In 1878 Mr. William Lyman Thomas became a member of the Missouri Press Association. In 1880, he was elected treasurer and held that position for twenty four consecutive years. At the end of his service he was made a life member. The only other life member, since the death of Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain, d. 1910), was J. West Goodwin of the Sedalia Bazoo newspaper, whose slogan was, “Whoso tooteth not his own Bazoo, the same it shall not be tooted”.
John Stillwell Stark knew J.West Goodwin and definitely learned to toot his own Bazoo along with the Bazoos of many other folks as well. Goodwin and Stark were active businessmen at the same time in Sedalia. Stark operated a music store and advertised regularly in the Bazoo.
Born in 1841 in Kentucky, Stark began his working life as a farmer. The 1860 census lists him as a laborer on a farm in Bean Blossom, Indiana. He was sent to New Orleans as a bugler after joining the Union Army in 1863. It was there that he met the woman who would become his wife, British born, Sarah Ann Casey. He was just 23 and she was 9 ½ years younger. They were married in 1865. Following his discharge from the army, they moved to Missouri in 1868. The 1870 census list them and their two children, Etilmon Justus (named after his brother) and William Paris living on their own homestead near Camden, Missouri.
Shortly after 1870 he was wandering around northwestern Missouri selling ice cream to folks in small towns and farmers out of the back of a Conestoga wagon. I have not found how he went from farming to selling ice cream. Apparently he did well enough to provide for his growing family that included Eleanor S. born in 1871.
After a move to Chillicothe in the late 1870’s, Stark added a sideline as a salesman for the Jesse French Piano Company. Along with the ice cream, he sold pianos, organs and possibly other musical instruments to farmers who were eager for culture. It was said he would drop off a piano at a farm for a free trial. By the time he made his way back the farmer would have become attached to it.
The 1880 census locates the Stark family in Chillicothe with John as a salesman of pianos and organs. He also learned how to tune them. Hauling pianos around on spec must not have been much fun. I found an advertisement in the July 4, 1882 issue of the Sedalia Bazoo posted by an apparently well-established John Stark of 219 Ohio St. offering to finance Mason and Hamlin organs with easy payments. This locates him in Sedalia earlier than any of the other references I’ve read.
According to Bill Edwards, of ragpiano.com, Stark bought the failing J.W.Truxel music store in 1886. He then moved to 516 South Ohio St. Included in the purchase were seven copyrights which he decided to continue to sell as well as adding others from local musicians. Stark preferred classically styled instrumentals.
And so it went until a day in August in 1899 when Scott Joplin walked into Stark’s store hoping to sell a song he had written called the Maple Leaf Rag. To make an impression, Joplin had brought a young boy to dance to his own incandescent piano playing. Stark saw potential and agreed to a deal most likely offered by Joplin through his lawyer. Joplin would receive a royalty on each copy sold. Four hundred were printed in St. Louis. It took about a year to sell them. Later estimates put the number of copies eventually sold at near one million.
The story is complicated and I’d encourage anyone interested to do a little research on Joplin and Stark. Limited space prevents me from adding much more. Suffice it to say that both men made quite a bit of money from the sale of the sheet music for Maple Leaf Rag. Stark became a promoter of many other ragtime composers as well. Stark gets the credit for introducing the incredible Scott Joplin to the world.
In 1900, Stark moved to St. Louis to be near the larger market and also his printer which he bought. Sedalia at that time had a population of 20,000. By 1905, Stark saw the action had shifted to New York so he moved his business there. Joplin, who had followed him to St. Louis, was on hand in New York as well.
Stark’s wife, Sarah, became ill. They moved back to St. Louis. She passed away in 1910. Joplin died in 1917. The 1909 Directory of St. Louis County lists “Jno, music, 7377 Maple M” as part of the family of his son (or brother?) Etilman J Stark mus tea (music teacher?). Stark passed away in 1927. The home at 7377 Maple has since been replaced by an apartment building. Stark is also believed to have lived at 7360 Maple.
How did the Stark family wind up in Maplewood? There is evidence that William Lyman Thomas knew J.West Goodwin who knew John Stark. There is a connection.
I’m fairly certain I first learned of John Stark’s residence on Maple from my good friend the late Bill McCoy. The anecdote that Bill told me was that Scott Joplin had come to visit his some time publisher, Mr. Stark. Supposedly the fact that Mr. Joplin was a negro scandalized the neighborhood. I believe Bill heard this story from Rita Kippenberger who lived nearly her whole life on Maple. Whether or not it is true, I have no idea.