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The Peggy Lee Bio-Discography: The Pre-Recording Period
(May 1920- July 1941)

by Iván Santiago

Page generated on Dec 10, 2021


This supplementary page of I Don't Know Enough About You: The Peggy Lee Bio-Discography traces the singer's steps before she made her debut as a music recording artist. It is thus a basic biographical narrative, covering the first 21 years of Lee's life. For much of that period (May 1920-July 1941), the drive to sing permeated the young lady's everyday existence. That drive led her to a relentless active pursuit of a career in entertainment. Throughout the page, I will naturally be tracking down the steps which she took to achieve the goal of becoming a professional vocalist.

But there is more to the Peggy Lee story. Lee's early life at home and her work ethics are noteworthy topics as well, helping as they do to explain her strong drive toward making it as a successful music artist. Related sub-topics for exploration include the young woman's history of blue-collar jobs, with which she supported herself while chasing after her musical dreams, and her life-long affinity for the railroad -- an affinity stemming from the fact that, as the daughter of a train depot agent, she had grown up by the rails, restlessly dreaming of the faraway places where those tracks could lead.


I. Introduction (Scope & Topics For This Page)
II. Birth (The Site Where Norma Egstrom Was Born)
III. Family Affairs (The Egstroms & The Andersons)
IV. Chronology (Dating Norma Egstrom's Whereabouts)
V. Cartography (Mapping Norma's Moves Across North Dakota)
VI. Life In Jamestown (1920-1928)
VII. Life In Nortonville (1928-1932)
VIII. Life In Wimbledon (1934-1937)
IX. Home Labor & Hometown Toil (Norma's Jobs)
X. Portrait Of A Young Aspiring Artist (In Jamestown & Nortonville, 1920-1932)
XI. Portrait Of A Young Aspiring Artist (In Wimbledon & Valley City, 1932-1937)
XII. Portrait Of The Young Professional (Valley City - Doc Haines & KOVC, 1936-1937)
XIII. Portrait Of The Young Professional (Valley City - Rudolf Hotel & Eagles Club, 1936-1937)
XIV. Baby Deloris' Back In Town (Jamestown - Gladstone Hotel & KRMC, Summer Of 1937)
XV. Fargo (Ken Kennedy & WDAY, Second Half Of 1937) *
XVI. Hollywood (Carnival Barking & Jade Lounging, 1938) *
XVII. The Jade Lounge: A Photographic Showcase
XVIII. Flash Forward To Fargo (Fer Sher) & Grand Forks (1938-1940) *
IX. Minneapolis, Minnesota (Radisson Hotel & Sev Olsen, 1940) *
XX. St. Louis, Missouri (Fox Theatre & Will Osborne, 1940) *
XXI. Hollywood Rebound (Doll House & Guadalajara Trio) And Early Singing Style (Take 1 - Softly, With Feeling) *
XXII. Chicago, Illinois (Ambassador West Hotel & The Four Of Us, 1941) *
XXIII. Benny Goodman And His Orchestra, With Canary Lee (1941) *
XXIV. Peggy Lee's Early Singing Style (Take 2 - Where Or When) *
XXV. Peggy Lee's Early Singing Style (Take 3 - These Foolish Things) *
XXVI. A Catalogue Of Songs Sung By Miss Norma Egstrom (1920s To Summer 1941) *
XXVII. Appendix A. The Return Of The Prodigal Daughter (Valley City, 1950) *
XXVIII. Appendix B. The Midland Continental Railroad Line (The Train Of Deloris' Thoughts)
XXIX. Appendix C. North Dakota Honors Norma Egstrom (Wimbledon Museum, Jamestown Doctorate)
XXX. Appendix D. Hollywood Honors Peggy Lee (Hollywood Star Of Fame)
XXXI. Appendix E. The Peggy Lee Bookshelf (Biographical Sources)

The index above lists the titles of all the sections found on this page. An asterisk indicates that the section is currently under reconstruction. Sections without asterisks may still need to be revised for typos and misspellings, but the writing and photography has been completed for all those.


A feature common to all sections on this page is captioned photography. The captions are at the end. (however, sections bearing the sub-title "a photographic showcase" follow their own separate format, and are thus exceptions to the format just described.) I have evidently included such captioned pictures in an attempt at expanding our understanding of the events, individuals, and venues that are of greater relevance to this bio-discographical write-up.

As for the present introduction, a gallery of six photos complements the text. These shots capture Peggy Lee at several stages of her life. The first shot is from around 1960, the second from around 1935. The other four date from, respectively, 1954, 1959, 1947, and 1951. All quotes attached to the pictures were uttered by the artist herself. Additional ones can be found at the end of the page (each and every one courtesy of the artist's official Facebook site). These quotes are key to understanding both the personal philosophy and the professional triumphs of one Norma Deloris Egstrom, who lived in North Dakota throughout her pre-adulthood -- and who, after transforming herself into Peggy Lee, made a home of Hollywood for all of her illustrious adult life.


The Pride Of The Prairie & The Birth Of A Babe

Peggy Lee was born Norma Deloris Egstrom on May 26, 1920 in Jamestown, a North Dakotan city locally nicknamed "The Pride of the Prairie." Norma's spent the bulk of her pre-teen years in her city of birth, and the bulk of her teens in small towns within short driving distance of Jamestown. She began singing professionally around 1936, when she was 16. (Some sources place her professional debut in 1934, at the age of 14. Norma was certainly singing publicly in 1934 and 1935, but categorizing such amateur, mostly school-oriented appearances as professional outings strikes me as a bit of a stretch. Extant records do show that those pre-professional outings were frequent, though, and assiduously pursued by the youngster.)

From 1937 to 1941, Norma Deloris performed extensively in diverse musical venues, and also with a variety of instrumental backing, from just piano or organ to rhythm section, small combo, and big band. Those years also found her
in a continuous move from town to town, and then from state to state, as she sought out better opportunities to express her talent. The budding vocalist thus went through five solid years of professional experience in "the minor leagues" before hitting the proverbial "big time."

The latter happened when she nabbed a position as a canary with a nationally renowned big band, The Benny Goodman Orchestra. The month and year of the momentous hiring was August of 1941. At the time, Miss Egstrom had been of adult age for just three months.

Relatively shy but most certainly driven and hardworking, the young lady had dedicated much of her teen life in pursuit of her main dream: a singing career. This chronicle of Norma Deloris' early life will pay special attention to the steps which the artist took toward the attainment of her goal. Evidently underlying those steps was a strong sense of determination which should also become manifest as we trace her steps -- an unwavering resolve which would continue to pay off for the rest of Peggy Lee's storied career in music.


This section's photography focuses on a toddler, pictured twice, and a building, presented in several successive incarnations. The photo of the toddler has no identification on its back, but it is known to comes from the Egstrom family. According to Robert Strom, author of the book Miss Peggy Lee: A Career Chronicle, this toddler is Norma Deloris. All other images feature Jamestown's Trinity Hospital, the North Dakota facility where Norma Egstrom was born in 1920. To honor this building's relevance to the life of Peggy Lee, I am offering next am overview of its history. (Through this page, I will be doing similar presentations for other locations of relevance to the artist's early biography.)

This four-story brick structure was built in 1913 as the Parkview Hospital and Sanitarium. For at least ten more years, there would be no other hospital in the whole area (all the way to Fargo and Bismark), which had hitherto been more dependent on infirmaries and private practice. Named for its frontal facing of what was back then St. John Academy Park (now a residential area), the hospital also held the distinction of operating a Training School for Nurses. Opened in 1914 or 1915, it was the first proper, hospital-based nursing program in the entire state.

Back in 1913, this fire-proof, 45-bed hospital was an impressive undertaking. Besides beautiful views and pleasant decor, it boasted a laboratory, an X-ray room, elevator facilities, sun porches, and a light-flashing, button-call system (as opposed to the older bell-ringing system). The obstetrical room was next to the operating room, on the northeast corner of the third floor. The operating room was proudly described in the press as "finished in white enamel with tile floor, having telephone, electric lights and a modern sterilizing room in tile and enamel." The obstetrical room was next to the operating room, on the northeast corner of the third floor.

The establishment changed its name to Trinity Hospital in 1917. The need to further staff it had led to the recruitment of the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and to the more suitably religious new name. Norma Deloris Egstrom was thus born at a hospital run by the Catholic Church, and filled with a nursing staff consisting primarily of nuns.

Both of them postcards, the two photos at the top of this section capture the hospital as it looked when Norma came out of the womb. In fact, the first card bears a 1920 stamp. Let's move on to the rows of pictures right above. Here we have imagery from other stages of the hospital's history, beginning with a photo from its Parkview years (November 1913 - August 1917). Next to toddler Egstrom is an image dating from no earlier than 1926. On that year, the hospital opened a new wing, thereby increasing its inpatient capacity to a hundred. From the same period is the linen postcard seen next.

This hospital's golden age was probably the 1910s and the 1920s. During the ensuing four decades, it was dealt several blows, beginning with the woes of the depression and a concerted attitude of resistance from the region's more well-established religious factions (the Lutheran church in particular). To its detriment, Trinity also tended to cultivate an older, more old fashioned brand of medics than its competition. Worse yet, he opening of other hospitals created a surplus of health care establishments in the region, and the passing of Father Time cursed its facilities with physical deterioration too expensive to consider repairing any time soon. With the additional blows of a nun shortage and a local preference for federal funds to be spent on competitor St. James Hospital, March 1, 1966 became Trinity Hospital's closing day.

The autumnal image right below captures the building as it looked after it was turned into the Trinity Bible Institute. That academic phase was not long-lasting (1967-1972). As par for the course with most buildings, the former Trinity structure would continue to be repurposed over the succeeding decades. Low-income housing became its primary purpose.

Right above, the location is seen in two more recent images, the second one from 2011. However, the structure at which we are looking does not include much of the original building and its wing, as those were basically gutted in 1982. With 715 3rd Ave SE as its address, the renovated building is currently functioning as a 70-apartment complex, reserved for retirees and handicapped clients. It goes by the name of Jameshouse.


Marvin & Selma

Norma Deloris Egstrom was the sixth of eight children born to railroad station agent Ole Martinius Erickson (better known as Marvin Ole Egstrom; also as Ole Erickson) and his second wife, Selma Emele (aka Amelia) Anderson. Of Scandinavian stock, both parental family lines had initially settled in Wisconsin, staying there for many years before eventually resettling in South Dakota.

Andreas & Oliana

Norma's maternal grandparents met in the United States. Her maternal grandfather (Anders L. Anderson, aka Andreas L. Anderson, 1847-ca. 1924) was a first-generation American, born of parents who had emigrated from the Norwegian village of Voss (aka Nedre Vinjo). He worked as a tinsmith. Norma's maternal grandmother (Oliana Johannsdatter, 1855-1922; father's last name: Olsen) hailed from the Norwegian region of East Toten, Norway. In the United States, she worked as an innkeeper for a time, a milliner for many years.

Andreas and Oliana got married in 1879. They first made a living in Red Wing, Minnesota, then moved to Volga, South Dakota. Both brought into their marriage one offspring -- Andreas a daughter from an earlier marriage, Oliana a daughter apparently conceived out of wedlock, shortly before leaving Norway. (The fact that Andreas was bringing an offspring with him raises the possibility that he was a widower.) Together, the pair had at least four children together, but only two survived past their first year. The oldest, Alfred Leonard, was probably born in Minnesota around 1880. The youngest, Selma was born in Volga on February 13, 1885 -- just nine days before one of Oliana's other children, nearly two years old, died.

In her autobiography, Peggy Lee writes about her maternal grandparents with evident pride. She states that her grandmother's obituary memorialized her as a businesswoman, and that her grandfather was granted a patent for the invention of a charcoal-based water filter. The statement about Oliana has been proven to be factual. The future Peggy Lee was two years old when The Volga Tribune ran Oliana's obituary under the title Business Woman Passes Away. The paper's notice included the following remark: "[f]or years she had been in the millinery business in this city, and she will be missed by the many women who regularly sought her store for that kind of goods as well as many others." As for Norma Egstrom's claim about her grandfather, it has yet o be confirmed. She was told that the filter had been patented under the name Anderson Charcoal Water Filter, and that Andreas had eventually signed the patent away to his older son (Alfred Leonard), who "drank the profit away." The original source of these claims was presumably Andreas himself, the only one of her grandparents whose company she ever experienced, however fleetingly. At the behest of his youngest offspring, Andreas lived in the Egstrom household for some time in the early 1920s. Unfortunately, according to Peggy Lee, he "had to be sent to a home" some time after Selma became terminally ill.

Bertha & John

Norma's paternal grandparents met in Scandinavia. Her paternal grandfather (John Magnus Ekstrom Erickson, 1844-1907) was a ship carpenter from Hjertungen, Ör, Dalsland, Sweden (or, according to another account, from Stockholm, Sweden), her paternal grandmother (Bertha Gurine Olsdatter, 1847-1912) a homemaker from either Froland or Arendal, Norway (father's last name: Halvorsen). After leaving Sweden to go work in Norway, the ship maker met the homemaker there. Marriage and a son ensued. John then left for America by himself. Family lore passed down to Norma placed him in a shipwreck from which only he and another sailor survived. After spending the next few years working in New York City, John sent out for Bertha and their son. The family stayed in the big city for a spell, then transported themselves to the mid-US farmlands where many other migrating Scandinavians were making their enclaves. Marvin, the second of Bertha & John's children, became his family's first-generation American, born in Chaseburg, Wisconsin on November 23, 1874.

Marvin's Travels & Tribulations

Before meeting Selma in South Dakota, a teenage Marvin had actually left his native Wisconsin for the nearby state of Minnesota, where he would land a distinguished job as a railroad telegraph operator and, later on, a depot agent position at the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul And Pacific Railway (aka the Milwaukee Road). Minnesota was also the state where he got married for the first time -- to a dressmaker with whom he had one daughter (1896-1992) and a stillborn son (1897). The reasons for the couple's separation are unknown.

By the early 1900s, Marvin Egstrom had moved again. He was now in South Dakota, where he worked for the South Dakota Central Railway. Starting as an agent in Sinai, Mr. Egstrom eventually rose to the position of Superintendent of Transportation at the Sioux Falls headquarters. He got married to Selma in late 1902, when he had just turned 28 and she was over a couple of months short of being 18 years old. The first five children of Marvin and Selma were all born in Volga, South Dakota, just like their mother had been. They were Milford Adrian (1903), Della Irene (1906), Leonard Harold (1908), Marianne Elenore (1913), and Clair Oliver s (1916).

Around 1915, Marvin's job prospects took a downward spiral. While still in South Dakota, the forty-something was demoted from superintendent to manager. Heavy dependance on alcohol has been alleged to be one of the primary reasons for the demotion.

In 1916, the line's general manager left his position for an equivalent one with the Midland Continental Railway in North Dakota. Marvin Egstrom was among the various employees which the manager took with him, and re-appointed at the North Dakotan line. Marvin then went on to spend the rest of his working days at the Midland Continental Railroad, most commonly as a depot agent, and also as traveling freight agent.

He first held the agent position in Jamestown (1916-1928), then on and off in Nortonville (1928-1934), Wimbledon (1934-1937; one account gives the last year as 1939 instead), and Millarton (late 1930s-1944). The transfer from the city of Jamestown to tiny Nortonville was actually a demotion. (A fraudulent bookkeeping scheme, primarily implicating an array of auditors but also roping depot employees such as Egstrom, had elicited the transfer and the month salary reduction, from $175 to $100.) Although it placed him at even greater distance from Jamestown (the location of the line's headquarters), the subsequent transfer from Nortonville to the comparatively bigger town of Wimbledon could be considered a vote of confidence on the company's part. A qualified sense of trust can also be gleaned from the fact that he was kept under employment until reaching the retirement age of 70.

Trains And Toddlers And Tragedy

A move from South to North Dakota was part of Marvin's midlife transition. In the Department of Commerce's Fourteenth US Census, he is listed as residing in Jamestown with his family and holding the position of depot agent (for the Midland Continental Railroad line). Dated January 17, 1920, the census page lists the rest of Marvin's family as his wife and five children. By that date, Selma would have been pregnant with the sixth. It is indeed in Jamestown that she gives birth to all her other children: Norma Deloris (May 1920), Gloria (June 1922), and Jean Bernice (April 1924).

In August of 1924, just a few months after the birth of the eighth child, diabetes-related complications resulted in the death of Selma, who was merely 39 years old at the time. [Addendum, 2014: biographer James Gavin states that Selma developed diabetes back in 1920, while carrying Norma, and that Norma would go on to blame herself for her mother's death. I do not have corroboration for the biographer's claim.] Norma's youngest siblings also met a premature fate. The seventh child (Gloria) had actually been stillborn, and the eighth was born sickly. In the absence of a nursing mother, that last child (Jean Bernice) was sent to live in Volga, as a foster child, at the home of her mother's stepsister. Jean was indeed raised therein until her passing at the tender age of 14 -- from a heart ailment, according to at least two sources, or from "cancer of the blood" (i.e., leukemia), according to the Stutsman County Record. (This County Record tidbit is courtesy of a researching member of the Peggy Lee Bulletin Board.)

Due to that series of tragic events, Norma Deloris was always the youngest child in the various North Dakota households where the Egstroms dwelled. Eventually she would become the only youngster left. Norma's older siblings moved out of the house one by one (and ditto for their one stepbrother), until only she, in her early teens, remained, in the company of father Marvin (d. 1950) and stepmother Min.

Min Schaumberg

Of German stock, Minnie E. Schaumberg (1892-1971) was born and raised in Jamestown. A gory accident had left her widowed in 1916, and with one five-month-old baby to feed. (Her first husband, a farmer, had literally blown his head off while trying to lit a match on a gasoline barrel which had been only outwardly frozen by the winter frost.) In 1924, she came into the Egstroms' family home as a nurse for Della and her first baby. (Della, the eldest of the Egstrom sisters, was a chronically sick individual for most of her life. Even so, she did live until the age of 69. That baby, her only son, born on December 27, 1924, grew into young adulthood, but sadly perished at war in 1944.)

Gradually, Min took on the role of all-purpose caretaker -- and more. In August 1925, exactly twelve months after Selma's passing, Marvin Egstrom married the widow. A need for a permanent homemaker and child caretaker must have partially (or even fully) motivated Marvin to take the plunge. More open to speculation to speculation are Min's reasons to tie knots with the widower (nearly 20 years her senior), although plenty of practical, mutually beneficial ones that can be invoked. Norma was five years old when the marriage vows were exchanged.


The young person in the first photo is actually Norma's own mother (Selma Anderson) as a child. Norma's beloved father, Marvin Olaf Egstrom (aka Ericsson) is the man in the middle. The woman at the end is her loathed stepmother, Minnie E. Egstrom (aka Schaumberg, aka Wiese). According to Norma herself, the photo of Marvin was the last one taken of him before his death in 1950. By that time, he had spent over five years retired from his last Midland Continental Railroad agent post, in the town of Millarton. The photo of Norma's stepmother's was taken in 1957, right outside North Dakota's Millarton train station, where she had been holding the position of Midland Continental Railroad agent since the time that Marvin had vacated it (or thereabouts).

Norma's paternal grandparents, Bertha and John, are pictured in the second row of images. Also in view is a 1986 photograph of the Northville, South Dakota property in which they were living around the turn of that century, and where both passed away.


Young Norma's Whereabouts

Following her birth at Jamestown's Trinity Hospital in 1920, the future Peggy Lee spent her childhood and adolescence in the southeast part of North Dakota. The child lived her first eight years in Jamestown, a city that was itself fairly young at that time. It had been founded less than 60 years earlier, as a camping site for the workers who were setting the tracks of the Northern Pacific transcontinental railroad line. Peggy Lee was thus born in railroad land and grew up, figuratively speaking, as a daughter of the railroad. (Both of these points will be extensively illustrated in this page's final appendix.)

The city's over 13.34 square miles of land are pleasantly surrounded by a large body of water. Peggy Lee fondly remembered picnics near the James River, where "the trees hugged the ... banks and the river broke up the flatness of the land." She also recalled with excitement the presence of "big railroad stations for the Great Northern, the Northern Pacific and Sioux Line and, of course, the Midland Continental Railroad that was one hundred miles long and held them all together."

During Norma Deloris' childhood years, Jamestown thrived. In 1925, its residents were proudly touting its many amenities and resources: three scenic parks, fifty retail stores, five hotels, twenty-four passengers trains arriving or departing daily, three newspapers, a library, several public schools, a private academy and one college, four banks, a 500-seat armory, a hospital and two medical clinics, sixteen church buildings, fifteen water mains, a gas plant, an electric light and heat plant, a large flour mill, a large creamery, ice cream manufacturing plant and butter condensery, etc., etc., etc. About 4,358 in 1910, the residential population has passed the 6,600 mark by 1920, the 7,000 mark by 1923. It would continue to increase for the next few decades. The US Decennial Census declared it to have grown the most by the end of the 1950s, at over 15,000. (It began a pattern of minor decrease in the 1980s, falling to around 14,840 in 2020.) Norma's residential stay at the Buffalo City was not long-lasting, however.

Some time after the girl had turned eight years old (May 26, 1928), her family moved to the town of Nortonville, located about 25 miles south of Jamestown. In a couple of written accounts, one of them being her autobiography, Peggy Lee would describe Nortonville as a "tiny town surrounded by farms with about 125 people trying to survive ... There were no street names or numbers in Nortonville. You would just refer to the name of the family who lived there ... You would go up the sandy road from 'downtown' or the depot to the Egstrom house." Though numbers and names would eventually be given to its streets, Nortonville's population would dwindle in the ensuing decades, to such a degree that less than 30 individuals were said to inhabit the town at the start of the twenty-first century. (If online reports at commercial sites are to be trusted, by 2020 the number of inhabitants stood around 72.)

The Egstroms moved again in 1935. Their new destination was Wimbledon, located about 30 miles north of Jamestown, and covering .62 square miles of land. In her autobiography, Lee refers to this town as "slightly larger" than Nortonville, and the anecdotes which she tell suggest that her years there were pleasant ones.

Wimbledon was indeed relatively small back then, yet well developed. On both counts, it still remains so. Founded in 1892, its population grew from 226 in 1900 to a 571 peak in 1910. However, over the ensuing decades Wimbledon went on to experience the reduction of residents that is typical in most small agricultural towns: down slightly on the year of Peggy Lee's birth (1920, 521 inhabitants), and more decisively so a few years after she had left town (357 inhabitants in 1940). It temporarily grew during the post-war period (449, 1950), but then inexorably dwindled, from a little over 400 in 1960 to a bit above 200 in 200 and an under-200 estimate for 2020.

And yet, however small in residential count and territorial size, Wimbledon's ambitions have proven to be big, and its enterprising spirit even bigger. In its early years, it was already setting itself apart as the town of the elevators, which grew in number from one in 1893 to a row of eight in 1908. It also earned distinction for opening its own municipal airport, in public operation for nearly 20 years (1948-1965), becoming private from the rest of that century and closing on the next one. But there is more: no other town or city has done more to honor the memory of Peggy Lee -- as will be detailed in one of the appendixes found at the bottom of this page.

Miss Norma Egstrom stayed in Wimbledon until her graduation from high school (1937). The ensuing months found her continuously on the move. She first went back to Jamestown, only to leave for a bigger city, Fargo, after a short while. (With 30,000 inhabitants living within its confines in the 1930s, Fargo was the region's metropolis. It is worth noting that the downtown area was not entirely unfamiliar to the seventeen-years-old miss, as she had spent brief spells there during her childhood. Be that a it may, her stay in Fargo was also short.)

A few months before turning 18, the starry-eyed Miss Egstrom dared to leave and search for fame and fortune in Hollywood. After a period of about six months without having found neither, health circumstances precipitated a return to North Dakota (August 1938).

Post-Hollywood, Norma initially stayed with her older sisters Della and Marianne, who were residing in the town of Hillsboro. Then, from the last quarter of 1938 to the spring of 1940, she stayed put in the region's big cities. First there was a return to work in Fargo (September 1938), then a seasonal relocation to Grand Forks (summer 1938), and finally another move back to Fargo (September 1939), where she would remain for about nine months (till June). Singing gigs were behind all these moves.

The second half of 1940 brought plenty of out-of-state traveling. The singer spent spells in Minneapolis, Minnesota (summer to November) ) and St. Louis, Missouri (November to at least late December), then returned to Los Angeles (California) for a second time.

She dwelled in and around Hollywood through the first half of 1941. The summer of 1941 found her residing in yet another metropolis -- Chicago (Illinois). It was there that she finally became a recording artist, thereby starting to build the body of work that is the primary topic of the present bio-discography.

(The singer's travels and travails were by no means done in the first half of that year, however. The second half of 1941 would be spent traveling even farther away, through the Northeast coast -- especially the New Jersey-New York area -- and even out of the country, into Canada).


Rather than presenting any mementoes from the 1920s and 1930s, this section starts off with a trio of modern-day shots, each one representative of the North Dakotan towns where the young Peggy Lee resided for most of her pre-adult years. The first photo offers a partial view of First Avenue South, currently one of the main streets in the city of Jamestown. The subject of the second photo is a wooden, rustic house in the community of Nortonville. The third photo spotlights the Midland Continental Depot And Peggy Lee Museum, located in the town of Wimbledon. The depot is sporting its post-restoration look -- to be discussed in greater detail in one of this page's last sections.


Maps And Itineraries

With one exception, the above-featured maps concentrate on North Dakota. The first row is dedicated to train transit maps, on which the locations mentioned in this section can be pinpointed: Jamestown, Nortonville, and Wimbledon were highlighted in yellow. So are Fargo and Grand Forks, which shall receive dedicated mention later in this write-up. Trip-minded readers might care to note that most of these locations are adjacent to major interstate highways (route 281, route 52).

Locations of secondary interest have also been highlighted in these train itinerary maps. Millarton is the town where Norma Deloris would go to see her father on his dying bed (1950), and where her stepmother had settled due to a job opportunity. Highlighted in the third train map, Hillboro is another town where members of Norma's family would take residence (and where she herself would spend some time, as already explained).

As for the two maps on the next row of images, the first shows all North Dakota counties, the second some of our American nation's states. The counties through which Norma Deloris moved back and forth can be seen on that first map. All of them are located in the east side of the state: Stutsman (Jamestown), La Moure (Nortonville), Barnes (Wimbledon, Valley City), Cass (Fargo), Traill (Hillsboro), and Grand Forks. For its part, the last map includes the five states on which Norma Deloris spent time during the early, pre-recording years of her career. The youngster sought work and adventure in North Dakota, California, Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri.


Home Portraits (1 of 3)

Since Marvin was a railway station master, the Egstroms spent some periods of their lives residing on the upper floors of train depots, though they also lived in regular housing at other time periods. During Norma's earliest years, they were indeed living comfortably at a large house located downtown, on Pennsylvania Avenue (210 Pa. Ave S.). The space was apparently large enough to allow for the continued or periodic co-habitation of most of Norma's immediate family, including her oldest siblings, Milford, Della and Leonard, as well as Della's son Paul, born about four years after Norma.

On December 27, 1924, the Egstroms' home caught fire and burned down, leaving them temporarily homeless. As Lee recalled (or understood) the events, the blaze had broken out on the night of a blizzard. The bitterly cold temperature had compelled Mr. Egstrom to make a "roaring fire." The family then went to bed, leaving the fire unattended. Overnight, the wind spread flames and ashes over their wood home, setting it ablaze. (Relying on a contemporary newspaper report, the aforementioned member of the Peggy Lee Bulletin Board has refuted a few of the details found in Lee's autobiographical reminiscence: "it was in the early hours of Sunday morning, December 28, that the Egstroms' house caught fire. It did not burn down but was badly damaged, both by the fire and the water and chemicals used by the firemen.")

After staying for a short while with neighbors, and with relatives of Norma's future stepmother, the family went on to live at an abode identified in Lee's autobiography as 215 Milwaukee Street East. This was perhaps the same address to which radio host and blogger Mitch Berg referred in 2008 as follows: "Lee’s family lived a block from my father’s house, along mainstreet in Jamestown, across from the town’s Catholic church; the house was a kindergarten when I was a kid, and was torn down when I was in junior high to make way for a car lot." The location was convenient but not comfortable. Three blocks separated it from the Midland Continental Depot where Norma's father worked, and one block from Roosevelt School, where Norma would start elementary education. But it was no more than "a tiny gabled clapboard house one block behind Main Street," according to biographer Peter Richmond. "It had few of the comforts of home," Peggy Lee herself recalled in her autobiography, adding that during those very early years of her life the family was "always moving."


The two aerial shots capture for posterity the look of Jamestown during the early decades of the twentieth century. That opening aerial shot has been estimated to date from around 1901, the other one from around 1926. Additional early twentieth-century photos take us down to the ground, downtown. (Curiously, the sidewalk has been ripped apart in one of these town scenes. The motivation behind the act is unknown to me. Perhaps water pipes were being installed, or maybe flooding and other accidents had already made road repair a necessity.) Then there are the pictures that give us views of the town's presumed main drag, Fifth Avenue, from both its north and south exposure. The north view is presented in the last image, originally taken in 1925 but eventually colorized for use as a postcard. It was actually shot from the railroad track area, where Norma's father worked as a depot agent.


Home Portraits (2 of 3)

Sometime in 1928, the Egstroms left Jamestown and moved to a house in Nortonville. The move was triggered by the demotion of Mr. Egstrom from his job as managing agent of the Midland Continental Railroad's train depot at Jamestown. As part of the demotion, he was put in charge of the depot in Nortonville, a tiny, farm-surrounded town where indoor plumbing and electricity had not yet arrived. The station itself was probably among the least used on the Midland Continental Railroad line, which consisted of about 16 stops.

In her autobiography, Lee remembers this new home as being located somewhere "up the sandy road." Indeed, to this day pavement remains a rare commodity in this tiny, picturesque strip of a town, founded in 1912 and named after one of the financial backers of the Midland Continental Road.

Lee also remembered her new home as coming equipped with a barn a couple of cows and poultry. One of the anecdotes in her autobiography concerns a dozen eggs that her stepmother asked her to go trade for sugar. It is particularly during this Nortonville period that livestock and hay became a more immediate, common daily experience for Norma Deloris, the youngest at home. "Although my father was a station agent, we raised our own food and a couple of cows, and a few [more] animals," she told Wink Martindale in the mid-1970s, for a radio interview.

Frequently on the lookout to contradict and reshape Lee's recollections, biographer James Gavin seems to be off the mark when he dates Norma's farm-environment period to the earlier Jamestown years. A nephew of Lee is roped into this attempt at refuting the veracity of Lee's account. In the biographer's own words: {beginning of quote} "Peggy Lee recalled baking bread, milking cows, churning butter, and -to her revulsion- butchering animals, a technique taught by Min. All these tasks, she said, were enacted behind the house on the family farm, where Lee remembered spending untold hours in indentured servitude. Those memories clashed with the ones that Marion Egstrom passed to her son Lee ... 'There was really no family farm as such,' said Lee. 'Given that era, it could be that you had your own animals and a garden, but I don't know this. {end of quote} Gavin then proceeds to quote a Nortonville man who as a child knew Norma during her years in town, and who dismisses the notion of a farm. However, Lee more commonly referred in her own accounts to a barn, mentioning farms more in the context of other people's properties, where she was hired to do work. At worst, the term "farm" seems to be mutually employed in her interviews as a shorthand, probably for the benefit of Hollywood reporters and general audiences.

Besides Marvin and her new wife Min, there were four youngsters in the house at this point in time. Three of them were Egstrom siblings (Clair, Marianne, Norma), and one a stepbrother (Min's son Edwin, four years older than Norma). One "defection" occurred during the family's living period at the farmhouse. About fifteen or sixteen years old, sister Marianne fled the nest, finding shelter with older, married sister Della. (The latter lived at the time in another North Dakota town, perhaps Hillsboro.)

The other four household members stayed in the farmhouse for about two years only. The precise reason for their departure is not known to me. Peggy Lee herself did not have clear knowledge or understanding of the motivation, either. "I do not know why," she acknowledged in her autobiography. "Maybe it was the Depression. Time was really tough." Indeed, for the majority of Americans, this time period was dominated by a continuous state of transition and uncertainty, brought upon them by the nation's Depression. It is thus possible that the Egstroms could not afford this particular plot of land any longer.

But it is just as possible that the Egstroms had intended to live at this farmhouse only temporarily. They could have been simply biding their time while the depot's live-in facilities remained occupied by other employees, or while they were being repaired for new habitation. It was indeed to the patriarch's place of work that the Egstrom folks moved, with Min now working for the railroad as well, in the capacity of train dispatcher. For a 2002 writeup about Norma's early days, Jamestown resident Violet Colberg referred to this dwelling, upstairs at the Nortonville depot, as an "apartment." The reference might or might not be indicative of a humble, limited square foot space. (Mrs. Colberg seems to have based her writeup partially on biographical information in print, and partially on collective town recollection. She was married to a man who worked for the Midland Continental Railroad and is said to have known the Egstrom family.) According to biographer James Gavin, there was no indoor plumbing in the apartment, and the lack of electricity would have made the Egstroms dependent on kerosene lamps and candles during evenings.

Just as it had happened to their home in Jamestown, the Egstrom's Nortonville abode also burned down. On a wintry, frigid Sunday morning (January 5, 1930), fire and ice conspired to wreak havoc. Min had momentarily left the cookstove unattended, only to hear it explode while she was outdoors, in the barn. There was nobody else at the depot. Her husband and stepdaughter were at church, which was within walking distance, about five minutes away. (See photos above, and descriptions below, under Photography.) According to Norma, smoke was first noticed shortly after services were over, as churchgoers were already walking across the field between the depot and church, on their way back to their homes. In her autobiography, she remembered running "as fast as I could across that field and around the side of the depot to where the door to our living space was."

Erstwhile town resident Mattie Brandt's memories of the incident have been shared by Lee's biographers, too. In 2006, Peter Richmond quoted Brandt (1922-2018) as follows: "A lot of the residents were in church. The door burst open and someone yelled, 'The depot is on fire!' Everybody left church and went to the fire. When we got there, the fire was beyond control. And there was a second accident to be dealt with: Min had come down the stairs to get a pail of water and had slipped on the ice around the pump and lay there with a broken leg." For his part, James Gavin offered this quote from Brandt in 2014: "She was gonna get some water and take it back up there, thinking she could do something for the fire, but she couldn't, of course. It was winter, and there was a lot of ice."

