Friday, August 08, 2008

Oklahoma City's Famous Kiltie Band

This original Famous Kiltie Band article was posted on August 8, 2008, but it was updated on May 3, 2009, to include new Kiltie photographs in Shamrock, Texas. To see the additional article, click here.

The Famous Kiltie Band

"Does your daughter smoke? Does she drink?"

Those qualifying questions being answered in the negative, and assuming that she (a) was the right size (about 5' 6"), (b) was willing to put in long hours of practice and learning to play the musical instruments and marching routines involved, but (c) get no "pay" for doing so other than being a member of the band and, of course, traveling to virtually all principal cities in the United States and Canada, a young lady in Oklahoma City could gain entrance into the 42 (maximum) member "Kiltie Band," the band which was for decades was a, if not the, principal ambassador for Oklahoma City to the rest of North America.

While many of us have seen the above postcard which looks east from the Civic Center at Hudson along 1st Street, now Park Avenue, most are probably unaware of what this "Famous Kiltie Band" was and what it meant to Oklahoma City from 1922 and at least until 1990. Only knowing a little, on Wednesday, August 13, 2008, my interest was piqued by Sheila Johnson of Luther, Oklahoma (described later in this article). In researching this topic, it became evident that for about seven (7) decades, from 1922 through 1990, it could fairly be said that this "Famous Kiltie Band" became an institution in and for this city and was easily the city's most visible good-will ambassador to the rest of the nation. They were a staple attraction in Oklahoma City, and Oklahoma, as well. This article tells at least a small part of the story of this "Famous Kiltie Band."

But, First, A Word From Your Sponsor — the Yeomen. When E.G. Fry formed the Kiltie Band in 1922, it was known by the name of its sponsoring organization, the Yeomen Brotherhood of America. Reviewing a bit of history about that organization in Oklahoma City leads one to the inescapable conclusion that, but for the Yeomen Brotherhood, the Kiltie Band would not ever have existed at all. It was that organization, and E.G. Fry's involvement with it, that directly led to the formation of the Oklahoma City Kiltie Band.

According to a snippet in the December 31, 1905, Oklahoman, the organization was a "fraternal beneficiary order" whose rituals were based upon the story of Ivanhoe. Other articles and sources reveal that its membership was equally open to men and women — the article just mentioned identified three women who had recently been elected to various offices in the organization. According to this website, the Yeomen organization was formed 1897 and, according to this website, in Iowa, Des Moines being its home when the various Oklahoma "lodges" or "homesteads" came to exist in the early 1900s. Aside from its fraternal and community oriented aspects, the organization sold mutual life and accident insurance policies, and, perhaps because of its openness to both male and female members (very unusual at the time), it apparently grew quite rapidly, including in Oklahoma. Unfortunately, I've found no Oklahoma images of the Yeomen in their ritual costumes, but here's one found at the San Diego Historical Society — wouldn't it have been grand to watch these guys and gals in a parade down Broadway!

Click the image for a larger view

A June 21, 1908, Oklahoman article attests to its prosperity in Oklahoma when it says, "Nearly 3,000 new members were written during the month, making a total of 15,000 since the first of the year. The total membership of the Society today is near 90,000." An April 6, 1909 Oklahoman article said that 200 Oklahoma delegates were then meeting in a two-day convention designed to consolidate the "OT" and "IT" memberships into a single organization, with meetings conducted in the rooms of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. In February 1912, a three-day convention in Oklahoma City was reported to have hosted 3,000 Oklahoma members. Part of its business was to plan for the 1913 quadrennial (i.e., every 4 years) national convention, Oklahoma City having been selected to host the event, and the 1912 convention featured a downtown parade — and I'm wondering if the Yeomen were dressed in their ritual regalia, as shown in the San Diego photo!

The anticipated 1913 national quadrennial convention was a very very big deal — 25,000 were expected to attend from around the country according to a November 17, 1912 Oklahoman article (and that's sure a heck of a lot more people than downtown's hotels could accomodate). Convention headquarters were to be divided between the Skirvin and the Lee-Huckins hotels. The 5-day convention opened at the Overholser Theater on June 11, 1913, and included an "exemplification of the Ivanhoe ritual" proposed to be adopted at the meeting proposed by a delegation from Washington state. None of the June (or other) Oklahoman articles I found said how many actually attended — one would suppose attendance to have been much less than 25,000, though, despite the Oklahoman's projections. It should be remembered that hyperbole was not uncommon in early (if not still present) newspaper reporting and — after all — where could 25,000 stay, even today?

