Segments from Leonard F. Sargent’s 1971 book, Saw-Dust
The complete transcript can be viewed in the book, Saw-Dust
Sargent’s Opera House: Shortly after we got settled in Laona, my dad, (Len Sargent) built a big dance hall. He put a stage on one end of it, had it equipped with scenery, a trap door, foot lights and dressing rooms below the stage. We not only used the main floor for dancing, but as a roller-skating rink, a basketball court and a lodge hall for the local lodges.
When the still movies became popular, I got a little picture machine called the Optigraph and then we had a moving picture theater in addition to all of the activities in the hall. Our Opera House was about the most popular place in town. I am sure that I owned the first moving picture machine in Forest County.
Roller-skating was quite popular. Everybody skated in a circle around the hall. Once in a while they would reverse and skate in the other direction.
Those days there were no well-known bands traveling around the country as there are now. In fact, about the only music, were hoe-down fiddlers with the piano cording the accompaniment. For this reason, I organized an orchestra of five or six pieces. I played the cornet and was the leader, although, I am sure that I was the poorest musician in the bunch. Our musicians consisted of boys working at this or that, so they came and went. However, I did have some members that stayed quite a while.
We played for dances about once each week and the dances were always well patronized, and in as much as no beer or liquor was ever sold in the Opera House, we never had any disorder.
Occasionally, we would put on special parties for certain groups, and benefit dances for the lodges and churches.
For the first couple of years the shows that came to Laona were mostly medicine shows. One of the best was a one-man show. He had a magic lantern and gave illustrated talks on various countries and other subjects. He called himself “Doctor”, and gave wonderful talks on various ills of the human body and his medicine tonics, salves, etc. After the show one night, I said to him, “Doc that was a good talk on medicine that you gave tonight”. He answered, “you should hear me lecture against it”.
One of the shows that came around quite often was the “Dave Picket Negro Family Show”. Dave was one of the best banjo pickers that ever lived. He could make a banjo talk. He got mad at me though, because I wouldn't’ let him have the Opera House on a certain date. He told my brother, Joe, that I was a pin head.
An Italian with a cinnamon bear once and gave his show on the street, and passed the hat.
He had the bear on a long rope, had it climb a pole and tumble around on the ground. Then
he would wrestle the bear. His lingo was “sometime the man he wrestle the bear,
sometimes the bear, he wrestle the man”.
We had several good stock company shows that came around regular, such as the Browns
and Francis Green Companies. Green was our all around good actor and a fine fellow. His
shows always made a hit.
I made arrangement for Opera House Managers at Gillett, Suring and Wabeno to have a
circuit and have some big productions come our way, and was quite successful.
The best show that we had was “Monte Cristo” put on by the Thanhouser Stock Company
of Milwaukee. It was a one night stand by a big company and the leading man was Eugene
Moore. We advertised that show well, and we sold out early. I was quite excited about it, for
fear that something might go wrong. These seats sold for the highest prices that we ever got.
The Brass Band & Orchestra: While attending business school at Wausau I became well
acquainted with C. S. Cone the owner of the Grand Opera House and leader of the Wausau
Band and Orchestra. I practiced with the band whenever they had rehearsals.
When I arrived at Loana and found myself the manager of the Opera House, I started to copy Cone and organized a band and orchestra. My dad, (Len Sargent) donated some money and we raised the balances by giving dances in order to purchase band instruments. We didn’t any more than get started, when we had to have uniforms, which we also bought by giving dances.
It was not hard to start a band that averaged from 12 to 14 men. Several of these men had already learned to play and others were natural born musicians and learned to play in no time. Some of them could play by note and others fell right in line playing by ear. I was the leader from the start. There were several that could play better than me, but because I was the organizer, they elected me as leader.
A $14.00 silver cornet, should have been good enough for me, so far as my musical ability was concerned. However, I was so puffed up that I had to have the best. I bought a Lyon & Healy Julius Levi, gold plated cornet through the Connor Lumber and Land Company store, retail price $125.00. It is a beautiful instrument and is as good as new, not a dent in it. It is in our family today.
We played on all special occasions, picnics, etc. On the Fourth of July, we would be out marching around and playing at 5 a.m. It was a lot of fun and my mother especially loved it. We held our rehearsals in the Opera House, and mother always showed up with a big grouler of beer and fresh fried-cakes, (doughnuts).
We always were on the look out for new members and
at times had some real high class musicians, although
they came and went.
My first violin was a fine young fellow from out west that
came to Laona to make his home. Mike Biever was a
good cornet and violin player and was a sober and
dependable player. After playing the lead violin in our
orchestra for some time, he informed me that he was
tired of working hard all day and fiddling all night, and
that I should find somebody else to fiddle.
I found several violin players, some good, some not
so good. One very young man came from a small
town in Upper Michigan. I don’t remember his name,
but he was a fine boy and a good player. He was with
us about a year and then decided to go back home.
He worked in the planning mill and the day before he
was to leave for home, while he was shoving a board
into a planning machine, a long sliver off the board
flew back and went through his brains. The good
Father Lourke, spoke at his Mass and his subject
was “He Went Home”.
The best violinist that we had came from Waukesha,
Wisconsin, through an ad in the Milwaukee paper. At
the time he was working as an attendant in a sanitarium.
He was taking care of a man that had been asleep in a San Francisco hotel at the time of the big earth quake and lost his memory. All the attendant had to do, was to read a newspaper over and over to his patient. John Pierner got tired of reading papers over and over, quit his job and came to Laona.
I met him at the train and gave him a week at the most. He was a dude if I ever saw one, dressed to kill. He stayed there as long as I did. He was a professional bar tender and tended bar for my dad. He was the first professional drink mixer that Dad ever had and he put Dad’s saloon into a higher class. John was a cracker-jack of a violinist and was always a congenial fellow. He married a Laona girl and raised a nice family. John lived in a house in South Laona.
The complete transcript can be viewed in the book, Saw-Dust
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