Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Encyclopedia Riggs and A Tale of Two Thorsons

I am excited to report that I channeled my inner Encyclopedia Brown recently and put together a few more pieces of the G. Oliver Riggs career puzzle. It gets a little complicated, so please bear with me as I explain A Tale of Two Thorsons:

Thorson No. 1: T.W. Thorson

T.W. Thorson, 1894-1973

This is Theodore “Ted” Thorson, who became known as Crookston’s “Music Man” in its post-G. Oliver Riggs days. He directed the Crookston Municipal Band from 1929-1959, and he directed the school orchestra and band for 28 years – among many other musical accomplishments.

The first time I became aware of Ted Thorson’s name was several years ago when I came across a letter G. Oliver wrote to Ted in 1939, in which G. Oliver explains what it was like in Crookston in the years when he directed its municipal band and organized a juvenile band (He directed bands there from 1898-1909 and again from 1914 until late 1918, when he left Crookston to direct the band in Bemidji).

I’ve since learned more about Ted Thorson, including the fact that he was active in the Polk County Historical Society, and that a T.W. Thorson Award is still given out each year to graduating seniors in the music department at Crookston High School.

Thorson No. 2: N.A. Thorson

N.A. Thorson, 1881-1969
This is Nels Anton Thorson. I also came across his name several years ago, when I read a letter G. Oliver wrote to my grandfather, Ronald, which mentioned that N.A. Thorson was the principal of the high school on the Red Lake Indian Reservation where G. Oliver was directing a band. 

Minnesota is the land of 10,000 Andersons, Johnsons and Petersons, so I never thought to put two and two together – or, rather, Thorson and Thorson together – until this past week, when I was reviewing some newspaper clippings from G. Oliver’s later years in Crookston and noticed a mention of an N.A. Thorson who lived in Crookston. Hmm. That name again. A quick visit to to check census records confirmed my suspicion.

See below for the solution to A Tale of Two Thorsons

Solution to A Tale of Two Thorsons
N.A. and T.W. Thorson were indeed related. They were brothers!

Through further online research, I learned that their parents were Torkel Thorson and Anna Bengston, and the brothers were raised on a farm in Sibley County, Minnesota, along with siblings Selma, Henry and Hannah.

According to the Compendium of History and Biography of Polk County, published in 1916, Nels Thorson graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College and became a science and math teacher at Crookston High School. He also served as the high school athletic director, and then he served for several years as the Polk County superintendent of schools. He was a member of several musical organizations, including the Citizens’ Band of Crookston, a band that G. Oliver directed from 1914-1918.

As I mentioned earlier, I had noticed Nels’ name in some Crookston newspaper articles: In July of 1916, he was one of 50 people who helped transport the Crookston Juvenile Band members to the Red Lake County Fair, and in March of 1917, he performed a vocal solo at an event at the Northwest School of Agriculture (now the University of Minnesota-Crookston), the same year G. Oliver was directing the ag school’s band. So when G. Oliver arrived at Red Lake about 30 years later, it’s no wonder that he described N.A. Thorson as being “100 percent” behind him in his efforts to organize the band. They were old friends.

My discovery reaffirmed what I have come to believe about G. Oliver – that he is the Kevin Bacon of music men, and that you can link anyone in the music field to him within six steps. Which is cool.

I figured I’d write about the Thorsons later on in the week, and I put my research aside. And then today, when I was looking for something else, I came across a photo I have seen many times before, but never quite understood, of the 9th District American Legion Band. This time, I recognized the man in the center. It’s Ted Thorson!

T.W. Thorson is front and center; Ronald Riggs is in the front row, second from the right.
My grandfather Ronald is in the photo, too, which must be why it was in the family archives. It was taken in 1937, when Ronald was teaching music and social science and directing the high school band at Thief River Falls.

I know from the entry on T.W. Thorson in the Bicentennial History of Polk County, published in 1976, that T.W. organized the 9th District American Legion Band in 1928 and directed it to four state championships.

But how did my grandfather become involved in that award-winning band, and why?

To read the solution, you’ll have to wait for the next installment of Encyclopedia Riggs, Music Detective.

1 comment:

  1. Joy, based on my first book about Crookston's history published by Arcadia titled "Images of America: Crookston" that Arthur Wasshausen was the Citizens Band director in 1907 on p. 109. I would think that if your great grandfather was in Crookston until 1909 then Wasshausen must have replaced him. Due to all the research you have been doing, I will re-do some of the photos I have in my next Arcadia book titled "Legendary Locals of Crookston" but I'll need some original photos from you because our museum doesn't seem to have any G. Oliver Riggs. Perhaps when T.W. Thorson took over there was a plethora of later photos of his bands and orchestras. You know where to find me.