Editor's Log A Twofur
Polkadate August 2019. As you might have concluded from the articles with my name attached, I love Texian history, all eras from prehistoric to contemporary. The pursuit has allowed me to come in personal contact with many interesting people from all walks of Texian life. One of my favorites was Lonn Taylor, a gentleman with a push-broom mustache, stylish hat, spiffy bowtie, and a twinkle in his eye who was always smiling or grinning as he told a story with great relish. His laugh with his rosy cheeks was as big as Texas. His interest in the “big picture” of Texian history took a back seat to his interest in the cultural and individual occurrences of Texians that seemly were irrelevant, but it was all part of the big picture when combined. Lonn died unexpectedly in late June.
SALUTE TO LONN
Lonn attended high school in Ft. Worth and then Texas Christian University. He was in New York working on his doctorate when he spent a summer in Austin where his neighbor happened to be Janis Joplin. This exposure to music and culture derailed his scholastic plans. He never got his PhD, yet embarked on a career of bringing the history of Texas to the people through public exhibitions with Texas Parks and Wildlife and museums. He culminated his career with 18 years at the Smithsonian Museum in the nation’s capital capped off with leading the restoration project of Old Glory, the flag that flew over Fort McHenry (see July TPN).
Drawing from his many interests, he wrote stories of the cultures that he examined. Along the way he was hired as a director and curator of the Winedale Historical Center in Round Top, Fayette County. Round Top is a German community that still retains its musical heritage with the Round Top Brass Band. This exposure led to his researching and publishing stories of the music culture that permeated German Texas. He didn’t limit the stories to German music as his stories on eating breakfast tacos with Santiago Jimenez Jr. playing accordion and the story of Buddy Holly’s glasses are insightful.
Lonn presented a paper he called “More than Just Dancing” at Round Top’s Festival Hill, which is the premier music hall between the eastern and western shore of the U.S. (no brag, FACT!). Due to length, it has been edited, but the extracted portions will appear in the October issue of TPN. One of Lonn’s favorite photos of himself was him demonstrating how to correctly pluck a goose at the Winedale Historical site.
MORE THAN JUST DANCING: GERMAN AND CZECH SOCIAL HALLS IN CENTRAL TEXAS
By Lonn Taylor
I moved to Round Top almost exactly 40 years ago, in October 1970, to take a job as curator of the Winedale Historical Center. One afternoon after my wife and I had been here about a year Ronnie Klump came into my office and said, “Lonn, Odies Schatte, Ronny Sacks, and I would like to come call on you and your wife after supper tonight.” Of course, I told him that would be fine, but I was inwardly terrified. When I told my wife about the conversation she and I racked our brains to think what would warrant a formal call from three prominent male members of the community. We finally decided that we had unwittingly violated some local social more and were about to be asked to leave town.
That evening we were just finishing supper when there was a knock on the door. I opened it to admit a very solemn looking trio. We offered them coffee and they sat in a row on our couch and shuffled their feet and made small talk until Odies finally began a long speech about the Round Top Rifle Association. He explained that it was founded in 1873 and that it was a non-profit association dedicated to recreation and the improvement of marksmanship and that he was the current president and that membership dues were $1.20 a year but that if you were over 40 you could pay $14 and become a life member and that membership was by invitation only and the members had voted to invite me to join. At that point Ronnie Klump, who was the youngest and most unrestrained of the three, could no longer contain himself. He interrupted Odies and shouted, “Join, Lonn, join! You can dance free for the rest of your life and when you
die we’ll send your wife flowers!”
It was thus that I became a life member of the Round Top Rifle Association and so I can speak on this subject from the point of view of an insider, or at least a partial insider. When I joined, I was the only member of the association who did not grow up speaking German.
I mention that because in 1970 people of my age who lived here were the fourth generation of their families to live in Texas, yet virtually all of their parents spoke German at home, and some of their grandparents spoke no English, even though they might have been born here in Round Top. The German language was preserved here, and in other German settlements in Texas, well into the second half of the 20th century. Here is how: My neighbor at Winedale was a man several years younger than I named Rollie Wagner. His family had lived in this area since the 1850s. One day he remarked to me that he did not speak English until he started the first grade.
