(This is in a series of posts about my trip to Sedalia, Missouri May 31-June 2, 2018)
Amtrak comes into Sedalia on the north side of town. The area around the terminal looks surprisingly empty. I’d expected a more urban ambiance. I knew I had to move my back pack clad body several blocks down Ohio Street to get near my various destinations. Even though this was about 1:00 p.m., no taxis were waiting, no obvious bus stops were present. My feet were the first to realize what the rest of me was resisting.
One thing for which I was grateful was the weather: it was just a beautiful, mild, late spring day. Back in Scott Joplin’s day, this end of Ohio Street was alive. There was the train station up north on Pacific Street, where I had just come from, and Main Street is just one block south of Pacific. Down south a few blocks, there was the Pettis County Court House, built the very year that Scott Joplin moved to Sedalia. The Courthouse was on Ohio Street between Fourth Street and Fifth Street.
From Wikipedia: the railway reached Sedalia in January 1861. Sedalia’s early prosperity was directly related to the railroad industry. Many jobs were associated with men maintaining tracks and operating large and varied machine shops run by both the Missouri Pacific and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad lines. The Missouri-Kansas & Texas Railroad was widely known as the “KATY,” from its “K-T” stock exchange code.
You wouldn’t know it today, but the area around the train stop was bustling during the Gay Nineties. And part of that bustle was a cradle to ragtime.
From Eric Brightwell’s blog: East Main Street was the location of Sedalia’s sporting district, where townies and railroad workers alike went after the sun went down in search of sport at bars and clubs like the Williams Brothers‘ The Maple Leaf Club, Tony Williams‘s The 400 Dance Club, and Hustlers’ Hall and guest houses run by Nellie Hall and Mrs. L. Wright. At these venues, the aforementioned respectable and talented ragtime pianists (and others, like Otis Saunders) found employment, earning up to $1.50 a night (plus tips).
I hadn’t walked very far until—in the middle of the fairly bare landscape around Second Street—I encountered an imposing mural of Scott Joplin playing the piano, which was located on the north side of the building at 205 S. Ohio Street.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the mural is by Stanley James Herd, and it has been there since 1994. Further cogitating and, heh heh, web surfing led to a deeper appreciation of this mural. Apparently, the mural was commissioned as part of the Centennial of the start of Joplin’s six year tenure in Sedalia in 1894.
From Waymarking.com: Joplin arrived in Sedalia, Missouri, in 1894 and played in the Williams Brothers Maple Leaf Club; his famous “Maple Leaf Rag” (1899) took on the name of that club. His moniker, “The Entertainer,” printed on the club business card, also became the name of one of his famous works. He took a music theory course at George R. Smith College in Sedalia around 1896 to learn how to notate the complicated rhythms of piano ragtime. This skill enabled his music to reach a wider audience through publication.
Across Ohio Street from this fine mural is a vacant lot which contains one of the outdoor venues for the Festival called Gazebo Park. As I walked by, some performer was playing, but as I had a schedule to keep, I just listened and then walked on, thankful that I had such a nice day for toting this back pack.
One block on down at Third Street, Ohio Street takes a slight dog leg to the left. Local legend has it that the original street followed a cow path, but more informed sources report that the streets to the north of Third were platted to be parallel to the railroad tracks, while Third Street and streets to the south were platted true east-west. I was now approaching my destination. My plan had been to go to the 2:00 p.m. Cradle of Ragtime concert at the Liberty Center, but if I had time, to first have lunch.
Right at the northeast corner of Ohio Street and Fourth Street is the famed Bothwell Hotel and Spa. I had dined in the hotel restaurant in 2008 with friends, and since here I was walking past it, I decided that I did have time for lunch. You saw the exterior of the Bothwell in my previous post on this blog. The interior is also loaded with elegant but simple turn-of-the-20th Century charm.
This 360˚ panorama, taken from the lounge, doesn’t show the elegant crystal chandelier above. Just past the desk to the left is the restaurant. My turkey club sandwich and pork soup was good and inexpensive. I though my polite and attentive server—Mary was perhaps 40—deserved a 40% tip, and so I added $4.00 to the bill.
I step out of the Bothwell Hotel and find myself on the southwest corner of Ohio Street and Fourth Street looking south past the Pettis County Court House.
On Fifth Street off Ohio are the two main music venues of the Festival: the Stark Pavillion to the left, and the Liberty Center Association for the Arts to the right. I’m headed to the Liberty Center for some fabulous ragtime music.
To first time visitors, the Liberty Center presents a bewildering catacomb-like maze of ramps, ticket booths, rooms, hallways, display rooms, a snack bar, galleries, sales of ragtime periphernalia, and eventually, a large concert room with the lowest seats known to humankind. Though I had bought tickets to four concerts in advance, I only received an email receipt. So at 1:57 p.m. I retrieved my ticket for the Cradle of Ragtime Concert from the lady who had volunteered to work at the window. I followed the loosely packed crowd past stacks of programs and brochures, past the room full of tee shirts, CDs, books, past the galleries and displays of artwork by such ragtime artists as Scott Kirby, and on to the concert venue itself. Of course, my seat is clear across the room, so I make my way across a tangle of wires on the floor in front of the front row to the other side, climb the stairs to row G, and settle into my comfortable but very low seat. The show is about to begin.
But next, a digression: why do I love ragtime? …