Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Vacation Coda

We returned a few days ago from our trip to Winnipeg, the North Shore and Duluth, and I have three more vacation photos I wanted to share that relate to the G. Oliver Riggs project.

The first is me with G. Oliver in front of the band shell in Two Harbors, Minn., about 30 miles north of Duluth. Two Harbors is home to one of the oldest continuously operating community bands in the state, behind Meire Grove (1883) and Carlisle (1894). I don’t know that G. Oliver ever played in Two Harbors, but I’m sure he would have known of the band, which organized in 1897.

The Paul Gauche Memorial Band Shell in Thomas Owens Park.
The band shell is named after its longtime conductor, Paul Gauche, and the community band still plays weekly summer concerts there. The structure was built in 1937, and a group called the Friends of the Band Shell Park organized in 2010 to explore possible ways of enhancing the park and the band shell, which lacks storage and rehearsal space. To read more about the project and the band’s history, check out the group’s website.

The second photo is of G. Oliver in Duluth’s courthouse square, where his St. Cloud Municipal Senior Boys’ band played a concert in 1934. The band was in town for the American Legion state convention, and playing in front of the courthouse was part of the two-day itinerary (I wrote about the band’s Duluth experiences earlier this summer in this post: Here’s to Happier Adventures in Duluth).

G. Oliver in front of the St. Louis County-Duluth Courthouse, built in 1909.
The courthouse square is home to two other buildings, the federal building and city hall. According to the Minnesota Courts website, the design for the county courthouse and the square came from the office of architect Daniel H. Burnham, who oversaw the design of the buildings for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. I wonder if G. Oliver thought about this connection as he stood outside the impressive building? I still haven’t been able to verify that G. Oliver attended the fair, but I know that his wife, Islea, did (I wrote about her experiences a few years ago in this blog post, A World’s Fair to Remember).

The nearby Soldiers and Sailors Monument was designed by Cass Gilbert, the architect of the Minnesota State Capitol – the same building where G. Oliver and his fellow Montana Cowboy Band members got trigger happy during the 1917 St. Paul Winter Carnival (an event I wrote about in this old blog post, Carnival Capers at the Capitol).

I realize I’m digressing a little here, but I can’t help it – I love cool old buildings and the connections they help me make to my family history.

A close-up view of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.
Back to the subject of G. Oliver, I should mention that his little cardboard stand-in – Mini G., the Flat Stanley of bandmasters – was a flexible, uncomplaining travel companion throughout our trip. Don’t be surprised if he turns up in future vacation photos, admiring some other cool old buildings.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Living Too Close To Progress

Our drive earlier in the week from Winnipeg to Tofte, Minn., was a loooooong one (466 miles or 751 km), so it was good that we had an engaging audio book to keep us entertained. We listened to The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, which two different friends had recommended. It held the interest of all of us so well, the kids wanted to jump back into the car the next day to hear how it ended.

We also took a few G. Oliver-related breaks to break up the drive.

Our first stop was in Thief River Falls, Minn., where we had lunch. My dad was born there, and my grandfather Ronald Riggs taught and directed the band at Lincoln High School, so we got a photo of G. Oliver at the school, which is still used as the high school and was undergoing some brick work during our brief visit.

Lincoln High School in Thief River Falls, Minn.
Our second stop was in Bemidji, where G. Oliver lived from 1919-1923. He directed the city band there and formed his famous Bemidji Boys’ Band, which performed at the Minnesota State Fair in 1922. The band performed summer outdoor concerts at Library Park, which is adjacent to the historic and endangered Carnegie Library and connects with Lake Avenue Boulevard – a popular place these days for people to bicycle and run. 
Library Park in Bemidji, Minn.
I had G. Oliver’s old address, 1213 Lake Boulevard, so we followed the road north from the park in search of the house. 
G. Oliver visits the building next to his former house.
There were some nice houses along that stretch of road, all with beautiful views of Lake Bemidji. But when we got to the 1200 block, we found … a parking lot. That was a disappointing discovery. The only redeeming part was we discovered that the parking lot was for Bemidji State University’s Bangsberg Fine Arts complex.

I guess that’s the danger of living on the edge of a college campus. It’s what happened to the house my dad and his siblings, Bob and Dana, grew up in next to St. Cloud State University – it was removed to make way for a university parking lot.

After a stop at the Wild Hare Bistro and Coffeehouse for beverages – which had nothing to do with G. Oliver, but everything to do with getting the driver some caffeine – we were back on the road and back into the book.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Making Friends in Winnipeg

Greetings from Manitoba! Steve, the kids and I are on vacation in Winnipeg, known as the cultural cradle of Canada.

Why Winnipeg, you ask? Well, why not Winnipeg? We had several reasons for choosing this city over other options: we wanted to explore another city in Canada with the kids; it’s relatively close to home, but has the mystique of another culture (can you say ketchup-flavored potato chips?); it has a French district, where Louisa could try out the French verb tenses she learned at camp; it’s a cool place, temperature-wise, to visit in August; and it’s in the midst of its annual cultural festival called Folklorama, which sounded like fun.

These all factored into our decision. But another reason was that it would allow me to follow the trail yet again of my musical great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs.

The kids with mini G., the extremely portable version.
G. Oliver visited Winnipeg in mid-July of 1899, about nine months after he began directing the Crookston city band. The 24-member band traveled to Winnipeg by train on July 14 to perform for “America Day” during the city’s big Summer Exposition.

