The cemetery is a fine spot for the curious to wander, and you will often be rewarded with a genuine curiosity. Odds are you didn’t know that a superstar of the turn of the last century, the “King of Ragtime,” who made his name in St. Louis, wound up in an unmarked pauper’s grave in western Queens.
Each year St. Michael’s puts on a free concert to honor Joplin, and we have attended many times. The cemetery is a little tricky to get to on public transportation, so it is usually a small affair, a few dozen locals and fans, a band, free hamburgers and hot dogs. This year marks the centennial of Joplin’s death, and the turnout was much bigger than usual, probably because of better publicity. The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra was the perfect choice for this one hundredth anniversary of Joplin’s death. The Paragons were eleven pieces strong and the program was mostly Joplin rags with a few other timely selections to provide some context.
Joplin’s grave bore no marker until 1974 when ASCAP donated a simple bronze plaque. This year a memorial bench was dedicated as a somewhat grander tribute. Your Grade “A” Fanciers, of course, had other ideas about paying homage to the great musician. We were joined in a toast to Scott Joplin by our friends Gabrielle and Scott.
The Maple Leaf Rag Cocktail
Advance prep:Shake lightly with ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a cocktail cherry and a toasted walnut. (Alternatively, this could be built as an Old Fashioned, in the namesake glass over ice.)
• Toast as many walnut meats as drinks you will be serving
• Dissolve maple syrup 1:1 with hot water and let cool
2 1/2 ounces rye, or a combination of Canadian whiskey and rye
1/4 ounce Amaro Sfumato Rabarbaro
2 teaspoons maple syrup dilution, or to taste
Dash Angostura Bitters
Dash Fee’s Old Fashion Aromatic Bitters
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After the concert we took a moment to visit another ought-to-be-famous resident of St. Michael’s. Just down the lane from Joplin is the modest grave of another African American legend, the man they called “the Black Edison,” Granville T. Woods.
Born a freeman in 1859 in Columbus, Ohio, Woods was an electrician and inventor with 60-odd patents to his name. One invention, a multiplex telegraph, spurred a lawsuit from Thomas Edison challenging its patent. When Edison lost he offered to make Woods his partner, but was turned down. His work was also crucial to the development of electric trolleys and third rail transit systems. His remarkable life is way too crammed with accomplishment to recount here. We should pause a moment to remember him and consider how paltry this simple marker is as a testament to his legacy.