Peggy Lee offers her own vivid recollection of the fall in her autobiography: "And there was Min, who had slipped on some ice by the pump and couldn't get up. Her leg was broken, you could set the bone sticking out, and of course she was in a lot of pain. It was a good thing for her that she had slipped and spilled the water -- otherwise she would have been up the stairs trying to put the fire when the gasoline stove exploded." (That significant injury kept Min hospitalized for a while. In the estimation of the previously mentioned member of the Peggy Lee Bulletin Board, who relies on contemporary reports, Min is likelier to have stayed in the hospital for no more than 18 days. Probably due to her relish at the time spent without her stepmother's overbearing presence, Lee's memory would later recall the absence as lasting "about eight weeks.")

The whole building structure (two floors) burned down -- or so is said in most extant reports. Gavin tells us that it had been "decorated in drab Midland style, orange yellow with green trim." After the fire consumed it, "the Midland hauled a small freight house to serve as temporary depot." (The Midland Continental Railroad deemed the incident significant to merit, for the first time, the installment of fire ladders in all of its other depots.) The Egstroms momentarily stayed with a town family.

"The family then moved to a home one block south of the Nortonville Public School (the house is still there)," states Violet Colberg in her overview of Norma's early years. Two other reports add detail to the picture. "The Egstroms moved into the late Mr. Barbion's residence in the east end of town and the Midland Continental moved a freight house from Franklin to serve as a replacement Nortonville depot," sums up the aforementioned fellow member of the Peggy Lee Bulletin Board, who relied on his perusal of contemporary newspaper articles and historical documentation. The other report is actually an oral account, specifying that the family moved to 115 Fifth Avenue, a block south of Nortonville's public school.

The total number of household members would experience yet more "defection." Brother Clair, who turned 15 in April of 1931, left home that year. The same course of action might or might have not been taken by stepbrother Edwin, who was of the same age as Clair. Norma, stepmother and father then remained, all by themselves, at 115 Fifth Avenue -- but not for too long. Their stay at the house by the school turned out to be yet another short-lived arrangement. Before 1935, their next town move was already in progress.


Portraits of North Dakota's Nortonville, past and present. Taken in 1984, the first aerial shot provides visual evidence of the area's sparse inhabitation, and the vastness of its surrounding plains. (Nota bene: the town in view does not fully correspond with my perception of Nortonville. It actually looks bigger, more developed. Also, I am able to locate one grain elevator only, rather than two or three. Hence I am wandering if the photo is presenting to us not just Nortonville but also a nearby town (Jud, Millarton). Confirmation or denial from knowledgeable viewers would be appreciated. Additionally, I am able to locate one grain elevator only, when I would have expected to see two or three. Even if the shot turned to not feature Nortonville at all, it would still be illustrative of the typical looks of the region.)

The next two shots bear a July 1963 dating. If the viewer may indulge my musings, I would like to briefly bring attention to the house near the top left corner of the first photo. Standing solitary, and far (but not too far) away from the elevators and silos, this house has left an impression on me. My musings are to whether how closely it might resemble Norma's original Nortonville home -- the one which she describe as being "up the sandy road."

The terrain spotlighted in both of these 1963 pictures is only partially the same. Moreover, they were taken on the same day but not from the same angle. The town's grain elevators are perhaps the most visually prominent feature in them.

Present-day photography of the area shows the remnants of only two elevators, but back in 1963 there were three of them. This last fact is fundamental for any viewer trying to assess how these two photos compare to one another. One of the two elevators is these shots is the same, the other elevator a different one. In the first shot, the shared elevator is the one closest to our aerial view. The area's main road is behind it. In the second shot, the shared elevator is on the left side of the photo. The main road is now in front of it. (As for the other elevators ... Although a different elevator is missing from each photo, the location of both missing elevators would have been, coincidentally, about the same: a bit past the left side, toward the middle of each photo.)

Railroad tracks can be seen near or in-between the three grain elevators. Generally, elevators tended to be built in close proximity to depots. It thus stands to reason that the depot where Norma once lived would have been located in the vicinity of these elevators. I have not been able to find its specific location. (An online source gives a location, but I do not know how reliable the source in question is. I will come back to this topic.) As I mentioned in the main text of this section, the depot was destroyed by fire in 1930 and, as a replacement, a freight house was subsequently hauled into town. Train service to Nortonville was terminated around 1970, when the Midland Continental Railroad closed. The fate of the freight house is not known to me.

Let's concentrate now on the second, larger photo only. The main road running in front of this elevator is the area's 59th Street SE, which locally becomes 1st Street for part of its stretch. Shifting our view now all the way back to the photo, we can see a large building structure, partially cut off by the left border. That structure is a lumberyard, then called Solinger's Lumber Yard. Expanded and still standing today, it is now known as Solinger Home Center and Lumber. (It's on the corner of Second Street and 3rd Avenue. Wikipedia's page for the Midland Continental Railroad states that the Nortonville "station was where a timber merchant is now, next to the south elevator," but I do not know if the statement is accurate.)

For the next photos (in color), we have descended from the air to roughly the same area, as it looks in the twenty-first century. The first color photo was taken from Third Avenue. The other two streets in the area are not visible in the photo: Second Street should to the right of the photographer, First Street to the left. You can also see one of the currently existing elevators on the right, not too far from the photographer. The other elevator is to the left, and farther away. (I believe that the no longer extant, demolished elevator was the one shared by the two 1963 shots above. Now a red barn is where the elevator used to be, or fairly close.)

Of arguably greater interest than the elevators is the decaying, uninhabited structure seen in three of these photos, each showing the structure from a different angle. As already mentioned in the write-up above, the Nortonville depot burned down in 1930, and no traces of it are thus likely to stand today. However, we also learned that, back in 1930, a freight house was brought into the area, as replacement. I do not know if that freight house was placed exactly where the depot had been, or somewhere else, nearby. This structure looks to me like a good candidate for an erstwhile freight house. It is located on the intersection of 59th/1st Street and 3rd Avenue. (However, the 1963 photos show this structure to have been a compound that looked much more extensive than what I would expect from a freight house.)

Let's concentrate next on the fourth of these color photos. Take note of a white building dimly visible in the distance, far past the large red-painted barn. That white building is seen up close in the next three photos two of them in full color and from the twenty-first century, the other sepia-colored and from the twentieth century (undated, possibly pre-1940). With 16 First Street as its address, this is the town's Methodist Church, where a very young Norma practiced singing and playing piano before the arrival of the parishioners on Sundays. In Peggy Lee's own words, from her autobiography: "everyone in Nortonville used this church. Had to, it was the only one." (It had been founded in 1913. I have not found indication of any other church dating back to the 1920s. The arrival of the Roman Catholic Church, nowadays well established in Nortonville, took place several decades later.) It is through the green field between this white church and the red, current barn that churchgoers would have run at the sight of fire in the depot, one Sunday back in 1930.

We now move on to the road photo, next to the sepia shot of the church. According to Google maps, the fenced area in this photo has the address 115 5th Avenue. After the burning of the Nortonville depot, the Egstroms lived on or next to that address.

Finally, here are three more twenty-first century Nortonville photos. Bearing no connection to Norma Egstrom's past life there, I am including them only to provide a fairer portrait of the current looks of this tiny town. Facing one of the extant train elevators, this time we have crossed the street side where the church and the red barn are. To the right of the electric post, either of the two distant houses in the back could conceivably be the same solitary house that called my attention in one of the 1963 pictures. The road between the elevator and the electric post takes us the address 207 First Street, which corresponds with the large property whose main house, garage, and adjacent cottage are highlighted in the last two images.


Home Portraits (3 of 3)

In the summer of 1934, Norma's father was asked to temporarily tend to Wimbledon's Midland Continental train station. The assignation required him to leave Nortonville. On a Wednesday in late July, Norma left town as well, to go be with Mr. Egstrom at the Wimbledon depot. To Norma's delight, her stepmother did not join them at the time. The lady was expected to stay in Nortonville and tend to the depot facilities while Marvin fulfilled his temporary duties in Wimbledon.

The young lass proceeded to enroll in Wimbledon's high school, whose fall semester was scheduled to start on September the 10th. By late September, however, illness had forced Norma's dad to return to Nortonville. Arrangements were made for her to stay at a home's classmate -- probably Carl Ericson's. She did so for about a month. Then Norma herself had to follow in her father's footsteps, leaving town on Saturday, October the 20th. She had spent a total of six weeks at Wimbledon High.

In January of 1935, a recuperated Mr. Egstrom returned to his Wimbledon post, which was permanently assigned to him. Min joined him later that month. So did Norma, who arrived in town on the morning of Monday, January the 28th, ready for start of the second semester at Wimbledon High School. From then on, the depot was Norma's residence for the entire duration of her stay in Wimbledon. (For her part, Norma's stepmother would be around for only part of the time. By this point, she was also an employee of the railroad company. Back in mid-1934, while her husband was away in Wimbledon, Mrs. Min Egstrom had been put in charge of the Nortonville depot. In 1935, she would be asked to supervise another Midland Continental station, located a few miles away, in Millarton. Hence, for Min, these years were spent commuting between Millarton and Wimbledon.)

In Wimbledon, the onset of adolescence seems to have increased Norma's drive to distinguish herself. In November 1935, she applied for and obtained the editor position at the high school paper, The Ice-Breaker (which was published as part of the local newspaper, The Wimbledon News). She then picked a 12-fellow-student team, to work under her mostly as reporters for a variety of features. Even more notably, Norma became a prominent member of the student council: she had also been elected president of her 1935-1936 junior class. During her senior year, Norma further served as assistant to the school librarian, Special Features writer of the school paper, and treasurer of her senior class (the latter a position that she had also occupied as a freshman, for about two months).

The Egstrom household underwent yet another transition in the spring of 1936. Once again, the Midland Continental Railroad asked Marvin to take over a temporary vacant position, this time in Jamestown. Following his father's return to the area's big city, Norma was left to live alone with her stepmother, now in charge of the Wimbledon depot. This state of affairs remained more in less in place for the duration of Norma's days in Wimbledon, with Marvin moving back and forth.

Small tastes of Norma's home life around this time have been gleaned from town residents who shared their recollections in later decades. One of them was Peggy Rose, daughter of the depot agent who preceded Marvin Egstrom in Wimbledon. At a Wimbledon celebration of Peggy Lee's 90th birth date (May 26, 2010), the 94-year-old Rose recounted one evening of adolescent hijinks: "we double dated and she crawled out the window and we helped her out and back in." Her great niece, Mary Beth Orn, would later add that Rose and the boys "helped her crawl back in at the end of the evening, all without her stepmother knowing anything was amiss."

Another town resident who remembered Norma Egstrom all too well was Soo depot agent Walter Brennan. Since the town's two depots were near one another, Mr. Brennan and Miss Egstrom were immediate neighbors in the mid-1930s. In the years 1967 and 1968, he shared with Wimbledon historian Kathleen Blinsky not just his reminiscences, but also a letter that Peggy Lee sent to the Brennans in 1945.

In Brennan's own words: "Norma and my son George were in Wimbledon high school at that time so she got to be a close friend of the Brennans. And in those days Norma and the two Henry Fehr daughters made a couple of trips to Valley City, to sing over the Valley City radio station ... One morning I was making my way over to the Midland depot with some freight bills ... and when about half over here came Norma, sobbing real hard, and as she met me she exclaimed, 'she won't let go down to Valley City today, she says I can't sing, and am just wasting my time going down there to Valley City ...' Well, Henry Fehr and I were both on the school board at the time, and his two girls were in high school along with Norma and my son George, and most Wimbledon folks were really proud to have three of our W.H.S. girls sing over the Valley Station ... So I said to Norma, 'You are going down there and sing, whether your stepmother want you to or not, and I'll see Mr. Fehr and see that he takes you along this evening, with his two girls' ... And that I did. I got on the phone immediately and contacted Mr. Fehr and told him what the story was, and he took the same stand that I did, and that evening Norma Egstrom went along down to Valley City, with the Fehr gils and their dad ... and there started a career for the girl who 'couldn't sing', but today is known all over the U.S.A. as PEGGY LEE ... a one-time Wimbledon resident, and Wimbledon folks are very proud of her."

Dated February 16, Peggy Lee's letter to the Brennan family is largely dedicated to the "lot of memories" that had come back to her recently: "I often think of George Hatch, and the waybills, and the per diem reports, and Hank, the drayman; and Ike; and, well, I guess, at one time or another, I've re-lived all of it ... Oh yes, and you may be surprised to know, Mrs. Brenner, that I remember you having a gray satin dress that I admired. Maybe you don't remember it, but I do ... Saturday cleaning at your house, and how many times [your son] George's dry wit convulsed me, and especially the time he took all the bolts out of my seat in the assembly, which resulted in a most ungrateful descent to the floor ... "


This section's shots capture how Wimbledon looked in its early days, from the 1890s to the 1950s. Founded in 1892, the city was not yet three years old when the first of these images was produced for posterity. In front of us, on the right side of the street, we see the town's very first building, a grocery store (George Hunt, 1893). On the left side, the building right in front is a hardware store (More Brothers). The structure next to the hardware store housed both the Wimbledon post office (called Gibson, after the main out of two owners of the land where Wimbledon placed its foundations) and a store apparently owned by the town's then-postmaster (Joseph S. Tollefson). A drugstore and a cafe (Coeuy) ensued, still on the same block. The next two photographs give notice of this street's progress during the first half of the following century. Image #4 comes with an estimated date of 1907, but its overall city look leads me to suspect that it was instead taken several decades afterwards.

Images #5 and #6 takes us to the hotels in town. The building in photo #5 is identified in one of my sources as Wimbledon House Hotel, Kline Hotel, Wimbledon, North Dakota. The source does not provide a date. I believe the source to be partially mistaken: this structure could have very well been called the Wimbledon House Hotel, but the Kline Hotel was a different facility, to be spotlighted next.

As Peggy Lee remembered matters fifty years later, there was only one hotel in town. However, Kathleen Blinsky states in her Wimbledon History, 1893-1968 that the city had two hotels in its early days, the Columbia and the Kline. If I understood Blinsky's text correctly, the Columbia Hotel was built in 1893 (presumably in wood), then rebuilt into a brick structure in 1915. Blinsky says that it was located "where the Star Cafe is at the present time." I gather from the rest of her text that the cafe in question still retained the 1915 brick façade in 1968. Perhaps the Columbia Hotel and the aforementioned Wimbledon House Hotel are two incarnations or occupations of the same building.

The building in photo #6 is identified as the Kline Hotel by town historian Kathleen Blinsky. This two-story brick hotel was located right across the Wimbledon depot where Peggy Lee once lived, and is actually still standing. Photos of its current looks are provided down below, under appendix C.

Blinsky tells us that the Kline was built in 1894 by a lumber dealer named Frank Kline, who sold it to a K. L. Glidden in 1904. Blinsky's account on the matter is a bit confusing. To quote: "[t]he Hotel Kline was built in 1894 by Frank Kline. Mr. Kline, a lumber dealer, and prominent citizen, came here in 1882. He settled a claim by Clementsville. In the spring of 1897 he came to Wimbledon and established the Glide Hotel. He remained in business for about seven years, and also devoted time to the lumber business. In 1904 he sold the hotel to K. L. Gliddens ..."
also tells us that opened a Glide Hotel in 1897. With this additional reference to a Glide, we now have mention of three hotels. Since Blinsky says that there were only two in town, I am unclear as to the full meaning of her count. Given the similarities between the name of the second hotel owner (K. L. Glidden) and the second hotel named (the Glide), I m wondering if Blinsky inadvertently mixed up the data: could the Glide be the new name that the second owner, Glidden, give to Kline's hotel?

We move on next to a Wimbledon residential street, as it looked around 1908, and then to the town's depot area. The depot seen in the eighth photo, with the grain elevators nearby, belongs to the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Sainte Marie Railroad, more succinctly known as the Soo Line. That was actually Wimbledon's very first railroad line, and the catalyst for the creation of the city. (Most of the land belonged to farm owner John H. Gibson, who moved from Vermont to establish not only a home but also a post-office dropout there, under his name, in 1882. Ten years later, the land was bought from Mr. Gibson by the Canadian Pacific Railway, which had just completed laying tracks through several northern regions of the USA, and thus wanted to establish outposts all over it. The name chosen for this new town honored the provenance of Gibson's family from Wimbledon, Southwest London.) The grain elevators in view became a distinctive city trait. The first one was put in place in late 1892; they would grow to be eight in total. (For additional pictures of the depot, scroll all the way down to appendix B below.)

The two remaining photos show Wimbledon's other depot, belonging to the Midland Continental Railroad (MCRR). Though it was the smaller depot of the two, the MCRR is of greater importance to us, as it was also the residence of one Norma Deloris Egstrom. During her years in town (1934-1937), the tracks of the two lines ran close to one another, and one depot was within short walking distance from the other. In the penultimate photo, we are looking sideways at the façade of the MCRR depot, as it looked around 1950 -- some 10 or 15 years after Egstrom lived there.

The last photo gives a frontal view. The date is not known to me. The presence of caboose #710 could lead to the assumption that the photo is of relatively recent vintage (post-1970s). However, upon close inspection, signs of ongoing habitation suggest otherwise. For more commentary about the MCR depot, consult appendixes B and C, located at the end of this page.


Hay, Hay, Working Girl

For Norma Deloris Egstrom, home was workplace. At the various residences she shared with her ill-tempered stepmother, Min submitted the girl to an around-the-clock schedule of household chores: scrubbing floors, washing dishes, churning butter and cooking bread, stoking cookstoves with coal gleaned from the railroad tracks, etc. Norma was expected to wake up as early as 5:00 a.m., and to have some of those chores finished before leaving for school.

For Norma Deloris Egstrom, home was workplace. At the various residences she shared with her ill-tempered stepmother, Min submitted the girl to an around-the-clock schedule of household chores: scrubbing floors, washing dishes, churning butter and cooking bread, stoking cookstoves with coal gleaned from the railroad tracks, etc. Norma was expected to wake up as early as 5:00 a.m., and to have some of those chores finished before leaving for school.

Assignation of home work to kids was by no means uncommon during that era. On the contrary, the common expectation was for children to contribute to household chores. Min herself doubtlessly worked hard as well. It was the severity and amount of workload that, by most accounts, separated Norma's case from from those of other contemporaneous minors. In that regard, biographer Peter Richmond quotes the recollections of two of Norma's childhood friends. One of them, Mary Rose, remarked that Min "made her work so hard ... She used to have to scrub those old wooden floors [at the depot]. I can still see her yet, down on her hands and knees."

To Lillian Wehler, the other childhood friend, "old man Egstrom was nice -- he just couldn't drink. My mother would cook for him when his wife was down in Millartown. The stepmother we tried to stay away from as much as possible ... She was just cross ... Norma ... had her dad on her side, but her dad wasn't strong enough to do much good for her. She never knew if she could go home or not. What kind of welcome would she get from the stepmother? I was sure glad it wasn't me. I had so much, and she had so much sorrow."

Other outsiders were similarly aware of and sympathetic to Norma's plights. When the family was living one block away from Nortonville's public school, the superintendent had her back. Sometimes in the mornings, Mr. Clarke could see the teen in the distance, running in order to be on time for school, after having spent time getting her household chores done. On such occasions, the superintendent would ring the bell longer than usual, thus saving Norma from being declared tardy.

Norma Deloris' assistance was also requested from her beloved father, who was sometimes too intoxicated to effectively carry out his job duties. In Wimbledon (where her stepmother could not be present full time, due to job duties out of town), Mr. Egstrom occupied adolescent Norma with tasks such as tending to the first-floor premises of the Midland Continental depot, helping with the filing of per diem reports, placing seals on freight cars, transmitting messages on the railroad's phone line, and running across the tracks to the nearby Soo depot, to deliver waybills and carry other errands.

During summertime, Norma Deloris was additionally employed in a variety of temporary jobs outside her home. (Once again, this was by no means an uncommon occurrence. A summer job was a seasonal expectation for small-town teen from middle- and low-income families. Norma was usually hired as a farm hand. "I had my first job away from home when I was eleven," she said during an interview conducted in 1974. "I worked on a farm and I did just about everything – milking cows, housekeeping, taking care of a newborn baby – I pretended it was a doll ... the lady was quite ill. And so I was sort of a nurse too." In her autobiography, she also recalled the need to carry water from a creek in order to wash clothes, was there was no well for the home's use. Biographer Peter Richmond quotes a Nortonville resident who appears to be the hiring lady in question, or a household relative, and who seems to have had a less than thrilling experience with the quality of the eleven-year-old services. "We had a new baby, and she was supposed to help out with the chores," the resident explained, probably chucklingly, "but she wasn't very helpful. She just sang all the time."

Summertime jobbing continued into Norma's mid-teens. At different farms, she variously helped not only milking cows but also pitching hay, shucking grain, canning fruits and vegetables (peaches, pears, tomatoes), cooking for a threshing crew, driving the water wagon for that same crew, and housecleaning as well as clothes washing.

In the fall and spring semesters, Norma earned extra money by washing her school's halls and blackboards (as part of the National Youth Association's job activities). While in her mid-teens, she also spent part of one of those summers washing dishes at a restaurant in Jamestown.

The largest salary that she ever received for any of these activities was $3.00 per week. By comparison, men doing farm work used received two dollars a day, she recalled during an informal interview in 1953. "It hurts me to go back," she added for the same interview, perhaps recalling the trip that she had made to Barnes County three years earlier. "The people work do hard. They seem to get so little pleasure. You wish you could send them all on a cruise."

"People wonder how you can stand up under the strain of show business," she continued. "That training [in North Dakota] gave me the strength. That [early] life equipped me for the world. You never feel helpless because you've had so many [hard] things you've had to pull out of ..."


The singer whom we have come to know as Peggy Lee was originally baptized as Norma Deloris Egstrom in 1920. Her professional baptism as Peggy Lee did not happen until 1937. (The story of how she was given her professional name will be narrated below, under the section titled Fargo, Chapter 1.) Fellow fans might wonder if there were other well-known Peggy Lees before the arrival of our Peggy Le. The answer is yes, and the proof of their existence can be plainly seen above. Collectively known as the Peggy Lee Plantation series, all the pictured novels were published in 1931 except for the last one, published in 1932. In 1936, they were collected into one book (last image). The writing of the entire series is credited to an Anna Andrews, the publication to Cupples & Leon, a New York-based publisher of juvenile fiction.

As the jacket of the four-book collection spells out, these were stories for girls, in the mold of the better-known Nancy Drew series (whose first volume was published in 1930, and whose original dust-jacket illustrator, Russell Tandy, was responsible for these Peggy Lee covers as well). For the benefit of collectors, I have included pictures of the hard covers as well; note the existence of differently colored editions (first volume). The first three stories are reportedly set at a plantation in Central America, the last one at a boarding school in New York.

Juvenile literature of the early twentieth century seems to have actually favored the name "Peggy"(with or without the last name "Lee"). In addition to the book series just discussed, there was also Brave Little Peggy (Lee & Shepard Publishers, 1908, written by Nina Rhoades) and Peggy Goes Riding (Newson & Company Publishers, 1931, written by Rose Lee Hardy and Geneva Johnston Hecox). An illustrated book for pre-teen girls, Peggy Goes Riding starts its text as follows: "here is Peggy at the station. She is waiting for the train ... Here comes the train. Too-oo-oo-t!" Showing that everything is life can be said to be separated by a few degrees, the very first national solo hit of Peggy Lee would be a song titled "Waiting For The Train To Come In."

Also in view above is an ad from fruit-and-vegetable grower, packer and shipper Lyerly --specifically, the one located in Calipatria, California. Unfortunately, the loss of my previous computer has left without any further details about this image, which might actually be the label of a comestible product, and which might or might not been around by the 1930s. In any case, the label gives us the picture of yet another blonde identified by the name of Peggy Lee (or, in her case, Peggy-Lee).

After having inspected these photos and details, one logical question to ask would be whether either (or even both) of these fictional Peggy Lees served as inspiration for the bestowal of the same name on the human, actual artist. Note that there is a physical resemblance -- a fact which lends credibility to a possible inspiration. However, if there is a link, it has not been acknowledged. (The connection wouldn't have necessarily been made consciously. Ken Kennedy, the main person to come up with the name for the aspiring singer, could have seen the front cover of Anna Andrews' 1936 collection, and consciously or subconsciously recalled it when he laid eyes on the young, adolescent Norma Deloris Egstrom.)


Blush, Tickle, And Ivory

Although none of Norma Deloris Egstrom's relatives were professional performers, most members of her nuclear family were known to enjoy singing. Norma's father sang for his own pleasure and Norma's two older sisters, Della and Marianne, were said to have very pleasant singing voices, too. "My sister [Marianne] and I hummed before we learned to talk," the artist would reminisce many decades later. Perhaps Norma's strongest recollection of her mother -- whose loss strongly shaped the girl's personality -- was the sight and sounds of Selma, playing the piano and singing.

As far back as her mind allowed her to remember, singing had been an outlet for the youngster. "[In my youth,] that was the only time I ever felt important, and I could get my thoughts out of my system that I didn't dare express," she told in interviewer when she was in her mid-30s. "All that time I only wanted to sing," she would add 30 years later, as a sexagenarian. Quite a few people who knew young Norma Deloris have confirmed that she indeed used to sing all the time. "I'd sing in the fields and I'd talk to the trees," she told music critic Gene Lees, many years later.

The child's earliest time performing in front of a wide audience happened around 1927, while she was attending Roosevelt School in Jamestown. To compete in what a 1946 article described as an "all-state" show, the school prepared a song-and-dance act by a group of elementary-level students. The seven-year-old Norma was one of the students chosen for the act. The experience of singing in public probably made a positive impression on the girl, reinforcing her enthusiasm for singing. By the age of eight, a career as a singer had become Norma's dream.

During her years in elementary (Jamestown) and middle (Nortonville) school, Norma was, however, painfully shy and self-conscious. She told an interviewer in 1955 that, as a child, she "couldn't even bring herself to cross the room to sharpen a pencil." One illustrative recollection was shared by Peggy Lee with Christian Science Monitor interviewer Amy Lee in 1969: "I sang with several other children at a Lutheran church. Something about an olive branch. I was so nervous I clutched the skirt of the kid next to me and began rolling it up. She was crying and trying to pull it down. I got panicky when it came to my turn to sing. I don’t remember whether I sang or not."

Folks who knew the aspiring singer in her childhood days (including a few who shared their memories with biographer Peter Richmond) have confirmed the girl's extreme shyness, which was probably exacerbated by her family situation -- a missed mother, a father periodically rendered ineffectual by alcohol consumption, and a stepmother who was, at the very least, emotionally abusive. Interviewed by Travel & Leisure reporter Christopher Petkanas in 2009, her Nortonville neighbor Mabel Berg recalled some of the occasions on which Norma sang in public, around 1930. "Being bashful, she always turned her back to the audience. It was the funniest thing." [Addendum, 2014: Biographer James Gavin quotes other people, including two or three who clearly held grudges against Peggy Lee. Moreover, some of those other people paint her teenage self as far from shy or withdrawn. I believe the likeliest truth to have been that, like most human beings, Norma Deloris oscillated between various moods and behaviors.]

In Nortonville, the youngster gravitated toward people who were involved in music as a profession -- or who owned musical instruments. "I always wanted to be around music," Peggy Lee would remark in her autobiography. "If there was a piano or Victrola around, I wanted to play it," she further enthused. A music teacher named Mrs. Conley has offered her recollection of Norma Deloris showing up frequently and hanging around, while Conley was giving lessons to her students. (I do not have full details on Mrs. Conley. Her recollections are mentioned in a commemorative book about Edgeley, copyrighted by the town's centennial committee in 1986.)

Then there was Pearl Buck, a Nortonville neighbor of the Egstroms who still had vivid memories of Norma many decades later. (Buck lived until the ripe age of 103, passing away a few years after the turn of the last century.) Miss Buck's primary occupation during her long life was as a piano player. For Norma's musical aspirations, it was advantageous to have for a neighbor someone who was also the town church's organist, and who could therefore grant her access to the musical instruments at her disposal. On Sundays, presumably with Buck's tacit acknowledgment, Norma Deloris would come into Nortonville's Methodist church early, in order to spend time playing (or trying to play) the piano and singing by herself. The piano in question still remained in place at Nortonville's Methodist church in the early 2000s, when Pearl Buck, then about 100 years old, was driven to the location, and re-acquainted with the instrument (a Washburn upright piano, according to biographer Peter Richmond). In her autobiography, Peggy Lee would remember playing, in particular, pianist Henry Barraclough's 1915 hymn "Ivory Palaces" --aka "My Lord Has Garments So Wondrous Fine." However, at the sight of the parishioners' arrival, the young Egstrom would immediately stop tickling the ivories.

Despite her shy moments, Norma was beginning to perform more and more in front of people, primarily at Nortonville School's glee club and at the choir of Nortonville United Methodist Church. Of course, most of those opportunities involved participation as part of a group, rather than any solo spotlight. The middle schooler was, for instance, just one of the members of the junior choir at the local church. Her role was probably even less conspicuous within the choir at St. John's Lutheran in Jamestown. (The family's attendance of services in Jamestown stemmed from the fact that stepmother Min had strong ties to the church and also to the town, since most of her immediate relatives had kept residence there.)

Lively and gregarious, Norma's father probably played a role in pushing Norma toward performative activities, too. Biographer James Gavin quotes telling commentary from Mattie Foy, one of Norma's classmates at Nortonville School: "She took part in everything that was held in our little Nortonville Town Hall. They used to have roller skating and dances and movies and community plays. Her father was always in them, because he was quite an actor." According to Gavin, another Nortonville classmate recalled a singing contest held in nearby Edgeley, where father and daughter sang spirituals together.

At the age of ten, a fine opportunity turned around the aspiring performer's status quo, from choral member to soloist. Norma Deloris Egstrom gave, according to biographer Peter Richmond, a recital at Nortonville's town hall in the summer of 1930. Neither Richmond nor the other texts which I have consulted have much else to say about this momentous event in Norma's performative life. Even so, we can safely assume that the event was a small, local, affair, attended just by some of the people other living in the tiny town, and not of a highly formal nature. Peggy Lee's autobiographical description of the locale adds to the general picture: "the town hall wasn't even a theatre, it was just a hall where they held everything. Basketball games, box socials, dances where [Everyman] and his family would play. They would play 'You Are My Lucky Star,' and the dancers would stand there and pump their arms up and down before they took that first step."

Consistently positive audience reaction must have given Norma the confidence to continue to sing locally, at the occasional birthday party or PTA meeting, both solo and with others. Becoming more driven and emboldened as time went on, she entered an amateur contest being held relatively far away (probably in La Moure, the county seat, around 1932 or 1933). The experience proved worth it: she won first prize in the spelling bee part of the contest, and earned second prize in the category of "Singing, General Interpretation." Back came Norma to Nortonville with two ribbons and -- better yet -- plenty of more confidence in her talents.


Norma Deloris, the teenager. Of the two close-ups, the second is undated. The first close-up was actually cropped from the third photo, where she is posing with her three sisters. (As already mentioned, there were also three Egstrom brothers, who obviously did not pose for this picture.) This third photo reportedly dates from 1933, though my personal inclination is toward believing it to be two or more years earlier. Positioning themselves from oldest to youngest, the four siblings in view are Della Irene (born a full 14 years before Norma, and married in 1922), Marianne Elenore (the sibling closest to and most loved by Peggy Lee through her lifetime), Norma Deloris, and Jean Bernice (raised far away, in Volga, by her maternal step-aunt, and deceased in 1938, just a few years after this picture was taken). The fact that the sisters had gathered together, despite living in different households, suggests that the photo captured a special occasion. They also seem to have dressed especially for the event. It could have been simply a Sunday at the church, or at Bible Studies -- for which the family sometimes traveled from Nortonville & Wimbledon to Jamestown and possibly other cities, thanks to their easy access to train transportation. A North Dakota resident has indeed identified the area in which this photo was taken as "just in Valley City near the church."


Glee To Be Had In Wimbledon, And There's A Valley Nearby, With A City

Between the ages of 14 and 17, Norma Deloris' vocational aspirations met with better opportunities thanks to her move to a new school and county. No longer in Nortonville (La Moure County), her three years in Barnes County proved enormously beneficial for the development of her artistic inclinations. Two towns were key in such a development: Wimbledon (Norma's place of residence within the county) and Valley City (the seat of the county).

In Wimbledon, Miss Egstrom was zealous in the pursuit of her artistic aspirations. After joining her new school's glee and theater clubs, the teenager played not only choral and soloist parts at some musical events but also lead and secondary roles in various theatrical presentations. Citing an article in the Wimbledon News, one of Peggy Lee's biographers refers to an October 1934 PTA gathering in which two numbers were sung by an all-female quartet. Norma was among the members of the quartet, which might have been a part of the high school's glee club.

As for the theatrical presentations, one of them was a school reenactment of Aaron E. Bishop's At The Stroke Of Twelve; A Mystery Comedy In One Act. Under the direction of their teacher, Mabel Roberts, five Wimbledon High School students traveled to Valley City to perform the comedy at 11:15 a.m. on Saturday, November 16, 1935, at the Seventh Annual Kiwanis Barnes County One-Act Play Contest. The brochure for this inter-school competition lists five Stroke Of Twelve actors, beginning with Norma Egstrom as the servant girl (Liza) and ending with the only male in the bunch (Carl Ericson, as George Baker).

"I remember one of my first acting experiences doing an act play about the Civil War (with Carl Ericson), Peggy Lee told Wimbledon School Alumni coordinator Virginia Lulay in 1985. "I had to wash clothes in a washtub without any water. I wonder if that's where I learned 'method acting!' " As we will see shortly, the pair of Eric and Norma also participated in the town's 1936 contest submission, for which she played a maid once again. Hence Peggy Lee's clothes-washing memory could have referred to either this 1935 comedy or the following year's drama. (In passing, I should also mention that the aforementioned Ginny Lulay had more direct connections to both Peggy Lee and the Wimbledon depot. Those connections will be specified in appendix C, which can found toward the end of this page. Furthermore, captioned photography of Lulay has been included under section XII, and also under appendix C.)

