Today I’m writing from Hotel Bothwell in Sedalia, MO – Queen of the Prairie and one-time home of ragtime genius Scott Joplin. For my dear Kelly, this is a trip down memory lane. Her parents have been ragtime enthusiasts for decades and they brought her to Sedalia as a child to attend the annual Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival. For me, on the other hand, it’s another first and further proof that the proverbial old dog can, in fact, learn a trick or two, new or otherwise. I knew I liked Joplin the first time I saw The Sting and heard Easy Winners, Solace, and The Entertainer. Thirty-some years have passed and I’m still discovering things I love about the culture, music, and fashion of the ragtime era. So, when Kelly suggested we travel to Sedalia for what might be one last Joplin Festival with her parents, there was no way I could say “no”.
We set off from Indy this morning at an hour that really doesn’t qualify as early, rolling out of town around seven o’clock and clearing the city before rush hour was over in the company of rain. The trip west, at least across the planes of Illinois was uneventful in spite of Google Maps best efforts to convince us Sedalia, MO is located in Tennessee. We eventually sorted out our route and arrived at Hotel Bothwell by four o’clock, only shortly before the streets were taken in for the evening.
The Bothwell opened in 1927, a classy seven story hotel in a small town with all the modern conveniences and, supposedly, it’s haunted…so we may be sharing our room. That remains to be seen. What I can say is staying in a room from the 20’s puts you in touch with just how overboard our expectations and addiction to gadgetry has gotten in our modern age. It’s a room that a queen-sized bed makes feel crowded. Back when the hotel opened the average traveler would have one, maybe two bags relying on the in-house laundry service to keep him in clothes, they would have slept on a twin bed, and had no computer or cell phone to plug in to the wall…in fact, phones were in the lobby or in wall sconces in the hallways.
I killed a little time walking around the town square, taking in the sights around the courthouse and trying to imagine what the town must have looked like in Joplin’s day. He’d played the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, but by 1894 he was living in a tiny Midwestern town that couldn’t offer him the professional opportunities he would have in the big city. Now the courtyard has a memorial to the soldiers who took part in World Ward I, a statue of a dough boy with bayonet and grenade, a war that didn't end until after Joplin's death. Now there's a Howitzer from World War II and boots and a M16 from Vietnam. All around the courthouse were the relics of war, yet nothing of the man who helped create a style of music that's influenced everything from bluegrass and country to rock and rap.
Afternoon turned to evening and we rested from the long drive for a while and then walked a block to the Liberty Theater for the night’s concert and heard some of the best ragtime pianists around; listened to tunes like Easy Winners, Black Lightning Cakewalk, and American Beauty; and generally had a great time. Tomorrow, dancing and ragtime dance lessons, more music, and more pictures.