Interesting Articles

Gone But Not Forgotten: The Ladies Auxiliary of the Ringgold Band

The Ladies Auxiliary of the Ringgold Band was formed on May 15, 1930 and conducted business at Ringgold Band headquarters at Fourth and Penn Streets in Reading. Officers elected at this first meeting were; President - Mrs. Robert Rehrer, Vice President - Miss Olga Weidner, and Secretary/Treasurer - Mrs. Fred Breininger. Special guest at the ladies' first meeting was Eugene Weidner, director of the band. At this first meeting it was decided to hold monthly meetings, and dues were set at 10 cents per month.

In addition to being a social club, the auxiliary also held many fundraisers for itself and the Ringgold Band. One of the more popular events was the card party. Tickets were sold for 50 cents each. The auxiliary ladies would donate door prizes, and the parties netted between $15 and $25. The ladies also did charitable work, making up baskets at Christmas time for needy families or band members. They also sent cards and flowers to sick members. 

After one year of existance, the auxiliary had enough funds in the treasury to donate $100 to the band. This was to become an annual event. The money was raised from card parties,  selling Jell-O® and aprons, and dues. The women donated much of their time and money to this cause. Another annual event for the organization was a picnic that brought the band members and their families together. 

By September 1931, the group was meeting at the new band headquarters in the American Legion Building at 133 North Fourth Street, Reading. Membership grew to 29 ladies. Meetings consisted of reviewing financial records and then ending with games and refreshments. Quarterly birthday socials were held, and sometimes the band would serenade the ladies. In 1937, meetings were hold at Ringgold Band headquarters at 144 North Fourth Street, Reading. By this time, the auxiliary had donated a total of over $800 to the Ringgold Band. It continued to exist in many forms through the years but eventually faded from sight. 

The Ladies Auxiliary - gone today but not forgotten - its spirit of friendship and camaraderie alive in the Ringgold Band.

Ringgold Band Memories: Reflections on John Philip Sousa

Contributed by Dr. Paul G. Fisher, Millersville, PA 

The name John Philip Sousa generates widely encompassing thoughts involving history, bands, music and entertainment. "Sousa" especially connotes musicianship, royalty, the highest of standards... and to this ten-year-old cornetist Sousa meant all of this - and more.

My esteemed cornet teacher, Eugene Z. Weidner, conductor of the Ringgold Band, had indoctrinated his young student with the names of Sousa, Edwin Franko Goldman, Herbert L. Clarke, Del Staigers, Frank Simon, Walter Rogers. These highly respected musicians were all friends of Mr. Weidner, mostly through their mutual membership in the American Bandmasters Association. (All of those mentioned came to Reading in the 1930s as guest soloists or conductors with the Ringgold Band.)

What a huge disappointment it was for me to be stricken with a serious viral infection the week Sousa was to appear with the Ringgold Band in their annual Spring Concert planned for March 6, 1932. My doctor had advised my parents that I should not be in public in my condition - But I wanted to see Sousa!

In this special case it was determined that an edict can always be bent - but not broken. Mr. Weidner allowed my father and I so stand in the hallway outside the rehearsal room so I could observe Mr. Sousa in his rehearsal with the band. On that Saturday night preceding the Sunday concert date, Sousa rehearsed his portion of the program with few suggestions. (The band had been well rehearsed and ready for this great occasion.) The rehearsal concluded with Sousa conducting his "Stars and Stripes Forever" with little flourish and no comments.

Sousa's small conducting gestures were noticeable to me. Was this his natural style, or a sign of old age, even serious illness?

My father and I quickly left the second floor hallway of the band building and went home discussing and reveling in the great conductor and band we had just observed and heard. The inspiration of the evening continued to live on and motivate this young cornet player - and it still does today!

We were totally unprepared and devastated by the news heard the next day: John Philip Sousa had died early that morning in his room in the Abraham Lincoln Hotel (known today as Lincoln Plaza). The entire band world was shocked and saddened by the death of their revered leader.

Congressional Cemetery: Washington's Forgotten Landmark

by Maria C. Reichenbach, Ringgold Band historian 

Thinking about planning a trip to Washington, D.C.? Probable destinations include the monuments and various Smithsonian museums. How about adding a cemetery to your agenda? This might sound a little morbid to some but cemeteries hold a wealth of Information and history.

Congressional Cemetery, named for several members of Congress who are buried there, was founded 1807 and covers over 30 acres. Located at 1801 E Street in the southeast section of Washington, this cemetery has become the final resting place for many famous Americans including artists, journalists, printers and musicians. 

The gravesite of one musician in particular was the reason that led my husband and me to divert from the usual tourist attractions to find this place. On March 10, 1932, John Philip Sousa was laid to rest in Congressional Cemetery. When he died in Reading on March 6, 1932, the Ringgold Band became infamous as the last band that he ever conducted. When his body was escorted down Penn Street to the Franklin Street Station, the Ringgold Band accompanied with several funeral marches. Upon Sousa's arrival in Washington, he lay in state at the Marine Band Auditorium until the funeral.

A stone bench inscribed with "Leader-United States Marine Band 1880-1892" serves as the focal point of the monument to Sousa at Congressional Cemetery. This bench, which also has a musical lyre etched into it, was originally meant to be part of a larger memorial to Sousa, an auditorium in his honor. This auditorium never materialized. A fragment of the "Stars and Stripes Forever March," though worn from the years, is still visible on his grave marker, and serves as a symbol of his lasting contribution to American band music.

Also interesting to note is that Herbert L. Clarke is also buried in Congressional Cemetery. He was a cornet soloist for Sousa for many years and also was a guest soloist for the Ringgold Band in the 1930s.

A somewhat dilapidated building serves as the gatekeeper's house at the main entrance to the cemetery. No one was there the day we visited to help map out our destination, but that just gave us time to explore other parts of the cemetery. It was a gray, overcast day, the kind of day that lends itself to quiet reflection. As we stood among the plots one could only imagine the amount of history and genius contained within the wrought iron fences of Congressional Cemetery.

Charles Evans Cemetery: A Berks County Historical Institution

by Maria Reichenbach, Ringgold Band Historian

Charles Evans Cemetery was founded in 1846 by Charles Evans, a local lawyer who saw the need for Reading to have a cemetery somewhat removed from the city. To fulfill his wish, he donated the initial 25 acres of land for such a place. On February 24, 1846, the cemetery was incorporated and the trustees were instructed to "lay out, ornament, plant and embellish the lands as a place for public interment and no street, lane or road shall hereafter be opened through the lands so occupied as a cemetery and that the cemetery should be totally exempt from all taxation." Today, Charles Evans Cemetery encompasses approximately 120 acres. The office building, located near the main entrance, provides a good starting point for touring the cemetery.

The list of gravesites in the cemetery reads like a "Who’s Who Among Reading and Berks County." Some recognizable names are Muhlenberg, Mengel, and Hiester. The cemetery is also the final resting place for notable artists, mayors of Reading, members of Congress, soldiers, historians, governors, state senators, and, of course, musicians. The gravesites of two Ringgold Band directors can be found here. Joseph Winter, director of the band from 1865–1870 and 1873–1900, is buried here as well as Monroe Althouse, director from 1901–1923. The year 1999 marks the 75th anniversary of the death of Althouse, best known for his marches he composed specifically for local organizations and events in Reading. Major James McKnight, leader of the Ringgold Light Artillery and strong supporter of the band in the 1860s, is also buried there.

Though many of the tombstones in Charles Evans Cemetery are worn from the years, the history of Reading and the Ringgold Band are vividly displayed there.