Band Boys Will Be Boys

While browsing through the September 14, 1916, edition of The Sheridan Advance, I came across this article detailing the misadventure of some local band boys, a Cadillac, and a tuba. The article painted such a vivid picture that, as I read, I couldn’t help but imagine myself at the scene, the mother of one of those good-hearted, reckless band boys. I shook my head, smoothed my imaginary apron, and breathed a sigh of relief that everyone landed unscathed. Well, except for the tuba. I suppose young Robert had some explaining to do about the tuba.


Harry Hotaling drove the Hotaling Cadillac automobile in the river just east of Sheridan Friday afternoon. The only damage to the car was a broken front wheel. Besides the driver the occupants of the car were Robert Bell, Ashley Hotaling, and Halbert Kibbe, all band boys. None were hurt. Bell’s large B flat tuba was badly mashed.

The boys were driving the pilot car for the booster delegation that was touring the county advertising the tabernacle meeting at Grant City. They were not driving very fast–just about the way the average driver comes along the good roads of Platte bottom, but the driver says he was not attending to business as he should have been. As he came within a few rods of the bridge he noticed a car already crossing. His foot brakes failed him and some of the car decorations were in the way of his levers and he could not get to them. Rather than drive his car into Garfield Calkins, who was on the bridge, he drove over the bank into the river. The bank at this place is at least twenty feet high and steep. Hotaling jumped as the car left the bank. Kibbe and Bell managed to fall into the river and young Hotaling rode the car to the bottom and then deliberately stood up and took a high dive into the soothing waters of Platte. This quieted his nerves some. When the car left the bank it was headed northwest across the river. About half way down the left hind wheel of the car struck the bank and turned the car straight across the river, and this perhaps saved the machine from upsetting.

Calkins brought the boys to town immediately and Beezley took teams and men and pulled the car to his shop. A car might make the same flop a thousand times and kill all the occupants each time. The boys were indeed lucky to escape with their lives. Most drivers would prefer a collision.

I really don’t know what I love the most about this article. The author spoke with regretful amusement as he told the tale with both patient allowance made for the boys’ sense of high drama, and relief that they were not injured. I also love how the boys freely admitted to all the doofus errors that led to the accident. The failure of the brakes, the decorations in the way of the levers, the TUBA? I can just imagine the atmosphere inside that car. Add four teenaged boys in high spirits, and I’m sure they weren’t ‘attending to business’ at all. I adore the way Harry Hotaling chose to fly off the bank rather than risk smashing up someone else’s car (called an automobile back then–cars were trains). And I love how Ashley Hotaling dove into the Platte after plunging down the bank of the river. Well, why not? Might as well. And I love how Mr. Beezley organized efforts to go pull the Cadillac out of the river, with teams of horses, no less. So much for that Caddy, Mr. Hotaling.

But most of all, I love that this story made the front page of The Sheridan Advance, right next to the announcement for the Booster Ladies Meeting and the Rickabaugh and Wilson Colt Show. I think Sheridan, Missouri, sounds like a most excellent small town. I wish I could have visited it back in 1916.


Where Interest Meets Obsession

I am a novice researcher. I make no secret of that. In writing my historical fiction book, I have chased entire flocks of wild geese, wasted shocking amounts of time, and developed a strange affinity for all those hamsters spinning furiously away on their little wheels, going nowhere. Still, when I look back over what I’ve accomplished, I am humbly amazed. I never thought I’d get as far as I have.

At what point does casual interest turn into obsession? When does clicking through Wikipedia suddenly morph into ordering microfiche of 100-year-old newspapers from historical societies? When do you move from yawning over Google to booking airline tickets and cold-calling local experts?

The moment I realized that the fading black-and-white photographs were concealing things from me was a revelation.

My grandma, Elsie Davidson Carr, on the far right.

I was looking through a book about Sheridan, Missouri when it happened. The centennial year of 1987 was a big deal for the local residents of the small town where my grandma spent many of her childhood years. I know it was a big deal because I was there. But I try not to remember, because in 1987 I was a snotty highschool senior who couldn’t believe she had to spend part of her summer vacation in a tiny little town in the midwest.  I could not have been less interested in the place where some twenty-three years later I would locate the main character of my book. Thankfully, the Sheridan Centennial Book Committee put together a bound copy of the town’s history. And it was while I was poking through it that I discovered photographs have secrets.

When I look at the pictures of my grandmother as a young lady, I am always struck by two things: how beautiful she was and how serious she looked. Since my grandma was one of the happiest, funniest, most sharply witted people I know, it was hard to connect her with the serious, dark-eyed girl in the photographs. I always figured that times were tough back then, that people were not as happy as we are today. A memory from my childhood floats back to me.

     “Grandma,” I recall asking, “Why didn’t your family ever smile in photographs?”

     “Oh well, you know,” Grandma replied. “We always thought we’d get tired of looking at a goofy grin on our faces. It seemed more natural-looking not to smile.”

For me, smiling was much more natural. The idea that a sense of humor was a modern invention sprung up so quietly that I never even noticed it. This notion was challenged early on in my research.

In the Sheridan Centennial book, I read about a bank robbery that occurred in town in 1898.

The advance agents of prosperity opened a bank at Sheridan, this county, Monday night, but unfortunately they opened it with dynamite and a crowbar.

What? Were they being funny? Their bank was robbed, and they were making a joke of it? Turns out, the bank robbers got away with well over $2,000. Back in the 1890’s, I’m sure that represented the life savings of the bank robber’s victims. But here they were, reporting the calamitous event with a wry sense of humor. And something else, too–grace. I immediately ordered several years worth of the Sheridan Advance newspaper via inter-library loan. I discovered a couple of things: microfiche technology has not changed a bit since I last used it to research a science project in middle school, and while the photographs taken in the early 1900s show a serious crowd, their newspaper articles reflect a different sort of attitude entirely.

On Sunday, April 2, 1916, Mr. Surplus hosted 51 relatives in his home in West Sheridan. The Sheridan Advance reported on the festivities, saying that John Surplus, Delbert Glass and Frank Simmons

…ate so much that we decided to give them a little joy ride to relieve the gas pains. We loaded them in Harley Dowis’ Maytag and he started with them for a spin. Now it takes some car to pull three men loaded to their capacity and the Maytag, ordinarily a good puller, could not stand the strain and died with a snort two miles from town. It took three Fords to get them back home.

I began to realize that my grandma’s sense of humor did not suddenly materialize in the 70’s. Reading on, I saw that the people of Sheridan had a flair for humor even with a simple request for volunteers.

A Civic Improvement Club

Since the ladies of Sheridan are going to meet at the Diamond Theater Tuesday night to discuss plans for raising money to build a band stand, we would like to see them perfect an organization called a Ladies Civic Improvement Club at this time. An organization of this sort can accomplish things that the men couldn’t if they would, and wouldn’t if they could. For angels walk where mere man fears to crawl.

And one more:

Stack Your Bottles

When you get through killing that quart or quarts as the case might be, pile them up in a nice little pile where the small boy can find them. It’s quiet (sic) a chore to run all over town hunting bottles to get the price of a movie ticket. And above all, don’t break them in weeds any more than in the street. They puncture heels as well as tires.

So where does interest meet obsession? In the personality of the people. As always, thank you for reading.

The inspiration for my protagonist and so much more, Elsie Davidson Carr.