Aaron Bishop's one-act play was not Norma's only performative experience for the year of 1935. She also played the titular character in her junior class' presentation of Walter Ben Hare's three-act comedy A Little Clodhopper. As The Wimbledon News put it, "Judy, the little clodhopper, is none other than our comical and talented Norma 'Eggy' Egstrom." In-between acts, the junior class also regaled Wimbledon residents with a musical interlude, carried out by four members of the six-girl Wimbledon School High School Glee Club. One of the four was Norma, featured as a soloist on the song Come Sweet Morning.

Another contemporaneous newspaper article provides further specifics about the event. Taking place on Thursday, December 12, 1935, the comedy had both a matinee (2:30) and evening (8:25 p.m.) performance at the Wimbledon school auditorium, with admission charges of 10 and 25 cents. Unfortunately for the students, the turnout was, according to biographer James Gavin, poor due to a "nasty storm."

The following year, the school's Commencement Week Exercises afforded Norma with yet another opportunity to present her vocal talents in front of an audience. These ceremonies were held at the same auditorium on the evening on May 24, 1936. For them, Norma Deloris sang Come Sweet Morning once more. The Sunday evening also featured performances of "In Excelsis Gloria" and "The Throstle" by the Glee Club, which is likely to have included Norma as well.

During these adolescent years, Miss Norma Egstrom also spent time writing tunes. Sometimes it was lyrics, other times music notation to words written by a Wimbledon girl friend, Miss Ethelyn Olson. Making the most of her opportunity, the Egstrom teenager continued to take advantage of the town's constant supply of PTA meetings, using them as a venue to debut the songs that she had been co-writing with her good friend. Thus, from the early to mid-1930s, young Norma Deloris was an active performer and budding vocalist, though one still to be professionally tested.

Valley City's Constant Contestant

The year 1936 brought yet more opportunities for Norma to try her talents, especially in nearby cities. Miss Egstrom actually made not one but two talent-related trips in May of 1936, one to Grand Forks for a singing contest and the other to Fargo, for a craft and homemaking competition. Neither generated wins or prizes, but a trip closer to home did.

Possibly in the summer of that year (or otherwise an earlier summer), the adolescent entered an amateur contest in Valley City. According to her autobiography, Norma Deloris Egstrom's interpretations of "The Glory Of Love" and "Twilight On The Trail" earned her the $5.00 prize. The event would turn out to be a harbinger of things (opportunities) to come. Valley City was an auspicious place to visit.

Then there were the annual, county-wide inter-school matchups, for which Norma Deloris and some of her classmates traveled to Valley City as well. In the first half of 1936, Norma participated in two of those contests. One was a music competition, for which Norma enrolled in the category of high voice, and whose results were reported on the April 23 issue of a local newspaper (possibly Valley City College's own). Held at the auditorium of the Valley City Teachers College, the "girls, solo high voice" portion of the competition earned distinction marks for four students: the Valley City winner Wimbledon representative Norma (rated "excellent" by the judges), the Jamestown representative (also rated "excellent"), and a representative from a town (mis?)identified in the paper as Nobison (perhaps Robinson?), who received a "good" rating. The other contest was in acting.
It was entered not by Norma alone, but by her school's club.

And indeed, the 1936 winner in the dramatic category was none other than Wimbledon's high school theater club, for the one-act play The Man Who Came To Back, directed by Wimbledon teacher Mrs. Esther Erickson. Sponsored by Valley City's Kiwanis Club, the contest had been held on Friday, November 13 and Saturday, November 14 at Valley City College's Auditorium, with three faculty members as judges. On that Saturday at 4:45 p.m., Miss Egstrom played "faithful old servant" Mammy Jinnie, one of the play's three main characters. The others were household father Charles Thomas, played by Carl Erickson, and his daughter Lillian, played by Dorothy Jones. The trio of young actors reprised their respective roles at an encore performance for a P.T.A. meeting held a few weeks later, on December the 9th.

For the first half of the year 1937, there is record of two additional contests entered by Norma. One was a writing competition sponsored by Wimbledon's Masonic lodge. Restricted to junior and senior high schoolers, the assignment was to write about one part of the constitution, and read the resulting essay in front of an audience. Two students entered the contest. Norma chose liberty as her topic. There is no record of the outcome of this Masonic competition, which was set to progress from local to district level, but there's anecdotal commentary about Norma's apparent facility with writing. Biographer Peter Richmond tells us that Norma "was known to pick extra funds by helping some of the [Valley City] teachers'-college students with their papers." (This allegation comes from KOVC pianist Belle Ginsberg, who heard it in turn from her husband, Richard Stern, who was a local businessman with ties to several local institutions.)

Taking place on April 12, the other 1937 competition was that semester's incarnation of the county-wide school matchups conducted in Valley City. Miss Norma Egstrom competed in the category of "Low Voice." (There was also a "High Voice" category.) She won a medal prize for her rendition of either "Clouds" or "His Coming." (Those were the two songs from which she was planning to choose. This contest had a subsequent, state leg held in Grand Forks, which was not won by Norma.)

Valley City's Doc Haines And Wimbledon's Norma Egstrom: The Hiring

It was right in Wimbledon, North Dakota that Miss Norma Deloris Egstrom received her very first offer to sing with a music group. She was hired to perform with a quintet led by Doc Haines, a college student at nearby Valley City. The singer tells us in her autobiography that she first met Haines when he played right there in Wimbledon, which was home to the quintet's trumpet player, Grant Joos. "It seemed everyone in Wimbledon," Lee muses, "always knew I was going to go someplace, and someone pointed me out to Doc and said, that’s our little Hollywood girl, you ought to use her.” And so did Haines. (Further details in section XI.)

The date of hiring has yet to be determined. The few extant oral testimonies and newspaper clips point to 1936. The singer's autobiography points to 1934 instead. So do other sources, including her own comments during an interview conducted in 1984: "[B]ack in Wimbledon ... I sang in Valley City with Doc Haines and his group, which was another college band. A territorial band, they called it. I thought I was so sophisticated. I was only 14 and traveled with them for a while ..."

We should bear in mind that half a century had elapsed when Lee made these statements. Among other possibilities, Lee's memory could have coalesced two events, such as the year of her Wimbledon arrival and the year of Haines' hiring. (Norma lived in Wimbledon twice. To reiterate the chronology covered in previous sections, she first arrived in town in late July 1934, leaving it in September 1934 to return in late January 1935.)

Perhaps Norma's incorporation to Doc's band was a gradual process. The initial meeting, during which she was brought to his attention, could have taken place in 1934, or even in 1935, but the actual hiring could have had to wait until 1936. (That is just one of several plausible scenarios, none of them counting with solid evidence to support them.)

In short, the hiring definitely happened between 1934 and 1936, but cannot be pinpointed with further accuracy. (Not at least by me, at this moment in time. It is my hope that more helpful information will come forth in time.) Of the three years under consideration, 1936 comes across as a wee bit likelier.

The Wimbledon High School Diploma

At school, the prospective gigs with Doc Haines raised concerns: wouldn't Norma's ongoing education suffer? Fortunately, the young girl and her school's kind superintendent (Ivar Knapp) came to a satisfactory arrangement. Miss Egstrom was permitted to take makeup tests and to do course workload in advance, so that her weekends (including part of the Friday schoolday) could be freed for the extracurricular activities which she was avidly pursuing -- namely, traveling with Haines' quintet through the Barnes County area and singing at various Valley City locations.

The arrangement worked out fairly well. In fact, it motivated the youngster to work harder. "with the prospect of singing with Doc's orchestra in view," she recalls in her autobiography, "you can bet I applied myself to school, [including] working for the National Youth Association ... to the tune of $12 a month for washing blackboards and halls ..." Far from faltering in her commitment to school, the adolescent followed the opposite route. She held staff and council positions during her junior and senior years. At the graduation ceremonies, she not only sang a solo number but also read the class' poem, authored by her and tellingly titled "Success Awaits At Labor's Gate" (1937).


The Girl

Norma's adolescence was in full bloom when she was photographed for this section's top images. The second photo captures a 14 or 15-year-old Norma during her confirmation at St. John's Lutheran Church, Jamestown, in 1934. (The precise date is not known to me, but I believe that confirmation ceremonies in the Lutheran church typically happen in May, which was also Norma's month of birth.)

Going back to the first photo, her somewhat gangly look is suggestive of puberty, though other explanations are just as valid. This picture was actually taken in 1936 or 1937, by which time she was 16 or 17 years old. Not visible in the few other adolescent photos that are extant, Norma's appearance of lankiness here could be a deceptive consequence of the angle from which the shot was taken. Additionally, she could be wearing too big a coat for her build. (This is a cropped version of a photo shown in full in the next section. A look at the other pictured subjects strengthen the impression of big clothes and crooked angles.)

The fourth image appeared on Behind The Dial With WDAY, a promotional pamphlet published by that Jamestown radio station in 1939. Norma first worked at the station from late 1937 to early 1938, then again from late 1938 through much of 1939. Hence this picture is likely to have been taken when Norma was around 18 years old, give or take one year. (However, we cannot discard the alternate possibility that WDAY used an earlier photo, provided by Norma.) Undated, the head shot that precedes this fourth photo could well date from around the same period; note the shared posing with tilted head, and the reasonably similar hairdo.

The School

Also offered as part of this section is a pictorial overview of Wimbledon's school facilities. The town's children were initially taught at the Congregational (Methodist) Church. According to Kathleen Blinsky in her Wimbledon History, 1893-1968, construction of a proper school building started in 1898 and was completed in 1906. With a total enrollment of 180 students (20 of them doing what Blinsky calls "regular school work"), the very first class enjoyed its graduation ceremony on May 27, 1908. Studies and ceremonies continued to be held at that wood building until a fire destroyed it in 1928. Even though Norma never attended this original Wimbledon school facility, I have provided herein a couple of images (first two sepia-colored site pictures above) for the benefit of curious readers and, hopefully, town residents interested in their history.

Less susceptible to fire, Wimbledon's next school building was the brick structure seen in the third and fourth site pictures above. This second school building is said to have opened in 1928. The band members seen in one of the pictures could very well be celebrating an anniversary of its opening. (It could just as well be performing at a more casual, non-commemorative school or town event. I do not have specifics on the matter.) The specific year in which the photo was taken is unknown to me, but I believe to come from a school book published in the second half of the 1930s. Note, incidentally, the wording in the bass drum, identifying it as belonging to the Wimbledon Community Band. According to Blinsky, the band was "organized about 1936" and counted with over 30 members. Note also the identification "Wimbledon School 1928" on the arch of the school's entrance door.

Norma went to Wimbledon for all three of her high school years -- 1934 to 1937. (The school deemed the young lady's knowledge advanced enough to skip one grade.) The fourth picture above shows Wimbledon's school in 1936, when she would have been a junior or a senior. My thanks to Wes Anderson, curator of the Barnes County Historical Museum, for uncovering this wintry, wonderfully picturesque photograph, as well as quite a few others from the county's earlier days.

To continue with our pictorial overview, the ensuing color images capture two later looks of the same school attended by Norma. First is an aerial shot, reported by an online seller as dating from 1963. Next to this aerial shot is an early twenty-first-century photo of the building's façade. According to Blinsky, "in 1958 the school district was reorganized, with ten new townships added to the original school district." Such additions must have led at some point to the renaming of the school as "Wimbledon Courtenay" -- the name on display in a sign above. (A small town with about 50 residents, nearby Courtenay is not even in Barnes. It is in Stutsman County.)

Back in early June 2012, when I was updating these paragraphs for the first time, Wimbledon Courtenay Public School had just been officially closed, due in part to lack of enough students in the area. Plans to tear down the building were in its future. For this second update (2021), I can report that the school did close in 2016. From 2013 to 2021, students in the area have been attending Barnes County North Central High, at 2192 101st Ave SE., seen in the very last photo above. Located by a tiny Barnes County town (Leal, population of about 25), this current iteration consolidated all three regional schools into one 85,000 square foot location. (The only other public high school in the county is Valley City High School.) Barnes County North is seen in the two remaining color images, first as the idealized model presented by its architects, then as it actually looks.

I am pleased to hear that the Wimbledon Courtenay building (i.e., our Norma's school site) avoided its erstwhile prospective fate. Far from having been demolished, it is now a multi-purpose site, housing a day care facility, a fitness center, a set of apartments, and more. Thus my very short history of high schooling in Wimbledon, North Dakota concludes on a happy note.

The Road To Valley City. School Souvenirs (I)

The next section of images includes Valley City photography and three souvenirs. The souvenirs serve as indicators of Norma's involvement in creative and performative activities at school. She is listed among the actors in the 1935 and 1936 programs on display. Both programs give detail about one-act plays that were performed as part of school district contests conducted in Valley City, and sponsored by the Kiwanis Club. The performance site is identified as Valley City College's Auditorium, variously pictured in all the images under these souvenirs. ((Further details about Norma's performances have been supplied in this section's main text. As for the building, these photos are believed to date from the first half of the 1900s. Built in 1907 and renamed the Vangstad Auditorium in 1971, it was renovated in 2015. Nowadays the Auditorium building is jointly occupied by the college's Business School, Offices of Academic Support, and Learning Center.) As can be seen in the remaining souvenir image, the 1937 Wimbledon High School Class poem was transcribed and printed in Barnes County's Wimbledon News. The poem's author was Norma Egstrom, who also recited it at the graduation ceremonies.

The Piano Man

Further down below, we glimpse at a music man in his domain. The site on the first of these pics is the broadcasting studio at KOVC, Valley City's radio station. Note the piano on site. The man in the next two photos is pianist Doc Haines, who gave Norma Egstrom her very first job as a professional singer. I believe that both of his photos were taken at the KOVC studio, where he worked as a musician, while also attending Valley City College.

School Souvenirs (II)

The last set of souvenirs offers more evidence of Norma's aforementioned school activities, beginning with one of her editorial articles. It was published on the March 12, 1936 edition of the Wimbledon News (Ice-Breaker section). On her second year as editor-in-chief of her school's newspaper, Norma had the listed 10-fellow-student staff working under her. Also on display is the ad for her class' 1935 performances of A Little Clodhopper, featuring Miss Norma Egstrom in the titular role.

(Artistry In Valley City, 1936-1937)

The Most Perfect Pianist In All Of Valley City

"[O]ff I went," Lee reminisced in her autobiography, "hitchhiking to Valley City to sing with Doc Haines. Valley City wasn't very far from Wimbledon, and I promptly got a ride on a bread truck."

As already mentioned, Valley City was Barnes' county seat, and the largest city near Norma's residential town, Wimbledon. It was also the region's center for higher learning and talent pursuits. The city housed The North Dakota High School Activities Association, which was the governing body of the entire state's fine arts and athletics activities. The Association proved itself fundamental in providing students -- such as one Norma Egstrom -- with incentives to grow both athletically and artistically, often through competition and intra-state traveling. The city counted as well with a long-established higher learning facility, Valley City State Teachers College, which would evolve into Valley City State University at a later time.

This college setting made it easier for musically inclined youngsters, such as one Doc Haines, to cultivate their artistic inclinations. It provided a safe haven from which they could advertise their talent while still maintaining other academic pursuits. Accordingly, Doc Haines and his group played all around the Barnes County region (and beyond) but conducted their affairs from Valley City State Teachers College, where he was enrolled.

The group had been formed in 1934. A photo taken in 1935 identifies the ensemble as Haines-Hall And Their Nine Campus Artists, thereby suggesting that they were led by both pianist Haines and saxophonist Warren Hall. In addition to the nine males, the photo shows a female identified as a vocalist (Helen Kinn). Another photo, possibly taken in 1936, refers to the group as Haines' Campus Artists, and shows a total of seven members. Taken on a stage whose backdrop suggests that they might have been theatrical production, the photo also features three females, standing in front of the piano, and identified as a "girls trio" (Beth Zimmerman, Mary Nugent, Lucille Worden). It is not clear if this trio was a regular component of the orchestra, or joining forces with them for just a special occasion. Yet another photo, possibly from 1937, identifies the ensemble as Doc Haines' Orchestra, and shows a total of ten men -- no female.

A bit of dedicated research on my part has uncovered a recollection of the group's leader. Published on the college's alumni bulletin (July 1999 volume), the recollection was courtesy of Elsie "Chilley" Shrader, a Langdon, ND resident who had been a Valley City college freshman in 1936. She recalled "the beautiful music provided by Doc Haines and his orchestra," adding that "Lyle was from the same part of North Dakota (Cavalier County) that I was." She concluded her memory of Haines by declaring that "he was the perfect piano player, and his music was [of] the 'makes you want to dance' variety, and everybody loved it."

The October 14, 1937 issue of a local newspaper (possibly the college's own) offers news as to Haines' whereabouts at that point in time. He had left for Minneapolis, to continue his studies there, and was planning "to join his brother in another orchestra." (Meanwhile, at Valley City College, his former band was newly billing themselves as Bussie Hanson's Orchestra.) Nothing else about Doc is revealed in my sources.

Doc Haines' Little Girl Blue (And Bachelor Boys)

Haines would take to calling the teenage Norma his "little blues singer." The moniker may have been indicative of her innate leanings toward bluesy and melancholy ballads. "Moonglow" was among the numbers that she would later recall singing, on a megaphone, with the boys.

As known by Norma, the boys constituted a quintet. Most likely, this small unit was cherrypicked out of the larger orchestra that played with Haines at KOVC and on campus. They would join Doc and Norma while doing performances elsewhere. In addition to Lyle the pianist, we know that another member of the quintet was trumpet player Grant Joos (1916-2000), who shared with Norma the fact that his family resided in Wimbledon. (Joos can be seen above, as a member of the full campus orchestra, around 1937.) The quintet would have also counted with a bassist, a drummer and, perhaps, a guitarist, but I have no record of their identity. Consult the photographic captions below for a debriefing of Haines' entire orchestra personnel around this time.

Not surprisingly, the experience of working with Doc would trigger romantic feelings on the high schooler. He was, after all, a musician, an athlete and, perhaps most crucially, an older boy (over 18 years old). In her adolescent eyes, the lad looked "dark and handsome, and I even liked his glasses." Moreover, his college status "made him seem really glamorous and sophisticated. I think I had a crush on Doc."

Gotta Travel On (And On)

In and outside of campus, parties, dances, and other special events provided them with hiring opportunities, supplemented by steadier work at local radio station KOVC. Local, contemporaneous newspapers mention events such as the Chamber of Commerce's Annual Presidential Birthday Ball, held at the college's gymnasium on Saturday, January 30, 1937. "With hopes of the largest social event of the winter season," declared the newspaper's reporter, "the dance will have for music Doc Haines' orchestra and the Forty-Niners. Popular music in the modern Haines manner will keep the dance going at a rapid place and the Forty-Niners will play old time tunes on request." (There is no reference to Norma Deloris Egstrom. The singer might have not participated in this particular in-campus outing, for which the vocals of the so-called Forty-Niners might have been deemed enough in that department. Then again, the newspaper could have simply skipped mention of Norma's involvement.)

In another newspaper notice, we are informed that dance and music by "Doc Haines and his broadcasting orchestra" are scheduled for early June 1937 at 9:00 p.m. in North Dakota's Glenfield (Foster County), as part of that town's 25th anniversary festivities. Note is made of an admission fee (exact amount unspecified) to be charged for the music-and-dance portion of the festivities. (No mention is made of Egstrom or the other group members.)

For special events of that type, the young pianist and his group were usually hired on a "percentage" basis. In other words, their payment was a percent of what was made by the establishment where the dance or party had taken place. In a land where the potential for very bad weather was a reality of everyday life, local bands such as Haines' were thus forced to lower any financial expectations. If rain or snow prevented people from showing up, the band was paid nothing. Any of their trips, perhaps to a faraway town like Glenfield, could turn out to be a financial expense, with little or no remuneration at all. (They traveled on two cars, the main one being an Overland Buick with an attached trailer, inside which the band's instruments were transported, and on whose flanks the words "Doc Haines and his Orchestra" had been painted and shaped to look like a rainbow.) From Norma's perspective, an engagement was profitable if her pay amounted to $1.00. But the norm became, in her experience, more along the lines of 50¢. Occasionally, she was honored with a tip that was even higher than what the band had made.

Norma And Beverly - The KOVC Gals

In addition to appearances at parties and dances, Doc Haines' performing schedule included live playing for programming broadcasted from Valley City's KOVC radio station. He had had the fortune of being on the right place at the right time: the station had opened in October 1936, when Haines was an available pianist and senior student at the city's college, with which KOVC naturally established affiliations. Hence it was Haines who, with his orchestra, opened KOVC's first full day of programming (Monday, October 19, 1936, at 7:00 a.m.).

Judging from her brief references to the matter, Norma's very first experience with Haines might have taken place at KOVC, too. Talking about the prospect of joining his combo, she writes: "When the big day came, I sang with Doc Haines on a program on KOVC. How did I get so lucky? I soon had a sponsored program on KOVC!"

An informative letter about Norma Egstrom, and about working for KOVC, was sent to The Valley City Times Record in August of 2014. The sender was local resident Beverly Duba, who would turn 95 just one month later. Duba shared with the paper's readers the following: "I was working at the radio station KOVC in Valley City in 1937. I was staff pianist while a senior at the Valley City High School. I played most of the day on Saturdays, [when] there was live talent, and I accompanied children while they were singing ..."

Continues Duba: "I first met Norma Egstrom at the annual Pioneer picnic at the Chautauqua Park [also in Valley City]. I was accompanying some tap dancers, when I heard her off in the distance singing at a different place in the park. She was singing Twilight On The Trail. I went over to her and asked if she wanted to sing on the radio, and she said that she would like to do so." Duba does not specify the year on which their very first meeting took place, but 1936 would be an educated guess. The nonagenarian further explained that Norma used to come into her hometown "on the train using her dad's railroad pass. When she traveled to Valley City, she would stay at my parents' home at 1007 Chautauqua Blvd. and sleep with me ... She had nothing to lose, since everyone was experiencing the depression ... Norma told me, I will not quit until I get to the top."

Norma indeed came to KOVC on Saturday, November 21, 1936, to ask for an audition. Several details about the event were disclosed by the station's staff pianist and director, Belle Ginsberg. Those details are rephrased by Peter Richmond in his biography of Peggy Lee: "[w]hen a young teenager named Norma showed up one day to ask Ginsberg for an audition, Belle liked the kid immediately ... She wasn't dressed too well --she clearly came from the sticks but Belle asked [station manager and chief radio announcer Bob] Ingstadt to give Norma Egstrom an audition. When he consented, the pianist took care of a little business first. She bought Norma a pair of stockings and sat her down for a few rehearsals. Then Norma took her place in the studio, behind the glass, and in front of Doc Haines and the boys." The song with which auditioned was "You Oughta Be In Pictures."

On its November 26, 1936 edition, The Wimbledon News reported about Miss Egstrom's success. After her audition was met with approval, she was asked to appear, the newspaper states, "over the air from KOVC on Saturday afternoons for a fifteen minute period." Many years later (1950), on the occasion of a Peggy Lee return visit to the town that had been so good to her, KOVC station manager Bob Ingstad checked the station's records, and found out the show's debut date: November 28, 1936 at 3:45 p.m.

Biographer James Gavin states that, during the debut of her radio show, Egstrom sang four numbers and "made some shy remarks." Admittedly biased in her favor, The Wimbledon News had a far more effusive reaction on its December 3, 1936 edition: "Miss Egstrom sang over KOVC for the first time and her program was enjoyed very much by the listeners. We are very proud of our home girl. She is a wonderful singer and we look forward to many splendid programs with Miss Egstrom headlining." The paper continued its effusive report on its December 12 issue, informing Wimbledon readers that Miss Egstrom "appeared at KOVC again and was much enjoyed by her listeners."

(The source from which biographer James Gavin obtained these particular bits of information is not known to me. He gives the debut date as Saturday, November 27, 1936. However, if the debut episode took place on a Saturday, then the correct day is not the 27th but, as reported by Ingstad, the 28th.)

(Biographer Peter Richmond's order of events would seem to suggest that the KOVC hiring led to the pairing with Doc Haines. Peggy Lee's autobiography leaves the door open for the reverse interpretation of events. As already quoted above, Lee tells us that she had "met Doc when he'd once played in Wimbledon." Both sequences are certainly possible, and I have yet to come across definitive proof placing one above the other. While we await for such proof, I have favored the sequence presented by Lee.)

The show was simply named Norma Egstrom. The budding singer was accompanied by the aforementioned pianist, Belle Mae Ginsberg, who had her own 15-minute show, titled Dizzy Fingers right before, at 3:30. As listed on a KOVC schedule for February 26, 1937, other Saturday shows of interest to music listeners included an early-morning showing of Music Off The Record (9:15), a midday serving of country harmonies by the Sons Of The Pioneers (12:15), the sounds of Doc Haines And His Orchestra at 12:45, the transcribed big band offerings of Henry King And His Orchestra (3:15), and, after dusk, the jazz flavors of Art Tatum.

In addition to news and affairs of local interest, KOVC actually offered plenty more music, though packaged in a more generic manner. Listed in the station's schedules is regular programming with titles such as Salon Music, Morning Organ Moods (organist: Arthur Lidell), Swingtime and, following Norma, Song Styles. During weekdays, further programs of note went by the titles of Afternoon Vocals, Rhythm In The Air, Stephen Foster Melodies, Hill-Billies, and Fehr Sisters -- the latter being fellow singers from Wimbledon with whom Norma was acquainted.

Also worth noting are half-an-hour shows named after the ensembles which performed at the Rudolf Hotel, where the station was located. Saturdays at 6:00 was the time to hear The Rudolf String Trio , Fridays at 8:30 The Dutch Room Serenaders -- the latter being the group with which Norma performed at the hotel.Like Norma's and Belle Mae's, nearly all of the listed shows lasted 15 minutes (a few, including Haines', 30 minutes).

A Tuesday, July 13, 1937 KOVC schedule shows that Norma Egstrom's show was still running at the time. (Biographer James Gavin states that the show went off the air on Saturday, June 5, 1937. The show's apparent rescheduling (from Saturdays at 3:45 p.m. to Tuesdays at 5:15 p.m.) may account for any confusion. We may speculate that the end of Norma's show took place on this month of July 1937. (On that same month, she began to host another radio show in Jamestown, three times a week.)


Valley City College & Doc Haines Orchestra

An early picture of Valley City. Yet another regional town that owed its origins to the railroad, it began in 1872 as an unofficial station for the Northern Pacific Railway. It became officially owned by the line and recognized as a townsite in 1876. After those foundational landmarks, it progressed into being recognized as a village (1881) and then a city (1883), with a population that had grown to 6,000 by 1920. One hundred years from that yesterday, nowadays it holds up a population of about 6,575 residents (enough to rank within the top 15 among North Dakota's total of over 250 cities) and remains an academic and local scenic attraction (nicknamed "the city of bridges").

Second image: a postcard allows us to take a sideway glance at the façade of Valley City's Teachers' Training School, which was attended by --and served as the headquarters for-- Norma's first bandleader boss, Doc Haines. While Norma did not attend, she would have been familiar with this site due to the aforementioned one-act plays and high-school-district contests on which she participated, several of them held at the college's auditorium. (A very successful student in her youth, throughout her adult life Peggy Lee lamented not having ever attended college. The two honorary PhD degrees that she received late in life were great sources of pride and consolation, though.)

Next three images: Doc Haines, with several iterations of his orchestra. We see them onstage and inside a studio. None of the locations is identified in my sources. Chances are that the stage is on a campus hall, the studio at radio station KOVC. The second of these photos is from 1935. The year on which either of the other pictures was taken is unknown, but I am inclined to believe that the first is from 1936 (or, otherwise, 1935) and the third from 1937. In the first photo, the members of the pianist's orchestra are identified as follows (left to right): Harry Nelson on drums and Haines on piano (both back row), Grant Joos and Bennett Brudevold on trumpets, Critchfield Krug, Preston Bailey and Warren Hall on saxophones. Here is the lineup on the second picture, starting with those in the back row: tuba player Robert Krogfoss, drummer Nelson, Haines, and vocalist Helen Kinn. In the front row, we have trumpet men Brudevold and Richard Sargent, plus saxophonists Krug, Hall, and Guldlin Simenson. (Grant Joos is also listed as a member of this 1935 ensemble, but he is not in photo.) In the studio photo, the personnel is as follows (left to right): Ray Johnson on guitar, Clarence Nordgaard on trombone, Robert Armstrong and Homer Hanson on trumpets (all of them on the back row), Dean Keiser on drums and Tom Thornton on bass (both farther back), Art Zuber, Preston Bailey and Critchfield Krug on saxophones, plus Haines at the piano, all the way to the right.

The Ladies Who Lunched In Valley City (& North Carolina's Peggy Lee)

Norma Deloris Egstrom with two friendly acquaintances in Valley City, year 1936 or 1937. In the first photo, she is flanked by dark-haired Ruth Hardwick on her left, blonde-haired Beverly Duba on her right. They are holding a "men working" sign. In the second picture, Norma is on the left, Beverly in the middle, Ruth on the right. Both Duba and Hardwick were seniors at Valley City's high school -- unlike the younger Norma, then a junior at Wimbledon's high school,.

Penultimate row of images: headshots of three notable town ladies, all of them mentioned (or to be mentioned) on the main text of the present page. Holding a copy of The Valley City Times Record is the aforementioned Beverly Duba, here as a 95-year-old earth inhabitant. The next two photos feature Virginia Lulay (1924-2011), both as a senior adult and as a student at Wimbledon high school, from which she graduated as the 1942 valedictorian. Lulay was a town fixture, fondly known as Wimbledon's Ambassador and functioning as both consultant and historian for her hometown's Midland Continental and Peggy Lee Home renovation project. The final photo captures an obscure singer who carried the name "Peggy Lee" before Norma Deloris Egstrom did. This Lee was active in South Carolina in 1936, where she performed with Jack Wardlaw's orchestra (additional details in the next section).

The Belle And The Bob (Ginsberg & Ingstadt) At A Most Imperial Building Station (KOVC)

Another photo of KOVC's studio, right above. That Valley City radio station started broadcasting on Sunday, October 18, 1936, with its offices, transmission plant and this studio located on of the Rudolf Hotel's upper floors. In the photo, we see three men sitting, two men by the microphone, and a young woman by the piano. All these subjects remain unidentified. I am inclined to think that the tall dark handsome male by the mike is disc jockey Bob Ingstadt, a transplant from Fargo's WDAY who worked for KOVC right from its inception, and eventually became its owner. I believe the well-dressed, attractive female to be pianist-organist Belle Ginsberg (1917-2003), who used to accompany Norma Egstrom on her KOVC radio show, and who also served as the station's office director. She too was a transplant with a pedigree, having previously played with a sorority band at the University of North Dakota, in Grand Forks. (Both Ginsberg and Ingstadt will receive more detailed mention below, under the appendix dedicated to Peggy Lee's 1950 Valley City visit. On the other unidentified men, one of them is probably Herman Stern, a businessman heavily involved in the establishment of the station. The others could be brass men as well, including primary founder, major stockholder and station director George B. Bairy, plus program director LaVell Whitman.) In any case, it stands to reason that, during her show, Norma would also be standing by this microphone, with Ingstadt next to her and Ginsberg similarly sitting by the piano.

(More Artistry In Valley City, 1936-1937)

All You Can Sing, All You Can Eat - The Rudolf Hotel Dates

In tandem with her singing job at KOVC (1936-1937), Norma Deloris Egstrom was also hired to sing at the city's Rudolf Hotel. The latter happened to be the location of the radio station. Both of these outings (at the hotel, on the radio) were probably conducted over the weekends, since Norma had to spend the rest of her week at school in Wimbledon. We do know that, for as long as she remained in high school, Norma was heard at the radio station on Saturdays.

Accompanied by a local ensemble called The Dutch Room Serenaders, Norma performed at the hotel's dining room, a so-called Cafe which is described in her autobiography as "a college hangout" where she was paid "five dollars, plus all I could eat." Serving as her program's sponsor was the dining room's manager, a Mr. Polly or Pollie Evenson.

Norma Deloris might have considered herself lucky to receive monetary compensation. In her already quoted letter, pianist Beverly Duba recalled that, like the slightly younger Norma, she too held jobs at both KOVC and the hotel. In Beverly's own words: "I also played at the Rudolf Hotel every evening during the dinner hour. [My] program was called Musical Menu. The menu would be read between the musical numbers I played. My payment was a nice dinner."

Another recollection comes from an unidentified senior Valley City resident who spoke with Wes Anderson, current curator of the Barnes County Historical Museum. The senior told Anderson that Norma "used to sing during the supper hour and sometimes at noon (at the Rudolf Hotel in Valley City). I can still hear the dishes clattering while she sang."

Upstairs At The Eagles Club - Norma's Professional Solo Debut

The 1936 Eagles Party

The aforementioned Wes Anderson has uncovered the earliest published notice of a professional concert appearance by the future Peggy Lee. Published on the December 31, 1936 issue of the Valley City Times-Record, the notice reads as follows: "Miss Norma Egstrom of Wimbledon is visiting in Valley City this week. Possessed with a remarkable voice, she will sing at the Eagles New Year's Eve party tonight. She has sung over KOVC."

Anderson has also uncovered a reminiscence of the event on the February 27, 1942 issue of the same paper. It is found in a regular column, called Random Thoughts From The City Desk. Under the rubric "Cupid Said Busy," columnist Phil Mark dedicates space to the rumor that Peggy Lee -- by then an established, nationally known canary with bandleader Benny Goodman-- was marrying her boss. Mark supplements the unfounded gossip with the following remarks: "singing with a top band is a far cry from the start that Peggy got here, about six years ago. Remember when she first sang with an orchestra at a dance at the Eagles here? It was a New Year's Eve party and it was her first public appearance. Some of the girls snickered at her evening dress. Peggy had a voice, alright, but not the clothes to go with it, and her outfit was a honey. Bet she would get a laugh out of it now. It was black, with an artificial flower of some kind hanging on her back, but she wasn't worried about her dress. She was concerned with her singing, which was to be the least of her worries. That was her first job, and from then on her singing career has been meteoric."

The 1937 Eagles Inauguration

This so called Eagles organization was the Valley City chapter of the Fraternal Order of the Eagles. After officially forming itself on July 1, 1935, the city's local chapter held its meetings at the Rudolf Hotel Cafe. Brief allusions to gatherings at the Cafe through 1936 and 1937 exist in extant documents. Here is, for instance, a statement from the city's Register of Deeds Office, discovered by museum curator Wes Anderson: "Kiwanis Club meets every Wednesday at 12:14 p.m. at Hotel Rudolf."

