Myth Buster II
May 22, 2012 § 1 Comment
As I read the plans for the 2012 Illinois State Fair which are announced almost daily in the newspapers at this time of the year, I am reminded of another “fact” that I used to claim as I took tourists through the house. Many of us told our groups that John Phillip Sousa played in the Lawrence House. From my research for writing Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House, I don’t think it happened.
Some claim that before Elvis Presley, John Phillip Sousa was the most famous musician in the world (click here for a brief summary of his life). Sousa and his band came to Springfield for a week of concerts during the ten day Illinois State Fair in 1906 to much hoopla. In addition to huge portraits of Sousa throughout downtown, the largest electric sign erected in Springfield to that time was placed just west of the entrance to the arsenal announcing the coming of the “March King.” Like all the concerts, the band’s opening night on October 2 was held in the arsenal. Among the 6,000 attendees were Governor Deneen and other state officials. The band played two concerts each night for the next week with a children’s matinee on Saturday. Attendance at the other concerts varied from 8,000 to 9,000 people according to newspaper reports.
The newspapers chronicled all of the social events Sousa attended and special guests at concerts, but I could not find Susan’s name in any of the stories. Then I thought Sousa might have been a guest at the Lawrence House until I read that he and the band manager stayed at the Leland Hotel while the 60 band members and soloists were housed in other hotels or private home. Finally, I came across this brief announcement under “Personal” in the October 2, 1906, Illinois State Journal:
Mrs. Susan Lawrence Dana is visiting in Salt Lake City, Utah, on route from Canada, where she has been spending the summer.
Susan wasn’t even in town during the big event. I could find no other references to Sousa visiting Springfield in newspapers, and I am sure such a celebrity would have been noted if he came at another time. If someone else can find some proof that he visited the Lawrence House, I’d like to hear about it. It was a good story to tell the tourists, and I’d like to tell it again.