The arts — and history — aren’t dead

Musician J.W. “Blind” Boone. Singer Jane Froman. Both of these artistic luminaries and seven other historical figures from Columbia’s past will come alive through four-minute monologues held during 1 to 4 p.m. on May 29 at their graves in Columbia Cemetery on Broadway.

This event was highlighted in this “Living History event planned for Memorial Day,” article by Rudi Keller, published May 13, 2017 in the Columbia Tribune.

The event is sponsored by the Friends of the Historic Columbia Cemetery, which also has a Facebook page. The monologues were written by Chris Campbell, executive director of the Boone County Historical Society.

So who else will you get to see come to life – with a consciousness of who they were, their current deceased status and today’s events?

  • Ann Hawkins Gentry, Columbia postmistress from 1838-1865.
  • George Swallow, Missouri’s first state geologist and MU faculty member
  • John Lathrop, president of MU twice.
  • Sgt. Wallace Lilly, a slave who enlisted in the Union Army in 1864 for his freedom.
  • Luella St. Clair Moss, Columbia College president from 1893 to 1920.
  • James S. Rollins, a man considered the father of MU.
  • Walter Williams, founder of the MU School of Journalism and MU president from 1931 to 1935.

Grand opening of historic home of $19.5 million musician set for Sept. 18

The dedication of the home of a musician who traveled from 1880-1913 performing about 7,200 concerts is set for 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18 at 10 N. Fourth St.

The musician earned about $19.5 million dollars in his lifetime, an amount calculated using information in the National Register of Historic Places document on the house and MeasuringWorth.com, a website designed to calculate value of currency.

The musician was J.W. “Blind” Boone and his story can be viewed from multiple perspectives. He overcame racism, poverty and even trickery to become a successful musician.

Even his home was nearly lost. And now, on Sunday, after years of work from volunteers and city expenditures, will be dedicated and opened to the public.

Note on the calculations: Information in the National Register of Historic Places document states he earned $150 to $600 per concert and performed about 7,200 concerts. Using $150 per concert for 7,200 concerts, his earning would have been $1.1 million. Using MeasuringWorth.com, a website designed to calculate value of currency, that amount would be worth $19.5 million in 2015.

News Release:

The City of Columbia has issued a press release on the event and it is reprinted here with permission:

Contact: Clyde Ruffin

President, John William “Blind” Boone Heritage Foundation

573-424-8222

Dedication, grand opening of J.W. “Blind” Boone Home scheduled Sept. 18

COLUMBIA, MO (September 15, 2016) – On Sunday, Sept. 18 the John William “Blind” Boone Heritage Foundation will host the dedication and grand opening of the newly restored J.W. “Blind” Boone Home. The event will be held at the home, 10 N. Fourth St., from 2 to 4 p.m. with light refreshments provided after the program.

John William “Blind” Boone, born in 1864, overcame blindness, poverty, and discrimination to become a nationally famous concert pianist and composer. Boone helped to merge African-American folk music with the European classical tradition, a fusion that opened the way for ragtime, jazz, boogie-woogie and much more.

“Even before the Great Scott Joplin, Boone was busy evolving the first true ‘made in America’ genre of music: Ragtime! It became America’s gift to the world,” said Lucille Salerno, emeritus board member of the Foundation and organizer of the former Blind Boone Jazz Festival.

The home was built between 1888-1892 by John Lange Jr. as wedding present for his sister Eugenia Lange and Boone. It serves as a monument to the individual genius and generosity of Boone but it also represents the historic African-American community as a whole — its struggles and accomplishments. The home’s location on Fourth Street is one of the few physical remnants of the community African-Americans built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“The effort to preserve Boone’s home is important, in part, because it is one of the few surviving reminders of the days when Fourth Street was the heart of Columbia’s African-American neighborhood,” said Greg Olson, a member of the Foundation. “At a time when the city, like much of the nation, was deeply segregated, Blind Boone was that rare individual who seemed to have the ability to bring together Columbia citizens of all races.”

The home was purchased by the City of Columbia in 2000 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Renovations to the home included interior restoration, minor exterior repairs and landscaping. The project was approved by City Council on June 3, 2013 and the City portion was paid for with surplus funds from fiscal year 2012. The estimated cost for the City was $326,855 with a $16,500 donation from the John William “Blind” Boone Heritage Foundation.

The Foundation was organized in 1997; for more information, visit this link: http://blindboonehome.com/.

Civil War to today reflected in Second Missionary Baptist Church

A historic building helps society recall its history, as demonstrated by this magazine article on the 150-year-history of Second Missionary Baptist Church, now at Fourth and Broadway.

