The following is a guest post by retired cataloger Sharon McKinley
It’s that time again when the world focuses on the glories of the Summer Olympics. Many of us are enthralled by the extensive coverage. Basketball! Cycling! Gymnastics! Track and field! Badminton! No, don’t laugh. That’s the competitive sport I played as a teenager.
Alas, a quick search of the library’s online collections turned up no badminton-themed sheet music. But Olympic—well, it isn’t the same Olympics, but the “Olympic waltz” of 1877 is an interesting story.
The English have held the Cotswold Olimpick Games off and on since the 1620s. The Greeks’ revival of the Olympics in Athens, starting in 1859, led to the modern Olympics. The name was carried on through the centuries and eventually takes us to the Olympic Club.
The “Olympic waltz” was “composed for and respectfully dedicated to the members of the Olympic Club, San Francisco.” The oldest athletic club in the United States, it was founded as a private men’s athletic and social club in 1860 and is still going strong today, with three golf courses and a variety of other sports. Many world-class athletes have been members, and dozens of members have competed in the Olympic Games. Read about the club here.
Composer Eugene S. Bonelli would go on to be a well-known teacher and founder of a large local conservatory. Intriguingly, sources don’t place in him in San Francisco as early as 1877, when the waltz was published. What better way to make a name for himself than to dedicate a pleasant and relatively easy piano piece to a major local organization? Toss in “As performed by Ballenberg’s Orchestra,” and add the fans of that popular group to the Olympians of the exclusive club—it was guaranteed to sell music. Perhaps attendees at Olympic Club events danced to this very tune. More importantly, Bonelli surely attracted the attention of wealthy patrons who wanted piano lessons for their children. Read more about Bonelli here – he was quite a character! And if you have any idea what kind of bat the athlete in the cover illustration is holding, please let us know in the comments!
From the Prints and Photographs Division, here’s a stereograph of Olympic Club member and three-time Olympian Ralph Rose competing in the shot-put in 1904. He had a short life but an amazing athletic career. He threw the hammer in competition as well.
James J. Corbett, long-time Olympic Club boxing coach, was heavyweight champion from 1892-1897.
Finally, from the National Jukebox comes another delightful Olympic waltz performed by the International Novelty Orchestra in 1925.