Monday, February 28, 2011

A Send in the Clowns/All That Jazz Mashup

I didn’t have much time to blog last week about my musical family because I was too busy attending musical events.  First, we attended the Northfield Middle School winter band concert on Tuesday; Sebastian played trumpet in the middle school jazz band and the 7th grade band.  It was another impressive concert, despite the fact that it was bumped from the middle school auditorium to the gym.

(If I ran the world, I would have decided that comfortably seating the huge crowd of parents and grandparents who showed up to support the middle school musicians should take priority over working on the set for the high school’s Rock ’N Roll Revival production, which opens March 11.  But no one has yet invited me to run the world).

Two days later, we cheered Elias as he and the rest of the fourth graders at Greenvale Park Elementary put on a Circus of the States.  Elias was Mr. Alabama.  At the end of the 1 1/2-hour show, which included juggling and clown acts, all the kids sang the Fifty Nifty United States song. 
Elias as Mr. Alabama.
The end of last week was packed with not one, but two music-related road trips.  On Friday I chaperoned Sebastian’s middle school orchestra trip to a music festival in Woodbury.
Sebastian playing viola in the 7th grade orchestra.
And on Saturday, Steve and I spent several hours touring Mankato while Sebastian’s middle school jazz band performed at the Jazz Fest at Minnesota State University-Mankato.

We took Sebastian out for dinner and attended the concert that evening by the university’s jazz band, the Jazz Mavericks, and guest clinician Gordon Goodwin, an award-winning Hollywood composer and arranger.

The jazz concert was a fantastic conclusion to a busy week.  It left me feeling grateful that my kids have so many wonderful musical opportunities here in Northfield, and so many dedicated teachers who make it all possible.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Fire in Joy

I had a dream yesterday morning that our kitchen was on fire.  For reasons I don’t understand and will leave to a dreamologist or psychiatrist to analyze, I discovered the fire but was paralyzed to act.   I did alert Steve, however, and he used a fire extinguisher to put out the fire.

After telling Steve about it, I put the dream out of my mind until this morning.  That’s when I discovered an eerie coincidence while going through some research notes from several years ago.  Yesterday was Feb. 21.  According to my notes, in the early morning of Feb. 21, 1892, exactly 119 years earlier, my great-great grandfather’s hardware store and residence in Joy, Illinois, were destroyed in a fire.

This great-great grandfather, Jasper Riggs, was the father of G. Oliver Riggs, who at the time of the fire was living in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, teaching music at the Iowa Wesleyan Conservatory of Music.
A line drawing of G. Oliver Riggs, from about 1892.
An article in the Feb. 26, 1892 Aledo Democrat described the event:

Early Sunday morning the people of Joy and vicinity were aroused from their slumbers by the alarm of fire.  It was soon discovered that the store of Love & Church was in flames and all efforts to save anything were in vain.  In a few minutes the Joy store owned by N.H. Derr was also in flames.  The people knew that the residence and hardware store of Jasper Riggs would be the next to go and no time was to be lost.  By this time all Joy and vicinity had flocked to the scene, and in a few minutes the hardware and household goods were moved into the street.  The building was soon in flames, and the people now turned their attention to the grocery store of Geo. Braucht.  Every article was removed from the building, and by hard work on the part of both men and women the building was saved.  In two hours from the time fire was discovered, the three principal business houses of Joy were in ashes.  The household goods and hardware of Mr. Riggs were badly damaged.  How the fire originated is not known.

Another newspaper article further explained the damage caused by the largest fire Joy had ever experienced.  Nothing was saved from the one-story Love & Church store; losses were estimated at $4,500, and the firm did have insurance (interestingly, one of the policies was through William N. Graham, father of Islea Graham, who would later marry G. Oliver).  The other general store, owned by Dr. N.H. Derr, was a total loss, as was his stock of drugs, but he was said to have $3,500 in insurance.

Jasper, the article explains, did not have any insurance on his household goods or hardware stock, and the man who owned the building, J.H. Crane, had no insurance, either.

I had never heard anything about this event until I stumbled across the articles while looking up something else a few years ago.  I am curious about the household goods lost in the fire.  Were there photos of Jasper from his service in the Civil War?  Letters from him to Rebecca, whom he married while on leave from service in the 45th Illinois Infantry?  Baby photos of G. Oliver and his sister, Daisy?  The Riggs family is known for keeping photos, concert programs, and other memorabilia.  The earliest photo we possess is from 1885, of the band G. Oliver organized in Esbon, Kansas; the others all were taken after 1892.

It must have been devastating to experience such a loss, especially in the dead of winter.  I don’t know where Jasper, Rebecca and Daisy lived immediately after the fire.  They did have relatives in the area, so it’s likely they stayed with family.

Later newspaper articles informed me that by mid-June, the Riggs family had moved into a house in Joy that became available after the death of its occupant, Mrs. Sallie Morrow.  And by the end of June, Jasper had moved his hardware stock into Crane’s newly completed building.

I wonder if either man took out any insurance this time?

(A side note: the reason I came across the notes about the fire is because I’ve been trying for weeks now to organize my research and writing files.  It’s slow and not-so-steady progress.  If there was a fire in my office, I’d be in big trouble; I have no genealogy insurance.  It would, however, eliminate the organization problem.)

Monday, February 14, 2011

A License to Wed

Happy Valentine’s Day to all you music lovers and faithful blog readers.  In honor of the day, today’s post is fairly short and sweet (yes, pun intended) and features the marriage certificate of my great-grandparents, G. Oliver Riggs and Islea Graham Riggs.