Why say it is now at Fourth and Broadway? At one time, Fourth Street was called River Street for the Flat Branch waterway that now runs under Fourth Street, according to at National Register of Historic Places document that outlines the history of the adjacent J.W. “Blind” Boone home.

The article is headlined “Second Missionary Baptist Church reflects o 150 years of rich history,” and was written by Lauren Rutherford and published on April 7, 2016 in Vox magazine.

The piece explains the importance of the church: It housed and houses a community that has endured the insidious lasting harms of slavery and one that has also endured, fought and won many battles in the fight for civil rights. For example, the Rev. Clyde Ruffin helped spearhead an effort to place a tombstone at the grave of a man who was lynched in 1923. The church has been the staging ground of civil rights efforts as well.

This article demonstrates the purpose of historic buildings and how to save historic buildings. First, the purpose of historic buildings is so as a society, we are reminded of our history, good and bad. Second, saving a historic building requires that the building has a use.

Why historic homes matter

Why should we save historic homes? Why do I care about historic homes? Because those walls of wood or brick encapsulate the stories of the people who lived in them, stories which could become lost without those nail and mortar reminders.

How do I know this? A recent article headlined “Ceremony celebrates black Union veteran,” published in the Nov. 9, 2015 Columbia Daily Tribune outlines the placement of a headstone in the Columbia Cemetery. The writer Rudi Keller outlines how Wallace Lilly lived — died, buried without a headstone and nearly forgotten.

Lilly deserves to be remembered. A former slave, he fought as a soldier in the Union army, enlisting on April 13, 1864, notes Keller. All soldiers who fought for their country, many would say, should be remembered. Lilly was promoted twice before being mustered out and then worked to establish the Union veterans group and a black Masonic lodge.

The local Sons of Union Veterans spent four years researching the former slave, the article notes. He was in an unmarked grave since his death in 1932 until this week. The man’s life and memory could have been lost, as he’d died without children and other relatives would be hard pressed to find his grave. As the article notes, “Census records don’t give the names of slaves…”

But because he served and because there are Union soldier organizations and members who care, the name of Wallace Lilly lives on.

Math tells us historic homes matter

Contrast that with a house that exists and so we have the story of another black man and his success. Many in Columbia know the name of J.W. “Blind” Boone because his home remains on Fourth Street, awaiting the completion of its renovation. In his heyday, he was an internationally renowned musician, playing and composing ragtime and classical music. It’s estimated he and his entourage played 7,200 to 8,400 concerts from 1880-1915. The National Register of Historic Places document that outlines why the house which marks his life should be on this national register notes that it’s estimated Boone and his crew made $150 to $600 per concert. The math tells me that this would equal roughly $23.3 million in 2014 earning power, according to Measuring Worth, a website that converts historic dollars to modern dollars.

Born in 1864 to a former slave, Boone died in 1927. His home changed hands and fell into disrepair. At one time, it even looked like his his home might be demolished. But without that house, the story of the multi-millionaire musician might have been lost.

So why should we care about his story? Or the story of Wallace Lilly? Because without these stories of people who overcame adversity, our world would be a poorer one. Not in dollars but in spirt.

And that’s why I think historic homes are important. They keep the stories of our ancestors who strove and succeeded alive for all of us.

Lost Black history spotlighted on Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Black history will be the brought back to life on Tuesday, May 19, 2015 with the unveiling of a marker to highlight a place that once existed — Sharp End — will be highlighted. From 5:30 to 6:15 p.m., members of the Sharp End Heritage Commission and city and state officials will mark the unveiling of a historic marker near the REDI offices on Walnut Street.

This once vibrant entrepreneurial area filled with black-owned businesses including barber shops, restaurants, taverns and other firms filled the 500 block of East Walnut Street, now home to the Columbia Post Office and a city parking garage, according to this May 17, 2015 article by Rudi Keller in the Columbia Tribune.

Why is this important?

This site ColumbiaHistoricHomes.com stems from a desire to save and reveal Columbia’s history. Once a person dies, his or her life story can fade. But when there’s a building, that story can be sometimes be found again. For example, few people know that an early woman journalist once lived in the house at 121 West Boulevard North — or that she’d nearly been given up to a wealthy Boonville, Missouri family.

That’s why Tuesday’s event is so important. It will bring back to life history and lives that can’t be highlighted through the buildings and homes, which are all now gone, except for a few notable exceptions, such as J.W. “Blind” Boone’s home, Second Baptist Church and St. Paul’s Church. The history of these buildings is highlighted in this National Register of Historic Places document.

Looking for more of Columbia’s black history? Here are several links:

Black History Lessons by Kevin Walsh, Inside Columbia, February 2015.

