What was going on in Schenectady on March 30, 1906? Well, not ragtime! This article from the Amsterdam Evening Recorder tells of Mayor Jacob Winne Clute’s displeasure with street musicians that were proliferating at the time. The headline was “No More Ragtime in Schenectady,” with a subhead of “Mayor Clute Passes on All Itinerant Musicians – Some Other Dorpian Reforms.” [If you don’t know, “Dorp,” the Dutch word for “village,” was an old nickname for Schenectady, usually as “Old Dorp.”]
“Mayor Jacob Winne Clute of Schenectady has taken upon himself to free that city of barrel organs that fill the air with murderous renditions of popular and unpopular songs; of Dutch bands that make new agony of last season’s ragtime, and of street pianos that are soul disturbing as well as ear offending. Mayor Clute says the street music in Schenectady in the past has been trying to the nervous system and destroying of all sense of harmony and melody among children who are endeavoring to learn the divine symphony in the public schools. He says it is a waste of good money to try to teach the school children the heavenly gift of song and have a pleuro-pneumonia organ assault their ears in the streets with a battered ragtime air.”
The paper reported that musicians making “mercenary discord” without a license would be arrested, and in order to get a license, they would have to go to City Hall and play for the mayor and his secretary, Prof. James Reagles Truax, who would decide whether the musicians would be allowed to play on the streets. “Ragtime is prohibited.”
“Hans, Louis, Fritz and Wilhelm, of the little Dutch band, must discourse sweet melodies from Wagner. Antonio Dellarocco must grind out a symphony from Mascagni or Verdi; Jan Van Blowstein and his accordion must play the famous airs of Mozart or Beethoven; Donald McDonald must stick to the national airs of Bonnie Scotland, or all must seek pastures new.”
The paper then went on a little bit of a sarcasm spree, saying that the mayor had several other reforms in mind, including “Licenses for peddling to none but American citizens,” “All electric signs to come down,” and “Policemen all at least six feet high.”
Was this all just a spoof? We couldn’t find another mention of this problem with barrel organs. Was the Amsterdam paper just having fun at Schenectady’s expense?