Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Picturing the Gopher Prairie Boys’ Band

My dad and I don’t have the greatest success rate with historical museums.  Occasionally we find what we’re seeking.  Usually, though, we leave empty handed, which is disappointing, or we come away with something we hadn’t expected to find, which can be fun, but can lead to more searching.

Last week, we had a rare success story – and an unexpected find.

I was in Sauk Centre, the hometown of author Sinclair Lewis (best known for his novel Main Street), working on a travel story for the Star Tribune.  I had lunch with my parents, and then my mom and I explored the downtown while my dad met with a friend.  I decided to stop in at the Sauk Centre Area Historical Society to see if they had a photo of a boys’ band from 1927.

The society is located in the lower level of the Bryant Library, which Lewis frequented as a boy.
“To the Bryant Library ... with lively memory of the days when its books were my greatest achievement.”
I figured it was a long-shot, but it seemed silly not to at least inquire.  My great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, organized a 40-piece boys’ band in Sauk Centre in March 1927 when he was working for C.G. Conn as a real-life music man.  I had a couple of newspaper clippings from the Sauk Centre Herald about the organization of the band, and I knew G. Oliver hadn’t stayed to direct it  – the city’s band committee hired a man from Alexandria named P.W. Hanson to lead the band.  I hoped the museum had more information and, just possibly, a photo.

The society’s director, Marilyn Uhlenkamp, was out for the day, so I filled out a form explaining what I was seeking.  She called me the next day.  Yes, she had a photo of the band, from May 1927.
A photo of the 1927 Sauk Centre Boys’ Band, with names of all the members.
She also had interesting news: a man in his 90s who had played in the band had stopped in at the museum last summer.  She thought he was still alive and living in St. Cloud.

She mailed me a copy of the band photo, and the Sauk Centre Herald article from July 27, 2010, about the man, Wayne Luedtke, who played the clarinet and is pictured in the photo.  He joined the band in 1927 and stayed in it through 1930.

I hope to contact him to find out more about his experience, and to see if he remembers G. Oliver’s early involvement with the band.

1 comment:

  1. I hope you are able to get in touch with Wayne. That kind of connection is part of what makes your research so interesting. If you ask enough questions and look at enough pictures with the right people, you just might discover someone with first-hand knowledge. So rare anymore!