One or two years later, the group acquired its own space. That space's inauguration is the subject of the following report: "The formal opening of the new Eagles club was attended by an unusual large crowd last evening. Music for the dance was furnished by Doc Haines' orchestra, and a vaudeville troupe of 'cowboys' who also presented a floor show, featuring a young man and woman who tap danced and wisecracked to the delight of the audience. Miss Norma Egstrom of Wimbledon, who has a very pleasing soprano voice, also sang several numbers with the orchestra. Part of the program was broadcast over KOVC. Vernon Krogh received many fine compliments on his new improvements."

Unfortunately, this report has reached me without details such as its source or its date. We may be looking at a notice from a bulletin published by Valley City College -- or so I am tentatively guessing. I feel more confident about its likeliest date: February 1937, give or take a month. (Let me explain the reason for my confidence. This report of the Eagles inauguration has reached me in the form of a photocopy that also gives a partial view of adjacent notices on the same bulletin page. One notice is about a recent February meeting at a nursery school, the other about Baptist church services slated to continue until Thursday, March 4. It is thanks to the specification of that March 4 as a Thursday that I am confidently identifying 1937 as the correct year for the Eagles report.)

The Eagles Hall: 1936 Versus 1937

Note that the 1937 dating of this last report conflicts with the December 31, 1936 date presented or postulated in the two articles mentioned earlier. Here is one possible, conciliatory explanation for the discrepancy: the hall might have formally opened in February of 1937, but could have been informally available to the Eagles Order before that date. In support of that possible explanation, it is worth highlighting the reference to "new improvements" at the end of the just-quoted 1937 report. The implication seems to be that, previous to a recent renovation and its formal inauguration, the hall had been open, and conceivably in use as a place for entertainment.

Norma Does The Eagles: 1936 And 1937

Be that as it may, our paramount concern is not the Eagles per se, nor its opening date. For the purposes of this Peggy Lee bio-discography, we are primarily interested in Norma and her connection to that space. Thus our most pressing questions are (a) whether she performed at the Eagles and, if so, (b) how early.

We already have a definite, affirmative answer to question (a): all three quoted sources state that Miss Egstrom performed for the Eagles. Better yet, our sources indicate that Norma was the "inaugural singer" at the formal opening of the Eagles hall.

As for question (b), we count with a partial answer. We can confidently place Norma at the February 1937 Eagles inauguration. We can also assert that she performed for the Order on December 31, 1936.

But we cannot ascertain where this New Year's Eve performance took place. The main candidates: the Rudolf Hotel (its cafe) and the hall that would be formally inaugurated as an Eagles property about two months later. At the present time, I do not have full clarity on the matter, and will have to leave that portion of the question unanswered.

For further clarity, I should specify the obstacles that prevent a full answer to the posed questions. Our stumbling block stems from the fact that our original source, the 1936 notice from The Valley City Times-Record, does not give the location for the Eagles' New Year Eve party. As for our other source, the 1942 column, the challenge is to determine how trustworthy it is. The columnist recalls Norma's alleged public debut as a singer six years earlier, on New Year Eve, "at a dance at the Eagles here." However, the accuracy of such a recollection is in question: was the columnist relying just on memory (which could be faulty)? Was he perhaps relying also (or instead) on his own perusal of the earlier, 1936 newspaper report (and taking for granted that the New Years Eve's party had occurred at the hall, even if the report does not really say that it did)?

Peggy Lee Remembers The Eagles (1950-1956)

To sum up our knowledge, we are well aware that Norma Egstrom sang for the Valley City chapter of the Fraternal Eagles Order. Specifically, we have learned that, during her earliest days as a professional singer, she performed at the city's Eagles Hall.

Now, we remain uncertain as to whether the hall was the site of the singer's professional solo debut. (I am referring to the first music date for which Norma Egstrom was not only paid but also billed separately from the Doc Haines Orchestra.) One thing is for sure, though: the place left vivid memories on Peggy Lee.

She immortalized it in her rendition of "Guess I'll Go Back Home (Next Summer)," a song that Willard Robison and Ray Mayer had published in 1939. Among those who recorded the composition within its first 20 years were Tommy Dorsey (vocal by Jack Leonard), Glenn Miller (vocal by Tex Beneke), Mildred Bailey, Peggy Lee, Mabel Mercer, and Jack Teagarden. However, Lee's 1956 Decca version is the only one of those early recordings that makes reference to the Eagles. Specifically: "Wonder if they still have dances / Upstairs in the Eagles' hall / Those folks will always be / the heart and soul of me / Oh, how I miss them all." While the lines "those folks will always be the heart and soul of me" are actually heard in most of the other aforementioned versions, the words about the Eagles were presumably added by Peggy Lee or written on her behalf. Lee and her first husband, Dave Barbour, had been friends with composer Willard Robison since at least the mid-1940s, and they are known to have written the bulk of another songs of his that he was unable to finish ("Don't Smoke In Bed").

Lee was already singing the song years before her 1956 recording. We can see her performing it in a 1954 TV guest appearance on The Red Skelton Show. Of note is her inclusion of several lines that are not heard on the Decca recording: "Will I see my daddy's roses / From my window on the train? / Is our old Jersey cow / Still jumping fences now / Or did they buy a chain?" Although these lyrics are also heard on Mabel Mercer's 1958 version (but not on the other mentioned versions, most of them recorded earlier), in Lee's rendition these words come across as autobiographical. Back when they lived in Nortonville, the Egstrom family kept a Jersey cow that they had named Sally (along with a guernsey named Billy).

Taking into account both the Barbours' friendship with Robison and the fact the Lee was singing the song long before she recorded it, there is room to speculate that the additional lyrics were created for a special occasion. One ideal occasion would have been her return to Valley City in March of 1950, after over a decade of absence. Unfortunately, I do no have a full record of the songs that she performed at that time.

The Mythical Banjo Backing Of Jack Wardlaw

Over the decades, a fair number of biographical accounts and appreciations of Peggy Lee have claimed that, as a teenager, she sang and traveled with banjo player Jack Wardlaw and his orchestra. Wardlaw (1907-2002) was a long-term North Carolina banjoist, best remembered during his lifetime for his bandleading activity through the later 1920s and 1930s. A Mid-western tour, undertaken by Wardlaw and His Carolinians in the spring of 1935, could have conceivably led them to visit North Dakota cities such as Jamestown and Grand Forks, though there currently is no record of a visit anywhere in the state.

Neither the singer nor the banjoist are known to have ever verified this alleged collaboration. And yet, it has been cursorily treated as fact in newspapers as reputable as The Guardian and on sites as valuable as The Index Of Musician Biographies. One member of The Executives (a Wardlaw band operating in the late 1960s) had the following to say in 2004: "I got to know Jack pretty well during the period I was with The Executives, and I used to love listening to the stories that he would tell. Surprisingly, however, he never mentioned that Peggy Lee was the female singer with the band, even if he told me many times about the two trips his band took to Europe in the late thirties ... I never heard him once mention that Peggy Lee was a vocalist with his band. Jack was the ultimate self-promoter and this fact was ready-made for him to use in his role as master of ceremonies at our performances. He used his connection with Kay Kyser in this manner and the crowd seemed to always love it."

Actually, there is a good reason why Wardlaw never mentioned Lee: she never sang with him. While a lady named "Peggy Lee" appears to have sung with the band for at least a brief period, that lady was not our Norma Deloris Egstrom. A member of the Peggy Lee Bulletin Board has clarified the matter. He uncovered a key announcement about a dance event taking place in March 1936 at the Star Fort Cotillion Club, in Greenwood, South Carolina. Published by a local newspaper, the announcement includes the following mention: "[a]nother entertainer and artist appearing with Jack Wardlaw's band is Peggy Lee, vivacious songstress. Peggy's voice has often been mistaken on the radio for her namesake, Loretta Lee, as she devotes most of her style to 'swing singing.' Besides possessing a fine radio voice, she has her share of vim, vigor and vitality, and proves to be a favorite, particularly at college dances." Accompanying this article are several photos, one of the being of the Peggy Lee in question, She was an adult woman bearing no resemblance to Norma Deloris Egstrom, an adolescent at that time.


The Rudolf

Top images: the Rudolf Hotel, a Valley City establishment in whose cafe area Norma Egstrom performed regularly. Sometimes misspelled as "Rudolph," the hotel's proper name was in accordance with that of its original owner, a Swedish immigrant and local businessman named Rudolf Giselius, for whom the property was built in 1907. From October 1936 onwards, the hotel also housed radio station KOVC, on which Norma Egstrom had her own radio show that same year. (The station took 2,5000 square feet of the ground floor. Its studio and offices were kept there for many decades, though the transmission tower and its plant appear to have begun their moving process as early as the 1940s.)

Our hotel portfolio starts off with two color postcards, spotlighting the hotel, and an advertisement, doubling as a map route to the hotel. Neither bears a date, but an educated guess would place them within the first decades of the twentieth century. The American flag is on one of them; on the other, the flag reads "hotel Rudolf." The map/ad that was circulating around 1920. In addition to the address given on this advertisement, the hotel also responded to the address 137 Central Avenue South.

Of the ensuing images, the picture of the hotel's lobby is the earliest, said to date from around 1910. Next to it is a 1920s photo which gives us a distant street view of not just the hotel but also its cafe, where Norma performed in 1937, and maybe also in late 1936. The remaining sepia pictures take us forward in time. Found with 195os stamps, the first two are postcards, its photos presumably taken on that decade or in the 1940s. The date of the third photo is not clear either, but the 1960s or 1970s strike me as plausible.

Added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1983, the three-story building was still standing at the beginning of the twenty-first century, though no longer as a hotel, nor as the location of KOVC radio. Today the first floor is being occupied by a variety of commercial establishments. Rather than rooms for rent or radio transmission, the upper floors have been serving as senior apartments since the early 1980s. The last photo above captures the look of the building and its surroundings at the outset of the 2020s -- still looking remarkably similar to some of the much older images.

The Eagles

Second set of images: most of these photos feature the building where Norma Egstrom made her earliest professional concert appearances, back in late 1936 or early 1937. I am referring to Valley City's Eagles Club, about which general detail has already been given in the main text of this section, and more will be given in the next paragraph below. Also in view are three Peggy Lee screenshots, grabbed from her 1954 TV performance of the song "Guess I'll Go Home Next Summer," on The Red Skelton Show. As repeatedly detailed in this text, the lyric sung by Lee includes a quick mention of the Eagles club, to which she refers as an "upstairs" establishment.

The Club belonged to the Fraternal Order of the Eagles. Chartered in July 1935 and still active today, this order is a nationwide non-profit organization whose most frequently motto is "people helping people." They are dedicated to fundraise for all sorts of charity and noble causes -- the foremost three among them being children in need, local memorial events, and the fight against several health ailments, such as diabetes, heart conditions, and spinal cord injuries. In keeping with the order's aviary name, nowadays the Eagles tend to "nest" at large building spaces known as aeries, and each one of such lodges has its chapter's number -- 2192, in the case of the Valley City aerie.

During Valley City's history, its Eagles chapter has occupied two buildings. One is indeed an aerie, and has been operating since its 1967 opening as a multi-room dance-bar-lounge-party-conference center. Currently active, this center's address is 345 12th Avenue NE. Pictures can be seen in the fifth row of images above. First we see a side portion of the building, including its entrance. The other pictures are accompanied by historical information about the Valley City Eagles. One of the last two images is a drawing, probably presenting the idealized manner in which the architects were modeling the prospective building in 1967. Right under this idealized representation, we are shown a photo of the building as it really looked after it was finished. Norma Egstrom never performed on that 1967 building, whose pictures I am including here only for the purposes of clarification and comprehensiveness.

The Valley City Eagles site that preceded the aerie was a far smaller place on the city's Main Street. Suitably known as the Eagles Hall or the Eagles club, that second-floor space consisted of several rooms and a large hall. It was there was Norma Egstrom performed in 1937 (and possibly on December 31, 1936, too).

To quote the handy bits of information which accompany the fifth row of pictures above, the club was "located downtown Valley City above Frosted Plumbing & Heating." That plumbing store can also be seen above, in the fourth pictorial row. At the time that this colorful but undated (1970s?) photo was taken, Freistadt's (Fraustadt's?) Plumbing Heating shared the first floor with Sherman's Mens Wear. The second floor, where the Eagles had once been, shows no signs indicative of commercial leasing, but the air conditioning and the lamps near the windows are suggestive of occupancy -- perhaps residential.

Moving up now to the very first photo shown above, we discover that the building originally extended all the way to one corner of the street. At this very early stage of its history, the second floor was occupied by the Music Academy Opera House, established in 1887. The academy's occupancy might account for the presence of a large, military-clad marching band, stationed right in front, on the street. As for the first floor of the building, it was already being monopolized by commercial facilities, which back then identified themselves primarily by their owners' names. (One does have the word "clothier" spread over a window.)

The second photo above is also from a pre-Eagles stage of the building's history. Herein the erstwhile corner building has been split (possibly after going through a fire, along with a subsequent period of partial devastation). No longer occupied by the music academy, the second floor (and perhaps the first floor, too) has become the site of the Hougen Brothers Company (exact nature of the business unknown to me, but the likelier possibilities include hardware or manufacturing, a printing business, legal services).

In 2003, Barnes City Museum curator Wes Anderson treated the members of the online Peggy Lee Bulletin Board to an interesting piece of historical information: "the old Eagles was once upstairs on Main Street. The building is still there. The old lodge is above an antique shop here in Valley City, ND." Anderson was referring to the antiques store seen in the last photo above -- third building from the curve. Flagged as permanently closed during the Covid era, the fine-looking store (Unique Antiques) occupies both 123 and 148 Main St. East. As for the former Eagles Club site on the second floor, the horrendous tin cover in sight has covered its façade since the early 2000s. (My thanks, yet once more, to the ever resourceful Mr. Anderson, for his expertise, and for uncovering the more arcane bits of Barnes County information provided in this section.)

Hotels & Wells In Valley City

Last set of images: a 1936 ad and a 2012 photo. Placed by the Rudolph in a local newspaper, the ad gives
roundabout notice of the fact that the recently opened KOVC station was located in the hotel's premises. The entire outfit -- studios, offices, transmission plant -- was actually housed at the Valley City hotel. Having sustained weather damage, the transmission plant was the first component to move out of the hotel, to the outskirts of town, in 1940. Around 1963, the studio and offices moved to their so-called KOVC Broadcast House, at Third Street Southeast.

Taken during a visit to KOVC's location today, the photo captures Holly Foster-Wells, granddaughter of Peggy Lee, next to a drawing of the station's transmission plant. Still owned by Bob Insgtadt's family at the present time, KOVC will be able to celebrate 90 years of continued broadcasting on October 19, 2026.

(Jamestown, 1937)

The Egstroms Come Back To Town

Norma Deloris graduated from Wimbledon's high school on May 27, 1937, merely one day after she had turned 17. (A good student, she had skipped one grade in elementary school. The possibility of skipping yet another grade was suggested to her father, who wisely declined the offer.) With school no longer taking a large portion of her time, she fully set her sights on a professional career as a singer. To pursue this long-held dream, Miss Egstrom moved to the region's biggest city, Jamestown -- where she had been born, and where she had spent the first eight years of her life. "After graduation," she wrote in her autobiography, "I couldn't wait to get out in the world. I kissed Daddy, took my meager belongings, and left for Jamestown."

Not long afterwards, her father and her stepmother would also move from Wimbledon to Jamestown. Marvin had actually been traveling back and forth for a while. Through the second half of 1936 and the first half of 1937 he alternated between the depots of Wimbledon (where he had his regular post at the time), Jamestown (where he spent time substituting for an ailing agent, in the early months of the year), and Nortonville (where his wife had been left in charge and he went to convalesce in late 1936, after suffering a heart attack). At last, in the second half of 1937, a full-time position opened for him at the Jamestown depot.

Marvin's wife was from Jamestown, and her blood relatives lived there. All through her previous years in Nortonville, Wimbledon, and Millarton, she had been frequently visiting her hometown for religious and socializing events. Thus it is not surprise that on Saturday, October 2 of 1937, after having sold the Egstroms belongings in Wimbledon, Min left for Jamestown, to stay with Marvin at the depot for the time being.

Relief From The Sunshine Girl - The Gladstone Hotel/KRMC Dates

Norma did not live with her father and stepmother, however. As someone who had finished school, she probably considered herself fit to live on her own. Starting around the second week of June, she rented a room in a home's basement. Her autobiography describes this basement room as nearly bare (just a bed and one crate), positioned in a corner, and dark as a dungeon ... but "clean and safe." The home was located downtown, conveniently close to the place where she initially made ends meet by washing dishes.

The 17-year-old girl acquired a better job, as a relief girl at the Hotel Gladstone Cocktail Lounge and Cafe. The surrounding atmosphere would leave a vivid impression on her: "The excitement of the hotel ... the heat and bustle of the kitchen, the floor rolls that would come sliding out of the ovens, the big chef Tony barking orders, the waitresses smoking cigarettes on their 'breaks.' When the waitresses went back on duty, they all left their cigarettes in a heavy plate, and the stale smoke would continue to curl into the empty air."

However, the floor that probably appealed to Norma the most was not the first but the third. That top floor housed the office(s) and studio of KRMC, a radio station that had gone on the air just three months earlier (March 14, 1937). Press reports have preserved for posterity the names of three movers and shakers at the brand new station: announcer Victor V. Bell, chief engineer Carleton Gray, and business manager Frank Devaney.

In 1984, Lee told journalist George Christy that she had taken the job at Gladstone's coffee shop "so I could sing on the radio." Our coffee shop employee promptly made friends with the station's secretary, who facilitated an audition (according to Gavin's biography).

Norma scored a 15-minute morning show. Perhaps in keeping with the morning schedule, the station identified Norma as The Sunshine Girl. By July of 1937, her program was airing three times a week. In her aforementioned interview with George Christy, we learn about her musical accompaniment on this show: "a local minister’s daughter" that "played pretty good blues."

As for Norma's previous, radio show at Valley City's KOVC, biographer Gavin states that its last episode was broadcast on Saturday, June 5. Nevertheless, there is evidence in print that it was running as late as July 13, when Norma was well settled in Jamestown. Norma might have thus been traveling back to Valley City once a week, for at least part of July, and also in June, to do her KOVC show. Such state of affairs would also mean that, for a spell, teenage Norma simultaneously carried two radio shows -- one weekly at KOVC, the other thrice a week at KRMC.

I do not have a date for the closing of her KRMC program, but the show must have been short-lived. Having started in late June or early July, it could have run continuously for two or, at most, three months. That's because, in September, Norma Deloris moved to yet another North Dakota city, and started singing at another radio station there. (Granted: easy access to traveling by train could have facilitated the continuation of her KRMC singing activities, at least for a while. Then again, our knowledge of general knowledge about Miss Egstrom's work schedule in Fargo does not make this scenario highly likely. As we will confirm in an ensuing section, she was kept quite busy by multiple duties in that bigger city.)

Norma would definitely come back to KRMC for visits, though -- the first of them as early as the following year. The October 27, 1938 edition of the Stutsman County Record makes reference to a KRMC guest appearance around that time. The there is her much touted visit to Valley City, including KRMC, over 20 years later (One of this page's appendices is dedicated to that 1950 sojourn of hers).

A Transitional Pitch

The clientele that came to the Gladstone hotel included members of the Fargo-Moorhead Twins, the city's minor league baseball team (affiliated with the Cleveland Indians). Bill Sawyer, a Cleveland player that the Twins had just recruited, happened to hear the teenager sing over the KRMC airwaves. Then in his early twenties, Sawyer took a fraternal interest in the relief girl, whom the other team members enjoyed teasing. He offered to lend a hand by driving Miss Egstrom to Fargo for an audition which he also set up. Friendly with a station manager there, Bill had asked the manager if Norma could come audition for him and his people. The manager's name was Ken Kennedy.

(The interactions between the aspiring singer and the team outfielder were not extensive. They do not seem to have progressed beyond a few encounters at the Gladstone, a few exchanged letters, and the ride for the audition. But he was not forgotten by her. Egstrom would remain forever grateful for the kindness that the player had shown to her, and for the steps that he took toward contacting Kennedy, a man crucial to the early progress of her career. In 1973, Lee was able to learn about Sawyer's whereabouts thanks to the staff of the TV show This Is Your Life, which had just done in an episode in her honor. They would subsequently make contact one more time, during which she learned that he had gone on to become a professor at Western Reserve University, in Ohio.)


Postcards and photos featuring Jamestown's Gladstone Hotel, where Norma Egstrom worked as a relief girl and performed as a vocalist in mid-1937. Of the two color postcards, the postmarks which I have seen for the first are from as early as 1908; online sellers generally assign a "ca. 1910" date to this card. I have found no date for the second postcard, but I have seen a similar b&w card with a handwritten 1936 date on it -- i.e., just one year before Norma was walking around these premises. (The two cards could very well be capturing how the hotel and its surrounding changed in the span of three decades. One notable difference is the presence or absence of a sign, bearing the hotel's name, on the top left front of the building. Of course, a fenced garden area is very visibly present in the second card only.)

Photography of the hotel's lobby, dining room, parlor and writing room are also on display, up above. All these images are known to date from before 1915, except for the one featuring the waiters, for which I have no date. "There were a lot of nice touches about it – big broad staircase, things like that," Peggy Lee would reminisce in 1984. "That was the biggest building in town," she would also point out at that time, while speaking to George Christy, of Interview magazine.

The next set of images start off with promotional memorabilia -- two matchboxes, one ad published in 1920. One of the matchboxes promotes the radio station on which Norma had her own show -- KRMC, located on the third floor of the hotel. (Following a sale in 1943, KRMC changed its call letters to KSJB.) The other matchbox reveals that the hotel's lounge, where Norma might or might have not worked, was owned by a couple named Paul and Renee Arzt. (We know her to have worked at the dining room. I have no clarity as to whether the lounge was connected to or separated from the dining room.)

This hotel dated back to 1883, when businessman Anton Klaus (remembered by later generations as "the father of Jamestown") erected a wood building in the middle of the block, and called it Klaus House. After brick and other additions were made to the building's exterior the following year, it was renamed the Gladstone Hotel. It kept on expanding until it took up about half of the block and provided a total of 104 rooms, distributed over three floors. That total had decreased to 74 by 1968, when a steam heat pipe repair devolved into the infamous fire catastrophe which devastated the building (its interior still consisting primarily of wood), rendering the hotel uninhabitable and permanently closed. (If the information in print that I consulted is to be believed, the hotel's address was 412 Front St. W., Jamestown. Today, that entire area appears to be residential.) In the sepia-colored photo above, note the railroad tracks nearby. The Midland Continental line had an office in or near the Gladstone building. It too was destroyed, along with the perennial bank offices in the corner and several other establishments.

The fire consumed the hotel on March 18, 1968. Less than two months later, on May 9, 1968, Peggy Lee sent a letter to North Dakota resident Kathleen Blinsky, who was writing a history of her hometown as part of the then upcoming commemoration of Wimbledon's Diamond Jubilee. In the letter, Peggy Lee starts off by apologizing for being unable to attend the prospective celebration and concludes with the following remark: "I was sad to read your news of the Gladstone Hotel. That really was landmark full of memories."


This page is currently under reconstruction. Research and redaction of all the sections right above is now complete, and ditto for sections XXVIII to XXXI, found at the bottom of this page.

(Not yet undertaken is, however, a thorough proofreading for typos, misspellings, and awkward turns of phrase. As everywhere else in this bio-discographical project, such a final proofreading job will be undertaken only after research and data entry has been completed for all parts.)

Sections XIV to XXVII below are unfinished as of 2021. Several modifications (additions, re-sectioning, corrections) will be applied to both the text and the photography. I apologize for the fact that some paragraphs might be in a "half-baked" state, thereby rendering their meaning harder to grasp.

(Second Half Of 1937)

[Section Currently Under Reconstruction]

At her audition for WDAY (October 1937, Norma Deloris Egstrom sang "These Foolish Things." Ken Kennedy, program manager for the Fargo radio station, hired the teenager right after she finished the audition. Since he also decided to put Norma Deloris on the air that very day, Kennedy came up with a professional name on the spot: Peggy Lee. According to various sources, his rationale for the choice was that Norma looked like a Peggy to him, and that Peggy Lee "sound[ed] like such a beautiful blonde name."

I have come across no explanation as to why Norma Deloris looked "like a Peggy" to Kennedy. Of course, the simplest and most logical possibility would be that he had indeed met several females named Peggy who shared physical and/or behavioral attributes with Norma Egstrom. Among several additional possibilities, one worth mentioning pertains to her last name. In school, Egstrom had been nicknamed "Eggy." Could such nickname be one that was frequently given to Egstrom folks? If it was, then we could consider the likelihood that Kennedy would have been familiar with it. his mind could have easily made an association between the nickname "Eggy" and the rhyming name "Peggy."

In the photography for section IX above, I have also pointed out the existence of a series of 1930s young-adult novels whose heroine was named Peggy Lee. If Kennedy had young daughters or young female relatives in his family, he could have promptly settled on the name due to a general physical resemblance between teenage Norma and the picture drawings of the fictional young heroine.

Peggy Lee gave her own version or recollection of the event many times. It is essentially the same story offered in the first paragraph above, although she made no references to her physical appearance. According to the singer, Kennedy said: " You have to change your name ... Norma Egstrom ... it doesn't sound right. Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Norma Egstrom? No, won't do at all. Lee me see. You look like a Peggy. Peggy Lynn. No - Peggy Lee."

All her other recounts of the event (in print) are consistent with the one just quoted, the only notable variation being the names that Kennedy went through before settling on 'Peggy Lee.' For instance, Lee told the following to Fred Hall in the 1970s, when he went to her home for an interview: "All [Ken] said was, 'You look like a Peggy. What goes with Peggy? Peggy Schwartz? No. Peggy Lee.' " In a December 1986 televised interview for KOLN/KGIN, she added that, besides Kennedy, there were several other men standing by, and they too suggested various last names for the newly christened Peggy, including "Lee."

In a generally similar version, reported by elderly Jamestown resident Violet Colberg on the year of the artist's passing, Kennedy would have "said Norma Egstrom didn't have the snap a 'blonde bombshell' required. He proposed her stage name Peggy Lee."

During a radio interview conducted in 1992, Lee once again pointed out that Kennedy was the person responsible for rechristening her. In her own words: "He said that Norma Egstrom just wouldn't do. He had sort of a little meeting of the heads of the station. They decided I look like a Peggy and they had to tack on a last name, so they picked Lee ... just one of those names that fit at the end of something."

(Peter Richmond's biography of Peggy Lee offers an altogether different version of events. According to that biographer, Norma Deloris Egstrom would have chosen her artistic name in honor of a neighboring family that consisted of a single mother, nicknamed Peggy, and her children, one of whom was a 4-year-old boy named Duane Lee. However, this claim has not been substantiated anywhere else, and it lacks support. The source is a member of the neighborly family, who was about six years old when Egstrom changed her name. Especially problematic in this account is the gentleman's recollection of how he found out about the brand new name. As they were passing by the marque of the Powers Hotel, norma Deloris herself pointe the marque him, and there was her new name. Since Peggy Lee's gig at the Powers Hotel did not take place until 1940 -- by which time her new name had been appeared in the local time several times -- this chronology is suspect.)

"I like the name –- it has been very good to me," Peggy playfully told an interviewer in 1968. "I like it better than some of the names you hear now – such as The Electric Prune."

The newly christened Peggy Lee was heard twice or thrice a week on her own radio show and daily in a fifteen-minute segment that was part of WDAY's Noonday Variety Show. [Addendum, 2014: According to biographer James Gavin, the name of the show was Songs By Peggy Lee and it was billed as a ten-minute recital. Its premiere took place on Saturday, October 16, 1937 at 7:45 p.m.] Lee and the radio station's musicians also formed a quintet that billed itself as Four Jacks And A Queen, with the four musicians accompanying her in the radio show. Furthermore, Lee became part of the station's Hayloft Jamboree, a dance-barn spectacle that traveled around town on a weekly basis, and for which Peggy assumed a farmgirl persona known as Freckled-Face Gertie. The freckle-faced farmgirl's trademark attire consisted of a gingham dress and a straw hat. For those Hayloft Jamboree shows, she also sang sometimes with another local ensemble, which went by the name of Lem Hawkins And The Georgie Porgie Breakfast Food Boys. At WDAY, Lee also took on assignments such as regularly filing the radio station's music scores and assorted music paperwork, a task that familiarized her with the work of the great songwriters of the American songbook. Less enticing tasks included addressing envelopes and wrapping prizes for contestants.

In Fargo, the former Miss Egstrom combined once again radio work with manual labor. This time, she worked at a bakery and, more briefly, as a waitress. From 4:00 in the afternoon to 4:00 in the morning, she sliced and wrapped bread, a job that paid 35¢ per hour. It became her main job in this city. Her waitressing job at a Greek restaurant proved short-lived because, in Peggy Lee's own words, she had a tendency to "flunk as a waitress."

After leaving the bakery at 4 a.m. and coming home, Peggy Lee would barely allocate a few hours for sleeping. She would get up at 9:00 in the morning, so that she could be on time for the Noonday Variety Show rehearsals at WDAY. The radio station work paid $1.50 per show. She made additional money at the station by voicing commercials, for which she was paid 50¢ per line. Lee herself wrote a few commercials, too. Made for a local jeweler, the commercials were "about love and blue-white diamonds."

Thus Norma Deloris Egstrom, now under the name of Peggy Lee, continued her search for a permanent career as a singer. As part of this search, she had moved from her small town of Wimbledon to a bigger city (Jamestown) and then, from that big city, to North Dakota's largest city, Fargo.


First set of images: Two photos of Fargo's Black Building, where 17-year-old Norma Deloris Egstrom was re-named Peggy Lee in late 1937. At the time, the 100,000-square-foot building, 8-story structure was North Dakota's second tallest building, and the highest architectural facility that Miss Egstrom had ever seen -- a circumstance which led her to assume that it was as tall as New York's famed Empire State Building. Completed in 1930, the building housed not only George Black's Sears Roebuck department store but also offices for doctors, attorneys, loan and insurance agencies. Most importantly for Norma Deloris, it also housed the facilities of radio station WDAY, whose program director Ken Kennedy hired and gave her the name with which she would become nationally famous.

The female seen in these pictures is Peggy Lee, the male Ken Kennedy -- born Ken Sydness. The pictures of the two together serve as evidence of their lifelong affection for one another. The earliest of the two was during Lee's comeback visit to North Dakota in 1950. She would not make another visit until 1975. The later picture was taken during a visit to California made by Kennedy with his family in 1972. "My beloved Ken Kennedy and his dear wife Jeannette, were so, so very much a part of my career," Peggy Lee exclaimed during an interview in 1976, "I saw them just last May when I was there. And saw all of my wonderful friends back there. They gave me an honorary doctor’s degree of music."

Like quite a few of the other pictures incorporated to this particular section, the solo shots of Kennedy and Lee come from a 1938 radio station brochure titled Texas Rangers' WDAY Radio Album. Under her photo, the following caption can also be found: "Friends, we'd like to have you meet Miss Peggy Lee, the newest addition to our entertaining staff. Peggy hails from Jamestown and has been with the station about four months. Of course, you know Peg is single, well, she is. Guess she hasn't any hobbies, all we know is that she'd rather sing than eat. On her broadcasts she is heard along with the Four Jacks. She sang with orchestras before joining the staff of entertainers."

Second set of images: Ken Kennedy at his WDAY office, preparing a script for one of the shows broadcast by the station, where he served as program director. The station's broadcasting booth and viewing audience room are also on display.

Last set of images: two of WDAY's actors, in character. One of them is Peggy Lee herself, posing and dressed for her role as Freckle-faced Gertie, the persona that she adopted during the station's Hayloft Jamboree dance-barn shows. The man is Lem Hawkins, with whose Georgie Porgie Breakfast Boys she sang occasionally. He is seen here both in character and au naturel.


[Section Currently Under Reconstruction]

Motivated by her avid pursuit of a singing career, Norma Deloris Egstrom made not one nor two but three major trips during the 17th year of her life. Each trip was more daring than the previous one, but relocation was one outcome common to all three of them. The first had been to Jamestown, the big city in the county where she had grown up. The second had taken her to Fargo, the largest city within her state of birth.

In early 1938, still underage, the adolescent made the most ambitious of her geographical moves to date. Setting her sights on the nation's capital of the entertainment industry, she took off with her father's railroad pass on one hand and, on the other, the 30 dollars for which she had sold her graduation present (a watch) to her landlady. After her railroad traveling reached the end of the line and an ensuing Greyhound bus ticket required quite a bit of pocket change, she arrived in Hollywood with just 18 dollars to her name.

The plan was for Norma Deloris to stay with a hometown girlfriend friend with whom she had been corresponding, and who had told her that she could certainly come stay at her place. Once in the big film city, there was no rosy picture to enjoy: her friend had lost the one job she had, and on top of that misfortune, she had not solicited permission from the landlord to have any friends stay. As a result, Norma Deloris had to spend those arrival days in hiding from the landlord, and the barest of necessities (rent payment, food shopping) turned into challenges for both girls. Yet they still managed to get by, as frugally and furtively as they could.

(Timeline: Lee's trip to Hollywood is likely to have happened in or around March 1938. Her autobiography makes clear that she was indeed in California around Eastertime. I should clarify that the singer is slightly off the mark on her chronology of some of the events under consideration. Relying on memory and lacking historical documentation, her sequence of events mistakenly points to the year of the trip as 1937 instead of 1938. Lee's own mention of Easter as the period of her stay in Hollywood refutes the possibility of the year being 1937, because at Easter time in 1937 she had yet to graduate from high school.)

Naturally, Norma Deloris looked for work and pay right away. She was hired as a short-order cook at an amusement park restaurant, earning $9.00 per week. But, being a temporary position, needed only while a large number of students were in town, that particular job lasted only through the Easter break. Fortunately, the resourceful youngster managed to land several other white-collar jobs in the week which followed: waitress, seller of gardenia flowers, and even carnival barker at the Balboa's Fun Zone, for one dollar a day. She also moved out of her friend's apartment, renting a little yellow cabin in Balboa Beach, which was the area where she had found her posts as cook and carnival barker. Although none of those positions paid enough to live anywhere near comfortability, and there was a waiting period before payment was accessible, Norma Deloris made ends meet by "making a little run every day to get fish -- mostly barracuda -- from the fishing boats, day-old bread from a bakery, oranges that a nice man let [her] pick from his trees, and day-old milk from a dairy." (Hers was by no means an isolated case. At Balboa, she "found a lot of other teenagers in the same impoverished situation." Yet not many of them might have been as resourceful as her small-town self.)

