A January Mystery: What Was “The Promoters” and Who Was Betsy Bolivar?

Sometimes inspiration strikes in strange ways. Take this week’s blog post, for example: while conducting a simple search in the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections for terms related to the new year – New Year, January, cold as a well digger’s elbow, etc. – I came across a piece from the Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music titled, In January I Love Mabel.

"In January I Love Mabel" cover, ca. 1909

“In January I Love Mabel” cover, ca. 1909

 

“That sounds interesting,” I thought to myself, so I clicked into the item and checked out the lyrics.

I’ve a loving disposition, I’ve put sorrow on the shelf
I believe in that old maxim “Love your neighbor as yourself”
Now, it happens that my neighbors are a bunch of girls divine
And their views upon the subject are identical to mine
But to love them all together would I’m sure create a fuss
So to head off squally weather, I’ve arranged to love them thus.

CHORUS

In January I love Mabel, in February I love Lou,
In March, little Fay, in April and May, I cuddle both Irene and Sue
In June and in July I’ve Rose and Lily, in August and September Flo and Doll,
October and November, Jess and Bess, but please remember
In December I’m not stingy, so I love them all

Quite a very good arrangement, I have found my plan to be
When of number two I’m weary, bliss I find in number three
Then again the girl for Summer, not to speak of Spring of Fall
In the dreary days of Winter simply will not do at all
Girls are more are less like flowers, at their best a month or so
I have studied well the subject and I think I ought to know

Hoo boy, that’s a lot to take in.

Leaving aside the blatantly lunkheaded (and borderline misogynistic) lyrics, it conjures up a number of questions.

1.) Who is the protagonist of this piece? What makes him think he’s so special as to have a different lady for every month of the year?
2.) Was this meant to be a serious piece (surely not!) or is it an example of early 1900s satire, humor or light comedy stylings?
3.) Why can’t a girl who’s perfectly acceptable in the summer be found adequate in the winter?
4.) Just where in the world did this piece come from?

While the first three questions may require a little digging, it was the answer to the fourth that led me down a rabbit trail with no good answers and became the basis for this post.

Ward and Vokes and The Promoters

A quick glance at the cover for the piece reveals it to be part of a stage production called The Promoters, created by the comedy duo of Ward and Vokes. According to a post on the Performing Arts Archive, Hap Ward and Harry Vokes were vaudeville performers whose comedy show partnership lasted more than thirty years.  The men would have been in their early forties in 1909, the year The Promoters would likely have debuted.

As is common with many, many pieces from the Spencer Collection, In January I Love Mabel featured an inset on the cover that lists other pieces from The Promoters’ score, including tracks called They All Started to Move, My Sunbeam Maid, If I Could Only Find A Little Girl Like You and a somewhat befuddling piece called Betsy Bolivar.

It turns out, we’ve added a scan of Betsy Bolivar to the Spencer Collection, so perhaps a quick recounting of its lyrics will give us some clues to the nature of The Promoters. To wit:

 Betsy B. was young and simple, Betsy was a dunce
All the boys, on viewing Betsy, fell in love at once
One she met, who pleased her greatly till in jest he spoke,
Said “my dear, it would appear, you’re not quite city broke.”

CHORUS

Oh, you Betsy, Betsy Bolivar,
Tho’ you’ve never been out at night, You’ll get along all right, all right.
For oh, you Betsy, What a Queen you are,
“I may be a rube, but I’m no boob,” said Betsy Bolivar.

Betsy wandered to the city, where she rubber’d ’round,
City chaps were different from the boys at home she found,
Ev’ry day it seemed to her she stood for, so to speak,
More falls than you could see at old Niagara in a week

Oh, you Betsy, Betsy Bolivar,
Tho’ you’ve never been out at night, You’ll get along all right, all right.
For oh, you Betsy, What a Queen you are,
“For a girl so young I’m pretty well stung,” Said Betsy Bolivar.

And it goes on like this for three more verses. Take a look for yourself!

Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 1.25.20 PMSo Betsy’s not a much more appealing character than our nameless paramour from In January, I Love Mabel. Her main attributes seem to be that she’s a pretty, dark-haired girl who’s not too bright but whose physical charms are more than ample to snag the attention of a baseball pitcher … until she uses “bleacherine” to dye her “koko-covering” (hair) and it turns out a “lovely shade of green.”

All of this plays pretty handily into stereotypes found throughout the early 20th century stage pieces found in the Spencer Collection, particularly the light comedies, comedic operas and vaudeville productions. What makes it more interesting is that the music for both pieces was composed by Anne Caldwell, a prolific writer of Broadway and popular music who happened to be married to James O’Dea – the lyricist for both pieces from The Promoters.