I said, “Rollie, how could that be? You heard English all around you; you had a radio in the house; surely you had friends who spoke English?” Rollie said, “My father said that German was the mother language and should come first, and every time I said a word in English he hit me.” I knew Rollie’s father, who was a very authoritarian old gentleman, and I knew he was perfectly capable of doing just that.
The Rifle Association also sponsored a regular program of monthly dances at the hall, which was built in 1882. My friend Ernst Emerich, who was in his 80s in the 1970s, once told me what the dances were like when he was a boy. People would start arriving in wagons and buggies from their farms on Saturday morning, he said, and they would spend the afternoon playing cards, bowling, and socializing. They would eat their suppers early, by their wagons or buggies, while it was still light, and as soon as it got dark kerosene lamps on poles were set up in the trees surrounding the hall, so that late-comers could find their way, and the music started inside.
You could pay 25 cents and be a dancer or 10 cents and be a spectator. The spectators, mostly old ladies, sat in chairs on a narrow platform around the edge of the hall and knitted, and there was always a dispute between the spectators, who wanted the kerosene lamps inside the hall turned up, and the dancers, who wanted them turned down. The dancing ladies all had dance cards which listed each tune the band was going to play, beside which they would write the name of the gentleman they intended to dance that number with. At midnight the band would play the final waltz, Home Sweet Home, and coffee and sandwiches would be served. But frequently, Mr. Emerich said, the young men would take up a collection to keep the band playing until dawn. A handkerchief would be hoisted over the bandstand, someone would call out “Ladies Engage,” and the entire dance would be repeated backwards, with the ladies picking their partners this time.
DOWN THE ROAD
One of the oldest agricultural societies, the Cat Spring Agricultural Society, founded in 1856, is just east of here. Their present hall, a big octagonal frame building, was built in 1902. The dance floor inside is also octagonal, and my friend Delphine Hinze used to say that he didn’t like dancing there because he could never find his way back to his table when the music stopped.
The minutes of the monthly meetings of the Cat Spring Agricultural Society from June 1856 through May 1956 have been translated and published, and sampling them for the year 1911 reveals a regular schedule of dances sponsored by the society, starting with a masked ball in February, and continuing with a ball in March, a calico ball to welcome summer in May, the founding anniversary feast and ball in June, a Fourth of July celebration and dance in July, a ball in August, a harvest festival dance in October, and a New Year’s Eve Sylvester ball in December. Members bid for concessions at these dances: there was a food and coffee stand, a fruit and candy stand, an ice cream stand, a doll stand, and a hat check stand. There is a great deal of information about the organization of dances and feasts in these minutes and they should be of interest to any historian of the subject. The Cat Spring Agricultural Society still holds an annual feast and dance in June.
The major Czech organizations in Texas were not brought from Europe but were home-grown mutual aid societies, originally formed to offer insurance benefits to their members. As I mentioned earlier, these societies are a very common phenomenon among all immigrant groups, and they play important roles in the preservation of language and music as well as providing inexpensive insurance to their members. They were originally necessary because the United States, unlike the European nations the 19th-century immigrants came from, had no national social security or health care systems. The technical name for these groups is fraternal benefit societies, and there are currently about 2,500 of them in the United States.
The oldest Czech fraternal benefit society in Texas is the Slovanska Podporujici Jednota Statu Texas, or the SPJST, which was formed in La Grange in 1897 and now has 94 lodges across the state. The SPJST, which some third-generation Texas Czechs who have trouble wrapping their tongues around the Slavic syllables say stands for “Special People Jesus Sent to Texas, actually started as a break-away from a national Czech fraternal benefit society. The Texas members thought the national group’s membership fees were unfair, arguing that farmers should pay lower premiums than members engaged in more hazardous occupations, like working in steel mills. Membership in the SPJST is open to Catholics, Protestants, and Free-thinkers, and religious and political discussions are forbidden at meetings, so that members can get down to the important things in life: eating, drinking, and dancing. I think it is interesting that the Morgan’s Point, Texas SPJST meets at the Best Quality Meat and Sausage Shop. Most SPJST lodges, however, have their own halls where dancing can take place.
