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MEMORIES IN FOCUS:   The opposite of trouble, right here in River City

MARION HISTORICAL MUSEUM PHOTO

Young Carl Sheldon poses in his new military-style uniform for photographer Laura E. McMullin after being invited to join Marion’s prestigious city band in 1898.

Very few had 76 trombones leading their big parade, nor did many have 110 cornets close at hand.

But until about the 1920s, when record players and movies became more practical and affordable, virtually every town — regardless how small — had its own rows and rows of virtuosos performing in one or more town bands.

Long before towns and schools began competing athletically, city bands were the embodiment of civic pride and a major weapon in rivalries between towns. 

Thus it’s no surprise that 13-year-old Marion native Carl Sheldon was so proud of being invited to join Marion Band in 1898 that he had his portrait taken in his new band uniform by noted local photographer Laura E. McMullin.

Carl actually had a bit of a connection getting into the band. His father, “professor” Ed F. Sheldon, a piano tuner, music teacher, and jeweler by profession, was bandmaster until around 1905, around the time Carl switched to being the band’s lead trombonist.

When Carl joined the group as one of two solo B-flat coronet players, the band consisted of 14 musicians, continuing a civic tradition that dated to at least 1875, a decade before his birth.

So prominent did city bands become that the legislature in 1905 enacted a special law allowing cities to raise taxes to support them.

Taxpayer dollars could be allocated for bands that contracted with cities to give free concerts and provide “musical service . . . upon occasions of public importance.”

Communities took their bands seriously, with residents typically shelling out the equivalent of $7 today to attend a concert.

The Marion Review, later to merge with the Record, wrote in 1909: “As a city, it is our duty to give the Marion City Band our financial support and every encouragement possible, the same as we do to schools, churches, and other public institutions.”

The band itself also took performing seriously, often practicing for several hours twice a week — up from an every-other-week practice schedule in 1875.

Carl was still a member in those days. After high school, he for a second time followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a partner in his dad’s jewelry, art, and gift store.

An offshoot of the band, the Marion Coronet Band, of which he was a regular member, serenaded him his bride, Marguerite Saggau, in 1909.

It was around this time, 1912, that the Broadway show “The Music Man,” documenting rural communities’ interest in music, was set.

Other communities also had city bands. Hillsboro, Peabody, Florence, Lincolnville, Lost Springs, Durham, and even Pilsen took great pride in their civic musicians.

Eventually, phonographs, films, and high school sports took much of the luster away. Laws allowing taxpayer funding were changed in 1925, and soon after, Carl and Marguerite moved to Wichita, where he owned and operated Sheldon-Sway Jewelry until his retirement.

But he never forgot his ties to the old Marion Band. Into his 80s, he returned to Marion each year to play alongside one of his fellow 1898 musicians, tuba player and Marion housepainter Nodie Baker, in what became known as the Rube Band on Old Settlers Day.

Baker, 12 years Sheldon’s senior, performed in the Rube Band past his 100th birthday.

Both men died the same year, 1976, and both are buried alongside their wives in Marion Cemetery.

Last modified Aug. 8, 2019

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