Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Depot Proposal Gains Steam

A year ago, I wrote about a grassroots effort to save the historic Northfield Depot.  As I noted in my post from April 2010, I have a personal interest in seeing this project succeed because of my great-grandfather’s connection to the depot.  In June 1931, the 70-piece St. Cloud Municipal Boys’ Band, directed by G. Oliver Riggs, played a concert at the Northfield Depot on the way home from a trip to Des Moines. 
A cool photo from the the Save the Depot committee’s website.
The effort to relocate and renovate the depot, built in 1888, has gained steam over the past 12 months (if you’ll excuse the train pun).  Tonight, the Northfield City Council will consider a proposal to relocate the depot to a nearby site behind the Quarterback Club restaurant, where it could serve as a visitor center and a transit hub.  The Northfield News website has a story previewing the meeting, and northfield.org has a story about the meeting and the Save the Northfield Depot committee’s redesigned website and cool new logo.

If you are interested in the history of railroads in Northfield, you have until May 8 to check out an exhibit the Northfield Historical Society is hosting in partnership with the Save the Northfield Depot committee.

If you are interested in volunteering your time or donating money to the cause, check out the Save the Northfield Depot’s volunteer page.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Orchestra Saved!

Wonderful news!  The Northfield School Board voted to keep elementary orchestra for next year!
Sebastian and his cousins Frances and Hannah are among the district’s 271 orchestra students.
I didn’t make it to the board meeting last night, but I read about it on NorthfieldPatch this morning.  The recommendation to keep orchestra was included in the district’s $45.2 million budget, which the board approved unanimously.  

Here’s the article by Allison Schmitt.

I’m grateful to all the school board members and to Superintendent Chris Richardson for recognizing the value in the program.  I’m grateful to the district’s music teachers for their dedication and expertise.  I’m also grateful to all the parents and students who showed up at a public hearing last month or who wrote letters and emails to advocate for orchestra.  I hope everyone remembers that it’s important to keep advocating at the state level for K-12 education funding, so we aren’t in the same position this time next year.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Otters, Organs and a Bandshell off Main Street

I spent several hours in Fergus Falls on Saturday with my mom, doing research for a travel piece I’m writing for the Star Tribune.  I hadn’t been to Fergus since my junior high basketball team days, and all I saw of the town then was the inside of a gym.

(I don’t remember the outcome of those games between the Alexandria Cardinals and the Fergus Falls Otters.  Neither team mascot is particularly fierce-sounding, although I suppose any mascot can be imposing when it towers over you.)
We could have used Otto the Otter’s height on my junior high basketball team.
One stop on our Saturday tour was the renovated Fergus Theater, which opened in 1921 as the Orpheum Theatre.  Formerly a place for vaudeville productions, it’s now the location of A Center for the Arts, a nonprofit organization that sponsors a variety of year-round theater, music, dance, film and literary events by local and professional artists.

The two people on duty at the box office kindly let us look around while they readied the house for an afternoon show.  We saw the stage, but we weren’t able to see the Mighty WurliTzer Theatre Pipe Organ that’s stored underneath the stage.  I’d like to go back sometime and see it dramatically rise up onto the stage for a performance.  My great-grandmother, Islea Graham Riggs, played an organ for silent movies at the Paramount Theater in St. Cloud, which also was built in 1921.

The next day, on my way home to Northfield from Alexandria, I made a brief stop in the town of Sauk Centre, also known as the hometown of author Sinclair Lewis.  My dad often plays gigs in Sauk Centre and has told me about the bandshell there.  It’s in Sinclair Lewis Park on the southern edge of Sauk Lake.

It was a windy, misty day, and the bandshell looked lonely.  The only music I heard was the call of a loon out on the lake.  I’m sure the bandshell takes on a much more cheerful atmosphere in the summer, with the addition of some warm brass notes, leafy trees, green grass and an appreciative audience.

The bandshell was constructed four years after my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, organized a 40-piece boys’ band in Sauk Centre.  G. Oliver didn’t stay on to direct the band; he was working for the instrument manufacturing company C. G. Conn, organizing juvenile bands in the Upper Midwest.  I imagine some of the Sauk Centre boys who joined the new band in March 1927 went on to play their shiny Conn instruments in the new bandshell.

An article from the March 31, 1927 Sauk Centre Herald
I don’t remember ever going to Sauk Centre for a junior high school basketball game, although I think I may have been there once for a golf tournament.  I couldn’t recall what the town’s high school mascot is, so I looked it up: it’s The Mainstreeters.  I also learned that the Mainstreeters recently placed third at the 2011 Class 2A state girls basketball tournament.

Clearly, the athletes are impressive.  But I’m still not sure what a statue of a Mainstreeter would look like.  And how would it do in a match-up with Otto the Otter from Fergus Falls?

That’s one of the things I enjoy about travel – it answers some questions, and raises new ones.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

149 Years Ago, the Battle Ended

When I heard it on the radio this morning, it took me by surprise: today is the 149th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Shiloh.  I guess the dates aren’t as fixed in my head as other details about the bloody two-day battle, like the fact that my great-great grandfather, Jasper Riggs, survived, and so many others didn’t: total Union and Confederate casualties were about 23,000.
A battlefield marker for Jasper’s regiment, the 45th Illinois Infantry.
We visited the Shiloh National Military Park last October, and I was struck by the serene beauty of the place, the stillness.  There weren’t many visitors the day we were there; it’s not as visited as battlefields like Vicksburg or Gettysburg.  Located in rural, southern Tennessee, 45 miles north of Corinth, Miss., it’s not a place people visit as an afterthought; people go there with purpose.

The Shiloh National Cemetery is located on a bluff, with a view of the Tennessee River.  The cemetery holds 3,584 Civil War dead, 2,359 of them unknown.
If you haven’t ever visited a Civil War battle site, I highly recommend it, even if you’re not a huge history buff.  It’s a great place to reflect, to ponder the cost of war, the think about the ideals our country was founded upon, and how we might better live up to them.  Take your kids, or your grandkids, or your nieces and nephews, and see the park through a young person’s eyes.  The parks have scheduled commemorative programs and events from now through 2015 marking the war’s sesquicentennial.

Top and bottom views of the Iowa State Memorial at Shiloh.
Like I did in a previous post about Shiloh, I’d like to quote Jesse A. Miller, who spoke at the 1906 dedication of a monument to his dad’s regiment, the Sixth Iowa (a dedication my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, attended as a member of the 51st/55th Regimental Band).
I think Smith’s words are worth repeating:

I, as one who was born after the war, as one who knows nothing of the war except as I have heard and read, feel that I am a better man and will live a better life for having visited these battlefields; and I believe that the people of all the states of this Union would be better citizens if they would visit the battlefield and see what we have seen and hear what we have heard.  I hope that as the days go by and as the years roll on, that annually there will be pilgrimages from the north and from the south to these fields, that inspiration may be received by others as it has been received by us, and that these memorials will ever tend to raise the citizenship of this country and make the people of this nation a better and higher type of civilization than any that has gone before.