Gormley’s Band

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Gormley’s band from around 1908

After the Spanish-American War, Charles E. Gormley, who had been connected with the 20th Kansas Regimental Band, was persuaded to move to Ottawa by E.H. Van Osdell, a local businessman.  For the salary of $30 per month, he undertook to create a noteworthy city band.  Former band member Howard Gloyd reminisced about his experiences with the band from 1914-1919 in a letter to the editor of the Ottawa Herald in 1964: “When I came to Ottawa with my parents at the age of 12 in 1914, the Gormly band had great prestige but had passed beyond the stage of the personnel of the Herald’s story of Aug. 19, 1964.  My father took me to concerts Sunday afternoons in the old Rohrbaugh Opera House in the winter months and at the band shell in the park or at the band shell in the park (Forest) or the west portico of the courthouse in the summer.  It was said at that time that Charles E. Gormly had been bandmaster for Funston’s “Fighting 20th” in the Spanish-American War, and that subsequently it had been known as “Gormly’s 20th Kansas band.”   At the time I first knew it, it was (I think) known officially as “Gormly’s Band of Ottawa, Kansas.”  In 1910, the band volunteered to build a band shell in Forest Park, then the site of the Ottawa Chautauqua Assemblies as well as the Franklin County Fair.  [See in “Archive” the Exhibit marked Chautauqua Buildings to view the band shell.] They purchased $1000 worth of materials, did all the labor themselves, sold tickets to a concert for the opening of the band shell, but failed to sell enough to satisfy the debt.  Right before the concert, headlines in the Evening Herald blared “Where’s the Loyalty?  Only 150 tickets Have Been Sold for Band Shell.  Dedication is Right Upon us and but One Twentieth of the Necessary Number Have Been Sold” On the Fourth of July, 1911, they hosted a celebration in the park with a large fireworks display, and raised enough money to pay off the debt. Howard Gloyd continues: “About 1914 or 1915 the band made a trip to the West Coast to participate in something the nature of which I cannot now recall.  With many others, early one morning, I went down to the Santa Fe depot to see them off—a big band, 50 or 60 pieces, resplendent in the new red, green and gold uniforms I was later to know so well and one of which I was sometime later to wear with great pride.  The drum major, I think, was Ralph Page (the lawyer) and in his great white shako with plume he seemed ten feet tall.  Ottawa was “on the map” that day.” “In those days there was still great loyalty to the “home town” band.  A convention of Shriners once made this clear.  A visiting band (and a large one) resplendent in brilliant Oriental costumes led the parade and was greeted politely by the sidewalk crowds; but when Gormly’s Band entered Main Street from West Second and opened up with Sousa’s “Thunderer” it received an ovation that made every bandsman throw out his chest and step high, and we all realized that Ottawa was proud of its own!”  “Gormly was a remarkable man: musician, teacher, leader, respected by all who knew him.  On occasion he laid down the baton and led the band with a cornet (as Merle Evans led the great circus band.)  He was also a virtuoso with a tuba.  When a number in rehearsal had a good bass part, he would sometimes pick up a small tuba and do wonders with it.  He was a good disciplinarian.  I recall how he blasted me, and others, when something was wrong.  I never saw him take a uniform off a man for breach of discipline but once he threatened to, and I think he could have done it.” “My actual connection with the band came about two or three years later through friendship with Clyde H. Lucas, then also in his teens but a full-fledged band-member, playing baritone horn.” “In response to my burning zeal for the band, Clyde began taking me with him to the Sunday afternoon rehearsals then held on the second floor of a building near Third and Main.  It was about then that I met A.B. Hardin, one of the few in the Herald’s spread of photos that I distinctly remember.  Hardin was a rather shy person but a capable drummer in the style of the time.  He impressed me and I respected him.”  “Of the older members of the band the Herald has mentioned E.H. Van Osdell.  I think he probably is the Van Osdell who played a tall, slim tuba in this period (1915-17).  The Van Osdell’s had a family orchestra and some of the children, particularly Arline and Jack, were contemporaries of mine in high school and college.  Jack was a good trumpet man and became a member of the band.  Another trumpet man during these mid-teen years, one Gene Kirkland, was killed in an auto accident.  He was given a full-dress band funeral at the First Methodist Church, and the youngest Van Osdell (Dan?) walked behind the coffin carrying “Kirk’s” horn.” “Let me return to Clyde Lucas.  He took up piano and slide trombone, using his musical avocation to help pay his way at the University of Kansas (Lawrence) where he studied to become an electrical engineer.  Somewhere along the line he was induced—just for the heck of it to take a traditional test for musical aptitude in which he made such a phenomenally high score that he was persuaded to make music his professional career.  He was immensely successful with a “big band” during the late 20’s and 30’s.  I saw him and his fine band at the Drake Hotel in Chicago in 1936 and in the late 40’s or early 50’s I was told by New Orleans drummer Zutty Singleton that he was then in television work in Miami.” “Another good trombone man in Gormly’s Band was Bruce Allison, and still another was Glenn Jamison, who was appointed to U.S. Naval Academy (Annapolis) when he finished high school in Ottawa (1918).  During World War II, I read of an Admiral Glenn Jamison in some action involving our South Pacific Fleet.  Was it our Glenn Jamison, I wonder?” “An outstanding member of the band (1915-19) was John “Swede” Youngberg, a clarinet man with whom I sometimes played dance “gigs” and who later operated a drug store on North Main Street.”  “What caused the decline of the Gormly band during World War I was, I think, financial difficulties and the fact that the armed services took many of its members.  There was a persistent rumor about 1916 or 1917 that Gormly was to form a band for a new Kansas regiment to fight in France.  Indeed, the band played a military guard-mount or so.  This prospect caused Clyde Lucas and me to become tremendously steamed up.  If the band went to war, we wanted to go with it!  We called on Mr. Gormly one night at his home, resolutely facing the call of duty, and offered our services and our talents, such as they were (subject to our parents consent!)  Mr. Gormly soberly explained that war is no fun; but, he promised, if we were needed he would send for us!  The band was not commissioned and Gormly was to grin at me, years later, and say “You two dam-fool kids, scarcely out of short pants, tried to get me to get you into the Army!  What could I say to you?” “When support for the band languished during these war years, Gormly felt no longer needed in Ottawa and accepted an offer to conduct the municipal band of Great Bend, Kansas.  After he left, the Ottawa band was led for a time by W.E. “Dickie” Saunders. . . who had a music store in Ottawa then, and was a clarinet player.  The entire style of the band changed.  Where Gormly had clung to traditional military march style, slow and dignified (full-throated tones) at less than 120 steps per minute, the tempo was speeded up on parade (short steps, fast) and even more speeded up to “red wagon” (circus) style tempo when not actually marching.  However, an organization of a sort was maintained for a while with a personnel too young, too old, or unfit for military service.

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