I love the picture on the certificate, with the cupids flying above the heads of the bride and groom as they stand in what appears to be a courtroom.  Note also that Islea’s name is misspelled, and someone wrote it in correctly above the misspelling.

G. Oliver and Islea were married in Aledo, Ill., on Dec. 22, 1898, at the home of Islea’s parents, William and Flora Bassett.  It was the day before Islea’s 24th birthday; G. Oliver was 28 years old.  Not surprisingly, music was part of the event.  The bridal party descended the stairs to the strains of the wedding march, played by Dr. Alexander Rommel, the director of the Iowa Wesleyan Conservatory of Music and a friend of G. Oliver’s. 

Because I don’t know my fabrics or flowers well, I have trouble picturing this, but the wedding announcement says Islea wore embroidered mousseline de soie over white silk and carried a bouquet of Bride’s roses and Maiden Hair ferns.  Her bridesmaid and sister, Ethel Graham, wore chiffon over pink silk.  No mention was made of G. Oliver’s attire, but the newspaper does note that he was attended by Prof. Ed L. Roth of Mt. Pleasant.

After the ceremony, a wedding supper was served to the 80 guests.  This leads me to believe the house must have been of a decent size, to accommodate such a crowd on a December day.  Prof. Richards of Burlington, who was Islea’s piano teacher for many years, played a piano solo, and Islea’s aunt Bessie Bassett (who was more like a cousin, since they were the same age), was one of three vocal soloists.

The day after the wedding, G. Oliver’s parents, Jasper and Rebecca Riggs, hosted a reception at their home in nearby Joy, Ill.  Then the newly married couple left for Crookston, where G. Oliver had moved a few months earlier to organize and direct the city band.

It must have been both exciting and scary for Islea to leave her family and friends in Aledo, where she had lived all her life, except for the months she spent studying piano in Chicago.  The newspaper described her as “exceedingly popular in musical and social circles” and “a pianist of much ability” who would be greatly missed by her friends and pupils.

Of G. Oliver, it said, “He is as perfect a gentleman as he is a thorough musician.  This paper joins in wishing him continued success in his new home and in wishing for him and his charming bride a long and happy married life.’’

I like to think of them at this time in their life together, when they were young, ambitious and full of dreams.  I am also intrigued by the story of how they got together, but I will save that explanation for another post.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Another Short Visit

My mom and dad stopped in Northfield on Monday for one of their typical short visits.  They arrived after lunch, stayed for dinner and drove back to Alexandria that night after attending Louisa’s high school band concert.

Some people might think my parents are crazy to drive three hours, one way, to attend a high school band concert.  The truth is, they are a little wacky, in a good way.  They don't let distance stop them from participating in the lives of their grandchildren.  I would have loved for them to stay longer, at least overnight, but they are busy retired folks who have places to go and people to meet for coffee.

My kids are lucky to have not just one, but two sets of supportive grandparents willing to endure winter road trips.  This weekend, the Lawler grandparents will be here to see Louisa – and Steve – perform in The Curious Savage at the Northfield Arts Guild Theater.
Monday was the beginning of tech week, when they run the lights, practice in costume and generally prepare the show for the Friday night opening.  Because Louisa has not yet found a way to clone herself, we had to whisk her away from the band concert as soon as her band finished playing so she could get to rehearsal.

Louisa did a great job with her mini solo during the band’s second piece, “The Old Red Mill” by Brant Karrick.  She told my parents and me afterward that she’d experienced the worst stage fright she’s ever had before playing the solo.  I was surprised to hear that, knowing how much stage experience she has.  I guess it’s a good thing she doesn’t play her French horn in the play (spoiler alert: Steve’s character does play a violin, which should be curiously amusing).

Before the concert, as is typical for these short visits, my dad and I briefly discussed the status of the G. Oliver Riggs project.  Dad gave me copies of his latest work – he’d assembled packets of the three presentations we’ve given in St. Cloud: G. Oliver Riggs Day in June 2008, the talk in Barden Park last summer, and my speech to the breakfast club at the Stearns History Museum in November.  Dad is giving the materials to the Stearns History Museum, to be included in the G. Oliver archives there.

It was a good feeling to look at those packets and reflect on what we’ve already accomplished, especially since I had been feeling discouraged about not having much time lately to spend on the blog or the research.

There may be another presentation in the works, although we have a while to put it together.  Dad’s other recent project was to put together a spiral-bound book of band photos, with accompanying text, that tell the story of G. Oliver’s career.  Dad sent the books to museums and individuals who have helped us with the project; last week, he heard back from Lynn Ellsworth, the archivist at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, and the director of the Harlan-Lincoln House.

Dad had also sent Lynn a copy of the blog post I wrote a year ago, Party Like It’s 1895, about how G. Oliver performed at parties for Abraham Lincoln's granddaughters at the Harlan-Lincoln House.  Lynn wrote back to my dad and said she’d love to have us give a presentation on G. Oliver as part of the annual Harlan-Lincoln Brown Bag lecture series.  The 2011 dates already are filled, but we are penciled in for March 2012.

Dad and I last visited Iowa Wesleyan in June 2007.  It would be fun to return, now that we have learned so much more about G. Oliver.  We are still hoping to unearth a copy of the IWU Cadet March, a song G. Oliver wrote for the college band he organized and directed in the 1890s.

It would be nice to schedule a leisurely trip to Mt. Pleasant, but given our busy schedules and family tradition, it’s likely that it will end up being another short visit.