In the spring of 1926, construction of the Vincennes Coliseum (named Adams Coliseum in 1961) began on the corner of Seventh and Buntin streets. Although the building wasn’t officially dedicated until Nov. 12, before the opening game of the high school basketball season, a very special musical entertainment took place there in October.
That month, the United States Navy Band performed two concerts at the Coliseum, making it the first public event held there.
The band was organized in 1916, as the Washington Navy Yard Band.
In 1925 President Calvin Coolidge signed legislation designating the band as the United States Navy Band.
The band made its first national tour that same year.
Their concerts included a combination of classical music, marches, jazz, and more. The band’s first leader was Lt. Charles Benter.
The United States Navy Band appeared at the new Coliseum on Monday, Oct. 25, coming to Vincennes under the auspices of the Vincennes Rotary Club.
The band was in the midst of a 56-city, eight-week tour and having them perform in Vincennes was considered a real coup.
The 45-piece band, plus ten soloists, typically played in larger cities. Vincennes was the only city on that tour with a population less than 100,000. The principal reason that the band made Vincennes a part of their itinerary, was because of the wonderful new venue.
There were two shows that day, a matinee for schoolchildren and an evening concert for adults.
The cost for adults was one dollar and children were admitted for 15 cents (50 cents for the evening show). Some of the proceeds went to the Vincennes Public School Athletic Association.
The band, coming from Louisville on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, was welcomed at Union Depot by members of the Lincoln High School Band and band director Oscar Dunn.
The high school students accompanied them to the Coliseum, with members of the Navy Band riding in a motorcade.
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Schools were dismissed early the day of the concert and students in the Vincennes public and parochial schools, as well as schools throughout Knox County, attended the matinee.
Some traveled from as far as Westphalia and Sandborn, transported to the city in school hacks. Residents of both the Knox County Orphanage and St. Vincent’s Orphanage got to enjoy the concert, the former courtesy of Rotary and the latter paid for by the Knights of Columbus.
Between 4,000 and 4,500 young people came to the matinee, what the “Vincennes Commercial” called “the largest crowd ever assembled under one roof in Vincennes.”
Just seeing the new Coliseum was a treat for the children, who were in awe of its massive size. It was certainly a challenge for teachers to keep track of their classes in such a crowd.
One teacher was seen leading her children by a rope, stopping periodically to count them.
That evening, the second concert was given, this one geared more toward adults.
Some 2,000 to 2,500 people came to that performance, many traveling from other communities.
The band’s next shows were in St. Louis.
The United States Navy Band performed at the Coliseum again on Nov. 29, 1927, that concert sponsored by the Vincennes Chamber of Commerce.
There would be many other appearances by the Navy Band in Vincennes over the years, but none surpassed the interest and excitement generated by that first concert in 1926.
Brian Spangle can be reached at email@example.com.
His latest book, “Hidden History of Vincennes & Knox County,” published in 2020 by The History Press, is available for purchase at the Knox County Public Library and on Amazon.