The teenager's prospects improved when she successfully auditioned for a singing job at the Jade Lounge (also known by the alternate names of the Jade Dragon Lounge, the Jade Supper Club, and the Jade Palace Café). Master of ceremonies Chuck Barclay hired the youngster immediately after her audition. At last, a much needed, steady source of income became available to her.

The Jade was located in Hollywood Boulevard, "which at the time was, according to Lee's recollections, "beautifully clean, as polished as someone's marble living room." Originally the job paid $2.50 a night, tips included. From that total amount, 50 cents had to be re-paid to impresario Lawrence B. Potter, owner of not only the Jade but also, over the years, many another club in the California area (e.g., the Peacock Lane on Western and Hollywood Boulevard, the Round-Up on 3550 Wilshire Boulevard, the Supper Club on San Fernando Valley's 11345 Ventura Boulevard, and the Stardust at 6445 Hollywood Boulevard). If we are to believe a 1955 tabloid article for which Potter appears to have been interviewed, the businessman bumped the budding singer's salary to 30 dollars after just a few days in the establishment. For her part, Peggy Lee refers only to "two dollars a night" in her 1989 autobiography.

Leaving aside the matter of payment, the Jade was good to Miss Egstrom. She remembered the establishment with gratitude. Most everybody who worked therein was protective of the innocent-looking girl, starting with the Potters (Larry and his wife Sue), and including the aforementioned MC Chuck Barclay. There was also a waitress named Irene (who would explicitly take on the role of her guardian), plus bartender Bob and bar boy Paul. To one degree or another, they all appear to have been mindful of the big-city perils, awaiting by the path of small-town larks and ingenues such as one Miss Norma Deloris. Nearly two decades later, Potter would remark that the girl who worked for him at the Jade looked like "an Oregon apple -- cornfed, milk-cheeked and with hay practically falling out of her hair."

In newspaper and magazines of the period, the Jade was advertised as follows: "Sensational! No other like in America. Vivid in Gold Leaf and Chinese Red Lacquer; dimly lighted . . . cool . . . restful. The finest of foods and liquors served in an atmosphere of Oriental Splendor. Continuous entertainment nightly - NO minimum or cover charge." For Norma Deloris , the Jade was filled with an air of mystery. She was awed by its darkness and oriental decor, and struck by "the smell of the gardenias and the Chinese food, the waitresses in their satin coats and satin pants moving silently about in the thick carpet, carrying cooling drinks, egg rolls and butterfly shrimp."

The Jade also operated as a music club with a mixed clientele that came from many walks of life. Lee remarks in her autobiography that, on any given evening at the restaurant's bar, you were likely to "see a movie star, a G-man or someone looking for a tourist he could [extort or scalp]." Two years old when the singer performed there, the place had catered in its early days to Hollywood's fascination with exotica by hiring Polynesian acts and opening with a Hawaiian orchestra. So had done other nightclub in the area, al of them naturally providing more varied entertainment as the fad faded. Performers over the years included not only the young Peggy Lee but also (she tells us in her autobiography) various name artists who back then were starting their careers (Hal March, Lillian Randolph, Phil Moore, The Brown Sisters, Louis DeProng) or who had momentarily fallen hard on their luck, thus becoming willing to accept the low fees that the Jade offered. Two years into a career comeback (and seven years after Lee had performed there), celebrated New Orleans trombonist Kid Ory and his Creole Jazz Band also played several gigs at the Jade (1945). By that time, the place was calling itself the Jade Palace Café and its address was being given as 6619-6621 Hollywood Boulevard, rather than just 6619 Hollywood Boulevard. Potter had sold it to another nightclub impresario, Arthur Lyons, in late 1943. The name change and altered address suggest that purchase or rental of adjacent space took place at some point in the 1940s, perhaps under Lyons' direction.

Biographer James Gavin cites a June 4, 1938 Billboard review which briefly evaluates the venue's two female singers, Norma Egstrom and Mary Norman, the latter being an older and friendly lady who had been performing at the Jade for a while but would be let go some time after the new hire. The Billboard reviewer categorized "both girls" as "adequate for a place of this kind" -- not "sensational" but "lookers" with a clear display of "showmanship." Serving as their accompanist was the aforementioned pianist Phil Moore, who would later become better known for his work with Lena Horne in particular, and also for his vocal coaching of singing film stars such as Dorothy Dandridge and Marilyn Monroe. [Note: written in 2014, this paragraph is an addendum to my original text.]

Eighteen-year-old Norma's gig at the Jade was cut short by illness. Variously taking a severe toll on the working singer were poor sleeping habits, new exposure to the smog of Los Angeles, an inadequate diet and, in short, the side effects of living on a low income in an expensive city. Feeling ill all too often, Egstrom began to frequent a clinic where she received plenty of warning about her deteriorating condition, with her throat diagnosed as being in particularly bad shape. She wounded up fainting onstage, and being taken to the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center for a check-up. As if such a wake-up call wasn't enough, she had previously undergone another type of frightening urban experience. Naively accepting a man's offer to drive her home after the end of her night at work, the youngster had barely escaped an apparent ploy to submit her for either prostitution or white slavery, thanks to more knowledgeable city dwellers who advised her to decline the offer for a ride.

Even after such frightening experiences, Norma Deloris Egstrom persevered.

Finally, a third, more imminent scare made her follow medical advice to leave town. What was intended to be a fun time spent at the beach turned into a crisis when Norma D. was caught by a riptide, almost drowning. Shortly afterwards, she wrote to her older sisters in North Dakota. Arrangements were made for the eighteen-year-old damsel to come back right away, not only to spend a resting period near her family but also so that she could undergo and recuperate from throat surgery.

A Photographic Showcase

First image: Peggy Lee bids adieu from a departing train, year and occasion unknown. One of my unconfirmed sources states that she is leaving for Hollywood, and that the friends who are bidding her adieu include Edith Gould Butcher, a pianist whose classic music program was broadcast from Valley City's KOVC. The details provided by this source give some degree of confidence as to its veracity, but I lack any solid corroboration for the claim. If I may speculate, I will say that the likelihood of the trip being to Hollywood is enhanced by both the fancy attire (fancier than in her other early pictures) and youthful looks (the youngster not yet being 18 when she made this trip, in early 1938).

Second image: front cover of a menu from the Jade Lounge, the 1930s establishment showcased throughout the present section. The text reads: The Jade. On the Boulevard in Hollywood at 6619. Dragon's Throne Room. A Larry Potter enterprise."

Third image: The entrance to the Jade Lounge, as it looked in 1945. Its address was 6619 Hollywood Boulevard, in the block between the avenues Cherokee and Whitley. The Jade was the first Hollywood venue on which Peggy Lee sang professionally, back in 1938.

Images: Jade souvenirs. In the middle, a coaster showcases one of the Jade's most iconic dwellers. The same dragon has been re-conceived for its appearance on the first of the two matchboxes on display. The second matchbox acquaints up with the Jade's other iconic figure, a Buddha and his blonde titillater. All these icons will receive further attention in the ensuing captions.

Central image: Henry Clive's A Budda-Pest, a 1939 painting that Jade owner Larry Potter commissioned exclusively for exhibition in the lounge. This huge oil on canvas measures 83 inches by 71.5 inches. The flanking photos (and the additional one immediately below) reveal that the oil painting hung on the wall to the left of the dragon bar. Note that the name "Henry Clive," with a diagonal line under it, is actually etched on the canvas itself -- not manually or digitally added to the photographs above. (Also present, but less visible, are both the year 1939 and the phrase "to Larry," the latter a dedication obviously meant for Potter.) According to the staff at the Grapefruit Moon Gallery, which sold the original canvas some time after 2008, the second photo dates from 1942.

The identity of the patrons in these photos is not known to me. It is my uniformed impression that both photos could feature at least two of the same individuals (possibly all three), loving somewhat different because the photos might have been taken five or more years apart. However, this impression of mine could very well be off the mark: the three individuals of interest on each photo could just as well be different ones.

Looking at the first photograph, it initially occurred to me that the painter himself could be the man strategically placed right under the name "Henry Clive," and the diagonal line under it. The most commonly found portrait of Clive certainly bears a close resemblance. Born in 1881, he would have been in his late 1940s during this period. Unfortunately for me, though, this 1929 picture of Clive put an end to my speculation on Clive. If the man next to Joan Crawford is indeed Clive, then the man from my Jade photo would have been too young to be the painter. (For further data on Clive, consult David Sauders' page about him, at his worthwhile Pulp Artists website.)

My speculative thoughts dig a bit further, though. It has also occurred to me that two of the other two individuals on these Jade photos could be Mr. Potter and his wife, Sue. (If the couple is not the same on each photo, then I would be more inclined to think that the second photo is likelier to feature the owner and his wife.) Not having seen any pictures on which either Mr. or Mrs. Pottter are identified, this additional bit of speculation will have to remain untested. A photo taken at another Potter nightclub (the Stardust) concentrates on a party of six, one of them being a man who definitely looks like the one sitting on the left edge of the second photo above. There are also strong facial similarities between the woman with the flower (above) and one of the three women seen on that Stardust photo.

Images: two views of the Jade's most iconic area. Both found online without much accompanying detail, the first image looks like it was published on a newspaper, while the second has been identified as a linen postcard. Also unknown are the respective dates. In both cases, the place's earliest period of existence (late 1930s to early 1940s) strike me a the most logical time frame.

The area showcased on these images is the very ornate Dragon bar. A rationale for the bar's name can be grasped from an inspection of its countertop's serpentine border. That border doubles up as one segment of a large creature's body -- a body that extends itself into the walls, both left and right. Unfortunately, we do not count with photography of the entire club space, and hence we are unable to see the creature's full body. However, it stands to reason that a carved, large dragon's head was to be found somewhere within the establishment.

More visual detail of interest remains hidden or barely visible. In the first of the two images above, the bar's chairs obscure the fact that the lower part of the bar was shaped to look like the dragon's avian-like legs, with sets of claws jutting out, here and there. Note also that Henry Clive included the dragon in his painting, and in a way that suggest an entirely fresh perspective on its symbolic meaning. In the Buddha-Pest, the dragon's head is insinuatingly placed between the pinup girl's legs.

Images: two other areas of the Jade's interior, including a side corner. Not included above, a caption under the first photo identifies the couple sitting fourth and fifth from the right as the Skinners (Pearl and George, who lived in Hollywood), the year as 1942, and the other patrons as their friends. Their sitting location appears to be to the right of the Dragon bar; note the creature's sinuous body on the back wall. Judging from the clientele's garb, the undated second photo also belongs to the wartime period. Behind them, the walls bear testimony to one of the attractions touted by the place's publicity: an abundance of "beautiful tapestries, murals, carvings and other pieces of art."

Mosaic above: all about the food (and drinks!) at the Jade. The orange quadrangle is actually the back of the coaster whose front was previously featured. Of the two napkins in view, the first alerts us to an alternate name by which the establishment was known (or, perhaps more accurately, an alternate name concocted by the Jade's advertisement): the temple of the heavenly spirits. It could also be that a particular area of the club was known by that name; on the aforementioned coaster's publicity text, note the reference to no less than four bars, including a "cocktail bar, with continuous entertainment." On the second napkin under display, the drawn figure may be an alternate take on the Budda from the Budda-Pest painting. The other images on the mosaic above offer partial views of the menu and drinks list. Collectively propped by the coaster's publicity as "excellent cuisine and cocktails of the finest liquors," the edible options included half-broiled lobster, Chinese duck, filet mignon, chicken almonds with green peas, boneless chicken, and fried shrimp. The liquid list was fairly extensive, covering many varieties of cognacs, and also an island-based assortment of daiquiris (Cuban, Filipino, Jamaican, Puerto Rican, et cetera). Not pictured above is the selection of sandwiches, which counted with about 20 options, from peanut butter and tuna to turkey and Denver.

Images above: the entertainment at the club in 1945, by which time it had apparently renamed itself the Jade Palace Café. Performing in all these pictures is Kid Ory And His Original Dixieland Creole Band. The jazz trombonist and the other six men in his ensemble are known to have played at the venue in mid-1945. For much more about Ory, consult Sid Bailey's discography of the great New Orleans musician, as well as the timeline and extensive data maintained by John McCusker Christer Fellers at their site. In a music review from a few year earlier (May 2, 1942 issue), a Billboard journalist would opine that there was "nothing extravagant about the shows, as the club lacks facilities for presentation, but they are packed with talent" who performed floorshows at 9:30 p.m., 11:30 p.m., and 1 a.m. Chick Barclay is identified by the reviewer as both the master of ceremonies and producers of the shows, with a time featured, among others, a "good-looker," blonde singer named Darlene Garner, a dance team doubling up as marionette puppeteers (Lawton and Edwards), and a trapeze/magician couple (Bill and Dotty Phelps), and an orchestra (Al Ossler's) accompanying these acts' presentations.

Note that the resemblance between the room(s) pictured in the above-seen photos and earlier ones is far from being strong. Even the setup of what appears to be be the Dragon bar looks partially different. Among the possible explanations, Ory's group could have played their sets mostly in an area located far away from those presented in the earlier pictures, A likelier explanation would be a reconfiguration of the space, perhaps undertaken after it changed ownership, in late 1943. Former owner Larry Potter could have taken with him most of the decor in the walls (including Henry Clive's A Buddha-Pest), thereby making it necessary for new owner Arthur Lyons to re-model the place.

Found at the Ory site, the following quote from Jazz Odyssey: The Autobiography Of Joe Daresbourg suggests that at least the wall decor had changed by the time that the clarinetist and the trombonist played together there (1945): "The Jade was a beautiful club, owned by some kind of syndicate. They had wonderful original plantings up on the walls, naked women and that sort of thing, all by James Montgomery Flagg. We used to get a lot of movie stars who would come and listen to the band." (n.b.: Flagg is best remembered nowadays for his Uncle Sam's "wants-you-for-the-U.S.-army" recruited poster.)

Incidentally, Daresbourg's reference to a syndicate should not be taken to be anything out of the ordinary. Many of these Hollywood small jazz clubs from the past had a reputation, many times accurate, for being overtly or secretly owned by mafia gangs. The pseudo-moralistic attitude prevalent at the time in the government also added to the lore. Discovered by poster Lorendoc from the great blog Noirish Los Angeles, a April 15 1945 report titled General Crime Survey: Los Angeles reveals that the FBI had a file on former owner Larry Potter, and also on Paul Kalmanovitz (aka Palmanowitz), one of two men (Nathan Sherry being the other) who are repeatedly mentioned elsewhere as outright owning or sharing interests in several Hollywood clubs (e.g., Jerry's Joynt aka the Clover Club, Lucey's, the Radio Room, the Swing Club and, indeed, the Jade) during the mid-1940s.

To quote Lorendoc: "it described Larry Potter as a suspected murderer who had left Utah when it got too hot for him during Prohibition, and ended up in Los Angeles as a front man for dubious night clubs. One of these was the Jade at 6619 Hollywood Boulevard. The FBI stated that the license to operate the Jade was issued to Paul Kalmanowitz and Nathan Sherry, ex-NY cop and sometime pal of Mickey Cohen. The Jade, says the FBI, has the reputation with Los Angeles vice officers as being a hang out for homosexuals. It had the same reputation with military and naval authorities. The FBI went on to say that 10 yers ago [1935] Paul Kalmanowitz worked as a car parker at the 12th street garage. He saved a little money and bought into an eating establishment known as Jerry's Joint .... in Chinatown. The agent said that Kalmanowitz is the type of person who always makes money, that he has a cheerful, pleasant personality." (Also reputed to be a 1930s hangout for gay cruising, and for the horrors of women seen "unaccompanied by men," was the 5 & 10 Bradley's cornerstone glimpsed in some of the pictures below, with address 6651 Hollywood Boulevard.) Knowing as we do do today how heavily biased the FBI's past operations were, back when it was under the direction of Edgar J. Hoover, all these allegations would need further proof before they could be deemed true and accurate.

(Side note. At some point in its history, Jerry's Joynt had its own Jade Room, boasting a bar whose back wall looked like a smaller variation on the ornate, orientally carved wall at the Jade's Dragon bar. According to its advertisement, the carved art in the wall of Jerry's Joynt was 3,600 years old, and ranked as "the finest and most valuable piece of Chinese carving in American." Because Jerry's Joynt was the oldest of the two establishments, it is possible that our Jade club was conceived as an outgrowth of that Chinatown eatery. The existence of several addresses for Jerry's Joynt e suggests that there was more than one location over the years. The Jerry's Joynt with a Jade Room was already in place by late 1933. Around 1941, it had a 211 Ferguson Alley address, in what was old Chinatown. Another address given for the Joint, 500 North Los Angeles Avenue might actually correspond to the same location, because this eatery appears to have occupied a corner between the avenue and the famous alley. Kalmanovitz and Sherry are said to have opened a Jerry's Joynt at 8477 Sunset on April 3, 1945, and have quickly renamed it (or revert to the place's former name?) the Clover Club . By 1947, Jerry's Joynt had yet another address, 6594 San Vicente Boulevard, intersection with Wilshire Blvd.)

Images: historical shots of the Hollywood Boulevard block where the Jade was once located, between the avenues Cherokee and Whitley. An important point to be made (and one unknown to me before my preparation of this page's current edition) pertains to the exact location of the Jade over the years. It turns out that, in November 1937, the club moved from its original location to another one within the same block. Norma Deloris Egstrom thus performed in the second iteration of the club. However, for clarification purposes, I'll discuss both iterations in this write-up.

In the first three photos above, the Jade can be seen in its original space, the northeast corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Cherokee, with the 5 and 10 Bradley's directly across, in the other Cherokee corner. The main address appears to have been 6633 Hollywood Boulevard, but the establishment was large enough to probably also include several other lower numbers in the block. It was a first-floor, corner-street Hollywood Boulevard establishment, with advertising signs in both its front and side façades. The front sign read "The Jade -- Dinner Cocktails Lunch," whereas the side sign said "Jade - Dine Cocktails Jest." (incidentally, I believe that, previous to the Jade, a drugstore occupied this space) Next to the Jade, in the same building, is a United Airlines agency, followed by that might have been a locksmith store and an entrance to the second floor establishment. Atop the three other businesses was the Virginia, a lodging place. The sign on one corner announced things to come: "owner will erect a new building," reads the print.

The purpose and nature of the giant screen-like structure on the roof remains unknown to me -- and to fellow viewers at large. Attempts to identify it have proven fruitless, so far. (The speculation has included an acoustic purpose, for transmission during special events such as parades, and a form of early movie screen, devised for special screenings but perhaps never actually put to use. Neither those speculative possibilities nor a few others have gained traction. If anyone reading knows the solution to our mystery, your input would be appreciated.) Whichever used it had, the late 1937 reconstruction did not deem it worth it enough to avoid demolishment.

From 1945, our final photo above shows the second location of the Jade, as it looked from across the street. A companion photo has already been provided, at the start of this section. The address was 6619 Hollywood Boulevard, probably covering 6621 as well. In the third, late 1930s photo, this space is the right side of a white building, right after the second lamppost.

The images seen immediately above and below should satisfy the curiosity of those who, like myself, want to know a little more about the evolution of the space(s) once occupied by the Jade lounge. The original space, at 6633 Hollywood Boulevard, was remodeled in 1937 to make way for the Sontag drugstore showcased in two of the images above. These photo are believed to date from the 1940s. Actually, the second image is actually a magnified version of the first, allowing us to glimpse at the sign for the Jade's second location (6619 Hollywood Boulevard).

By the early 1970s, the 6633 location had transitioned from housing a drugstore chain to housing a food chain: Love's Wood Pit Barbecue. That restaurant is seen above, from a distance, in an artificially colorized, originally black & white photo (third image). Taken from across the street, the fourth photo (1983) captures not only Love's but also several other buildings on the block, in their real coloring. I believe that we are barely missing 6619 from that fourth picture, whose most noticeable establishment is Hollywood Book City at 6627. (The bookstore stayed at that location from 1973 to 2005).

At the beginning of the 21st century, the northeast corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Cherokee Avenue became newly occupied by the Geisha House (fifth photo). A pricey Japanese restaurant and lounge, the biggest draw of the Geisha House was its chic interior. It remained in place until mid-2013. (We will be discussing the address' current occupant shortly.)

I have scarcely found any data about the Twentieth century occupants of 6619 Hollywood Boulevard. The scarcity is probably due in part to the building's lack of flashiness (at least, when compared to the Northwest corner space). Moreover, it is not far-fetched to assume that the businesses occupying the address over the decades have not been deemed remarkable enough to merit historical notice. The 6621 address has been associated with entities bearing names such as Question Authority and Maxwell Biers. At the same address, a so-called unit A has been variously claimed by Cuchi Cuchi Productions, Bash Entertainment LLC, Harley-Vespa Restaurant and Trueflow Productions. (The latter was a marketing company tied to the Mexican actors Ana Claudia Talancón and José María de Tavira, who were in a love relationship from 2008 to 2012.) Around the turn of the century, the unit might have been physically occupied by a establishment which went by the name of Hollywood Legends-The Autograph Store. Meanwhile, the 6619 address has been associated with a Bonnie and Clyde Ice Cream Parlors & Eatin' Joints (established as a company in 1980), and a Con-Jon Foundation (a mutual benefit company established in 1981).

Aside from the shapeless cluster of business entities mentioned above, I have not been able to clearly pick up the trace of 6619 and 6621 until mid-2007, when Napoleon Perdis' Make-up Academy took over the 5,000 square foot space represented by the mail numbers 6615 and 6621. Originally an Australian franchise, Perdis' makeup emporium had begun to infiltrate the United States in 2004, moving from Sidney to California and eventually turning the Hollywood Boulevard boutique-academy into his flagship store in the nation. However, arising competition and financial struggles (or, if the artist is to be believed, a desire to re-acquaint his children with his ancestors' native land) appear to have caused Perdis' residential move to Greece, and the franchise to abandon the American branch of the business (2015). The photos above showcase the academy as it looked in its later years.

(In-between our locations of interest, the pink building is a raunchy dance and nightclub called Ballet Hollywood, apparently catering to a rap-music-loving crowd and featuring amply endowed, scantily clad female dancers, cheekily nicknamed ballerinas.

Images: a 2021 stroll, from 6633 to 6619 Hollywood Boulevard. Since about 2016, the corner has been occupied by the Escape Hotel, which is not an actual stay-at-hotel but an interactive experience establishment in the manner of the "haunted attraction" setups still popular as part of fairs and traveling shows. At the hotel, patrons searching for an escapist adventure can choose to enter one of about ten rooms, all of which go by self-explanatory names such as Exorcist (honoring the excellent 2016-2017 TV show, prematurely cancelled by the network on which it was unwisely broadcast), Zombie, Witchcraft, Slaughter, Espionage, Circus, and Pirate. Consistently enthusiastic and positive reviews suggest that the current charge for the more challenging rooms (in the vicinity of $50, pre-pandemic) is worth it ($35 for the more manageable rooms).

After passing through the still-operating aforementioned Ballet Hollywood club, we reach 6621 and 6619, where no vestiges of the Napoleon Perdis make-up academy are in sight. The re-modeled, now somewhat forbidding outer walls house instead the fourth Dudes' Brewing Company store (not counting another three that were closed early in 2020), offering over 30 types of beer as well as cider, wine and, of course, pizza. The latest addition to this growing chain of store locations from this LA-based company, the prospect of its March 2020 opening was affected by the globe's epidemic. As of early 2021, the future of this store (and so many others) remains in a bubble.


[Section Currently Under Reconstruction]

Thus, around August of 1938, Peggy Lee left Hollywood for Hillsboro (Trail County, North Dakota), where three of her siblings and a friend were sharing a tiny house, along with a nephew and a pet dog. Very shortly after her arrival, she underwent a tonsillectomy that -- partially due, in her estimation, to malnutrition from her recent days in Hollywood -- resulted in serious complications. The surgical procedure caused hemorrhaging and required hospitalization at Deaconess Hospital in nearby Grand Forks. One of the most trying periods of her youth, the recuperation period kept the singer in a state of anxiety, stemming from the fear that she would never be able to sing again. Fortunately, her vocal cords were not irreparably damaged, although she would require additional surgery in upcoming years.

After about two and a half months of recuperation in Hillsboro, Peggy Lee went back to work. She set her sights on Fargo, where she could find better opportunities of employment by re-establishing contact with old friends. And indeed, she returned to Fargo's WDAY in September of 1938, again under the protective tutelage of the station's program director, Ken Kennedy. If the chronology that I have followed herein is correct, Lee must have spent over a year and a half working on and off at the radio station, while also taking on other jobs. [Lack of specific information is the reason for my uncertainty. In Lee's autobiography, this return to WDAY is dispatched in less than half a sentence, with Lee understandably giving more attention to concurrent experiences that were brand new to her.]

Thanks to Ken Kennedy's recommendation, Peggy Lee also began to perform at a venue in the city, The Powers Hotel's Coffee Shop. [Addendum, 2014. Biographer James Gavin gives Lee's starting date as December 1, 1938.] Organist Frank Norris provided musical accompaniment to Lee's singing.

Since neither the hotel nor the city's other commercial establishments had regularly featured live music entertainment before, this gig was a novel concept in Fargo. A 1948 magazine article states that Lee was the one who talked the hotel manager into letting her sing at the coffee shop, by proposing a two-week unpaid tryout to him. I have not found further corroboration for this particular claim.

The duration of this stay at the hotel's coffee shop is unknown to me. We might assume that it lasted into the first months of 1939. (Lee returned to this venue later that year, for a second and more lasting time period. Details will be provided below.)

(Image shown above: Advertisement for The Powers Hotel Coffee Shop, showing the diner's own side entrance. The hotel's owner is also seen, along with his four sons. Tom Powers was actually one of the men who warmly greeted Peggy Lee at Jamestown's Hector Airport in 1950, when the star made her aforementioned return to the region. At that time, Powers enthusiastically told the press that Norma Egstrom had once been "the star of the only high school nightclub in the Northwest" -- the latter being a reference to her successful gigs at his hotel's coffee shop.)

(Images shown above: A late 1930s photo of the Belmont Café, where Peggy Lee sang for a short spell in 1939. In the photo, you may be able to spot the sign with the café's name if you look on the left side of the street, right across the Hotel Dakota sign. Jane Leslie -- née Larrabee -- was the singer who replaced Lee at the Belmont. In the second of the photos seen above, both Lee and Leslie are shown, performing during a later period of their respective careers. "I was sent up from Minnesota, where I lived," Leslie told jazz critic Whitney Balliett, "to replace Peggy in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where she was a great favorite -- Peggy and the Collegians. Then we both worked in Fargo. I was at one end of town and she was at the other, in Powers Coffee Shop, and we became friends. In 1941, she got a job with Benny Goodman at the College Inn in Chicago, and I was at the Bridgewater Beach Hotel, and we roomed together. When Benny went to New York for a long gig at the New Yorker Hotel, we rented an apartment in the Village. It was a basement place with a garden, and we thought it was fantastic." The third of the photos above, taken in early 1943, shows the roommates at that apartment, listening to a record. In her 1989 autobiography, Lee also writes about her friendship with Leslie: "We were doing so well at the Powers that our competition, Le Chateau, had to import a singer from Minneapolis! ... I [had] met Janie the first time in Grand Forks at the Belmont Café. She was so pretty and had the biggest soft brown eyes. [Janie] was, she says now, sizing me up, and I was probably doing the same ... When Jane arrived [in Fargo] we were supposed to be in competition ... I thought she was the cat's pyjamas ... Competition or not, she turned out to be one of the best friends I have ever had in my life, and I'm happy that I could do her a good turn by introducing her to Leonard Feather, the noted jazz critic. They are still happily married." According to Feather himself, he had heard Leslie on 52nd Street, but had not met her. Previous to their meeting, Jane Leslie had probably seen Leonard Feather as well -- around, in the nightclub scene -- but Lee was the one who, in 1945, formally introduced them to one another. The day after he met Leslie, Feather proposed, and they were married just a few weeks later. The Feathers indeed remained together from 1945 until 1994, when he passed away. The fourth photo above shows the Feathers with their daughter Billie Jane Lee Lorraine, who was named after godmother Billie Holiday, mother Jane, parents'-godmother-of-sorts Peggy Lee, and the Nat-King-Cole-associated jazz standard Sweet Lorraine. “It seemed appropriate to name her after her mother and after Peggy Lee, who had brought us together,” explained Feather in one of his books. Now all grown-up -- having been born in 1948 -- and best known in the music scene by just one first name, Lorraine Feather grew up to become a singer as well, and was among those who performed at Peggy Lee's funeral in 2002.)

At some point between September and December 1939, Peggy Lee returned to her singing spot at The Powers Hotel's Coffee Shop, whose owners were keen on re-hiring her as part of an ongoing upgrade of their facilities. Her accompanist was now a young organist by the name of Lloyd Collins, who would develop a crush on her. "She made Dolly Parton look bad," he was still saying more than 60 years later, when he was interviewed by biographer Peter Richmond; "she was just so beautiful."

By all accounts, Peggy Lee's return to the Powers Hotel was a highly successful one, earning the performer and the establishment an enthusiastic clientele of regulars, most of them college and college-bound students. Lee did two evening shows on every day of the week except Sunday, when she might have been off initially, but eventually was asked to come in for a matinee performance. Most of the shows were two hours long, with a few lasting half an hour less and a couple lasting longer. The longest, on Saturday nights, was scheduled from 10:00 p.m. to 1 a.m. During this period, the singer remained in the airwaves as well: 15 minutes of the Lee-and-Collins shows were broadcast by WDAY twice a week.

A couple of sources state that, at some point during this period, or perhaps a bit earlier (either in 1939 or in late 1938) the still somewhat reserved and shy singer enrolled in a Dale Carnegie course, with the purpose of gaining more confidence in public. Such sources have made the uncorroborated assumption that the Carnegie course played a role in her success with audiences at the Powers Hotel's Coffee Shop. (Some witnesses, including the subject herself, have suggested that her behavior was imbued in shyness and insecurity. When she was much younger, Norma Deloris had endured derisive comments from her stepmother. The comments ran a wide spectrum, covering her skills, or lack thereof, her attitude and, especially, her physique. "She was constantly saying my head was too small for my body and my hands were too big," Lee would candidly share in her autobiography. "I was all wrong. She would also say, 'You will come home with a big belly,' but I had no idea what that meant." Min's cruel remarks had caused a certain degree of self-consciousness that Peg-the-performer had difficulty shaking off. In the interest of providing a fuller portrait of the budding artist, I should also add herein that Norma Deloris Egstrom was remembered as a self-assured, bold go-getter by other people who met during her teens.)

Financially, and in spite of her success at the Powers Hotel, Lee's prospects were still grim. While she was being paid more than ever before ($15.00), the number of mouths to feed at her household was higher than she had experienced before. The twenty-year-old workhorse had rented an apartment and asked her two older sisters, young nephew, brother Clair and family friend (Ossie Hovde) to leave Hillboro and come live with her. They had done so. Unfortunately, the brother and his friend were not gainfully or steadily employed, thus contributing only minimally and sporadically. Older sister Della was ill, and her song was still a child. Only beloved sister Marianne -- who had remained the homemaker and the caretaker of both Della and her son -- would eventually find a job as a receptionist. On the various occasions in which Lee found herself falling behind in her rent payments, she again relied on her musical talent to save the day. Lee talked their first-floor landlady into granting extensions by playing schottisches for her. (Lee did so in a piano owned by the landlady, who was obviously a huge fan of such polka-oriented dance music.)

(Images seen above: Peggy Lee with Lloyd Collins, in performance at the Powers Hotel's Coffee shop in 1940 (first two images) and reunited ten years later, during Lee's return visit (last image) to Jamestown, Valley City, and Millarton. The central image is a 1940 ad whose caption reads as follows: "After a hard day's work, it's easy to relax with gay music, delicious food and perfect air conditioning at the Powers Coffee Shop."

In the spring of 1939, Peggy Lee found a temporary job as the singer of the Belmont Café, on North Third Street, in Grand Forks. Lee's autobiography contains a couple of mentions of the Belmont Café gig. Found in her autobiography, Lee's one story about performing at this café is a funny one: "My sister Della made a gown for me from a bolt of Grandmother's malines. It was so fragile and beautiful, and she sewed it all by hand ... [When] I was playing a little place in Grand Forks called the Belmont Cafe, I wore this same gown, and, when the spotlight hit it, the malines disintegrated and fell in pieces, and I was left standing in my slip."

Lee's gig at the Belmont seems to have ended upon the return of Jane Leslie, the vacationing singer for whom Lee had been substituting. However, and as will be evident from a quote farther down below, Leslie remembered the circumstances a bit differently, implying that she (Leslie) was recruited for the job because Lee had left it. [Addendum, 2014. According to biographer James Gavin, Leslie was back at the Belmont in September 1939. Gavin also makes reference to a half-an-hour Peggy Lee radio show on Grand Forks' KFJM, advertised by newspaper ads as a showcase for the "popular, pretty songstress" who was "one of WDAY's outstanding entertainers." Presumably paid by radio station KFJM, the ad's dutiful reference to another radio station raises the suspicion that, once again, Ken Kennedy could have been involved in the singer's acquisition of this job.] In any case, Lee's decision to take this short-lived gig in Grand Forks had been probably dictated by financial necessity and by the gig's proximity to her sisters' home in Hillsboro.


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Some time in the summer of 1940 (definitely by August), Peggy Lee moved to another big city. "Ken Kennedy got me a job with his cousin ... Sev Olsen," explained Lee in an interview conducted decades later. The Sev Olsen Orchestra was a nine-piece band that Olsen had recently put together. They needed a female vocalist. The band's pianist, Willy Peterson, auditioned Lee and officially hired her. As had also been the case with the ensemble with which Lee had played in Valley City (Doc Haines'), most members of this orchestra were college students, including Olsen himself (back then an aspiring dentist enrolled in the University of Minnesota). But this band had a posher job than the Haines group: a steady gig at the Radisson Hotel's Flame Room in Minneapolis. Lee was especially elated when, as a result of this hiring, she was given lodging at the plush Radisson. As for the performing room itself, "it was fairly small, good food, good drinks -- a favorite room for professional people," the band's trumpet player Lloyd Luckman told Lee biographer Peter Richmond. On a more irregular basis, the group performed in other local venues as well (e.g., The Marigold Ballroom), with Peggy Lee in tow as their canary.