Interested in doing your own sleuthing on black history? I can’t wait to dig into this collection at the State Historic Society: Boone County Black Archives Collection. It includes information on the 1923 lynching.

Looking for a great read? Here’s a review of Gary Kremer’s recent book, “Race and Meaning.”

As for me, I’ll be at the event on Tuesday, when Columbia marks history that I’m grateful didn’t fade once the buildings were gone.

Hidden history heard again

J.W. “Blind” Boone started out life as the child of a run away slave and a bugler in the Missouri Militia. Before his death in 1927, he was one of the most famous Missourians — black or white — and one of the wealthiest, income from a touring schedule that took him all over the country, including New York and Boston. But before his death, he and his manager John Lange, a former slave himself, owned their own homes and we considered wealthy men.

All that, Boone’s success, his and his manager’s wealth, all began with a strange and wonderful concert competition between former slave “Blind Tom” Wiggins, a black man who toured and could imitate any music he heard and J.W. “Blind” Boone. That concert kicked off Boone’s career that would span the playing and writing of classical and ragtime music.

His home at 10 N. Fourth St., has been saved and awaits further restoration.

But the competitive concert was re-enacted by Sutu Forte, as Boone, and Tom Andes, as Wiggins. This March 5, 2014 article, “The Battle of the Keys,” outlines the historic event and its recent repetition. The event was sponsored by the Boone County Historic Society.

 

Four easy ways to help shape history

Shaping history comes in, well, all shapes and sizes. Here are four ways to help shape Columbia’s history.

1. A Saturday, June 1, 2013 concert will let you hear history — and help to preserve and discover it. A second J.W. “Blind” Boone piano has been discovered. Boone was a classical and ragtime musician who lived from 1864-1927, and his home at 10 N. Fourth Street is under going renovation. From 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, June 1, the Boone County Historic Society will host a concert of classical and Boone compositions to be played by Sutu Forte and Friends on Boone’s Chickering concert grand piano. The event will raise funds to restore the upright piano. Suggested donations are $10 for adults and $5 for children. Call the Boone County Museum and Galleries, 573-443-8936 for tickets or to make reservations. Credit cards accepted. The BCMG is located at 3801 Ponderosa St., Columbia.

2. A Monday, June 3, 2013 Public Hearing will let you weigh in on renovating the historic home of Boone. Built in 1889, it housed Boone and his wife until his death in 1927 and hers in 1931. More than a musician, Boone was also an amazing entrepreneur. He toured the country 10 months a year, often playing six days a week. In the 2012 book, “Merit, Not Sympathy, Wins: The Life and Times of Blind Boone,” John Davis estimates he earned roughly $3,600 to $14,375 a night in 2010 dollars. In 1980, the home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 1998, it was named to Columbia’s Most Notable Properties list. The house was purchased by the City of Columbia in 2000, and since then the exterior has been renovated.

The notice about the public hearing notes the estimated costs of improvements to the interior and exterior of the home is $326,855. A quick scan of the local newspapers would reveal the wide range of opinions on this potential project.

The public hearing on the proposed plan will be held at 7 p.m. in the Council Chamber of City Hall at 701 E. Broadway.

Here is a photo of what it looked like prior to the city’s purchase.

Courtesy of Columbia’s Historic Preservation Commission and FitzImages Photography.

Courtesy of Columbia’s Historic Preservation Commission and FitzImages Photography.

3. June 9, 10, 11, 2013: The “Blind” Boone Early Jazz and Ragtime Festival will include the historic music of the  Boone era.  Performances will be held in the historic and recently renovated Missouri Theatre on Ninth Street in Columbia, Missouri. In addition to separate concert prices, there is a basic two-day pass for $100 and a three-day pass for $150, for four events and six events, respectively. The annual festival began in 1991 and are sponsored by the J.W. “Blind” Boone Foundation. For more information, see http://www.concertseries.org/event/blind-boone-early-jazz-ragtime-festival/ or call 573-882-3781.

Why is this concert series important? J.W. “Blind” Boone, the child of a run-away slave and U.S. Union bugler, played and composed ragtime music, as well as classical music. Many say he was the first person to bring popular, ragtime tunes to the concert stage, and his motto, despite being blind and African-American during a trying time, was “Merit, not sympathy, wins.”

4. Finally, one of the easiest ways to help preserve history is by joining the Boone County Museum and Galleries. Membership starts at $30 for individuals, $35 for families. The museum is open from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. on Saturdays. In addition to galleries and displays, the BCMG offers a wide range of activities and events, many of which are discounted for members.  The BCMG has a website and Facebook page to help you keep in touch with easy ways to help preserve history, get involved or just attend interesting events such as the upcoming concert. The BCMG is at 3801 Ponderosa St.
Columbia, MO 65201