Drill team competition was featured entertainment. A June 15 article noted that the "local drill team" received a cash prize of $300 as receiving the highest score ever made by any team — and the person who trained that team was none other than E.G. Fry — variously referred to in articles as "Capt." or "Major."

Below, in a December 22, 1912 Oklahoman article, "Major" Fry is shown on the steps of an unidentified building with his crack drill team — I'm guessing that the building may have been the old Oklahoma County Courthouse. In any event, these are the guys who won the 1913 prize.

Click the image for a larger view

Fry continued his activity in the Yeomen and a May 3, 1918 Oklahoman article identifies him as "commander" of the Oklahoma Yeoman Guards.

ENTER THE KILTIES! By all accounts, the "Yeomen Kiltie Band" was formed by "Capt." Fry in 1922 and this venture/adventure eclipsed all he had done with the all-male drill team, and his Yeomen Kiltie Band is what he remains known for not only today but doubtless into Oklahoma City's future — and why not? Girls in kiltie uniforms who march and do routines and dance and play Scottish tunes to bagpipes, horns, and drums are just a heck-of-a-lot more interesting than a bunch of guys with rifles, no matter how one cuts it! And, indeed they were!

E.G. Fry and his wife, Georgia, are not shown their respective Oklahoman obituaries as having any children — of their bodies, at least. But, from 1922 until each of their deaths in 1942, they certainly did have children in the form of the many Kiltie Girls that they taught, chaperoned, traveled with, and doubtless gave hugs to when one or many of their 14-to-22- year-old bevy of girls became homesick on one of their many trips around the country. Nothing indicates that the Frys received any monetary gain for any of what they did with the Kilties. E.G. Fry earned his livelihood from his interest in the Fry Bros. Furniture & Hardware shop at 231 W. California.
  • Enter Sheila Johnson. When I received a phone call from Sheila early Wednesday morning around 9 a.m. or so, I was preparing for a trial and couldn't take time to speak with her — my wife took the call and I was told that Sheila wanted to talk with me about the Kiltie Band. I did my out-of-town trial and returned home, relaxed and had a stiff drink or two, and then hit the sack! Before blissfully counting my subliminal sheep, though, Sheila called again. It turned out that her mom was a member of the Kiltie Band back in the mid-1920s and she was working on a entry into the Oklahoma County Free Fair which would open the next morning and she wondered if I had any information about the Kilties that might help with her exhibit.
While I was, before her call, quite ready to close my eyes and enter my own world of unconscious dreams, her call captured my fancy and I told her that I would see what I could find — at that point, I had nothing more than the snippet contained in Vanished Splendor II describing the postcard at the top of this article ... nice but not really all that much.

The bug being caught, and waking dreams being ever so much better than sleeping ones, I began researching the Oklahoman's archives and came up with several items that I thought she might find useful, and I e-mailed what I'd found to her.

On Friday, August 15, 2008, I went to the State Fairgrounds and had a look at what Mrs. Johnson had put together ...

Click the pics for larger views

Not many people were there when I was ... needs more publicity!

Little did I know that what my internet research disclosed wholly paled in comparison to what Mrs. Johnson already hadshe had real photographs of the Kilties which were and are better than any I'd seen and, more importantly, the photos involved her mother, Mable Mundy, as a member of the Kilties perhaps as early as 1922 and at least through 1926, as you will shortly see. In short, Sheila had a personal story to tell and share with all who dropped by at the Oklahoma County Free Fair at the Centennial Building at the State Fairgrounds on Thursday through Saturday, August 14-16, 2008.

That much most pleasantly smacked me in my face when I dropped by to see her exhibit on the afternoon of August 14 and as I began to drool uncontrollably. My credibility in saying this is backed up by the fact that Mrs. Johnson's entry had already won a "First Place" award before I arrived. Those of you that did not make it by her exhibit will see what she had to offer there, even if you miss out on the good personal conversations with her had you done so!

