Ragtime music was all the rage in the US and Europe from about 1895 to 1918. The syncopated music of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” is a good example. Joplin’s music enjoyed a resurgence with the release of the 1973 motion picture The Sting. As with anything that looks like people are having too much fun, some railed against its vices.
Miss Lucy K. Cole, supervisor of music in Seattle’s public schools spoke of the evils of ragtime at a music teachers convention in 1913. Deriding dance halls she said, “There we find ragtime, coon songs, and the so-called ‘suggestive music.’ The saloonkeeper and the dance hall proprietor are neither musicians nor psychologists but they know from experience the kind of music that promotes their business.”
Admonitions were strong from the pulpit as well, and there were hints that it could cause one physical damage if not mental derangement.
So, of course, it was time for Boise’s city council to step in and solve the problem.
In October of 1912 that deliberative body passed an ordinance against dancing to ragtime music. Their scheme to enforce this was to license dance halls for a fee of $36 a year, and fine halls and dancers $100 if they were caught doing the “Grizzly Bear,” the “Bunny Hug,” or the “Turkey Trot.”
The Idaho Statesman in its Oct 12, 1912 edition announced the ban with all the pomp it deserved: “Good-bye to the dear old rag! The city council has spoken, and from its decision there is no appeal. No longer will the brawny beaux cut capers to music that is draggy…” “The city fathers have placed their official heel upon the neck of the ragtime dance, and in language that is forceful and descriptive have put the ban upon the soothing melodies that once put the brain in a whirl and music in the feet. No longer will the city tolerate the slow dragging across the ballroom floor, at the same time keeping up rhythmic gyrations of the shoulders. No, siree; it will not. The city fathers say that dancing is intended to be done by the feet and the feet alone.”
Whether anyone was arrested for doing the “Katzenjammer Glide” is unclear. Ragtime continued its popularity in Boise and elsewhere until jazz came along to push it out of the spotlight.
I was able to chase down this backwater bit of Boise history because I saw a mention of it in Betty Penson-Ward’s Idaho Women in History.