What does all this mean? Probably not much. After all, it’s a play so unimportant that it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. (In a time when events as obscure as the Kentucky meat shower have entries, it takes a lot to be so disposable.) But wouldn’t it be fun to imagine what the general outline of the story must have been, based solely on the lyrics to these two pieces (and the titles of the remaining five)? Here’s my take!


Act I

We open on a young man dressed in the height of early 1900’s fashion as he sits on a bench in a crowded city scene. He bemoans his lack of success in finding a suitable mate and sings a song of lament to the cover of his favorite magazine: an image of a raven-haired young woman of stunning beauty (If I Could Only Find A Little Girl Like You). After his song is finished, he realizes he is running late for an appointment and begins to run through the crowded streets toward a streetcar stand. Just as he arrives, the crowd around the stand parts (They All Started To Move) and our hero sees a woman standing inside a departing streetcar. She is beautiful, with dark hair and arresting blue eyes. He is immediately smitten but dismayed as the streetcar pulls away before he can climb aboard.

Act II

The scene opens on the woman from the streetcar as she walks through the door of her small but stylish apartment. She, too, is suffering from a case of amorous upset, but her particular malady is that she still pines for a boy from her hometown who came to the big city years ago and with whom she has lost contact. As she swoops around her apartment, she belts out a song of lament (Because I Love You Truly) and dreams of the day she will reunite with her lost love somewhere on the streets of the Big City, far from her small-town roots.

After her big number is finished, she slips behind a changing screen and reemerges dressed for her shift at the local small appliance manufacturer where she works the midnight shift while hoping to break into show business as a model or actress. The scene changes, and the girl is seen working a shift on a production line, where she fits covers onto electric toasters. The other women on the line sing a silly song about the girl who is too pretty to work in manufacturing (My Sunbeam Maid), but she is oblivious to the fact that they are singing about her! The scene ends with the girl leaving the factory at the end of her shift. As she walks through the factory gates, she is spotted by an unscrupulous talent agent (one of the promoters of the show’s title) who recruits her to work a job as a model for a local clothing store. The girl gleefully accepts the offer and runs off-stage toward her apartment.

Act III

It is three years later, and the girl – whose name is Betsy Bolivar – has become a world-famous actress on the stage. She is known for her stunning good looks and goofy demeanor, but she is still brokenhearted over the loss of connection with her hometown beau. In a neat bit of staging, we see Betsy sitting at a dressing table backstage for her latest big show, while in the audience is none other than our lovestruck young man from Act I!

As Betsy primps backstage, the young man sings a song to his companions about the world-renowned beauty who will grace the stage in mere moments: Betsy Bolivar. As he sings, Betsy comes onto the stage and performs a comedic dance number to her eponymous tune. The young man is transfixed: it’s the girl from the streetcar, all those years ago! He still hasn’t forgotten her; in fact, he’s more in love than ever, and he takes the opportunity to sneak backstage after the show and tell her so by means of a ridiculous song about his vain search to find a suitable companion (In January I Love Mabel), which is obviously a poor replacement for a lifelong attachment to Betsy, his one true love.

And now, the big twist: it turns out the young man is none other than the boy from Betsy’s hometown, gone all these years to “make it big in the Big City!” Betsy is delighted, and the two instantly reconnect as they sing a duet reprise of Because I Love You Truly. The scene ends with Betsy and the young man in a fond embrace as the curtain falls on their reunited love. Aaaaaaaand, scene!


If all of that sounds farfetched, I encourage you to go read the synopses for practically any boy-meets-girl stage production from the period and you’ll see it’s not entirely off base.

And now it’s your turn: if you’ve got an alternative storyline for our heroes from In January, I Love Mabel and Betsy Bolivar, leave them in the comments below. You’re a creative bunch; don’t let me down!

***

For more pieces from the Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music, visit the collection’s homepage.

A New Year, A Major New Collection: “The Baptist Argus” Project Completed, Available Online

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Welcome to a new year of digital collections excellence here at the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections Blog. We’re kicking off 2015 by announcing the completion of a multi-year project: The Baptist Argus / The Baptist World newspaper collection! Through a partnership with the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, we are pleased to present a full run of the newspaper, which began in 1897 and ran until August of 1919.

The Argus (which was renamed The Baptist World in 1909) was a weekly newspaper dedicated to covering events and news related to American Baptists, particularly in the South. It contained a blend of editorial content, news stories, advertisements and even the occasional work of poetry. For members of the Baptist church at the turn of the last century, the Argus was a welcome source of information on the doings of the church both domestically and abroad.

