in downtown Crookston.

Mom with a milk chocolate "Chipper" from Widman's Candy Shop.

3. There are many reasons Widman's has been in business since the early 1900s, when G. Oliver lived in Crookston.  One reason: see No. 2.

George Widman, who owns and operates the candy store his grandfather George started in 1911.

4. If you meet a Widman in a candy store in Grand Forks, odds are good that his name also is George.

5. If you are pleasant and look trustworthy, Polk County Historical Society employees will let you borrow a huge framed photo and take it to the downtown photo shop to make a copy.

 This is a photo of the 1917 Crookston Juvenile Band.  Director G. Oliver Riggs is in the center, with son Ron on his left and son Percy on his right.  We hadn't known this photo existed until today.

6.  If you forget to look up during your visit, you could miss another photo that's hanging on the wall right above your head.

The Crookston Band in 1902.  Director G. Oliver Riggs is on the far right.

7. Searching for gravestones in a cemetery can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.  Except you can call the cemetery manager at home and he will talk you through the directions you need to follow to find your ancestors.  I don't think he can help you with that needle.

G. Oliver Riggs, Pioneer Minn. Bandmaster, Nov. 26, 1870-Jan. 25, 1946

Islea Graham Riggs, loyal wife of G. Oliver Riggs, Dec. 23-1874-Apr. 4, 1942

8. Most people in Crookston are friendly and helpful (See No. 7).

9.  If you go to the Irishman's Shanty and order a half-rack of barbecued ribs from the "lighter fare" section of the menu, you will be too full to finish it.  And you be too full to stop at the Dairy Queen later.

10. You can see an evening movie at the Grand Theatre, the oldest continuously operating movie theater in the country, for $4.50 per person.  They don't have a special price for former city band directors or cardboard cutouts.

G. Oliver and me in front of the Grand Theater, which opened in 1910.  G. Oliver lived in Crookston from 1898-1909 and again from 1914-1919. 

I look forward to another day of adventures: a walking tour of historic downtown Crookston, then on to Grand Forks!