I should note that there is also a Texas-German fraternal benefit society, the Sons of Hermann, that maintains halls and sponsors dances. The Hermann Sons, as they are called, are a national organization that goes back to 1840. They are named after the German national hero who defeated the Romans in 9 AD at the Battle of the Teutonburg Forest, who is depicted on their engraved membership certificates as a bearded warrior in a horned helmet. When I was at Winedale the Hermann Sons representative would come around once a month with a leather pouch and a big receipt book and collect the fifty-cent monthly membership fee from the employees who were members. I once won the raffle at a Hermann Sons dance at Rutersville. The prize was a $20 bill, but since I had to buy a beer for everyone in the hall, I came out about $10 short.
Well, the point of all this is that these halls that we love and that we celebrate were not built for dancing alone. So when you dance in them, think fleetingly about choral singers, and gymnasts, and sharpshooters, and men and women trying to figure out how to grow crops in a new land and how to take care of each other. But keep your mind on the music and on the person you are dancing with.
Lonn’s remembrances were many by Texas’ top journalists and historians as they celebrated a life well lived. To get a taste of the Rambling Boy visit marfapublicradio.org/programs/rambling-boy/ .
LOOKING BACK 66 YEARS
Last month marked the editor’s advancement to the age of 66, which some wag remarked that I was two thirds of the way to full devilhood. That age, of course, signifies that 1953 was the year and what a musical year it was. The months of July and August were jumping and jiving and waltzing as:
• The Rockne Playboys were in Rockne.
• Henry Brosch’s Orchestra was at Praha, Schummannsville Hall in New Braunfels, and Flatonia’s American Legion Hall as their heavy touring schedule decreed.
• The Lone Star Polkaboys were in Violet outside of Corpus.
• Adolph Hofner was Wrangling at the Moravian Hall in Corpus and the John Rejcek Orchestra was there shortly after the Wranglers.
• The Cotton Grove dance platform saw the Henkhaus Playboys, the Moulton Music Masters, and Adolph Hofner as they played under the stars.
• Hofner was also at Bill’s Place in Weimar (two miles and five days from where I was born) as was the Texas Top Hands and the Southernairs.
• The John R. Baca Orchestra was at New Bielau Hall and later at the Fairgrounds in Rosenberg playing old time music, none of this jazz stuff.
• The Machac Brothers and the Falke Orchestra were at Dubina’s KJT Hall (with free fans).
• George & His Buddies were performing a benefit at Moravia Parish Hall on the Sunday before my birth.
• Ray Krenek Orchestra was at the La Grange Fair Pavilion, on the Patio at the Cottonwood Inn in La Grange, and Swiss Alp.
• Swiss Alp was a happening place, as it would a decade-plus later when I first visited, with Ray Baca’s Orchestra, Blume’s and Adolph Migl’s Orchestras.
• At Shiloh Hall in Bryan, Jimmy Heap’s Melody Masters were performing.
• Herb’s Rhythm Ramblers were at the Moulton VFW Hall charging a high price of 75 cents for men however the ladies were free (meaning admission).
• One of the halls at Engle had I.J. Kopecky and His Texas Selected Entertainers putting on a show.
• Two guys, Walter & Joe brought their brass band and orchestra to the St. Rose picnic in Schulenburg.
• The New Braunfels Village Band came to Shiner for a dance.
• The Rudy Kurtz Orchestra shared its music with St. Hedwig Hall and Placedo Hall.
• Sil Krenek graced the La Bahia Hall with their old-time music.
• Cistern was having their Homecoming Celebration with the Lee Ilse Orchestra playing for your dancing pleasure. Over 25 dancing opportunities in those two months when gas was 20 cents a gallon, a new house was under $10,000, and a Kodak Brownie Flash Camera was $20, and all my mother remembers is the first grey hair I gave her was at my birth.