The digital collection features 1,131 issues of the Argus, from its first issue to its last. All are keyword searchable as the text has been recognized using OCR (optical character recognition) software, making it easy to search the thousands of pages of newsprint. Thanks to the OCR’d text, researchers can locate instances of words or phrases in seconds instead of the hours of tedious close reading that were necessary before the completion of this project.

We believe this collection will further enhance studies in the development of the Baptist identity in America, as well as its impact on the religious communities planted and sustained by Baptist missionaries around the world. We are also hopeful that scholars will use the resources available in the Argus/World collection to provide new insight into how journalism and religious belief worked together to advance the cause of Christ via the printed page. The possibilities for this collection are many, and we are excited to provide the raw material for scholars, researchers and believers of all stripes via this new collection.


Access the Baptist Argus / Baptist World collection via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections here. For more information on the Baptist Argus / Baptist World, read its Wikipedia entry. Special thanks to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for providing the print copies of the materials in this collection; we literally could not have completed this project without your help!

P.S. What do you think of the new look? We figured, “It’s January, everybody’s trying to freshen things up, why not?”

P.P.S. Fire the cannon!

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Wrapping Up Another Great Year: 2014 In Review

 

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Image from the December 14, 1911 edition of “The Baptist World” and a clue to the first blog post of 2015!

 

Well, folks, we’ve come to the end of another year of pixels, projects and professional musings here at the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections Blog. And after three years of weekly blog posts, we are excited to report that 2014 was our biggest ever, with 7,591 unique users accessing the blog more than 9,000 times since January 1! (For the record, the most popular post for 2013 was Twilight of an Icon: Floyd Casey Stadium in Transition. Re-read it and remember why!)

When you add in the fact that we are now at 225 Facebook users and 3,994 followers on Tumblr, it’s easy to see why we’re excited about the way this year progressed for us. But we simply could not have done this without you, our blog readers, and for that, we are very thankful.

So, this week’s message is brief. We want to thank you all for your support, for spreading the word about our projects and for being our online advocates for the work we’re doing to promote the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections. We look forward to continuing to provide unparalleled excellence in digital collections, contextual information and scholarly outreach in the coming year.

 

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Christmas cheer, personified.

 

“Sound in Collections” Episode 3: Giving “Pie Man” The “Serial” Treatment

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By now, you’ve likely heard of the NPR-based podcast Serial, a weekly serialization of an investigation into a 1999 murder case in Baltimore, Maryland. Journalist Sarah Koenig narrates the This American Life spinoff that has become a cultural phenomenon, spawning hotly contested activity across the Internet (most notoriously on a very active subreddit) and its own meta-podcasts where people dissect the way the original podcast was created. It is endlessly listenable, and highly worth your time. At its heart is the human need to dive into a complex story where no one is a clear-cut hero, and only the victim is easily identified.

Inspired by this 21st century investigation into a 20th century crime, I decided to launch an investigation of my own into something documented in the pages of The Lariat, our campus newspaper. It comes from the December 8, 1988 edition, and it deals with a sneak attack by an entity (or entities?) known as Pie Man. Obviously, it’s not nearly as serious as the topic covered by Serial, but it has enough mystery, late-1980’s flair and lingering questions that I thought it would be fun to see what we can discover about a spate of dessert-based sneak attacks that plagued the campus in the waning years of the Reagan administration. (Potential spoiler: President Reagan visited campus in September 1988, the first event held at the Ferrell Center. The event outlined below took place in December 1988. Coincidence? [Probably.])

Our latest edition of the “Sound in Collections” podcast explores the Pie Man saga in the instantly familiar tone of an episode of Serial. We hope you’ll enjoy it – and that Sarah Koenig, Ira Glass et al. will see it with the obvious love and respect with which it was created. Enjoy!

Click Play in the window below to play the episode, or click the down arrow to download the MP3.

Additional Resources

The Original Story

The best documentation of the “Pie Man” saga comes via a story in The Lariat written by reporter Preston Smith. We’ll reproduce it here verbatim so you get a full sense of the magnitude of the events in question.

Pie Man hits man in class

By Preston Smith, Lariat Reporter

A man entered a class in the Hankamer School of Business at about 11:15 a.m. Wednesday and struck a student in the face with a pie, Chris Colihan, a student in the class said.

The man had long, black curly hair and was wearing a concert T-shirt.

The institution of the Pie Man was assumed over when Baylor police apprehended him in a sting operation earlier in the semester.

Colihan said he was in Professor Leslie Rasner’s Business Law 3305 class when he heard the door to the class open. He said the assailant came into the room, shouted an expletive at a student, hit him in the face with a pie and then ran out of the room.

Jim Wyatt, the student who fell victim to the new Pie Man, said that the incident happened so fast he never saw his attacker.