Click on the image for a larger view

A snippet from the story board that Sheila is holding, above, reads this way:
Sometime around 1920 Mable Mundy left her family farm in Pampa, Texas for the bright lights of Oklahoma City. With a high school diploma in her hand and big plans and dreams for the future she entered Hills Business School. She was a bright, energetic young woman excited about life. In 1922 Captain E.G. Fry began recruiting for an all-girl Kiltie band.
* * *
[After leaving the band] Mable went on to fly with Wiley Post, party with Edgar Rice Burroughs, serve on Admiral Nimitz's staff and marry an Oklahoma City businessman.
That businessman was Erie Harrison Sherman, Sheila's father, and his father (and Sheila's paternal grandfather) was Nathan S. Sherman, Jr., historical owners of the Sherman Machine & Iron Works in the Warehouse District (Bricktown), and she has got a lot of good stuff to convey about Oklahoma City history, to be sure.

But, before going further, let's have a look at Sheila's mom, the high school graduate from Pampa, Texas, lured by the "bright lights" of Oklahoma City, circa 1923-1926 ...

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Pretty classy photos of a gutsy young lady moving to Oklahoma City from Pampa, Texas for the "bright lights" of Oklahoma City around 1920, wouldn't you say? Some of the images following this section will have a "check" or mark of some kind as to where Mable is located — I understand that it was Mable who "defaced" the photos with such markings, so she gets a free, and historical, pass!

Aside from Sheila's comments about her mom on the story board, no "first hand" anecdotes of Mable's experiences were in the exhibit. But, the account by another early member of the Kilties was presented in the July 1, 1984, Oklahoman, an eyewitness account by Emily Nashert of Oklahoma City who, according to the article, was a Kiltie for four years — she and Mable may have been classmates in the business college. Part of that article reads as follows:
In 1924, I was boarding with a family in Oklahoma City and going to business college. They had a daughter my age. The mother belonged to the lodge [Brotherhood of American Yeomen] and we joined the Kilties.

Captain Fry, from Scotland, was a true military man. He taught us the drills and formations of a drill team. When we in a hall performing, we could do all the activities of any regular army drill. In parade, we marched to the band or drums.

The Yeomen furnished all the uniforms and equipment. There were 32 girls in the troupe. They had to be a certain height, weight and in good health – able to march and carry the drums and equipment.

The uniforms were ordered from Scotland – all the same size. There were 12 snare drums and two bass drums. Inasmuch as I was rather husky, I had a bass drum. Ruby Pope had the other one. (Incidentally, Ruby was "courting" Pepper Martin, the famous ball player, and later married him.)

There were 12 Scottish instruments (bagpipes) and eight bugles for the orchestra. We were invited to play in all parades, because we were so outstanding.

G.A. Nichols opened a plot east of Oklahoma City which was named Nicoma Park. It was going to be an outstanding area for raising chickens. This time we went on a flat-bed truck and wore our caps with feathers.

There was a chicken-calling contest and the girls knew I had been reared on a farm, so they dared me to enter. I won the contest.

One of our longest trips was to Asheville, N.C., sponsored by the City Building & Loan Association. The Kilties had a special Pullman on the train. Captain Fry and his wife always were in command. Our Pullman was our hotel. Local people took us to Chimney Rock and other beautiful places in and around the city.

We also stopped at Chattanooga where we rode the trolley car up Signal Mountain, visited Civil War areas and the home of John Ross, the Cherokee chief. At our Florence, Ala., stop we visited Muscle Shoals Dam. Each place we would perform. After one week, we were back in Oklahoma City.

The next big trip was to Chicago and Elgin, Ill. Upon our arrival in Chicago, we were met with a double-decker bus and we all clamored to get on top. At the Sherman Hotel, we got off and where all the young men came from, I will never know.

It was 5 p.m. We were assigned our rooms and then had dinner. Remember, this was in the 1920s, and the world was not as "wild" as it is today. The Captain let us off for the evening, but we were to be in our rooms by 10 p.m. and we had better be there! He next day, we were in a very long parade.

Our next stop was Elgin at a large convention. We stayed two days, performed in a very large hall, and latter attended a dance. I believe all the Illinois football team was there. And I danced with some of the largest men I had ever seen – including Red Grange.

Talk about the giggles and thrills! We had them that evening. But we were always closely chaperoned anyplace we went.
Sheila's exhibit contains a marvelous June 1925 photograph of the Kilties getting ready to board one of those Pullman cars at the Santa Fe Depot downtown on their way to New York and Canada. Fifty Yeomen plus the Kilties made the trip and the entire delegation was President Coolidge's breakfast guest in Washington. When there, they paraded and sang "Oklahoma" (a version we probably don't know), according to a June 7, 1925, Oklahoman article. In New York, they stayed at the Waldorf Astoria, according to a June 3, 1925, Oklahoman article. In New York, the Kilties once again won out against all national competition.