Mini G inserting himself into an 1894 photo of Winnipeg’s Main Street.
The Crookston band, together with North Dakota bands from Grand Forks and Grafton, played a concert at the City Hall square that included the songs “God Save the Queen” and “Yankee Doodle.” In the evening, the Crookston band marched along Main Street and serenaded the offices of the three daily newspapers, the Manitoba (Winnipeg) Free Press, the Tribune and the Telegram.

An article from the Crookston Daily Times
The front of Winnipeg’s old City Hall, built in 1886.
We walked along Main Street on Sunday to get to the Manitoba Museum, so we must have covered much of the same ground the band did in 1899. Back then, cars were not yet on the scene; people rode on bicycles, in horse-drawn wagons or on trolleys, which went into service in Winnipeg in 1892.

I couldn’t determine whether any of the old newspaper buildings are still standing; some buildings in the now-historic Exchange District weren’t built until after 1899 (Winnipeg’s building boom began around that time and ended with the beginning of World War I). It was fun to imagine what the area looked like at the turn of the last century, when G. Oliver visited.

And as it turned out, our visit to the Manitoba Museum aided us in that imagining, because it has a turn-of-the-last century exhibit complete with a silent movie theater and a backdrop of the Winnipeg City Hall – the perfect setting for photos of mini G. Oliver.

Seb, Louisa and Elias are inside the theater, watching Charlie Chaplin in Shanghied.
The morning after our museum visit, I visited the Millennium Library, just a block from our hotel, to see if the Winnipeg newspapers had covered the Crookston band’s visit. The only newspaper the library had on microfilm was the Free Press (it’s also the only one that still is in operation), and I did find a few articles about the Exposition and the band.

A brief article on July 15 mentioned the newspaper serenade: “The Free Press staff was treated to a surprise last evening in the shape of a courteous serenade on the part of the Crookston band. The visitors, who by their fine music and individual popularity, have done credit to the town they come from, discoursed several selections in excellent style, and well earned the hearty applause with which the large concourse of listeners greeted their efforts.”

The same issue, a larger article about America Day at the Exposition said, “The Americans were accompanied by three brass bands, the Crookston city band, the K.P. Band of Grand Forks and the Grafton Military band. The last two bands played in the city but did not play at the fair. The Crookston band, however, was present at the exhibition both in the afternoon and evening and by its capital music made itself very popular with the Winnipeggers. They played an excellent programme of music in the evening and then massing with the Citizens band played for the various platform attractions.”
The Crookston Band in 1899; G. Oliver is in the center.
The article continued by explaining that many Winnipeggers went to the train depots to see off the visitors from the United States, and it concluded with this sentence: “The Americans during the past few years have made themselves extremely popular in Winnipeg and are always sure of a good time.”

Although I think it would be a stretch to say that Steve, the kids and I have made ourselves extremely popular while we’ve been in town, we have met some kind and helpful people, and we certainly have had a good time. Thanks, Winnipeg!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Making Sense of the 1940 Census

The National Archives released data from the 1940 Census in April, and the 134 million names have now been indexed by state and can be more easily perused by historians, demographers and anyone interested in family history. As the National Archive website notes, “... The 1940 census recorded that critical period in American history as the country was still recovering from the Great Depression and before its entry into World War II.”

Even though I already knew where my Riggs great-grandparents were living that year, I looked them up on because I’d read that the 1940 census – the country’s 16th – posed questions it hadn’t asked in previous years, about things like internal migration and participation in New Deal programs.

G. Oliver and Islea Riggs are listed in the 1940 Census.
I learned that my great-grandfather G. Oliver Riggs was putting in 48 hours a week as the municipal band director in St. Cloud, Minn., for which he received an annual salary of $2,160. His wife, my great-grandmother Islea, was working 25 hours a week as a music teacher in their home at 821 12th Ave. S. Her salary was not listed. Their home, which they owned, was worth $4,500.
G. Oliver and Islea’s former house as it looked a few years ago.
It was interesting to compare this information with the data about G. Oliver’s younger son, my great-uncle Percy (Pete) Riggs, who was employed as a high school music teacher in South Bend, Indiana. Percy was working 60 hours a week and was receiving a salary of $2,307. His wife, Patricia, was not working outside the home that year; she was no doubt keeping busy with daughters Mary Jane, age 12, and Islea, age 5, as well as her mother, Mary, who was living with the family in their rented home at 226 E. Donald Street.

Percy with the high school band he directed in South Bend, Indiana.
I had hoped to also find data about my grandfather Ronald, but I couldn’t locate his name in the census anywhere. I know that he, my grandmother Eleanor and their baby (my dad) had moved to St. Cloud from Thief River Falls in 1939, when Ronald took a job as a music and social studies teacher at St. Cloud State University. So they should have been listed at a St. Cloud residence in April 1940, when the census was taken. Either their names were misspelled, or they were somehow missed (that year, the census takers went door-to-door interviewing everyone, and made return visits if people weren’t home the first time).

Although my search for my Riggs grandparents was fruitless, I did learn this from there were at least 2,674 people living in the United States in 1940 (make that at least 2,677) with the last name of Riggs. That would be quite a reunion. I wonder how many there are now?