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Column: Summer days with themes by Karl King, and a fragile airship

Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen. The following column first appeared Aug. 30  2003.

WORTHINGTON — We need to talk about Karl King and Yankee Robinson.

Through passing years, Worthington’s “Amazing” City Band may have performed more compositions by Karl King than by any other composer. Glenn Evensen, longtime and cordially remembered director of both the Worthington City Band and the Worthington High School band, favored King’s music.

Karl King is credited with more than 300 compositions. He wrote most of America’s circus music as well as many enduringly popular marches. King wrote, “Barnum and Bailey’s Favorite,” in 1913, when he was only 22.

In 1920, King moved to Fort Dodge, Iowa, where he became conductor of the Fort Dodge city band and remained for the next 50 years. The Fort Dodge band still is called the Karl L. King Municipal Band, and there is a bridge at Fort Dodge named for the great composer/conductor.

Now about Yankee Robinson. Yankee had a circus rolling through America before P.T. Barnum. When Yankee Robinson bought the Cole Brothers Circus to add to his own, Yankee had the biggest show on earth. In 1884, Yankee Robinson got the Ringling Brothers rolling. That circus, originally, was the Yankee Robinson & Ringling Brothers Double Show.

Now then: 1910. Yankee Robinson brought the big circus to Worthington. May 30. It featured, among many things, Tom Tom the giant blind elephant.

But: did Karl King come to Worthington?

I think not.

Karl King then was 19 years old and he was playing a baritone horn with the Yankee Robinson band. However, Robinson had divided his huge company into three troupes. The best evidence is that Karl King, whose music has become a part of Worthington’s summer days, did not toot his horn at Worthington.

Tom Tom, the great elephant, (“the largest elephant on earth”) was nearing the end of his days when he got to Worthington. The next June, Tom Tom pulled his heavy stake from the earth, plunged into the Trade River at Cumberland, Wis., and drowned.

Now, you think we are telling stories of Karl King and Yankee Robinson.

Not.

Through this summer these columns have focused on the first airplanes, the great trains, the early automobiles and the pioneer motorcycles. I have been pursuing the question: when did Worthington residents see an airplane for the first time?

I think this was the day: May 30, 1910. An airplane was one of the features of the big circus.

Yankee Robinson called it an airship. The Worthington Globe said, “It resembles a big box kite.”

Yankee Robinson said, “This will be one of the greatest sights you have ever witnessed in your life, and it may be many years before you see another equally as great.”

The Globe noted the fragile airplane’s two engines were two-horsepower each. Yankee Robinson labeled it a “monster airship” which, he said, was “just as it circled the Eiffel Tower in Paris.”

Prof. Foster was the pilot. As with that Northwest Airlines pilot trying to put down at Sioux Falls ahead of a tornado, it was pledged, “No condition of weather will deter the Professor from making his demonstration on the day of exhibition.”

The best evidence is the show went off as promised. There is no record of Worthington’s reaction, but the event is really astonishing. Only 77 months after the first airplane ever lifted from the ground, an airplane was soaring over Worthington, Minnesota. The air age arrived while Worthington’s newspaper ads still featured buggies.

I wish Karl King had performed at Worthington. King is a legend of American music.

On June 1, 1917, while he was bandmaster for the Barnum & Bailey Circus, King is credited with averting a panic. A great windstorm swept over the circus. The wind lifted part of the big top and blew it away. Through this all, King kept his band seated and playing sprightly music, loud as ever they could.

King took his band to the Iowa Women’s Reformatory at Rockwell City. “I want to dedicate this next tune to you girls,” he said. The band played, “Lady Be Good.”

Whenever we performed at the Rockwell City Women’s Reformatory, Karl would announce to the audience, “Now I want to dedicate this next tune to you girls.”

The band then played “Lady, Be Good.”

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