Jolly Entertainers: The Draper Children's Home Band (King County)

  • By Peter Blecha
  • Posted 11/09/2008
  • Essay 8833

In 1907 Herman M. Draper (1858-1927) and his wife, Annie Draper (1860-1927), founded a privately run orphanage, the Children's Industrial Home and Training School -- initially in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood and later in the nearby town of Des Moines. A gifted music educator, Draper formed an all-children band, The Jolly Entertainers, who helped raise operating funds by performing locally, then regionally, and finally on a nationwide tour.

In the Beginning

Raised in Battle Creek, Michigan, Herman Draper went on to study music at the prestigious Boston Conservatory of Music and also received certificates from the American College of Brooklyn and London's English College of Tonic Sol-Fa. Then, after teaching music through the public schools of Seward (and then, Kearney), Nebraska, Draper moved his family to Calumet, Michigan. There they opened a retail music shop and instructional studio.

The Drapers first visited the Pacific Northwest in 1900 on an extended vacation. In April they arrived at the Burley Colony, an experimental utopian/socialist village founded in 1898 in the south Puget Sound area (nestled between the hamlets of Belfair and Olalla).

Brother Draper's Genius

Settling in for several months, Draper quickly got to work teaching the colony's children to play music. Starting off with two brass horns that he'd brought along, additional kids soon showed an interest in learning and by using "additional instruments sent from home, borrowed, and rented, he soon organized a band of about twenty-three children between eight and eighteen" (LeWarne).

In addition, Draper began leading a vocal choir composed of adult members of the village. Community leaders were quite impressed and the editor of their newspaper, the Co-operator, praised "Brother Draper" as a "genius" at inspiring the youth -- one who possessed a "better faculty of gaining their confidence and respect than any person we ever met."

But it would seem that both Draper and the colony also valued the fact that Burley band -- in their summer concert trips to Tacoma and Seattle were proving to be a successful way of both publicizing their communal co-op and raising significant funds.

That fall, Draper announced that he would like to take the band on a tour through Oregon -- at the conclusion of which he would part ways with them in order to make a trip back to Calumet, with further plans to make a return to Burley at a later date. Unfortunately, those plans went awry: The band's travel expenses overran their ticket sale receipts, making the whole venture unprofitable. Draper's farewell pledge to return to Burley never materialized and both the band and choir dissolved -- as did the entire colony in 1908.

The Drapers and their Jolly Entertainers

In 1903 Draper and his wife, Annie, shifted from running their Calumet shop and by the following year he was serving as the superintendent of Houghton, Michigan's Good Will Farm and Home Finding Association, which provided refuge and educations for about 45 needy kids. In 1907 Drapers decided to start their efforts anew and began their trek back to Washington state. Accompanying them were a total of seven children -- their own daughter, Edith, and various adoptees: Maggie and Mike Guglielmo, and Hartel, Dolores, Gudron and Phillis Erickson -- all of whom had been organized into a musical band called The Jolly Entertainers.

The troupe arrived in Seattle in October 1907 and began establishing its Children's Industrial Home and Training Center in the Ballard neighborhood. The Draper's lofty goal was to educate needy children, teaching them a variety of useful job skills. Two initial projects were the formation of the Industrial Home's own youth band, and the founding of a print shop (staffed by the boys) that would print promotional postcards and concert programs for the band, as well as taking on various other print jobs for outside clients.

Des Moines Days

On June 28, 1908, the enterprise moved about 20 miles southward to the Puget Sound waterfront town of Des Moines and into a large 28-room historic home (near today's S 220th Street and 6th Avenue S). The structure had originally been built in 1890 by John Hiatt. Later it operated as the Hanke Hotel, and finally the Hanke family sold it to the Drapers.

In due course, "Daddy" and "Mother" Draper welcomed as many as 47 homeless children into their facility at any one time. Before long they had taught their eager young learners numerous skills -- including performing music with the Jolly Entertainers -- as well as producing a monthly newsletter, Good Will, which the kids wrote, typeset, and printed.

The September 1909 edition included a bit of history regarding the group's arrival at their new home, by describing the setting. "At the back of the house was an old shed, which the Drapers converted into a printing office equipped with three printing presses, composing stone, paper knife, and 55 fonts of type." In addition, they converted the old property's barn into "an 'Opry House' with stage, where musical and vaudevillian performances were given for the people of Des Moines" (Trueba).

A vintage informational flyer boasted that "We own our own Opera House, with stage, curtains, scenery, etc. Here we teach and train our children every thing necessary for first class Musical Comedy and Vaudeville Entertainments, and it [is] used for a playhouse in wet and cold weather." Beyond that, the Drapers also made plans for building both a shoe and carpentry shop on-site -- along with a park/campground on a five-acre tract of their waterfront land (today's Des Moines Beach Park). 

Draper's Philosophy

Draper was proud that his organization welcomed abandoned and homeless kids of any race, creed, or color. He "believed that the children needed a solid education, which included public school attendance, musical lessons, and instruction in a trade. ... This environment provided the children a safe and loving place to study, learn, work, play, and develop into useful citizens. They were taught a non-sectarian love of God and country, and self-discipline, cooperation, and self-sufficiency" (Trueba).

That old handbill also noted that the Draper Children's Home "receive[s] no help from County, State, Church, Lodge or Charitable Institution of any kind," that "We have no children to give away or place in homes. This is their home, and here they remain until they grow up and want to leave, " that "We now have 36 children, all our Home will hold or our bank account provide for," and that "We never solicit subscriptions, but friendly donations of any amount are never turned down. If we had the means, we would soon have 100 boys and girls."

The Drapers -- and their kids -- were justifiably proud that their home was supported by the various industrious activities of their own -- and performances by the Jolly Entertainers band provided a significant portion of essential funding. For nearly two decades The Jolly Entertainers' performances brought attention to their home and its accomplishments -- first locally, then regionally, and finally an ambitious last tour that saw them playing shows in Canada and throughout 38 states.

A Sad End

The whole enterprise came to a halt, however, when both of its guiding lights suddenly died in 1927. It was a sad day in April that "Mother" Draper perished due to heart failure, and then -- within  a week -- the heart-broken "Daddy" Draper passed away within hours of his beloved Annie's funeral.

Without the duo's leadership, the Draper Children's Home struggled to carry on with its mission. Failing at that task, the facility closed. Today the only physical remnants of the Draper's empire is a modest little house on that storied corner of S  220th Street and 6th Avenue S -- the former old print shop where those fortunate children produced so many newspapers, handbills, and Jolly Entertainers promotional postcards a century ago.

Sources: "Children's Home and Manual Training School," undated handbill, in collection of Des Moines Historical Society, Des Moines; Charles Pierce LeWarne, Utopias on Puget Sound 1885-1915 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1975), 156-157; Janis Trueba, "Children's Industrial Home of Des Moines," Des Moines Historical Society website accessed on October 16, 2008 (

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