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.|
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|
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|
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|