Click the image for a larger view

A cropped view of the above - click to enlarge

Her exhibit also contained a pair of press faded clippings from some of such trips, the 1st at Chicago (Chicago Evening American, August 23, 1926) and the 2nd at New York City from an unidentified newspaper article showing the Kilties at Governors Island, quite likely in 1923 or 1925 when attending the Yeomen of American convention there ... and winning first prize for their marching, dancing, and playing skills (in both of those years).

Click the images for larger views

Sheila also had a Kiltie postcard in her exhibit that I'd not seen before ...

Click the card for a larger view

... and she was kind enough to give me a spare copy! Hoo Ahh! Notice the red "check mark" at the right — that's Mable — so I've actually got an autographed copy, after a fashion!

Sheila also has a damaged large original photo from which the above postcard was made. Keep in mind that this photograph is over 80 years old — and it has been kept "rolled up" — unrolling it is a dangerous proposition with the brittle photography paper. But, she carefully unrolled it to the extent that could be safely done and I snapped this shot of it ...

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Cropped Views – Click for Larger Views

Other Damaged Photos – Click for Larger Views

That's Mable With Her "X"

I went back on Saturday morning to take some better photos (although today, Monday, Sheila kindly allowed me to make scans from the original photos) and while there, remarkably, another lady, Jacque Lippel, happened by who was a member of the Kilties around 1959-1960! Here she is with Sheila ...

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More History. While Capt. Fry and his wife, Georgia, were living, the Kilties traveled the country far and wide and even to Canada. As noted below, the band's name changed to "Capt. Fry's Kiltie Band" at sometime in the 1930s. Until then, the band remained the "Yeomen Kiltie Band" and, in fact, became the official band of the Yeomen Brotherhood of America in 1929 — a July 10, 1929, Oklahoman article reported that the Kilties had won every national Yeomen contest since 1922 garnering over $10,000 in prize money (which was reinvested into uniforms and equipment). Their success was almost too much for their own good since it led to the Kilties being banned from such competition in 1929 — but it did receive a monthly $100 monthly maintenance stipend when it became the "official" band of the organization.

A May 1938 Oklahoman article rolled off a partial list of accomplishments:
  • 1938 National Democratic Convention in Chicago
  • A week at the Chicago World's fair in 1933 or 1934
  • 1926 Sesqui-Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia
  • 1934 national tour sponsored by the Chicago Evening Americannewspaper
  • 1929 Rotary International Convention in Dallas
  • San Deigo trip in 1929
  • Played before the Prince of Wales in Montreal (date not stated but perhaps in 1925 since the Kilties traveled there as part of their June New York trip)
During this same period of time, the Kilties became a fixture on the "Goodwill Tours" conducted by the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce which annually toured different parts of the state and sometimes Texas — the Kilties' participation in that event lasted until 1990.

The fame of the Kiltie Band was sufficient for it to be included in a spread on Oklahoma City in the March 1941 National Geographic publication. I took a photo of its page at the Norick Downtown Library yesterday, August 17. Similar to the postcard at the top of this article, this photograph as not been edited to make the skeletal Gladish Building something that it never was (unlike the postcard at the top of this article) — it is barely visible at the right.

Click the photo for a larger view

A cropped view, showing the band's name as "Capt. Fry's Kiltie Band"

By this time, the band's name had changed but I couldn't find when that happened. It may be that when the "status" of the Yeomen organization changed to a legal reserve level premium life insurance company (as was reported as contemplated in a December 4, 1931, Oklahoman article), or when the organization's name became Mutual Life Insurance Company in 1932 according to this website, the band's name may have then changed, also, but I've not pinned that down.

Here is another photo, this one from the late 1930s, showing the Kiltie Band by a Santa Fe diesel passenger train downtown:

Courtesy the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce

Everett G. Fry (Capt. Fry) was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1938 ... see the monument at the State Fairgrounds, 2nd column, 2nd from the top:

Click the photo for a larger view

In 1942, both the Captain and his wife died at fairly early ages, first Georgia at age 60, and then the Captain at age 67:

The Post-Fry Era. With Capt. & Georgia Frys' deaths, the band died, too ... but not for long. A May 30, 1943, Oklahoman article reported that Grace Connell, who had been with the band for 10 years, was to become the drum major and drillmaster, replacing Capt. Fry, and other offers were identified in a new organization. The band's name would appropriately remain ... Captain Fry's Kiltie Band. Apparently a group of local businessmen was trying to help get the new organization started, raise $2,500 for new uniforms and create a fund for purchasing equipment. The new organization incorporated in December 1943 as the Oklahoma City Kiltie Band, Incorporated.