"She was just gorgeous," the aforementioned Luckman added during his interview with biographer Richmond. "And she had a gorgeous voice. She didn't need a big accompaniment, and she didn't need hyped-up music. She could make a song into a single moment. Her voice was very good -- but I'll tell you, her presentation and everything -- you could hear a pin drop. For lots of the things she did, there was practically no accompaniment -- maybe Willy Peterson tinkling on the piano -- but she didn't need anything else." Peterson's then-fiancée, Jeanne Arland Peterson, a singer herself, made similar statements about Lee: '"She sang so well, I was jealous of her. She was quiet, reserved -- didn't blow her own horn at all -- but so able to do her craft. She was a good-looking lady, too." (Financially, however, Mrs. Peterson recalls that Lee's budget seemed very tight, to the point that Peterson once bought her a cheap pair of earrings. Willy Peterson is said to have lent her money, too, so that she could leave town for the next stage of her career.)

(Images seen above: A collage showing the members of Sev Olsen And His Orchestra, with Sev featured in the center, and various images of the Radisson Hotel, where Peggy Lee and the orchestra performed together. Promoted as "the finest hotel between Chicago and the West Coast," this 16-story hotel (the Radisson chain's original facility ) opened in 1909 on 35 South Seventh Street. The colored postcard shows the façade as it looked five years after its opening. The black & white photo was taken a couple of years before Lee performed there; the hotel occupied just the second of the two buildings in clear view. In 1940, Peggy Lee and The Sev Olsen Orchestra were regularly performing at the hotel's Flame Room, which remained in the hotel's mezzanine level from its opening in 1925 until the mid-1950s. The fourth image seen above is likely to date from around 1957, when the hotel was expanded and renovated. Part of the renovation involved the relocation of the Flame Room to a space near the lobby. The last of the images presents an in-house ensemble, the Golden Strings, allegedly performing in the Blue Room, sometimes in the 1960s or early 1970s. Displayed on the penultimate image is the hotel's Pierre Lounge, which one source identifies as another room in which Peggy Lee performed. The hotel would close in 1981 and would be torn down in 1982, to make way for the new Radisson that opened at the same location in 1987.)

During this period (ca. August to October 1940), Peggy Lee was also heard over the airwaves emanating from KSTP, a local radio station which had rented space at the Radisson Hotel. Aside from the sponsor's name, little else is known about these Standard Oil Hour shows, on which Lee seems to have sung regularly. A 1950 article from a local newspaper states that Lee had sung "on the KSTP football show" in 1940.

[Addendum, 2014: Lee also made time to serve as guest vocalist on a swimming-music-dance spectacular. The 1940 Water Follies had come to town for a five-day engagement at the Minneapolis Auditorium, to be enacted in late November and/or early December of 1940. According to biographer James Gavin, who had access to a review in the December 4, 1940 issue of Variety, Lee's involvement was actually limited to singing just the closing number, "God Bless America."  Apparently panned by critics and ignored by the general audience, this low-budget show must have left Minneapolis without receiving any fanfare.]

Years later, the singer reminisced about her stay in Minneapolis with pleasure, describing it as a busy but gratifying stage of her career. "We did three shows a day -- noon, supper, and then a late show," she declared. "Between shows, I was busy with radio work and trying to improve my voice and style ... [E]ven though I was busy, I did have time to go to Lake Calhoun in the summer time and I enjoyed swimming and boating there when I could get away. I think one of the reasons I liked Minneapolis so much was the fact that the people in the audience were nice to sing to, they were appreciative and they were the right kind of audience for a girl like me who was just getting started on a vocal career."

(Late 1940)

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When the nationally known Will Osborne Orchestra came to Minneapolis to play at the Nicollet Hotel, its bandleader faced a momentary obstacle. Per the policies of that hotel's music room, orchestras had to feature a female vocalist. Amidst Osborne's bandstand, there were various male instrumentalists who dabbled in vocals at the band's shows (pianist Dick Rogers, fiddler Dale Jones), but no canary was part of the ensemble at the time.

According to a few magazine articles, the bandleader had caught Peggy Lee's radio broadcasts on the Standard Oil show, proceeding to contact the singer on the basis of what he had heard over the airwaves. Lee auditioned for him and Osborne offered her the band's vocal chair while she was still a canary with Sev Olsen's Orchestra. I have found no corroboration, however, for the possibility that Lee ever joined Osborne when he was at the Nicollett. Osborne might have hired another local canary on a temporary basis, while Lee was making arrangements to leave not only Sev Olsen's group but also the city of Minneapolis.

The Will Osborne band was actually on tour during this period, and the Nicollet had been booked as just one of the stops along the way. A November 15, 1940 article in the Valley City Times Record mentions that, after having spent an unspecified amount of time playing at the Nicollet, the group had taken to the road on November 4, 1940.

The same November 15, 1940 article makes the announcement that Lee "has signed" with the band. In Peter Richmond's biography, it is stated that Lee left Minneapolis on the second week of November 1939, with the express purpose of joining this touring band. Such a date does not fit the chronology presented herein, but the second week of November 1940 would.

During this touring period, the orchestra must have played mostly within the Missouri and Illinois area. Band and canary are also known to have gone to Chicago briefly, in either November or December of 1940, for one or more appearances at that city's State-Lake Theater. (Photos of the State-Lake Theater can be seen below, in entry XII, which is dedicated to Chicago.)

But their longest-held venue during this period was St. Louis' Fox Theatre, where they were booked into the New Year. [Addendum, 2014: In his book, biographer James Gavin quotes from a pertinent Variety review of a Will Osborne concert at the Fox. Published on January 1, 1941, the reviewer writes very positively about Peggy Lee: "the gal thrills Body And Soul and had to come back to do Exactly Like You before the customers would cease the palm-pounding." My belated inspection of this review allows for a few supplementary details of possible interest. The Variety reviewer had seen the show on the night of December 27, 1940, when Osborne and the band had opened with his theme "The Gentleman Awaits," which had then been followed by another instrumental, "A Million Dreams Ago." Lee is described as the Osborne mob's "blonde featured vocalist ... [i]n a striking black silk evening gown with a broad gold wait band." Her two vocal contributions did not actually happen until well into the show; they were preceded by not only more pieces from Osborne's band but also tap dancing and the talents of three local acts, all of them contest winners, some of them singers.]

Once finished with their appearances in the Minneapolis-Missouri-Illinois area, the group was slated to continue traveling toward their final destination, the West Coast. By that time, Will Osborne had taken to jokingly nickname his singer "The Lady Lee."

(Images seen above: drummer and vocalist Will Osborne, whose singing established him as a rival of Rudy Vallee and Russ Columbo in the 1930s, and whose 17-piece orchestra would appear in various 1940s Hollywood films. The other photos above show Missouri's so called Fabulous Fox Theatre. The front shot of the theater dates from 1937 -- just a few years before the booking of the Will Osborne Orchestra there, with Peggy Lee as band vocalist. Lee describes it in her autobiography as "enormous and beautiful." An above-quoted Variety review of one of Will Osborne's 1940 appearances at this theatre states that it sat 5,000. Built in 1929, William Fox's movie and concert theater still stands and operates today. It did close in 1978, re-opening in 1982 after undergoing a full renovation.)

In or around early 1941, while still working with Will Osborne, Peggy Lee received a job offer from Raymond Scott, who had just assembled a touring band. (Best known as the composer of "Mountain High, Valley Low" and of oddly titled instrumentals such as "Dinner Music For A Pack Of Hungry Cannibals," Scott would go on to host the popular show Hit Parade, and in time would also become an inventor of various electronic devices. Much of his musical oeuvre became immortalized through its ample use in Warner Brothers' classic cartoons of the late 1930s and 1940s.)

Recurrent throat problems forced Peggy Lee to not only decline Scott's offer but also take a leave of absence from her job with the Osborne orchestra. This time the ailment was, in her own words, "a lump in my throat." She had to undergo surgery once more. Her condition is actually mentioned in a review of Osborne's January 3, 1941 show, published on the January 8, 1941 issue of Variety magazine.  The reviewer lets  readers know that Lee is absent or "sidetracked for this show because of an operation on her throat."  Readers are also informed that "Will Osborne is making his farewell personal as a band maestro with the end of his current engagement at the Fox as he is breaking up his outfit to trek to Hollywood to produce musical talkers." By the time that the singer had recovered, Osborne had indeed disbanded his group. In Lee's own estimation, she spent about three months with Will Osborne's orchestra.

(Just like her earlier tonsillectomy, this later procedure brought its own set of unforeseen tribulations. As a sedated Lee was being moved from the operating table to a cart, she was accidentally dropped on the hospital's hard floor, landing on her face and breaking her front teeth, which had to be capped by a dentist. But the tonsillectomy itself was a success, at least for the immediate years to come. In later decades, she would be periodically plagued by more vocal cord problems, including nodules.)

(Take 1- Softly With Feeling, Early 1941)

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Following her recovery from surgery, a jobless but resolved Peggy Lee took advantage of a prospect at hand. Some members of the disbanded Will Osborne Orchestra were driving back to California, and she left with them (early 1941). Thus Lee landed back in Hollywood. She quickly resumed work at The Jade Lounge, and this time around she found a more convenient apartment nearby, on Whitley Avenue.

While performing at the Jade, Peggy Lee met lyricist Jack Brooks, of "Ole Buttermilk Sky" fame. Brooks told Lee that she would be a suitable addition to a Palm Springs establishment known as the Doll House. Soon thereafter, she was performing at this celebrity-frequented haunt which advertised itself as the oldest restaurant in Palm Springs.

(Images seen above: Two mementoes from the Doll House and a mid-1950s photo of the restaurant at its best-known location, 1032 North Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. Before the 1940s, it had been located on the west side of Belardo Road, two streets south of Arenas Road -- both roads also part of Palm Springs. The first of the above-seen images flaunts the house's motto -- "for food, fun, frivolity" -- and includes the "doll face" logo that was featured in most of the restaurant's artifacts. One such artifact is the matchbox captured in the second photo. This is actually the backside of the matchbox; its front side shows the exact same design seen in the first photo.) {Addendum, August 2015: I have belatedly come across a Facebook page dedicated to the Doll House. It includes the above-seen location photo, which inspired viewed Jeff Schuster to post the following comment: The Doll House was THE PLACE to be for Sunday brunch on the flagstone patio out front. Here you can see the water trough and, behind it, the wishing well at the edge of right frame. I lived next door above the medical bldg., partially visible behind the wishing well. Notice that N. Palm Canyon Dr. had no curbs or sidewalks in the early '50's. The white boulders in front were to discourage parking."}

Most published accounts of the the Doll House's history start off in the post-war period, when the restaurant was bought by George and Ethel Strebe (later known as Ethel Harutun), and when the likes of Frank Sinatra and Marlene Dietrich assiduously frequented the place. Some of those accounts wrongly claim that the Doll House opened in 1945, thereby erasing its pre-war history.

Given the lack of extensive literature about the place's early days, the following comments from Peggy Lee's autobiography are particularly worthwhile: "The Doll House, not too surprisingly, was originally the home of some folks named Doll. They started serving dinners because Palm Springs didn't have many, if any, restaurants then. Mr. Wrigley, of the Spearmint gum fortune, loved that sunny place and the story goes that he used to say, 'Let's go to the Doll House for dinner. The name stuck and it became a very popular spot for world travelers and movie stars. I recognized Franchot Tone, Peter Lorre, James Cagney, Jack Benny, Dennis Day and many others, but only Franchot Tone and Peter Lorre talked with me." Obviously, this account of the restaurant's name was the one that Lee had heard, most likely while she was employed there. It could be true, but it could just as well be apocryphal.

Another source states that the Doll house first opened in the 1930s, and that its original owners were named Al Thompson and Jane Manchester. No mention is made of any individuals with the last name of "Doll." {Addendum, August 2015. I have belatedly come across a Facebook page dedicated to the Strebe's Doll House. Of particular interest is the following, comment, left on the page by a viewer name Thom Thompson: "The part of history that is missing is when and from whom George and Ethel Strebe purchased the Doll House. Well, I can answer that question. My father, Albert (Al) Thompson and my aunt Jane Mansfield sold the Doll House to George and Ethel in approximately 1945 just after I was born. My aunt Jane and my father kept the Doll House in Balboa for a time after that. I think that it is important to note that the Doll House was already a huge success and had already established itself as "the place to be and be seen" Peggy Lee had been discovered at the Doll House prior to its sale to George and Ethel." The page also includes an ad said to be from a 1959 magazine, in which we are told that the house was celebrating its 31st year. If the magazine dates from 1959, the ad would be indicating that the Doll House began operations in 1928 -- earlier than other reports' claims. The Facebook page itself gives the restaurant's operating years as "approximately 1930-1966", and mentions the eventual set up of a second Doll House in Balboa.}

The establishment also housed a so-called doll shop, whose souvenirs for sale included actual dolls . Were there any evidence of such a shop's existence back in the 1930s (i.e., during the house's earliest years), we could speculate that the establishment was named after the shop. However, such is not the case: a witness account indicates that the shop was built in the 1950s, and Ethel Strebe is identified as its owner.

At the Doll House, Peggy Lee was sometimes accompanied by the house's Guadalajara Trio, who were also known as the Guadalajara Boys. Many years later, Lee would actually hire them for one of her more latinesque recording dates.

(Extended commentary about the images shown above: The first photo features character actor Peter Lorre and vaudevillian Lew Fields, playing gin rummy at one of the Doll House tables. This photo was taken in 1941, the same year in which Peggy Lee regularly performed there, and in which Lorre himself would talk to her. Since the Doll House was said to have a backroom where gambling was conducted, it may be that Lorre and Fields were in that room when this shot was taken.

The second photo is a 1943 shot of the Doll House's front, spotlighting a soldier and a lady standing by its door. Engraved above the front door is the Spanish word for canteen -- one of various details which suggest that the restaurant might have offered Hispanic food and a Mexican ambience during its early, pre-war years. Post-war, I've come across allusions to the Doll House as a Polynesian restaurant.

The Guadalajara Trio is seen in the last photo. Peggy Lee writes in her 1989 autobiography that, after more than 40 years, she could still hear them performing, in her head. She also quotes, without further clarification, what must have been either their customary greeting to audiences or, otherwise, a line from an often-performed song of theirs: "Tonight will live forever." Life forever was not granted to the Doll House itself, unfortunately: by 1966, it was no more. Its North Palm Canyon Drive premises were taken over by Sorrentino's Steak & Lobster House, which advertised itself as a favorite of Frank Sinatra, and stayed in business until 2002.

On the specific topic of the Guadalajara Trio, I must clarify that the three individuals in the photograph might not necessarily be the same ones with which Peggy Lee sang. I am inclined to believe that they are, but I have no confirmation, and online data about this group is confusing. The trio probably went through various editions or permutations. The three men who played at the Doll House appear to have been Lamberto Leyva, Jesús Castillón, and Mario Santos. It is likely that additional members joined them at the House; such additions could be the reason why they were also known as the Guadalajara Boys. The trio also appeared in various 1940s B movies, such as Abbott & Costello's 1942 flick "Rio Rita" and the 1945 Cisco Kid western "South Of The Rio Grande." In some of those movies, all three members are seen singing and playing guitar, but at the Doll House they could have played additional instruments. Though typically wearing Mexican (mariachi) costumes for their act, the group does not seem to have come straight from Mexico. According to vague commentaries found online, all members might have actually been of Spaniard rather than Mexican heritage. Founder Leyva was born in Arizona, came to Palm Springs in 1939, and was still living there when he passed away at the age of 94, in 2010. There is also a Trío Guadalajara who recorded numerous albums and which was well known in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. During its heyday, all three members of that trio happened to be named José -- Boluda, Ivanco, and Vázquez. I assume that el Trío Guadalajara was either an entirely different group or otherwise a later edition of the Guadalajara Trio that played at the Doll House.)

Peggy Lee claimed to have developed her fondness for soft singing at the Doll House. On a Saturday night, the nightclub was packed and rowdier than usual, partially due to the weekend revelers who were intent on having a jolly old time, and partially on account of Jack Benny, who had come in with the staff of his radio show. "The audience was unusually boisterous," Lee told an interviewer in 1948. "To cope with the noise, I lowered my voice with each successive song. The people soon forgot their bad manners, and I found a kind of delivery I’d been seeking for a long while." Faced with her personalized brand of relaxed, subtly delivered singing, customers felt compelled to quiet down and pay closer attention. "In a moment of intense fear," Lee said to another interviewer, in 1984, "I discovered the power of softness. I was thinking people didn’t want to listen to me, so I’d just sing to myself. They immediately stopped talking."

(Images shown above: Three snapshots of the Doll House while in full operation. Though unfortunately suffering from low quality, the first image and the last one give a fair glimpse of the interior of the Doll House as it looked in the mid-1950s. In the first image, the club's large bar can be seen in the background. The foreground spotlights just a small segment of the crowded table area. In the third photo, notice how the piano seems to be smack in the middle, inside a triangular enclosure that is surrounded by tables on at least two of its three sides. As for the second photo, possibly taken in the 1940s, the festive dancing at hand should provide yet one more impression of how crowded and popular the place could be. Incidentally, two male members of the Guadalajara Boys are visible in that second photo. Also seen is an unidentified woman who, given her attire and positioning, could be a singer with the Boys.)


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At the Doll House, Peggy Lee's hushed performances were thoroughly enjoyed by Frederick and Lois Mandel, a couple of visiting Chicagoans (ca. May 1941). Frederick was one of the owners of Chicago's Mandel Brothers department chain store, and had recently bought the Detroit Lions franchise. Having repeatedly come to the Doll House to watch Lee onstage, the Mandels talked to their friend Frank Bering, who was also in town with them. They asked him to audition Lee, with a view to hiring her for one of Bering's own establishments.

Bering co-owned Chicago's Ambassador East and West Hotels. It so happened that the facilities of the Ambassador West featured an ideal venue for Lee: The Buttery Room, which specialized in warm, romantic, intimate-sounding music, and which had opened just four years earlier (1938). The room was frequented by a high society clientele and by well-known out-of-towners from the theatre world, such as Ethel Barrymore and Frederic March.

An impromptu audition was scheduled. However, Bering and the Mandels did not show up for the audition until after closing time at the Doll House. Since the Guadalajara Boys (and/or the house's musicians) were already gone by then, a resourceful Lee proposed to go to the Claridge's, another Palm Springs restaurant, and hold the audition there. (I have read one article which states that Lee herself sang regularly at the Claridge's, but I cannot find further support for such a claim anywhere else.) The in-house musicians at the Claridge's were a quartet named The Four Of Us. When Lee and company arrived, The Four Of Us had already packed and stored their musical instruments, but they acquiesced to unpacking them for the audition. Peggy Lee sang "The Man I Love." Bering was particularly taken with the energy and enthusiasm shown by the singer during the audition process, and decided that she was worth hiring for those reasons.

Hence, through the patronage of the Mandels, who even paid for a train ticket to Chicago, Lee moved to the Windy City in the summer of 1941, along with The Four of Us. Lee's new job paid $75.00 a week, plus room service. The Mandels also arranged for her to live in a suite at the Ambassador itself, and to enjoy a half-price discount on anything that she wanted to buy at the hotel. The couple even gave a party for her, to introduce the newcomer to Chicago society. Presumably after receiving some advice (from the Mandels? ... from a Goodman-associated individual?), she also signed with a managing agency.

(Extended commentary about the images seen above: Chicago's twin Ambassador hotels, one west, at 1300 N. State Parkway, the other east, at 1301 N. State Parkway. Both Ambassadors were hailed for their food service and intimate atmosphere. The management was also known for a very accommodating predisposition toward famous guests, beginning right from the time in which the guests arrived at Chicago's train station, where they were promptly picked on limousines. Furthermore, a secret tunnel connected the two hotels, thereby allowing celebrities to move from the facilities of one annex to those of the other, without having to risk going out on the street. The 13-story West hotel had opened in 1924, the 19-story East hotel in 1926. The respective restaurants of these hotels followed a parallel pattern: the West's Buttery Room had opened first, in April 1938, the East's Pump Room a few months later, in October 1938.

During the Ambassadors' heyday, the East hotel was by far the most fashionable and most famous of the two, thanks in large part to its legendarily glamorous Pump Room, which tended to attract a high-profile Hollywood clientele -- Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Frank Sinatra, among many others. In comparison, the West hotel came across as an older and calmer, opulent but sober sister, and the atmosphere at its Buttery Room was quieter, warmer, and far more low-key. In 1941, Peggy Lee was hired to sing in this room, whose interior can be seen in two of the images shown above. The black & white photo of the Buttery was taken in 1965, the color image at an unknown but presumably much earlier time.

A curious detail in the annals of Hollywood history is that one of these Ambassador hotels was immortalized, for ages to come, when its lobby was used to film scenes for Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 classic North By Northwest: the Ambassador West ... which is falsely identified in the movie's script as the Ambassador East. Nowadays, neither hotel remains -- not at least by name. In the early 2000s, the West Hotel was reconfigured as a luxury condominium, with each apartment ranging in price from $1.6 to $6 million. The East Hotel closed in 2011 for a full renovation and modernization under new ownership, reopening with the new name of Chicago Public Hotel. In a concession to local demand, the new hotel's fully re-conceived restaurant kept the name Pump Room despite the fact of being an entirely different restaurant -- aside from its inclusion of some memorabilia. In 2010, when president Barack Obama came to town, he stayed not at the East hotel but at the Ambassador condominiums.)

At The Buttery, Peggy Lee's act was seen by a couple of well-known bandleaders who were playing in town: Glenn Miller and Claude Thornhill. Miller personally complimented Lee on her singing. Thornhill (and/or his agency) wanted her to join his band, but nothing came out of this preliminary proposal. Lee surmised that her managing agency did not approve of the idea because Thornhill was signed to a different agency.

(Images seen above: Chicago's State Lake Theater, at 190 North State Street, where Peggy Lee performed with the Will Osborne Orchestra at least once, in November or December of 1940. The first photo is actually from that year, when the establishment was about to undergo some significant changes. The year 1941 actually saw the end of the theater's policy of featuring live acts; from then onwards, its first floor sticked to showing movies only. Also starting around 1940, the building's upper floors would be perennially used as TV and radio station facilities; Oprah Winfrey's now defunct talk show was regularly taped inside the building. Seemingly intent of creating a film-noirish atmosphere for this 1955 shot, filmmaker-to-be Stanley Kubrick took the second of the above-seen photos, at a time in which he worked as a professional photographer. A more mundane, everyday atmospere was captured in the third photo, taken in 1962. Twenty-three years later (1982), this theater, which had opened in 1919, would close. After being substantially torn down, the lot served as the headquarters of Chicago's ABC affiliate WLS-TV. However, the building has seen in a partial return to its historical beginnings in more recent times: a restoration was undertaken during the first decade of the twenty-first century. The last photo above shows the building's current façade, which replicates the theater's look back in the 1920s. This restored façade has become a tourist's attraction; glass windows allow passersby to view WLS-TV channel in broadcasting action.)

(Second Half Of 1941)

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Another bandleader who saw Peggy Lee at The Buttery was Benny Goodman. While in Chicago during the summer of 1941, the bandleader was playing at the Panther Room of the Sherman Hotel but staying at the Ambassador East. (Both the Ambassador and the Sherman were under the management of the same man, the aforementioned Frank Bering.) Goodman came to see Lee's Ambassador West show at the request of his fiancée, Lady Alice Duckworth (née Hammond), who had attended one of the singer's previous performances therein. (As previously mentioned The Four Of Us accompanied Lee at the Ambassador West. After her departure, they continued to perform with a substitute vocalist, Betty Reed, who is described in some accounts as a "blonde coloratura soprano." The next act to perform at the Ambassador West was The Notable, starting on October 2, 1941.) Mindful of Goodman's need to hire a new female vocalist for the band (since his canary Helen Forrest had recently given a few weeks' notice), Lady Duckworth thought of Lee as a candidate with lots of potential. In August of 1941, Goodman personally phoned Lee to offer her the job, which she accepted immediately.

(Pictures seen above: at the New York Hotel, Peggy Lee performs with Benny Goodman for an audience of couples perchance in love, at an undetermined date between October 1942 and January 1943. Goodman had been a married man since March 21, 1942. His wife was Alice Hammond, great-great-granddaughter of the magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. Alice was also a divorcée. Back in 1927, she had married Lord George Arthur Victor Duckworth, thereby acquiring the title of Lady Duckworth. The second image above features the Goodmans as the proud parents of one of their two daughters -- probably first-born Rachel, who saw the light on day in 1943. Next we capture the married couple together at WNEW studio, on the occasion of the station's celebration of a "Benny Goodman Day" (July 24, 1946). Also present for the proceedings are Martin Block and Art Ford, both distinguished disc jockeys. (Away from the lens but just as present: Alice's brother John Hammond, Benny's labelmate Cab Calloway, and Columbia's A&R man Mannie Sachs.) Taken more than a decade later, the last shot presents the Goodmans in the company of their two daughters, now grown, and two other pairs of family members -- one pair human, the other canine.)

Lee's 20-month period as Goodman's canary (August 1941 - March 1943) provided an "advanced learning experience" for her. It was with the clarinetist's band that she began on a solid path toward national recognition. It was also with Goodman that Lee made her first recordings.

However, and as I hope to have amply shown in the biographical capsules already presented in this page, the formative years of Lee's career had begun long before she joined Goodman's orchestra. This relatively long gestation period (1936-1941) is too often obscured in biographical accounts of the singer, which tend to over-stress the significance of her apprenticeship with the Goodman band.

(Take 2 - Where Or When)

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Granted that it proved enormously important for the progress of her career, Peggy Lee's year and a half with Benny Goodman was nonetheless a step backwards in one important area of professional growth: the evolvement of a personalized style of interpretation. Overall, the singer's vocals with The Benny Goodman Orchestra exhibit little of the individual style -- little of the intimacy and bluesiness -- for which she would become known as a solo artist. The exceptions are the ballads that she did with Benny Goodman's small combos, "Where Or When" (December 24, 1941) and "The Way You Look Tonight" (March 10, 1942). I believe that her soft, warm ballad approach to both of those numbers exemplifies the style that she had previously cultivated in nightclubs, supper clubs, and smaller venues.

(Images seen above: the sheet music for Rodgers & Hart's "Where Or When," from the 1937 musical "Babes In Arms," and a Peggy Lee issue entitled Where Or When. The issue is a MP3 release in the Public Domain. The makers of this release have picked an early 1950s photo of Lee for the front cover but an early 1940s interpretation for the title. Over the decades, the song "Where Or When" has become increasingly identified with Lee, although less savvy listeners still tend to opt for the other artists' versions that commercial websites and search engines usually feed to them. "Where Or When" would be periodically re-visited by Lee at different periods of her long career, often eliciting emotional reactions from moved audience members.)

Peggy Lee's overall work as Goodman's canary can be best described as an adaptation to the demands that big bands and their audiences made on singers. Vocals were secondary to the instrumental parts. Furthermore, general audiences tended to expect a danceable tempo for most numbers, ballads included. In reaction to Goodman's inclusion of slow, romantic vocals in live concerts, concertgoers would in fact tend to moan and utter complaints such as "what's with all this balladry?" Liner annotator and music collector Dave Weiner tells the following story, which took place during a Goodman gig that extended from late December 1942 to January 1943:

"My uncle saw the [Benny Goodman] band there [at The Paramount Theatre, in New York] and was unimpressed by [Frank] Sinatra, whom he had seen previously with [Tommy] Dorsey. He remembers that Peggy Lee sang a very slow Where Or When with Benny Goodman, and was booed by some hecklers who yelled, 'You stink!' Goodman stopped playing, stepped to the mike and told the audience to be quiet -- then he swung into Why Don't You Do Right? and cheers erupted for her and the band."

(Take 3 - These Foolish Things)

[Section Currently Under Reconstruction]

Also indicative of Peggy Lee's early stylistic leanings is a bluesy-sounding 1942 version of "These Foolish Things" that she performed with The Benny Goodman Orchestra, and which has been preserved because it was broadcast over radio. "These Foolish Things" was in fact the song that Norma Deloris Egstrom had chosen, years earlier, for her audition at Fargo's WDAY radio station, moments before her name was changed to Peggy Lee. It was moreover one of the numbers that she sang at The Ambassador West's Buttery Room on the night when Goodman came to see her act. Hence "These Foolish Things" qualifies as one of the fundamental pieces of Peggy Lee's early singing career, despite the paradoxical fact that she never made a studio recording of it.

(Artwork above: the first image displays a poster from "Spread It Abroad," a 1936 London revue in which the song "These Foolish Things" was heard when it was new; the second image shows sheet music for the song. The third and fourth images present two sources for Lee's interpretation of "These Foolish Things" -- each one containing a different rendition, however. To listen to the 1943 radio broadcast version that I mentioned in the previous paragraph, you will need to track down the Benny Goodman LP pictured last. As for the CD viewable in the third photo, it is one of many compact discs that contain a different radio version, dating from the early 1950s. Lee prefaces that version with her recitation of some verses from a William Butler Yeats poem. Some Public Domain CDs have edited out the recitation.)

(From The 1920s To The Summer Of 1941)

[Section Currently Under Reconstruction]

The following tunes were sung by Peggy Lee before her days with The Benny Goodman Orchestra. An asterisk indicates that Lee commercially recorded the given song at a later stage of her singing career.

1. "Body And Soul"
audition number for The Sev Olsen Orchestra, 1940
sung with Will Osborne's Orchestra, late 1940 and early 1941

2. "Clouds"
(an Ernest Charles composition)
sung solo -- not chorally -- for a music contest, 1937

3. “Come Sweet Morning” ("Viens Aurore")
(presumably, the English version by R. H. Elkin)
high school end-of-semester performance, 1935
high school graduation commencement ceremonies, 1936

4. "Deep In A Dream"
frequent request at The Powers Hotel Coffee Shop; accompanied by organ, 1940

5. "Deep Purple" *
probably sung in 1939, when the lyric became a hit, and in the ensuing two years

6. "Dipsy Doodle, The"
patrons' request at the Powers Hotel; accompanied by organ, 1940 (source: Lloyd Collins, in an interview conducted by biographer Peter Richmond)

7. "Exactly Like You"
sung with Will Osborne's Orchestra, late 1940 and early 1941

8. "God Bless America"
sung at the Minneapolis Auditorium while momentarily serving as featured singer of the Water Follies, 1940

9. "Goody Goody" *
Lee implied to have sung it at WDAY, some time between 1937 and 1939

10. "Glory Of Love, The" *
amateur contest, around 1935

11. "His Coming" ("Eh Ist Gekommen")
(a Robert Franz - Friedrich Rückert composition)
music contest, 1937

12. "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" *
audition number for The Will Osborne Orchestra, 1940

13. "I Come To Thee"
sung at the glee club, as part of an all-girl sextette, early 1936

14. "I Dream Of Jeannie With The Light Brown Hair"
(Stephen Foster)
sung while performing at the Radisson Hotel in Minneapolis, 1940

(Images seen above:" Norma Deloris Egstrom, aka Peggy Lee, in photos taken between 1935 and 1941, the exact year and location unknown.)

15. "I Never Had A Chance" *
remembered by the singer as a favorite of hers when she was young, probably around 1934

16. "I Thought About You"
Lee implies to have sung it at The Powers Hotel Coffee Shop, and to have considered it a favorite, 1940
Corroboration has come from her accompanist at the time, organist Lloyd Collins.

17. "I'm In The Mood for Love"
patrons' request at the Powers Hotel; played by Lloyd Collins on organ and presumably sung by Lee, 1940 (source: Collins, in an interview conducted by biographer Peter Richmond)

18. "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen"
sung for the semi-classical Sunday matinee at the Powers Hotel Coffee Shop, 1940

19. "Ivory Palaces"
played on the piano -- and presumably sung, too -- in Nortonville's Lutheran Church, around 1930

20. "Little Boy Blue"
(an Eugene Field poem, set to music by Ethelbert Nevin)
sung at the glee club, as part of an all-girl sextette, early 1936

21. "Little Sir Echo"
Lee is said to have sung this number for her neighbor's child in Fargo, as a lullaby, around 1940

22. "Man I Love, The" *
audition number for Frank Bering, 1941
also sung, during the period when she was working as a carnival barker, to two young men who recommended that she audition for the Jade Lounge, around 1938
probably sung previously at WDAY, too, 1937 or 1938

23. "Moonglow"
a favorite as a child; also sung while with The Doc Haines Orchestra, some time between 1934 and 1936

24. "Music Goes Round And Round, The"
frequent request at The Powers Hotel Coffee Shop; accompanied by organ, 1940

25. "My Blue Heaven"
remembered by the singer as a favorite of hers when she was very young, around 1927

26. "Red River Valley"
patrons' request at the Powers Hotel; accompanied by organ, 1940 (source: Lloyd Collins, in an interview conducted by biographer Peter Richmond)

27. "Solitude"
remembered by the singer as a favorite of hers when she was young, probably around 1934

28. "Stardust"
patrons' request at the Powers Hotel; accompanied by organ, 1940 (source: Lloyd Collins, in an interview conducted by biographer Peter Richmond)

29. "Sylvia"
(Clinton Scollard poem, set to music by Oley Speaks)
sung at the glee club, as part of an all-girl sextette, early 1936

(Images shown above: a couple of magazines dedicated mainly to transcribed song lyrics, both featuring Peggy Lee on the cover. The January 1949 volume of Well-Known Songs includes the lyrics of "Don't Smoke In Bed," which were first recorded and had been partially written by Peggy Lee, although only her friend Willard Robison was officially credited as songwriter. The April 1943 volume of Hit Parader contains a few lyrics that Lee would go on to record in later years, one of them being "Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe.")

