Sometimes History Finds Us

by Ed Howard
Reprinted from Society News, the newsletter of the Arcadia Area Historical Society
November 2009. Volume 15 Issue 2.

In recent issues of the Society newsletter we’ve been including an article on local historical findings; we hope that these will remind readers that they too might have something to share. Sometimes, if folks know that there’s a place to preserve and present area history---well, instead of having to go out and find it, they will bring history to you. Here’s a case in point, and it came in a double dose:

Seems around the turn of the last century, every little community had a band. They were the musical heart of local events and celebrations. Arcadia had two, the Kalbitzer Band and the Johnson Band. Sometimes, for whatever reasons, their members interchanged.



You’ve probably seen the photos of these two bands, either at the Museum or in the Arcadia Centennial book. When the members posed for these pictures, they, of course, wanted to be recognized; out front were their big bass drums, blazed, in large, stylish letters, with the band names. One drum touts “Kalbitzer’s Band - Arcadia”, the other “Johnson’s Band - Arcadia”.

Kalbitzer’s Band

John Saxon managed the Arcadia House and played evenings at the hotel. In 1903 a merchant named Kalbitzer took over the band. His band played regular concerts in what is now known as Finch Park. The band practiced in Kalbitzer's pig barn.


Well, you’d presume that these pictures would be as close as we’d ever get to these bands of yester year. But, word has spread about our little museum. On a day in the summer of 2005, a call came to the home of Society president Joyce Howard. It was a senior gentleman from Sparta, Michigan. He was Albert Larsen, the nephew of one time Johnson Band member (sometimes Kalbitzer) Bill Larsen. He wondered if our museum might be interested in having the old Johnson Band drum.--He had it. (What would we ever want with a 100-some year old drum, right?)

Needless to say, the answer was an enthusiastic yes, and a short time later, Albert was delivering the drum to the Museum. Turns out, Mr. Larsen knew a great deal about the old Arcadia bands, so Mrs. Howard scheduled a time with him in Sparta to record his oral history. During that very informative interview, Albert asked, incidentally, if she might also be interested in his uncle’s battered old cornet, which he had stored in the basement.

Again, needless to say, both the Johnson Band drum and Bill Larsen’s cornet are now prize artifacts in the Arcadia Area Historical Museum. On display with them you’ll see the individual picture of Bill holding his cornet. In a separate group picture, you’ll note him sitting beside the big Johnson’s Band drum. It saves a lot of time searching when history can be brought to you. To paraphrase the Capitol One ad on TV, ”What do you have in your basement?”

Johnson’s Band
In 1909, Ed Johnson, Kalbitzer's son-in-law, took over the leadership of the band. They played at all of the town's picnics, dances, and church events. They were invited to play in Manistee, Frankfort, and surrounding areas.