But no sponsoring "organization" had come forward. That changed in February 1948 when American Legion Post 35 "adopted" the Kilties, and that relationship continued for the remainder of the Kilties' existence. Reading between the cracks in the Oklahoman's coverage, though, it seems that the Kilties never recaptured their former glory. A March 27, 1949, Oklahoman article bore the headline, "Kiltie Band Sadly in Need of Members." Grace Connell resided from the organization in October 1950.

Membership apparently picked up and many instances of Kiltie performances and appearances occurred in the 1950s, although I could locate no interstate travels in the 1950s as had previously occurred. Local interest apparently remained good even if the elegant trips to New York, for example, appeared to have become a thing of the past. The following Oklahoman articles reflect the interest.

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January 21, 1953

May 4, 1958

Above, I said that the interstate trips appeared to have become a thing of the past. But the 1960s showed that there was at least one or two more grand trips to be had. In 1965, New York City again hosted a World's Fair. The Kilties wanted to go, just as their predecessors had done. Without a "Capt. Fry" and his driving force, could it happen? The question was open. But, it did, even with less fanfare as had occurred in the 1920s and 1930s.

Click on the article for a larger view

The Kilties also traveled to and performed at the 1968 Hemisfair in San Antonio. Locally, the Kilties performed at early day downtown arts festivals – such as May 2, 1969, when the event was still located at the Civic Center grounds.

As said before, after their organization in 1922 the Kilties were a featured attraction of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce's "Good Will Tour" which occurred annually in the spring over a century of tradition, and the Kilties continued serving in that capacity through 1990. The pair of Oklahoman clippings, below, illustrates that tenure:

Click on the articles for a larger view

A May 4, 1958, Oklahoman article said, "There hasn't been a goodwill tour sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce since the early 1920's, where the bright Scotch plaids, tooting horn pipes, and rattling drums, haven't been the feature attraction." That string came to an end with the 1990 tour. While Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce Tours lasted until 1997, the Kilties were no longer present on them.

If there is an end (and who can say what may yet occur), I've not yet identified a "definitive end" of the Famous Kiltie Band. I have a call in to their last sponsor, American Legion Post #35, as it should probably know.

At least one Kiltie reunion occurred, in June 1986. Sheila Johnson thinks that there was at least another which occurred in the 1990s when her mother (who died in 1999) was not well enough to attend but I could find nothing in the Oklahoman's archives about another.

Click the article for a larger view

Whether the Kilties are only a part of Oklahoma City's collective memory, or if they also might yet have a place in its present and future, they, and their founder and driving force, Captain E.G. Fry, are without a doubt yet another group of Oklahoma City heroes, and they will not be forgotten. That's just not possible.

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Sam said...

This is a very well written and informative post. You should think about publishing a version in the Chronicles of Oklahoma. Thanks for your excellent work!

Doug Dawg said...

Thanks, Sam. About Chronicles, well, I've not been asked!

Market Survey Companies said...

Very rare pictures & very informative text. You have a nice blog. Keep it up!

dukewarren said...

awesome blossom 38 ya'll thx 4watsworth
and sorry for not being respectfully there at the end. tarose1970\cc the perkins say hey to robert judy t----gray

Anonymous said...

Sheila is my first cousin (our fathers were brothers) but I was unaware of Aunt Mable's participation in the band. Great article and I, too, think it would be an excellent submission to Chronicles of Oklahoma.

Anonymous said...

My mom recently found a picture taken when I was in the Kiltie Band in the 1970's. I googled Kiltie Band and found your post. I never knew the history until today. Thank you.
Jennie Brooks

Doug Dawg said...

Thanks, Jennie. If you'd like your Kiltie photo to be included in the article, I'd be glad to do so. Any memories you'd like to include would also be very welcome. To send me an e-mail, click my thumbnail icon and an email option should appear ... if this interests you.

Danni Pointon said...

My cousin and several friends were in the Kiltie Band in the early 1960. I remember going with my Aunt to pick her up after practice. They did go on trips but I think most were here in Oklahoma.