Showing posts with label Theodore Roosevelt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Theodore Roosevelt. Show all posts

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Chasing Another Presidential Mystery

Now that the presidential conventions have concluded, I’m hot on the trail of a mystery involving President Roosevelt and my bandleader great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs.

Which President Roosevelt, you ask? I thought I knew the answer to that question until yesterday, when I received a package in the mail from my second cousin Patricia.

Patricia – whom I’ve only met via email – said in January that she had a photo of G. Oliver playing for President Roosevelt in front of a hotel.  Would my dad and I like it, if we didn’t already have it?

One of the photos Patrica sent to me.
Just so you know, for future reference, my immediate answer to anyone offering G. Oliver-related band photos, newspaper clippings or memorabilia is yes, please! In this case, I was especially intrigued because I had no idea that such an event had occurred.

Patricia promised to locate and send the photo when she had the chance, so in the meantime I did some online research and discovered that Theodore Roosevelt visited Clarinda, Iowa, in 1903 and had breakfast with Iowa Gov. Albert Cummins at the Linderman Hotel. I perked up at this find because G. Oliver’s good friend George Landers directed the regimental band in Clarinda, and G. Oliver occasionally played cornet with the band during the early 1900s – perhaps the photo was of this event? (for more on this speculation, see my old post, Bully for Presidential Visits).

This seemed plausible. And G. Oliver may very well have attended that event. But I have no evidence of this; the historical museum in Clarinda has not responded to my request for newspaper clippings, and the package from Patricia did shed any light on this possibility.

No, Patricia’s package opened up a new mystery. The writing on the back of two small black and white photos she sent says this: G. Oliver Riggs, South Bend, Ind., La Salle Hotel, playing for President Roosevelt.

My jaw didn’t drop when I read this, but I must have looked surprised. It was not what I had expected. I had clearly guessed the wrong hotel and the wrong city, and I likely had the wrong Roosevelt. But the location of South Bend made sense to me. G. Oliver’s younger son Percy (Pete) – Patricia’s grandfather –  directed a high school band there, the James Whitcomb Riley High School Band, from 1935 until at least 1941 (I'm not sure of the exact year when he left, but it was by 1946). Had President Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited South Bend during the time that Percy lived there?

Percy (Pete) with wife Patricia and daughters Islea (front) and Marijane
Why, yes he had, as a matter of fact. He came to South Bend in 1935 to accept an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame. According to Notre Dame’s online archives, Roosevelt’s special train arrived in South Bend from Chicago a little after 2 p.m. on Dec. 9, 1935, where he was met by administration officials.

The university account doesn’t mention anything about a reception outside the La Salle Hotel. However, the nine-story Georgian Revival hotel, which was built in 1921, was located directly across the street from the train station. Knowing how G. Oliver operated, and how his sons learned from him, I would be surprised if Percy hadn’t arranged for his high school band to play for the president’s arrival. And had G. Oliver arranged to to be present for the occasion as well, to assist his son?

The former La Salle Hotel in downtown South Bend
If so, why would the photo identify G. Oliver on the back and not Percy? G. Oliver, at that time, was directing the St. Cloud Municipal Boys’ Band. Had he traveled to South Bend with members of his band?

According to the university archives, Roosevelt accepted the degree at a ceremony in the gymnasium in front of a crowd of 5,000 students and visitors. “The University Band struck up ‘Hail to the Chief’ as Roosevelt came on the stage leaning on the arm of his aide. Roosevelt was tremendously popular and the cheering was long and lusty... ”

Had my great-grandfather and great-uncle attended this ceremony, two years into FDR’s first term, at a time when our country was beginning to inch out of the Great Depression? What had it been like to live during that time, I wonder – not knowing whether the economy would pick up, not knowing that our country would enter into another world war six years later? Were they fearful? Hopeful? Will my descendants look back on this time, in the weeks before the 2012 presidential election, and wonder about me?

Percy, Marijane, Percy’s mother-in-law Mary (I think?) and G. Oliver
As usual, a new piece of information leads to more questions – many of them unanswerable – in my quest to tell the story of my great-grandfather’s life and career. Time to don my sleuthing cap and get to work.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bully for Presidential Visits

Theodore Roosevelt has been on my brain lately.

It started a week ago Monday (Feb. 13) at the Northfield High School band concert, when the symphonic band played Karl King’s “Rough Riders.”  According to the concert notes (written by our friend Joseph), the piece is “perhaps a double reference to the nickname given the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry regiment commanded by Col. Theodore Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War and the portrayal of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the popular Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World touring shows.”

A few days later, we saw Teddy in action, digging locks in the Panama Canal and crying “Bully” before charging up San Juan Hill.  It wasn’t the real Teddy, of course – it was a character in Arsenic and Old Lace who believes he’s Teddy Roosevelt.  Steve is performing in the Northfield Arts Guild’s production of the popular play (it’s funny and well-acted, and tickets are still available for this weekend’s shows; click here for information).  Steve is not playing Teddy; he’s Dr. Einstein (no, not that Einstein – Dr. Herman Einstein, a fictional plastic surgeon).  I went to the dress rehearsal with the kids on Thursday, and Louisa especially appreciated the historical references, since she’d just been learning about Roosevelt and the Progressive Era in her AP U.S. History class.

Then this past Monday, Presidents Day, I was revising a timeline of the life of my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, and decided to follow up on a clue I’d received from a relative about an encounter G. Oliver had with Roosevelt in 1903.
The 51st/55th Regimental Band. G. Oliver Riggs is in the back row, second from right.
My second cousin, Patricia, had mentioned to my dad and me last month via email that she had a newspaper clipping with a photo of G. Oliver’s band playing for President Roosevelt in front of a hotel; did we have that one?  I not only didn’t have it, I didn’t know anything about it.  I did, however, remember that an Iowa regimental band G. Oliver occasionally played in – led by his longtime friend, George Landers – had played for an appearance Roosevelt made in Keokuk, Iowa.  But that was in 1907, and I’m not sure G. Oliver was with the band at that event.

I also remembered that G. Oliver just missed seeing Roosevelt at the Minnesota State Fair in 1901.  The then-vice president spoke at the fair on Sept. 2, giving his famous “speak softly and carry a big stick” speech.  G. Oliver and his Crookston band performed at the fair that year, but they didn’t arrive in St. Paul until the day after Roosevelt’s appearance.

So I searched on Google and discovered (thanks to the Clarinda Chamber of Commerce website) that Roosevelt visited Clarinda, Iowa, in 1903 and had breakfast with Iowa Gov. Albert Cummins at the Linderman Hotel.  Now I was onto something!  Clarinda is where Landers’ band was based, and Cummins is the governor who accompanied the band members (including G. Oliver) and a delegation of Iowa Civil War veterans to the South in 1906, to dedicate the battlefield memorials to Iowa soliders (I wrote about this trip in a previous blog post, Vicksburg is the Key).

I have written an email to the historical museum in Clarinda, in hopes that someone there can provide me with more information about the event.  It would be fun to add that band photo to the collection – in fact, you could say it would be bully!