30. " 'Tain't What You Do"
sung at The Powers Hotel Coffee Shop; accompanied by organ, 1940

31. "These Foolish Things" *
audition song, 1937 or 1938 (see comments in this page's preceding entry)

32. "Twilight On The Trail"
amateur contest, around 1935

33. "When The Red, Red Robin (Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along)"
learned as a child, in Jamestown, and sung back then, around 1926

34. "Wishing (Will Make It So)"
singled out by Lee as an early favorite of hers; hence my tentative assumption that she sang it, around 1939

35. "Would God I Were A Tender Apple Blossom"
semi-classical Sunday matinee at the Powers Hotel Coffee Shop, 1940

36. "You Oughta Be In Pictures"
audition number for KOVC and The Doc Haines Orchestra, some time between 1934 and 1936

37. "Teach Me To Pray, Lord"
(Albert Simpson Reitz )
hymn sung by Lee at the commencement ceremonies, during her graduation from high school, 1937

38. "Thanks For The Memory"
another avowed favorite of Lee's; probably sung around 1937 or 1938, when the song was brand new, and also in ensuing years

39. "You're A Little Sweet Heartache"
allegedly sung, as a lullaby, to a child neighbor, in Fargo, around 1940

Regrettably, not one of the above-listed performances from the singer's early years (May 1920 - July 1940) has been preserved. Her earliest extant performances are studio recordings and radio broadcasts from her years with The Benny Goodman Orchestra (August 1941- March 1943).

XXVII. Appendix A
(Valley City, 1950)

[Section Currently Under Reconstruction]

Right above, a final set of negatives and publicity shots takes us away from the main period under discussion (1934-1941), though we will still remain in the North Dakota state . We are witnessing mementoes from a return visit made by Norma Deloris in 1950, by which time she was far better known as Peggy Lee. She had accepted an invitation to appear as the Grand Marshall of the Twelfth North Dakota Winter Show, an agricultural celebration held on the first week of March every year in Barnes County's biggest city, Valley City. During her two-day-long visit to the area, the thirty-year-old Hollywood resident took a prominent place in the show's parade, gave four concerts and, after a ten-year-long absence from North Dakota, traveled to the nearby Stutsman County, to see old friends and family members then living in the very small community of Millarton.

(The prospect of visiting with the latter had been one of her main incentives to accept the offer.) This parade received ample coverage from the local press and, probably due to Lee's presence, even from national press: Life magazine sent a crew that included Stanley Kubrick, the film-director-to-be who at the time was a photographer. Above, in a newspaper article entitled "Singer Peggy Lee Comes Home To Barnes County, ND," the singer is seen with KOVC's Bob Ingstad, the programmer /manager who started her radio career. Looking over them in that newspaper photo are Belle Mae Stern (née Ginsberg), the pianist who used to accompany the young Norma in her KOVC show, and Gladys Thompson, said to have had a KOVC radio program around the same time as Norma. Also shown in one of the other photos included by the newspaper: Lee during one of the local concerts that she gave. The other above-seen photos are from a get-together which took place at the home of
Herman and Adeline Stern. (They were the parents of Belle Mae's husband, Richard Morris Stern. A different report presents this house as the home of Belle Mae and Richard, but I believe that report to be mistaken. The pianist's obituary states that she and her husband got married in Spokane in 1937 and move to Seattle in 1942.) In the first of the photos, Mrs. Stern is at the piano, serving as accompanist to Peggy Lee during the (relatively) informal gathering. In the last photo, one of the men is identified as Polly (Pollie) Evenson, the manager of Valley City's Rudolf Hotel. Evenson was Lee's sponsor when she sang at both that hotel's dining room (1936) and at KOVC, whose premises were also located at the hotel. The other two individuals in these photos are a couple, Wimbledon's Soo depot master William Brenner and his wife, who were Norma Deloris' neighbors when she lived in Wimbledon's Midland Continental depot. Her embrace of them suggests a level of affection that is also suggested by mutual comments in print. Decades later, Mr. Brenner would publicly share the following story with the press: "One morning I was making my way over to the Midland depot with some freight bills... and when about half way over, here came Norma, sobbing real hard, and as she met me exclaimed, 'she won't let me go down to Valley City today, she says I can't sing, and am just wasting my time going down there to Valley City. Well, Henry Fehr and I were both on the school board at the time, and his two girls were in high school along with Norma and my son George, and most Wimbledon folks were really proud to have three of our Wimbledon High School girls sing over the Valley City Station. So I said to Norma, 'You are going down there and sing, whether your stepmother wants you to, or not. And I'll see Mr. Fehr and see that he takes you along this evening, with his two girls' ... and that I did.")


This page is currently under reconstruction. Sections XIV to XXVII above are unfinished as of 2021. Several modifications (additions, re-sectioning, corrections) will be applied to both the text and the photography. I apologize for the fact that some paragraphs might be in a "half-baked" state, thereby rendering their meaning harder to grasp.

Research and redaction of all other sections, including XXVIII to XXXI below, has been completed, but a thorough proofreading will not be undertaken for the time being.

XXVIII. Appendix B
(The Train Of Deloris' Thoughts)

In Her Own Words

"I had a fierce pride in that railroad," wrote Peggy Lee in her autobiography. "It not only had a great steam engine," Lee added, "but also a truck and a Model-A Ford on railroad wheels. When there wasn't enough freight, they would use the truck or the Model-A Ford (which they called Snowbird) to deliver the mail or to take the cream cans in to the dairy ... You see, it was a very important railroad because it was the only way the miles and miles of flat prairie could be connected and carry all those freight cars, refrigerated cars and flat cars so they could get to all those far off places! .... And when I got a little older, if I ever heard someone make a derogatory remark about it, I would take advantage of my position as editor of the high school paper in Wimbledon and write a scathing editorial."

Peggy Lee (née Norma Deloris Egstrom) was referring to the Midland Continental, a humble railroad line whose single track stretched for much less than a 100 miles of North Dakotan land, though it still managed to run across three of the the estate's southeastern counties. Circumscribed to those counties and better known for carrying freight, the line was small and its locomotive ran slowly -- about 20 miles per hour, a caravan of 20 to 30 carloads typically behind it. Boys amused themselves by greasing the railroad tracks as the train was incoming, causing its wheels to spin and forcing it to come to a halt. Unkind locals would call it "the puddle jumper" or, after the then-popular syndicated newspaper cartoon strip, "the Toonerville trolley."

In her senior high school year, Norma Deloris would indeed write a defense of the Midland Continental. She had taken offense to the dismissive comments made by one of various Valley City State Teachers' College students who -- due to unexpected snow in April of 1937 -- had had to take a ride on a Midland Continental freight caboose. More accustomed to the comforts provided by the passenger cars of the Northern Pacific Railroad, the college student had jokingly called the caboose ride "his most amusing experience in years." Budget, the college's student paper had published his commentary.

Norma D., then a high schooler, had promptly sent a rebuke that the paper also published (on April 6, 1937), and which read, in part: "I trust courtesy will permit you to print this defense of a little railroad [to] which you perhaps unthinkingly did quite harm in printing [that] amusing little piece ... [T]he Midland [has] carried sick people to the hospital from snowbound farms, and more than once the railroad ha[s] supplied food to the little towns that were cut off from the source of supply ..."

"People would laugh at the Midland Continental Railroad," Peggy Lee would re-state in her adult years, while having a candid conversation with jazz writer Gene Lees. "And I would get so angry because I thought of all those wonderful dear things the train did. Like, a mother was going to have to go to a hospital or something. She would stand by the track, and the train would stop for her and take her to the nearest hospital."


For commentary about the four images above and all others below, go to the last paragraphs of this appendix.

The Tracks Of Norma's Early Years

The Midland Continental Railroad was a consistent presence in the young life of the future Peggy Lee, born Norma Deloris Egstrom to a Midland Continental station agent in Jamestown. She retained fond memories of the station: "I would follow my daddy to work at that particular depot ... When he would let me walk along with him, I would run and hold onto his finger, like a handle. And then down at the depot, he was very busy. He was the station agent. He would be there with a green visor in his head. He gave me paper and those ink-pad stampers. I'd stamp everything I could lay my hands on ... There was a little boy in Jamestown that used to play with me at the depot. Our big pastime was to go into the warehouse and find this huge box of jelly beans. We must have eaten a lot of jelly beans. I loved the black ones. We would watch the trains come in and out. Then Daddy would take me home."

When Norma Deloris was eight years old, her father was transferred from the Midland Continental headquarters in Jamestown to Nortonville, where the railroad line had set up a much smaller depot. After living for some time in a Nortonville house, the family moved to the depot's second floor. They stayed there until a gas stove explosion made the premises uninhabitable, forcing them to seek residence in a regular house again.

When Lee was fourteen years old, his father was transferred once more. At that time he became Wimbledon's Midland Continental Station master. Norma, her father, and her stepmother occupied the second floor of the Wimbledon depot. (All her siblings had left the household by then.) Wimbledon was the line's very last passenger stop in its northern direction, with the open prairie covering the subsequent miles of land.

At this depot, the teen-age Norma occasionally found herself involved in the fulfillment of the administrative duties necessary for the running of the train. When her father had drunk too much to be able to perform his job effectively, Peggy Lee would willingly fulfill the depot tasks that her father would basically leave up to her to do. (Norma's stepmother, Min Schaumberg, was frequently away. Having become, like her husband, a Midland Continental employee, her schedule had becom busy with assignments a few miles away, in the Millarton station.) The tasks performed by Norma on such occasions included both physical labor -- e.g., stoking the depot's four stoves with about a ton of lignite -- and office work --e.g., preparing per diem reports. The 14-year old girl would also be asked to exchange waybills and run other errands across the tracks, where the depot of another line was located. (That other line was the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad, nicknamed the Soo line.)

The Brief History Of A Small But Mighty Hospitable Railroad

A. The Original Plan

The Midland Continental Railroad was originally conceived as a unique train line which would stretch across no less than six states (the Dakotas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas) for a grand total of 1,800 miles. At the time of the Midland Continental's legal registration as a railroad company (October 1906), nearly all existing US train lines ran from east to west, and west to east. The master plan for the Midland Continental was to have its trail cross the entire US American nation in the other two cardinal directions. (There was one earlier line that did run north to south. Incorporated in 1836, the Illinois Central Railroad ran north to south, from Illinois to Alabama. The Midland Continental had far greater ambitions, though, as it set out to cover the entire length of the United States, and to cross into another nation.)

The chief inspiration for this ambitious 1906 railroad project was actually an earlier, even more daring undertaking: the Panama Canal, whose construction was still ongoing at the time. Begun in 1880 and completed in 1914, the canal aspired to be a bridge between two oceans. Somewhat similarly, the Midland Continental Railroad was conceived as a bridge that would connect North America all the way from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico (or, more specifically, from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Galveston, Texas).

While passenger transportation was among the several fundamental services on the agenda, the Midland Continental Railroad was primarily conceived as a commodities enterprise. The consortium of businessmen behind this project had high hopes for the future of the freight exportation trade. Accordingly, they saw promise in the construction of this railroad route, across which they envisioned grain being transported directly from the high-producing Midwest into the benefit-reaping Gulf port coast. "[T]he promoters believed that the opening of the Panama Canal would revolutionize global trade patterns and thus make Gulf ports more important than ever," explains H. Roger Grant in his Midland Continental Railroad, 1912-1920 article for the Fall 1976 volume of the North Dakota History Journal Of The Northern Plains.

As devised, the project had other potential advantages as well -- and also some foreseeable disadvantages. The train's trajectory certainly looked both time- and cost-effective. It avoided industrial or overpopulated metropolitan cities (Fort Worth being the most notable exception) and, in the process, numerous passageways -- tunnels, bridges. By the same token, a lack of metropolitan access was liable to reduce the amount of passenger intake and, more crucially, the number of business opportunities. Like most every other plan, this one carried both a risk of failure and a promise of success -- any business' basic catch-22, doubtlessly the subject of many a discussion among the wheelers and dealers behind the Midland Continental project. Ulterior or alternative plans could have assuaged their fears. For one, they might have been banking on the line's potential to lure the competition into doing business with them. In other words, the prospect of a rewarding merger or a handsome buyout could have been a strategic calculation behind the men's investment.

In his well-written, informative article for the June 1972 issue of Trains magazine, railroad historian F. Stewart Mitchell goes over the initial steps taken by the launching Midland Continental Railroad team. "Unusually attractive corporation laws" prompted their decision to incorporate in South Dakota, in September 1907. Survey crews were then tasked with inspecting land in both of the Dakotas. The comparative flatness of the land and the abundance of lignite coal (to be dealt as freight) have been cited as the likeliest reasons why North Dakota was favored over the other, more topographically diverse Dakota. The decision to start construction in Edgeley was subsequently made. Mitchel speculates that this North Dakota town was strategically picked as the starting point on account of having both Northern Pacific and Milwaukee train stops. As he puts it, "Edgeley must have struck [the Midland Continental company] as an easy interchange point as well as a good receiving terminus for construction materials."

B. Construction Phases

In the end, only the first two stages of the Midland Continental grand plan were finished. Both stages were geographically circumscribed to North Dakota. The first, involving the construction of the line from Edgeley (La Moure County) to Jamestown (Stutsman County), was commenced on August 12, 1909. The 42-mile railroad path was finally completed on November 1, 1912. Financial shortcomings and lukewarm local response had caused the construction process to draw out over that three-year period. (More specifically, Mitchell mentions as causes "a wave of hostile Federal and State anti-railroad legislation," "a very speculative bond market," "a generally chaotic money situation," and "delays by laggard subcontractors.")

The halting pace led to sardonic nicknames for the prospective line, such as "the paper railroad" and "the bubble." Such nicknames and the dismissive attitude underlying them appear to have circulated far and wide for a long while -- probably well within the line's first years of operation. There was also a third moniker, "the hot air line," which might or might have not targeted the railroad alone. People in the know could have also used it to make fun of one of the Midland Continental partners, who presided over the Goodyear Tire Company as well.

The second stage of the railroad's construction called for the continuation of the tracks up north -- still within North Dakota. For that purpose, the Midland Continental company was legally registered in North Dakota in August of 1912. (Mitchell points out that, "in the same years," the company was incorporated in Nebraska and Oklahoma, too.) This second time around, the planned trajectory appears to have aimed at reaching an up-North intersection of the Northern Pacific with the Midland Continental. (A few of my sources state or suggest that the aim for this second stage was to reach Pembina, which strikes me as too ambitious a plan to achieve in just one stage. Pembina is located all the way up, near the US-Canada border. I would think that the aim was instead a closer city with a Northern Pacific station. The NP line had stops in Grand Forks and other cities.)

Whichever city they were considering as their last destination, the Midland Continental company promptly found their plans thwarted. The planners deemed the level or grade of the Northern Pacific Railroad too hazardous for the Midland Continental to meet. Any attempts at building either below or above that grade in the designated area would have been prohibitively costly.

Ultimately, the planned route for this second stage was downsized to reach an intersection with another worthwhile (and closer) railroad: the Soo line, which had stops in two towns located north of Jamestown. A rivalry over the matter promptly developed between the towns of Courtenay (Stutsman County) and Wimbledon (Barnes County), where the respective Soo train stops were located. Wimbledon, which had strenuously objected to being dismissed and ridiculed by Courtenay as just "mountains and rough county," became the ultimate choice. The railroad officers considered it the better option on two grounds -- projected growth and construction costs. Thus the Barnes County town became the last point of the Midland Continental's second phase -- and, it would turn out, the very last passenger stop of its entire route.

Completion of this second stage (from Jamestown to Wimbledon) did not take long. Construction was begun in April and finished in October of 1913. Besides the comparatively smaller, more manageable amount of land miles to be covered, the consummation of this part of the project was undoubtedly eased by the adjudication of a $400,000 loan. Also working in favor of the overall project was the acquisition, at this point in time, of a brand new and fairly affluent partner (Seiberling, to be profiled below).

The next stages of the project would have first extended the line from Wimbledon to Cooperstown (Griggs County), and subsequently all the way to Grand Forks, located in North Dakota's border with Minnesota. However, neither of these stages advanced past their planning phase. Concerns over the onset of World War I in 1914 caused hopeless delays and crushing disappointments. In particular, a British, two-million-dollar investor (Joseph Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star ship line, and best remembered for his Titanic misadventure) backed out.

More generally, the war was simply not good for transportation and commodities businesses. Service companies such as the Midland Continental Railroad experienced severe drops in revenue. The situation was not helped by the fact that tghis company was still young, and struggling to lift itself off the ground. Prospective investors across the US were not feeling confident about the US government's declaration that, for the duration of the war period, most railroads would have to serve as national, non-private possessions -- the Midland Continental most certainly included. And so it befell that, in 1916, as the United States was inching toward becoming more actively involved in the warfare than in the two previous years, all plans to extend the Midland Continental beyond Barnes County were abandoned.

Post-war, the aforementioned extension to Grand Forks was (according to some, not all of my sources) re-considered but, once again, discarded. Lack of enough financial backing made the notion unfeasible. Ditto for another considered plan, involving extending the line from Edgeley to Leola, the last stop of the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway's Northwestern route in South Dakota. Not every single construction was nixed, though. Tinier extensions were made to the line's track between 1916 and 1920. One of those extensions expanded the Jamestown part of the railroad route from that city's east side into downtown. North of Wimbledon, there was also late 1913 addition of about a third of a mile of track, thanks to which the train was able to reach Frazier, a grain elevator site (and an erstwhile town prospect, which the war thwarted permanently).

C. The Project's Partners

The plan to create a railroad from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada had been devised by a group of 12 businessmen who met at Chicago's Chamber of Commerce in March of 1906. As discussed by James D. Johnson in his extensive Midland Continental Railroad essay for the North Dakota Quarterly (winter 1957 issue), the Midland project would end up having three chief partners, two of whom were part of this original 1906 team. The one credited with the specific concept of a transcontinental railroad was Herbert Sydney Duncombe (1870-1950), a Canadian-born, Chicago-raised corporate lawyer. Sidney, a town near Jamestown, was named after him.

The other original partner was Frank Kellogg Bull (1857-1927), a Wisconsin-raised manufacturer of agricultural equipment. Named in Bull's honor was Franklin, another town in the vicinity of Jamestown. He and his family owned the then-well-known J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company, with headquarters in his Racine hometown. (That company's presidency had been passed down from an uncle to his father and then, after his dad's retirement in 1897, to him.)

Both partners also served as Midland Continental Railroad presidents, Duncombe first and Bull third. (Between them, a man named W. T. Van Brunt took over the position. Bull's assistant, James M. Hall, served as president for some time, too.) The railroad became just one out of several financial investments in which Bull became active as either president (the Belle City Manufacturing Company) or a branch director (the Milwaukee Harvesting Company, the Manufacturers' National Bank).

As for the third, remaining partner, Frank Seiberling came into the project in 1912, originally as an unwitting financial backer. That year, the Midland Continental Company had taken a loan whose collateral attracted a well-known automotive entrepreneur (Elwood Haynes), leading the entrepreneur to purchase of notes. However, Haynes' own business dealings elicited his loss of the notes: according to historian Mitchell, "a longstanding obligation" compelled Haynes to forfeit them to Frank Seiberling. Thus Seiberling, a wealthy financier, came into the project.

The founder of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company (1898), Seiberling was no stranger to adventurous business deals. He was financially involved in two projects which could have become keystones in the annals of American transportation ... had they succeeded. One was the Midland Continental Railroad. The other was an attempt at transatlantic travel by airship, financed by him in 1911. (One previous attempt at airship traveling had already failed by that time. So would this second one.) Fifteen minutes after its departure from New Jersey's Atlantic City for a test drive, the airship exploded 500 feet above the sea level, killing its five-men crew and horrifying the in-land crowds that had gathered by the shore to enjoy the sight of the airship sailing in the air. (In later decades, Goodyear would have better luck, successfully flying its promotional airships all over the United States. So thorough was Goodyear's success with the public that dirigibles ended up becoming exclusively associated with the company. By then, Seiberling no longer had direct connections with Goodyear, though.)

The Midland Continental Railroad was the other adventurous project in which Seiberling became involved, however unintentionally at first. But, after the railroad company went into default (1916), Seiberling took matters into his hands, and succeeded at foreclosing on the loan. The Ohio-based impresario then became the only "partner" left at the North Dakota train line, becoming its fifth (or so) president and, more crucially, the railroad's long-term owner (about 50 years).

He did not share the original partners' trans-American ambitions, though -- or, if he did share them, it was not for a long term. Pre-war, he was fully behind the attempt at extend the line to at least Grand Forks. Post-war, he did not pursue extensions beyond the line's established confines. Any reticence on his part can find ample justification in the line's lack of profitability during the war years, along with the need to keep it afloat by concentrating on its day-to-day maintenance. Rightly or wrongly, it has also been assumed that he was not highly interested in the line's day-to-day activities. He would have been too occupied with his home ventures in Ohio, where he remained, seemingly content with running the railroad from afar. (Wisely, it seems, Seiberling put his trust in the man that he named as the railroad's vice-president. Henry S. Stebbins was a highly experienced traffic manager who had previously worked on not only railroad but also nautical and warehouse operations.)

D. The Project's Realization

After all was said and done, the Midland Continental Railroad (MCR) amounted to somewhere between 68 and 79 miles. (I have found different total mile numbers in different sources: 68, 68.5, 77, 78, 79.) The route grew to consist of 23 stations, between and including the city of Edgeley and the elevator site known as Frazier. The first passenger stop (Edgeley) counted with a direct connection to the Milwaukee Road, and there was also a Northern Pacific line ( Southwestern branch) in that city. The Midland Continental's last passenger stop, Wimbledon, offered yet a third connection, to the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad, or Soo line.

Towns or villages found along the way included Nortonville, Millarton, and Wimbledon. All of them were railway towns. The first two actually owed their establishment to the Midland Continental, which had founded them because the line was passing through their respective lands. (Also owning the foundation to the MCR were two other villages, both previously mentioned: Sidney and the longer existent Franklin.)

The MC company's headquarters were set up in Jamestown. Its passenger station was downtown, between 3rd and 4th avenue. So were the company's general offices (actually adjunct to the station) and the line's freight house (proudly advertised as "the only modern fireproof freight house in the city"). The engine house was located off a branch from Jamestown Junction, with 38th Street SE crossing its wye. Naturally, this city, the largest in the area, had more than one line stop, and more than one depot as well. (See photography, and consult captions at the end of this section.)

E. The Midland's Early Years

During its pre-war days, the Midland Continental did not do badly. On the contrary, its first year of full operation turned a profit of $20,000. The train also also brought a net income to its owners in 1914 and 1915. Granted that the last of these three years did not provide much, the $3,000 net total qualified as a profit all the same.

Furthermore, the railroad was performing steadily as both coach and freight service. On average, it carried over 15,000 passengers per year during the decade of the 1910s. For the year 1914, it reported a total of 18, 600 passengers -- its all-time peak, and a healthy number, when we take into account the line's localized nature.

The train did even better in what was its most fundamental role for both the region's economy and the company's finances: as a freight transporter. On average, freight generated five times more revenues than passenger traffic. As intended by the railroad's founders, this function remained the most essential right from the line's incipient period (1912 and 1913), when lignite coal and wheat were just about the only commodities being transported. In what might have been the best year of its entire history (1914), the Midland Continental was carrying 49,386 tons of freight (including 4,230 tons of so-called less-than-carload freight). Mail baggage was a tertiary, similarly steady source of revenue as well.

Unfortunately, the enterprise was soon besieged by a series of untimely and adverse events, most of them stemming from the advent of World War I. In a nutshell, the war occasioned a significant loss in revenue -- $54,000, according to the line's vice-resident and spokesperson in the late 1910s. It also scared away any desirable investors within the United States and abroad. Ducombe and Bull, the original two partners and financial backers bowed out. The bank then foreclosed on the loan granted for the project. Frank Seiberling, the project's aforementioned third partner, purchased all the remaining shares, and became sole owner.

F. The Midland's Mid-Years

After the first war, the Midland Continental Railroad re-oriented itself, leaving behind its former ambitions of geographical grandeur and becoming content with its status as a locally oriented yet moderately profitable line. In a state such a North Dakota, crowded with train tracks and boasting several large, statewide railroad lines with which the Midland Continental intersected, the small line found itself conveniently occupying a middle ground, in more ways than one.

Freight remained the railroad's foremost function. In 1921, refined petroleum products joined coal and wheat as the line's three main freight items, becoming the most profitable of the three from 1927 until some time into the 1930s. Added to those were motor vehicles in the late 1920s and crude oil from the 1930s through most of the 1940s.

Norma Deloris Egstrom experienced the joys and tribulations of the Midland Continental during this mid-period. Her memory kept fond recollections of a childhood during which she would interact with Fred Kellogg, the train's conductor, and William Simpson, its engineer and/or car inspector. Featured in her autobiography, those recollections date from the mid-1920s to the early1930s. Subsequently, during her stay in Wimbledon in the mid-1930s, she came to know well the family who lived in the town's other depot: Soo agent William J. Brenner, his wife, and their son George (Norma's classmate). In passing, and for the record, I would also like to make mention of the Midland Continental crew in service during the early 1950s, by which time Norma was no longer around: train conductor William Clemens, engineer John Lybeck, fireman Otto Hacks, and two brakemen, Harry Anderson and Joe DeKaria.

As with most other American businesses, the depression adversely tilted the balance, eliciting major drops in both passenger and freight traffic. Competition from the motor vehicle industry put yet another dent to business and traffic at railroads. The Dakotas formed their highway system around 1926. By 1927, the schedule of the Midland Continental had been reduced to one train to Jamestown per day.

In 1937, regularly scheduled service ceased completely between Jamestown and Wimbledon. Nearly ten years later (1948), the line's freight house was sold, too. And the business of crude oil transportation, hitherto a viable source of revenue for the Midland, dried up in the late 1940s, as both the Northwest and Canada set up their own, self-contained oil fields across the land.

There was no longer a wide need to resort to the railroad for mail carriage -- a duty that trains had been successfully accomplishing in the US since the mid-19th century. This duty had hitherto made it viable for the Midland Continental (MCRR) to maintain half of its passenger timeline throughout the depression, and even with the knowledge that the passengers to be picked would be few. Hence why, in 1949, the annual revenue from passenger transportation had amounted to just 30 dollars.

Following the loss of its mail contracts in 1950, the MCRR promptly and entirely cancelled the remaining half of its passenger schedule (from Jamestown to Edgeley). Less-than-carload freight also took a hit, trickling down to 380 tons on that same year (compared to the aforementioned 4000 tons back in 1914). Train then took to run informally, primarily on the basis of whether there was a freight assignation at play. For the year 1954, three was the grand total number of road passengers reported. After 1965, passenger transportation was no longer carried out.

G. In Defense Of Peggy Lee's Dearly Beloved Line

The picture was not, however, as dire as the string of above-shared statistics above might suggest. According to H. Roger Grant, the amount of lignite carried by the line substantially increased between 1928 and 1945 -- a result of the parallel growth in lignite production across the entire state.

Moreover, the Midland Continental Railroad earned some distinctive honors during that period. By acquiring the first of its three diesel locomotives in 1934, the small line further set itself apart from the upper Midwest big lines, all of which were still relying on steam engines exclusively. It also behaved in a fast-forward, progressive manner by phasing out its last steam locomotive in 1948 -- something that the Soo and the Northern Pacific did not dare to do until the mid-1950s.

And the amount of freight had only grown -- to 295, 966 tons, in 1954. By that time, durum (wheat), flax, oats and barley had become the resources most commonly transported. Lignite continued to be carried as well, along with livestock (beef cattle), tractors, scrap iron, gas, fuel oil, a local beer, and other bulk commodities (fertilizer, gravel, sand).

Financially, the line had brought, as already reported, a net income during its first three years of full operation (1912-1915). While it had had to contend with a high bonded debt ($1.75 million) back then, and it would not turn a profit anytime soon neither did it incur in greater substantial debt during its post-first-war years. According to the aforementioned James D. Johnson (whose 1952 dissertation thesis had this railroad line as its topic), the Midland Continental posted losses only four times (1926, 1932, 1934, 1936) throughout the lengthy period in which it was solely owned by Seiberling and his family (1916-1965). And Seiberling did live to see the line to turn profit, finally, in 1957.

However small and sluggish it might have seemed to some of its detractors, the line could take pride in various other traits that made it special, not to say anything of useful. There was, as stated as the outset of this write-up, the unique south-north orientation of the Midland Continental path. Additionally, its modest 77 miles of track still managed to run through not one, not two, but three counties. These and other, more general characteristics made it possible for the small line to serve as a bridge or connector with the bigger lines. All through its pre-1966 history, the line carried not only its own freight but also, by arrangement, loads that were being transferred from the Milwaukee Road, Northern Pacific, and Soo lines. Any such arrangements would have obviously been lucrative for the Midland Continental.

We should also bear in mind that, during the earlier decades of its history, switch traffic was a supplementary source of revenue for this railroad line. Many an out-of-towner must have appreciated the fact that the Midland Continental converged or were in the vicinity of other lines in the towns of Edgeley (at the route's southern tip) Jamestown (near the center) and Wimbledon (on its northern tip). The three stops served as connection points for those who needed to transfer from one line to another. "Those other lines -- the Milwaukee, the Northern Pacific, the Sioux line, the Great Northern, the Santa Fe -- all kept us busy transferring from one line to another," reminisced Peggy Lee in her autobiography.

Almost needless to say, such connection points must have met with the approval of many town residents, too. From the 1910s to the late 1920s, when transportation by car or bike was not yet quite commonplace, both locals and visitors must have been thankful to have a community-based, no-frills means of transportation. Oftentimes during winter periods, their only contact with the world outside of their towns was provided by the Midland Continental.

Even the aforementioned cuts in passenger pick-up were less significant to locals than what naked statistics might suggest. Peggy Lee lets us know that the railway's rather provincial nature allowed for ample flexibility: "[t]he train would stop wherever people were waiting along the track, often using the railway to take them to the nearest doctor or to pick up some mail or baggage." The Midland Continental train would have thus been available to the folks in the region in case of an emergency (the MCRR actually being the only railroad line that provided straight access to the state hospital). The train also allowed folks such as Norma Egstrom and her family to go on leisurely visits to relatives in nearby towns -- visits such as those made by the Egstrom clan from their Nortonville and Wimbledon headquarters to Jamestown, Millarton, and elsewhere on the 23-stop line.

H. The Soo And NP Years (The Post-Seiberling Period)

In 1966, the Soo and the Northern Pacific (NP) jointly bought the Midland Continental from Frank Seiberling. The line's sole owner since 1916, Seiberling had remained active in the company's affairs until 1948, when he retired and other family members took over. Historian F. Stewart Mitchell cites "the ballooning national economy and too many years of deferred maintenance" as the likeliest factors behind the decision to sell. NP bought 50% of the railroad company, the Soo the other 50%. A combined total of $70,000 was invested by both lines in repair work.

The Midland Continental remained relatively active as a freight transporter until around May 1969. A bout with severe weather had taken its toll. Heavy rain had fallen on the area during the fall of 1968. Then, in winter and spring, a state-wide flood that brought record amounts of snow further overwhelmed the area, heavily damaging the Midland Continental Railroad track in the process. Washouts and bridge collapses caused the Edgeley to Sidney portion of the route to be closed from April 9 onwards. The rest of the line continued to run on its reduced basis for a while. It became more heavily dependent that ever on the equipment of their recently acquired new owners (the Soo and the Northern Pacific). Both of the remaining MCRR diesel locomotives had seen better days. (The third and earliest of the diesel locomotives, #310, had been retired and sold in 1953.) On April 25, #401 was rendered unusable by an accident during plow-handling activity. For its part, #402 had suffered damage from a fire at the engine house. Taking over the MC engines' former duties, Northern Pacific switchers came to the rescue, and a Soo locomotive relocated itself to the Wimbledon-to-Frazier route.

Repair work was estimated at $850,00. Rather than going through the expense, the two parent lines saw greater advantage in appropriating for themselves the freight business that the Midland Continental was still carrying, primarily from Clementsville and Kloze. Thus the small line was officially closed, on October 31, 1970. By then, there were about 15 people under its employment.

The Soo took over the Clementsville-to-Wimbledon route, and the Northern Pacific (by then already renamed the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway) took over the Kloze-to-Jamestown route. Stops and depots not covered by those two routes, such as Nortonville's, lost rail service. The amount of miles left in operation was, according to Mitchell 9.5 in one case and 9.6 in the other case (19.1 in total). Both lines continued to use the former MCRR tracks primarily for freight and coal transportation. The Jamestown miles serve essentially as a switchback ending in the state hospital (a big purveyor of coal); the mile after Wimbledon is subjugated to the handling of grain elevator duties in Frazier.

Both mini-routes remain in service to this day, into the second decade of the twenty-first century. By any other name, the Midland Continental Railway lives on (or, at least, two sweet slices of it do) -- and the memories of the railroad's former days linger.

Wimbledon's Midland Continental Depot

Throughout the United States, train depots are a thing of the past. Those which once were proudly standing in small towns have been removed by their parent companies which no longer had a major need for them, and which sought financial benefit by taking them off tax roll. Removal alternately meant demolishment for reuse as lumber, transportation to a farm for a variety of practical uses, or sale to those interested in putting the land property or the depot itself to commercial use (typically as a restaurant or a bar).

Only a lucky few depots have met a happier fate, becoming repurposed as community centers or, better yet, as museums. Take the case of Wimbledon, North Dakota. This town once counted with two depots. One, belonging to the Soo Line, has not survived. The other is among the aforementioned lucky few, though. After shapeshifting into a museum, today it is not only "alive and well" but thriving.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Wimbledon's Midland Continental Depot is the only surviving Midland Continental Railroad station today. Built in 1913, its original location was northeast of town -- 17th street SE, next to the bulk tanks of the Farmers Union Oil Company. That primeval structure was not even a building per se, but a boxcar, manned by an agent named A. E. Butcher.

In May 1920, the building and its passenger platform were actually removed (on rollers), and relocated about half a mile away. This strategically chosen location was not only closer to downtown but also conveniently positioned across from Wimbledon's other station and depot, belonging to the Soo Line. From 1920 through the years in which Peggy Lee resided there (1934-1937) to our present time, the depot has remained in that second location (intersection of Railway Street and 4th Avenue).

The foresight of Wimbledon's residents is to be thanked for the survival of the Midland depot. On December 30, 1971, just over a year after the Midland Continental Railroad had fully ceased its operations, Wimbledon's Community Museum board bought the station, thereby saving it from suffering the same eventual fate as the depot facilities of the town's other line.