“I was just sitting in class looking at my notes when I heard this guy say ‘hey’ and then I looked up into a pie,” he said.

Wyatt said the pie was all over his face and glasses, so he went to the restroom to clean up.

Witnesses said the class was laughing about the incident when Wyatt left the room, but the Pie Man would soon strike again.

When Wyatt went to the restroom, he still could not see because of the cream covering his face, so he was not ready for the Pie Men waiting for him in the bathroom.

The assailants struck him with several more pies, but he still never saw the attackers, he said.

Rasner said Wyatt came back into the room and said, “There was more of them in the bathroom.” Wyatt was completely covered in pie cream, he said.

At this point, several students ran to the bathroom to catch the pie men but found the bathroom empty. Wyatt gathered his books and went home, Rasner said.

The class was just beginning to settle when the Pie Man made a third appearance.

The class heard running in the hall, and then the Pie Man opened the door, stuck his head into the class, and yelled, “Hey Gina, you’re next,” Rasner said. Students in the class immediately ran out the door in pursuit of the man, he said.

Steven Spoonemore, a student who chased the Pie Man, said the assailant was already out of the building when he entered the hall. Spoonemore and the other students ran out separate doors to the outside of the building and saw the Pie Man running to a get-away car parked behind the business school.

Spoonemore chased the Pie Man to the other side of the car. The Pie Man shouted at the girl driving the car to “move over” and then got into the driver’s seat of the car, Spoonemore said.

Spoonemore said that Larry Vasbinder, another student involved in the chase, was trying to get into the passenger side of the car, while he forced his way into the driver’s seat with the Pie Man.

“I jumped into the car and turned it off twice, but I wasn’t able to get the keys out of the ignition,” he said.

Spoonemore said the Pie Man was screaming at him, and the woman in the car was screaming at him and hitting him.

Chris Moseley, another witness to the incident, said Spoonemore stayed in the car until it ran a stop sign at about 20 mph. He then pushed himself out of the car and rolled several times on the street.

After the episode, students had mixed reactions to the Pie Man. Wyatt, who said he had “no idea” who was behind the plot, brushed the incident off as a joke.

“I’m kind of laughing about it now,” he said. “It tasted pretty good anyway.”

Gina Gee, the woman whom the Pie Man threatened in class, said, “It really upset me. I have no connection with the guy who got it in the first place.”

Rasner had stronger feelings on the Pie Man. “If I had a deadly weapon I would use it in my defense,” Rasner said. “It is embarrassing. It is degrading. This just should not go on in a university – it is past a joke.”

The Baylor Department of Public Safety was contacted on the incident but the director could not be reached for comment.

A Timeline of the Events of Fall 1988, the “Autumn of Pie Man”

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Read All Issues of the Lariat with “Pie Man” Related Content

 

 

Spotlight On Graduate Student Scholarship: Digital Exhibits From MST 5327, Archival Technology and Digital Collections Management

One of the great privileges afforded by my work with our digital collections is the opportunity I’ve earned to teach some of Baylor’s finest graduate students from the Department of Museum Studies. Over the past three years, I’ve taught several courses on technology, marketing, historic preservation and digital archival management, and I can say that it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career.

Following the success of a combined technology/marketing course first offered in the Spring 2013 semester, I worked with the MST department and my excellent supervisory chain in the libraries to split that coursework into two new courses: Archival Technology and Digital Collections Management (Fall 2014) and Outreach and Community Relations (Spring 2015).

For the Archival Technology course this semester (which was limited to second-year students only), their capstone project was to create a new digital exhibit using curated materials from our Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music. In this post, I’m excited to reveal the excellent work they’ve done, and to encourage you to check out their insights into four themes that interweave the collection: dance, humor, love and war.

Each student chose their own pieces from the more than 5,600 pieces in the digital collection that illustrated their assigned themes. They chose the WordPress templates and plugins they felt best displayed their work, and the contextual research they conducted helped make the topic more relatable and enhanced users’ engagement with the items from the collection. In short, they had total editorial and creative control on their exhibits, and I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

Without further ado, I present the capstone projects of MST 5327: Archival Technology and Digital Archival Management!

Click the image of each project’s homepage to access the exhibit.


Let’s Dance! Dance in Late 19th and Early 20th Century Popular Sheet Music (Jennifer Browder)

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Humor in Music of the Early 20th Century (Becca Reynolds)

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American Diversity and Love in Early 20th Century Popular Music (Raquel Gibson)

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Masculinity and Music in Turn of the Century America: An Examination of the Spencer Music Library (Erik Swanson)

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Big thanks to Becca, Erik, Jennifer and Raquel for their outstanding work this semester. You can learn more about the Baylor University Department of Museum Studies at their website or on Facebook