Damaged by the same 1969 flood that led to the closure of the railway, the depot did not re-open until the 1990s, when it became a humble museum facility with limited funds. (It did not even have electric power.) At that point in time, the visionary pushing for its improvement and restoration was local resident and community booster Myrna Bultema, who was related to the depot's very first agent and his family. According to her daughter (Mary Beth Orn), Mrs. Bultema "had the dream of making the Midland Continental Depot a special tourist attraction for Wimbledon, specifically because it was the home of Peggy Lee ... My mother ... was really the one pushing (this project) because it was such a unique piece of history that we have here in Wimbledon." Indeed, local resident Virginia Lulay recalls the general attitude at the time: "at first community members were a bit skeptical about the project."

But Bultema continued to champion the project, while holding firm to her position on the board, established for the depot's continued improvement. Around the year 2000 -- a year or so before Peggy Lee's passing -- the museum's board began plans to promote and re-conceive the depot as a historical site in the annals of transportation, and also as the erstwhile home of Peggy Lee. The site's historical importance was ratified in 2003, when North Dakota railroad historian F. Stewart Mitchell wrote a successful proposal to enter it into the National Register for Historic Places. (Mitchell is the authoritative source for much of what is known about the Midland Continental Railroad.) "Once we got started," Lulay continued to reminisce, in 2011, "it just started rolling and rolling and (at first) everyone laughed thinking it would never amount to anything and we fooled them."

"We've kept the depot up all along, but it's just lately, in the last three or four years, that we've been working on it more as Peggy Lee's house," Bultema told the Associate Press in May of that year (2003). At that point in time, the museum space was largely restricted to the first floor of the depot. The second floor (Lee's erstwhile residence) was closed, awaiting for funds and restoration. (One of its rooms had already been renovated.) In the first floor, visitors were treated to the original ticket counter, and two educational rooms. One was the waiting room, designed to present the railroad's history through pertinent literature and artifacts from the company's period of operation. The other room was a designated Peggy Lee space, where a human-size cardboard cutout of the singer accompanied newspaper clippings about her and letters which she had sent to local people. Most of the belongings had been collected from other preservationist facilities in the area.

"After my mom passed away in [March] 2007," Mary Beth Orn continues, "she provided an estate gift which was to be used for the preservation and restoration of the depot. This was the catalyst that got the project off and running. In July of 2007, an ambitious and generous group of community and county volunteers gave their time and talents to bring our world-class depot from a dream into a reality. We began local fundraising and grant applications immediately, and by the summer of 2010 the restoration of the depot began."

The restoration process actually started on July 26 and/0r 27, 2010, with the temporary lifting of the depot from its foundations, so that the latter could be inspected, and rebuilt as needed. Many local donations of substance had indeed ensued, adding to the $20,000 stipulated by Bultema in her will. Additionally, there were grants at the state level, from premium agencies such as the North Dakota Historical Society and North Dakota Tourism. And last but by not means least, the board was thrilled with the approval of 200,000 in federal stimulus dollars.

Thus, counting with the funds required, the museum board and a committee of volunteers set about to stabilize the structure of the damaged depot, and to restore it to the way it had looked when Peggy Lee was calling it home. The process, approached in a formal, professional manner went through three phases. (The first two phases involved the improvement of the depot itself. Undertaken during the second half of 2011, the last phase focused on the Midland Continental caboose, flatcar and car shed parked on the depot's yard.) In mid May 2012, without even having opened yet, the project was awarded the 2012 Preservation Excellence Award from Preservation North Dakota. Its grand opening happened one week later, on Saturday, May 26, 2012.


Railroad Tracks

Remnants of the Midland Continental Railroad, in whose history the life of the young Peggy Lee is embedded. The first photo shows a section of the tracks, still remaining today, in Jamestown. The third showcases the train's pathway in Nortonville, where the tracks no longer exist. Wimbledon's railroad tracks are spotlighted in the other two photos. (The tracks point north in photos #2, south in photo #4.) Peggy Lee spent her pre-teen and teen years living in all the aforementioned towns/cities -- Wimbledon, Nortonville, Jamestown -- by the Midland Continental Railroad.

Jamestown Depots

The first three photos spotlight Jamestown's Midland Continental depot, where Peggy Lee's father worked when she was a child. It housed not only the passenger station but also the line's general offices. No longer in existence today (a flora shop, Sullivan's became the site's next occupant), it was located downtown, on or near First Street Southeast. This depot was actually destroyed by the same 1968 fire that consumed the Gladstone hotel nearby. (For pictures and detail, consult section XIV above.)

Placed fourth is a picture of another Jamestown depot, the Northern Pacific, located off First Avenue and First Street, photographed around 1910. (Three lines ran in Jamestown, the one still unmentioned being The Milwaukee Road. The Northern Pacific was the oldest, and so was its depot, built in 1880. In 1965, its frame and interior were removed and placed in Frontier Village, a historical/touristic Jamestown area where other period buildings are also housed.)

Of these four photos, the second was found online without any accompanying description; it may have actually been enhanced by the uploader, or may even be showing a toy replica of the station. For the other three shots, the dating has been estimated to fall within the first three decades of the twentieth century. To the young Peggy Lee (born in 1920), these buildings would have thus looked pretty much the way they are shown here.

From the 1950s and possibly the 1960s, the remaining five pictures capture the Midland Continental enginehouse (aka the roundhouse) from several sides, along with the rail paths nearby (all of most of them apparently used by the NP line, not the MC line). According to the Midland Continental Railroad Historical Society (MCRHS), caboose #708 is likely to be the shadowy vehicle stationed in a rail path on the last shot, to the left of the station's front. A flatcar, perhaps #400, is attached to it. (Both #708 and #400 have survived the test of time, and are current available for viewing at the Wimbledon Midland Continental Museum.) MCRHS also estimates that this seemingly aerial shot was actually taken from the elevator seen on the sixth of these images, behind the enginehouse. (As for the appealing wood house right in front, showing the lettering "Midland Railroad Continental" on one side, it was a shop.)

The seventh image takes us inside the enginehouse, revealing that it contained four stalls, three of them occupied by locomotives. These must actually be the three engines that the Midland Continental line had in operation in 1953, when this photo was taken -- namely, engine #401, engine #402 and, to be retired that same year, engine #310. All three operated on diesel, as opposed to the steam-dependent locomotives from older times. (As for the fourth stall seen in this picture, it is being occupied by the so-called president car, reserved for the owner of the railroad line. The automobile in front of it could have belonged exclusively to Sieberling, or a close family member.

Midland Labor Meddling

A 1909 snapshot captures the start of the construction of the Midland Continental railway. Most of the actual laborers sit --allowed to rest idly for as long as the picture is being taken-- while the presumed officers in charge strike a hard-at-labor pose. The location is not stated, but likely to be near Edgeley, North Dakota.

Steam Heat & Diesel Fuel - The Locomotives

Next seen above is a passenger locomotive, full steam ahead. Under the number 2224, this particular locomotive was operated by the Midland Continental Railroad (MCR) for seven years. MCR bought it from the Northern Pacific Railroad (NPR) in 1941. Undated but known to have been shot in Glendive, Montana, this photograph of #2224 probably predates the MCR purchase.

Over its five decades of operation, the MCR acquired 17 different locomotives, beginning with #100 in 1912. Locomotive #100 was, however, a so-called donkey engine, employed only during the line's construction period. Once MCR officially opened for business, the company had three inaugural locomotives, one of them purchased in 1912 (#101), and the two others in 1913 (#102 and #103). Eight more engines were acquired between 1916 and 1930. Some of them continued to be sequentially numbered (#104 to #108), but the sequence was broken when the numbers 200, 201, 303, and 309 were assigned to four of the purchases made between 1926 and 1930.

This list of MCR purchases continues with its 14th engine acquisition: the aforementioned #2224. It was the only locomotive purchased by the company in the 1940s, and also the very last steam engine to be used by MCR, which dismantled it in 1948.

The line's three remaining locomotives, all of them diesel engines, have already been pictured above, resting at the stalls of their enginehouse. Two of them (#401, #402) will receive further exposure below. The other one, #310, was MCR's very first diesel engine. An anti-depression, New Deal federal program provided about half of the funds with which this engine was purchased from Westinghouse in 1934. In operation for almost 20 years, MCRR gave it ample use, even attaching a snowplow to it during its later years. MCCR finally sold it to a grain elevator company in 1953, citing the "poor condition" of the steam power as the reason why it no longer served the line's purpose.


Three maps. Divided into two halves, the first half shows the projected but ultimately unrealized route of the Midland Continental Railroad Line, from near the Gulf of Mexico (Corpus Christi and Galveston, Texas), across the entire length of the United States, into Canada (Winnipeg).

The second map shows the only realized part of the trajectory, all of it circumscribed to North Dakota (from Frazier near the top to Edgeley at the bottom). In between Frazier and Edgeley, notice the stops for Wimbledon, Jamestown, Millarton, and Nortonville. Since Frazier was a grain-elevator pickup stop, Wimbledon was actually the last fully residential town covered by the line.

The other cartographic item in view is actually a portion of the Railroad Commissioners' Map of North Dakota, released in 1913. We can see a vertical violet line, running from the top center of the map toward the left. That line represents the Midland Continental Railroad. Horizontally, near the center of the image, note both Wimbledon and Valley City (the first located in Stutsman County, the second in Barnes County). To move from one city to another by train, regular Midland Continental passengers would have needed to transfer to the North Pacific line in Jamestown, and travel a bit of a distance by train (about 10 stops). To judge from her autobiographical comments, hitchhiking or an acquaintance's ride were the two transportation methods to which Peggy Lee typically resorted when she was going to Valley City -- as opposed to taking the train and changing from the MCR to the NPR. Also of interest in this map is a blue line, moving from center right upwards. It illustrates part of the trajectory of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad -- later to be known locally as the Soo line -- including its stop in Wimbledon, in proximity to the Midland Continental line.

Maiden Voyages

The Midland Continental train, shown right after its arrival into Wimbledon on its inaugural trip (October 29, 1913). We see the train's front locomotive (#103) and two passenger cars on the back -- all of it equipment which the company had reportedly bought from other railroad line, used. Posing by the locomotive are the train's officers and, behind them, the town's concert band. Those standing in the back are presumed to be passengers. The second photo is actually a partially cropped but magnified version of the first one.

While this 1913 trip constituted the official inauguration of what would turn out to the full railroad line, the train had already been informally operating as a freight carrier since the last months of the previous year. In fact, the completion of at least two smaller segments of the line had had their own celebratory trips as well. The earliest of them, on December 5, 1912, had carried about 200 people, presumably from Edgeley to Jamestown, where a banquet was awaiting them.

The other one, on July 4, 1913, celebrated the arrival of the railroad in Nortonville, and provided the reason for a celebratory ride to Edgeley taken by many village dwellers,. One of them was a British man named James Richard Hollingsworth, who had come into town that very year. Yet a few more months later, on November 27, 1913, he and his wife would produce the very first child to be born in Nortonville: the aforementioned Violet Colberg (birth name Violet Mae Hollingsworth), who would remain alive for the next 100 years (December 16, 2013).

During this initial period of its history (1912-1913), the Midland Continental Railroad counted with four locomotives, two cabooses, two passenger coaches (one serving double duty as baggage and mail carrier), and 22 freight cars. Most of this equipment had been acquired used. The line also had a total of five depots already in place.

It Takes A Long Long Train (With Green And Red Cabooses)

The Midland Continental train is captured in motion, going through Jamestown Junction several years after its inaugural trip. The first of these photos was published on the November 21, 1953 edition of The Sun, a Jamestown paper. It was also appropriated by the Midland Continental company for use as advertisement in the press. The second photo appears to be a partially cropped companion shot to the first one. We are looking at locomotive #402 in the front and an unidentified caboose on the back, with 69 carloads in-between. According to the accompanying 1953 article, this was the biggest load ever carried by the Midland Continental. The load consisted primarily of hay (56 cars). Also in the mix being carried was livestock (six cars), lignite coal (six more), fertilizer (one car), and one empty oil tank. En route from Wimbledon to Edgeley, the MC train was basically serving as a connector, with most of its load having been originally picked up at the Soo and scheduled to be collected by the Milwaukee Road.

The final destination was Southwest Missouri, where the local livestock was famishing after a recent drought. The relief effort was actually North Dakota-wide. The article details the situation as follows: "[l]iterally thousands of carloads of hay are moving from the state to help out in the serious conditions caused by the drought. Railroads involved in the movement have agreed to transport the hay for 50 per cent of the full freight rate ... North Dakota farmers, who usually import more hay than they import, will probably sell about $2,000,000 worth this year ... Some one-half million tons will be needed this winter in the drought areas by Missouri dairy farmers. Local farmers ... may get an average price of about $15 per ton after handling charges are taken off ... the [Missouri] state legislature has appropriated $6,500,000 to pay freight costs, and railroad companies have cut their rates in half for the emergency period ... "

Courtesy Of The Midland Continental, Season Greetings, Brought To You By Mr. Egstrom

A 1933 advertisement from the Midland Continental Railroad wishes good seasonal tidings to all its customers. (I wonder if the railroad line mailed or distributed it as a seasonal postcards as well.) Under the advertisement, we are greeted by the line's owner, Frank Seiberling, in a photo estimated to date from around 1917.

Edgeley's 1986 commemorative book is my source for the other two photos. They are placed on the same page, one under the other, each with a caption, but somewhat confusingly to me. Here is the caption under the second photo, featuring the car fitted for railway driving: "Midland Continental R.R. passenger and freight trains no. 3 & 4. October 12, 1928. M.A. Egstrom, conductor and engineer. Baggage, express and mail." And here is the caption under the first photo: "Midland Continental R. R. mail, express and passenger. Air conditioning - 1922." If I understood these captions correction (and I might have not), at least the second of these mail-carrying vehicles was under the tutelage of Peggy Lee's father, Norma Egstrom, and he drove it. Known to have been in operation in the 1920s, both vehicles were also tasked with carrying freight. The first transported passengers as well, and was air conditioned. The second, a model-A Ford on railroad wheels, is remembered twice by Peggy Lee in her autobiography.

Trained Surgical Operations (Flat Chested & Boxy Equipment, Steely & Woody Organs)

After they are put out to pasture, when do trains go? Well, for one, they tend to be disassembled. Some of their parts are sent to the hell that is better known as a scrap metal company, while others are left to slowly rust or rot in purgatorial railroad land property. Only a lucky few end in the heaven on earth that is a historical, tender-loving-caring facility such as Wimbledon's Midland Continental & Peggy Lee Museum.

This seventh gallery features a selection of Midland Continental equipment in varying states of (dis)array. The first two shots let us observe locomotives #401 and 402 idly resting alongside North Dakota pasture. It was probably short resting, as both locomotives were still in operation when these images were captured. In fact, the car behind #401 is carrying a load of lumber, picked up in Wimbledon and scheduled to continue on its way to an unidentified stop.

The shot of #401 was taken at Millarton on July 3, 1968. Besides the locomotive in the front and the loaded car in the middle, this picture also shows a MCRR caboose on the rear. The shot of #402 is not well documented, but its date has been speculated to fall within the late 1960s as well. Because of the North Pacific hopper to the left of the locomotive, the likeliest location is the transfer zone between the North Pacific and Midland Continental, in Jamestown.

The third photo and fourth photos show #401 and #402 at their last known destination. Taken on September 23, 1972, these shots find the two engines at the Duluth, Minnesota processing yard of the Hyman-Michaels Company. Both had been sold to that scrap metal company in February 1971 (the year on which the Midland Continental Railroad closed). During the preceding two years, #401 had been inoperable due to a broken piece, and #402 had been on a downward spiral of middling to wretched performance quality. (Its running capabilities had been diminished by a previous fire at the Jamestown enginehouse.)

But how about the steam locomotives from the earlier years? Within its first 30 years of operation, the Midland Continental acquired over a dozen, all of them purchased already used rather than brand new. Specifics about their years of operation and ultimate whereabouts are scarce because the documentation was lost to a fire, but photos of a few of these engines do survive. For instance, you can see above a sepia-colored photo of #309, which the Midland Continental Society has nominated as "arguably the most successful locomotive in the roster, working from 1930 to 1946." This engine could thus very well be the one with which Norma Egstrom was most familiar, with #107, 108 and 309 as secondary possibilities. Also in contention would be #200 and 201, the former in operation from only 1926 to 1930, the latter just from 1927 to 1929.

Locomotive #309 is shown above with a snow plow attached to it, in a shot that presumably dates from the 1930s or earlier. Taken several decades later, the colorful shot shown next captures the decadent look of an unidentified steam locomotive which could very well be #309 or its twin, #303.

Returning to the diesel locomotives, I have already referred to the fact that the Midland Continental owned a total of three during its existence, the earliest one (#310) purchased in 1934 and sold to a Kansas agrochemical plant nearly 20 years longer (1953). Since #310 was still being put to use by the plant 20 more years later (1972), the Midland Continental might have sold it less because of any presumed reduction in productivity, and more on account of its having purchased #402 one year before (1952), and continuing to count with its 1946 purchase, #401.

These two remaining diesel locomotives (#401 and #402) were at the service of MCRR for a long time. From late 1953 to early 1969, they were the only MCRR locomotives in operation. In fact, the seventh photograph above captures #401 at a time when it was still active. According to the Midland Continental Railroad Historical Society, this photo was originally posted in February 2008, probably at the Narrow Gauge Narrow Gauge Blog. The poster was Wade Hall, Chief Train Dispatcher at the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. Here is an excerpt from Hall's own commentary, accompanying the picture: "this photo of me was snapped by the engineer of this train (I believe it might have still been classified as a "mixed") in 1968 in my Dad's hometown in North Dakota. This shortline, the Midland Continental, ran south from Jamestown, North Dakota to Edgeley, where it interchanged with a Milwaukee Road branch. Earlier that day, the crew of the Milwaukee freight let me run their locomotive (also an Alco, an RS-1 or RS-3 if memory serves) while they were switching the weed-choked yard. I was 14." On the rear of this locomotive, note the presence of caboose #710.

The MCRR is known to have owned four cabooses: #606, 707, 708, and 710. The first two, acquired in 1912, were in use when Norma Egstrom was around, and also thereafter -- caboose #606 until 1940, #707 until 1958. Nevertheless, neither one seems to have survived the test of time. An undated, sepia-colored picture of #707 has been provided above.

The other two cabooses are not only extant but also on public display today. Obtained by MCRR in 1946, #708 was donated to the Stutsman County Historical Society. It is seen above -- both before and after its restoration, backside in one shot and frontside in the other -- at the place where it is currently stationed, the touristic Frontier Village in Jamestown. (At one point early in the twenty-first century, a lease dispute with the city threatened this caboose's ability to stay put. Circulating in the press as a possible outcome was the lease/sale and move of MCRR #708 to a historical village outside of North Dakota -- in Perham, Minnesota.) The other extant caboose is, of course, the aforementioned #710. Originally a Chicago & North Western item, MCRR acquired it in 1959 and kept it in continuous use. Never truly retired, it is still serving a purpose today, as it proudly stands next to Wimbledon's MCRR and Peggy Lee depot, welcoming visitors by the platform. More photography of #710 will be prominently featured down below, as part of a different set of images.)

Today, operating cabooses have became a thing of the past, with only a few kept in service across the United States. They had once been multi-functional, serving as record-keeping and desk space for conductors, a lookout points from which to supervise freight and equipment, and resting or even living (sleeping, cooking, eating) space for the crew. But, with the development of new, more technological advance train gear in the 1980s, along with a substantial reduction of train crew personnel, railroad companies increasingly deemed cabooses too much of an additional, superfluous expense.

It is to the Wimbledon depot that we move for the next three photos -- or, more specifically, the depot's yard. We are seeing the yard partially occupied by (in no particular order) a car house, a flatcar and, in ruins, another piece of moving equipment. Working men are also seen here, fixing the car house's roof, in a picture taken around 2016. Presumably unsalvageable, the pile of debris and rusted iron might have once been another flatcar, or a boxcar, or even --though less likely-- a locomotive. (I could be confused about the existence of three different pieces. There could be two instead, with the flatcar being seen before and after what would have been, in that case, an amazing labor of reconstruction. In any case, restoration of these two pieces of railroad equipment was still ongoing in 2020. (Kind requests for donations were being made at the time, with a view toward finishing the equipment's restoration process. Today, contributions doubtlessly continue to be appreciated.)

According to the Midland Continental Railroad Historical Society, the railroad once owned four 35-wood flatcars. The flatcar in sight is the only surviving MCRR flatcar. Curiously, the Society has speculated about the possibility that 400 was not the car's original number. Accounting for this bit of speculation is the existence of early photos of #400 which show it to have looked very differently, and to have served as an inspection car, available for the express use of MCRR's owner Frank Seiberling and his family. (See so-called president car #400 up above, stationed in one of the four stalls at the Jamestown MCRR engine house. In addition of being made of wood and measuring about 35 feet, it boasted sideboards, too.) In short, the Society has theorized that present-day #400 was re-numbered at a late stage of its history. As for its original identity, strong suspects or candidates include any of the three 35-foot ballast or gondola cars (#124, 125, 126) initially used by the railroad line for dumping. As for the destiny of the original 400 inspection car, I am left to wonder if it could possible be the piece of debris and iron nearby (that is, if the debris in question is not just the earlier, non-restored version of the now-restored car.)

Its date unknown, the sepia picture next to the one of restored #400 allows us to have a hazy look at several other MCRR flatcars. The most visible is clearly marked #113, and resorts to a fairly large lettering to self-identify itself as Midland Continental Railroad property. Note that the view is cropped, and we are thus unable to see how many flatcars were attached to one another, in succession. Perhaps we are looking at the line's entire 110-114 sequence of flatcars, bought no later than 1925, or perhaps their numbers are not sequential. According to Stewart Mitchell, MCRR owned at least 26 freight cars (most bought used) over the course of its operating years. (MCRR also leased 30 cars in 1964 for the express purpose of carrying grain, and through the years, "lent" its trails to the cars of the other lines with which it intersected.) However, by the time of the company's closing, the only two freight items left were flatcar #400 and gondola car #124.

Incidentally, fans of accurate historical detail should also keep note of the fact that MCRR clearly painted all or most of its equipment a dark green (Pullman green), though boxcar red coloring was apparently used, too, as either a secondary option or a latter-day re-paint choice. The preferred color code for lettering on MCR coach cars appears to be an opaque orange-yellow (i.e., deluxe gold), possibly white on the steam locomotives. Equipment leased from other companies could sport different color codes, of course. The MCRR Historical Society has pointed out that boxcars #301 to 303, all of them leased from the Pullman Car Company, were "red with black ends and white lettering." (There might or might have been a fourth boxcar, numbered 300, also leased from the same company.)

The penultimate row of images offers two views of combo car #101, which in its heyday carried both baggage and passengers. MCRR obtained this steel boxcar in 1949 and kept it on the move for eleven years. In 1960, it was stationed in downtown Jamestown, by the railroad tracks, and was being informally used as a station warehouse. For the color picture on display here, the MCRR Historical Society has given the location also as Jamestown, and the date as July 1955. We are thus seeing this car at a time when it was still under operation as a coach and bag carrier. The adjacent sepia photo was taken by the MCRR Historical Society in 1981, near the Jamestown enginehouse. According to the Society, combo car #101 subsequently ended at the local Porter Brothers' Scrapyard. (For an earlier, 1949 photo of #101, check the next set of images.)

Concluding this seventh pictorial gallery are two boxcar photos. The first (another erstwhile passenger car) is a companion to the above-mentioned 1981 steel car photo. Both pictures were taken by the Society at the same location. Boxcars associated with the MCRR at one point or another included #121 (obtained in 1925 and planted at Jamestown Junction in 1953 to be used as a tool shed until it was sentenced to scrapping), #301, 302, and 303 (all seemingly leases that MCRR used returned after having put them to use in the transportation of used glass bottles).

Though still operating today, the heyday of box cars in the United States was the pre-war period. From the mid-1940s onwards, many of those which had been long in service were retired, and either scrapped or re-purposed. They found a secondary home at farms, serving primarily as storage, but also occasionally becoming housing for livestock or even hired help.

The last image above takes us back to Wimbledon, by whose tracks the two box cars in view were photographed in 1983. Though barely visible, they still kept some of the lettering that identified them as belonging to the Midland Continental line. The MCRR Historical Society specifies the location as being close to the wye track (between MC and Soo), and each boxcar as being forty feet in length. They were being used as tool sheds back then. Their wood frame barely standing at that time, these cars have probably ceased to exist.

Readers interested in the just-covered Midland Continental matters are strongly encouraged to visit my two primary sources for both visuals and information, the authoritative Midland Continental Railroad Society site and the worthwhile archives of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, where much can also be learned from the expert contributions of North Dakota railroad historian F. Stewart Mitchell. .

The Soo And The Continental: Wimbledon's Depots

All but the last three of these eight photos place a spotlight on one of Wimbledon's two depots and its surroundings (rail tracks, grain elevators, the other train line's depot). I am referring to the depot for the Soo railroad line, thanks to which this town was originally created. General details about that line have already been offered in section VIII above, along with an additional shot of this depot building.

The first three Soo depot photos herein are from around 1908. Two of them treat us to the sight of men doing construction work on the line's rails. There is also boy by his bike, on the ramp, looking at the activity. Also in view in these Soo line pictures are a row of grain elevators, which were the structures for which Wimbledon became best known through the rest of North Dakota, back in the day. (I believe that six elevators are visible in the opening shot. Since at least 1903, the town had eight in total.) The ensuing two photos also feature the Soo, but they were not taken in 1908. The date is unknown to me in both cases.

Each of these five successive shots takes us closer to the depot itself, culminating in a shot of its interior, where we see three men. I have no details about their identity, but it stands to reason that one of them would have been the depot agent for the Soo line. Mike Coleman was the name of the agent in charge from the late 1898s to the late 1910s, when William Brenner took over. Born in February of 1884, the 35-year-old Brenner came to the depot in September of 1919 and stayed for several decades, probably until retirement age. (The year 1971 saw his passing.) In the mid-1930s, the teenage Peggy Lee would often come into this depot and interact with Mr. Brenner and his wife while running errands on behalf of her father, the agent of the nearby Midland Continental depot. (A later, 1950 photo of Lee with the Brenner can be found in appendix A.)

The fourth photo merits separate coverage. It was presumably taken several decades after the others, and on snowier weather. Here, too, the focus is on the Soo depot, seen in the forefront. However, our eyes should concentrate instead on the partially visible two-story wooden house in the background. That house was once Peggy Lee's home, the Midland Continental depot. (Notice also, to the left of the Midland Continental depot, part of a two-story brick building; it's a hotel, described by Lee at some length in her autobiography, and also to be shown below, in more recent pictures.) Of these three structures, the Midland Continental depot and the hotel nearby remain in place today. The Soo Depot no longer does.

The sixth shot takes us back to the rails at a much later date (1967). We are looking at a Midland Continental train on the MC railway tracks, as it is about to cross the intersection with the Soo line's tracks. Above the Soo tracks, a smashboard has been raised. Dating back to the 19th century, smashboards were basically early versions of red lights -- manually or mechanically lifted to serve as preventive, "do-not-cross" signals. Compared to semaphores, they counted with the dramatic difference of getting smashed if unheeded.

The last two photos place us right by the Midland Continental depot. The first was taken in 1949. Occupying the tracks is #101, one of the company's baggage and coach cars, and already spotlighted in the preceding batch of photographs. The second image was published on the October 15, 1962 edition of the Valley Times Record. It captures for posterity the line's 50th anniversary celebration, which had taken place on the previous Saturday the 13th. It had started off with a train trip from Jamestown to Wimbledon for, primarily, civil officers from the area. After a stop at the Jamestown State Hospital and a tour of the facilities, the train had taken the officers to Wimbledon for a musical greeting by the Wimbledon high school band, and a late afternoon dinner on the depot lawn with the Wimbledon mayor. Finally, the officers had made their return trip to Jamestown on the same MCR train. A flatcar, possibly #400, is closer to our view in this picture, and attached to it is boxcar #708. For further commentary about the MCR depot, consult appendix C as well.

The Wimbledon Depot, Version 2000

Photos of Wimbledon's Midland Continental depot, on 401 Railway Street, as it looked early this century, before it underwent a restoration. The first shot, taken from quite a bit of distance, shows the back of the depot. Caboose #710 can be seen, lying in front of the depot house, in the second photo, along with flatcar #400 on its rear (dimly viewable in the second photo). Earlier photos of both caboose and flatcar have already been supplied above.

The Wimbledon Depot, Version 2012

Last set of images: more recent photos of the Wimbledon depot. These images offer views of the site from different angles. Built in 1913, this 24' by 54' two-story wooden building has been restored to the way it looked during the first half of the twentieth-first century, and made available to the public as a museum. (By all expert and living-witness accounts, the physical restoration is faithful, top-class, and praiseworthy. Rather than exact, the roof's material is apparently close to what it was during the depot's early days: originally made of cedar, it now consists of asphalt shingles. Also, due to the need for more funds, the repair of some external elements, such as the car house outside of the depot, might still be a work in progress, by no means abandoned.)

Taken at various times during the decade of the 2010s, these photos also show different stages of the restoration process. Specifics about the first image remain fuzzy for me. We are obviously looking at the flatcar in the forefront, but the identity of the structure behind the flatcar is unclear to me. (The depot appears to be the barely visible building to the left of this structure.) In the absence of information, I can only offer two educated guesses. First, we could be looking at the same rectangular storage place that other photos show standing far back, behind the depot. If so, then the structure has been moved from position once or twice, and its exterior had undergone a physical overhaul. My second alternative hypothesis is that we are looking at an extension to the depot, and that this "depot addendum" was permanently removed from the grounds during the renovation process.

The second image captures the depot itself in the process of being temporarily removed. It was placed to the east of its foundations, so that the latter could be inspected and rebuilt as needed. In the third photo, the depot is back into its foundations, but being treated to a new coat of paint. It was repainted from its previous, strong yellow to a light cream or opaque white. (Back when the railroad line was in operation, the standard paint color for Midland Continental depots tended to be within a yellow-orange range, with some green detail.)

The spotlight on the next photo is on a signpost, placed there after the renovation had reached an advanced, post-reconstruction stage. The sign identifies this location as the Wimbledon's Midland Continental Depot and Peggy Lee Museum. Behind the sign, a two-story red brick building is also visible. It is an abandoned hotel, to be more properly captioned and discussed in the next section. Far in the distance, the viewer can also peek at a small portion of a very large structure that faces both the museum and the hotel. It is a metal or aluminum-made shed, presumably serving as an industrial or agricultural storage facility. Aside from allowing partial glimpses in a few other images, I have restrained myself from giving any sort of attention to this unfortunately drab and thoroughly unappealing shed, which I believe to have taken up the space of what once was the Soo depot.

As can be seen in the next two photos, the depot-museum counts with its own storage garage on the backyard. The second of these photos offers a more distant, panoramic view of the site.

Subsequent shots in which caboose #710 has been re-painted date from the second half of the 2010s, while shots in which it has not been yet refreshed are from the the first half of the 2010s. Besides the depot and the caboose, we also see flatcar #400 and a Midland Continental car house (painted red) in some of these photos.

The remaining images take us closer to the depot. In several of them, we find ourselves near the platform or porch area, where freight was presumably unloaded back in the day. Visible detail includes a ramp, used to transport freight from the caboose to the freight room, and cut-out figures to further suggest the place's atmosphere of yore.

Then, for the last four images, at last we step inside, to take a look at two fundamental features of the first floor. One of them is a fully equipped freight room, the other a colorful exhibition, located at what once was a passenger waiting room. This first-floor exhibition concentrates on the Midland Continental Railroad and its history. (On the second floor, where Peggy Lee once resided, an adjunct exhibition is entirely dedicated to her. Further details and photos can be found in the next appendix.)

XXIX. Appendix C

The Proudly Dirty Blonde Roots Of Miss Peggy Lee
(Growing Up In North Dakota, 1920-1940)

Peggy Lee never forgot her roots. She often made mention of the towns where she grew up, fondly offering anecdotes and telling childhood stories that had taken place in Wimbledon, Valley City, Nortonville, and her birthplace, Jamestown.

Here are, for instance, the thoughts which she shared during an interview conducted in 1975. The artist made a direct connection between the professional ethics of her Peggy Lee self and the life once led by her, in North Dakota, as Norma Egstrom: "In some concerts I’ll do as many as 40 numbers. In Las Vegas I’ll do two shows a night with perhaps 20 numbers at each performance. This takes an enormous amount of strength. Searching my life to find the source of this strength, I think it comes partly from the ability to laugh at myself, not taking myself too seriously, and partly from growing up in North Dakota. It was a very bleak and difficult existence there, from 40 below in the winter to 110 in the summer. In those extremes I had to laugh to keep my sanity. The environment also gave me extra physical endurance that I’d have missed in an easier climate. So, in a special sense, I’ve always carried part of my earliest home life around with me."

Thus, for the rest of her life, Peggy Lee proudly carried with her memories of the expansive land and the ever-present railroad which had forged the character of young Norma Egstrom. Here is how her birth state has reciprocated.

House Calls For Norma Egstrom
(Wimbledon, North Dakota, 2012)

Peggy Lee passed away in 2002, a few months shy of her 82d birthday. Ten years later, on what would have been her 92nd birthday (May 26, 2012), the Midland Continental Railroad Depot And Peggy Lee Museum opened in Wimbledon, North Dakota. She thus shares the museum with the railroad near which she grew up, and which she forever loved.

The opening counted with the blessing and the attendance of Peggy Lee's family, including her granddaughter Holly Foster-Wells, who is based in Los Angeles, and who gave a cordial, very well-received speech for the occasion. A year before the opening, Foster-Wells had told the Fargo-Moorehead periodical In Forum that Peggy Lee "was very proud of her North Dakota roots and she always wanted to help give back to North Dakota in some way, and so we feel that way. I do hope the people go out and support the museum, otherwise these buildings get torn down and forgotten.” (The full article, dating back to 2011, when the restoration was in the second of its three phases, can be read at In Forum's website.)

On that opening day, a fine portion of Lee's song interpretations were made available for listening through headphones, provided for that special occasion. Visitors were also able to enjoy various professionally prepared poster exhibitions, some of them pertaining to the history of the Midland Continental Railroad and the Wimbledon depot. Two other exhibitions detailed Lee's life and career; one concentrates on her early years in North Dakota, the other on her later life and successes. Lee-related memorabilia was on display, as well: three of her showbusiness dresses, a pair of shoes, a seascape painted by her, and so forth.

As for the looks of the site, its features have been reconstructed to look like they did back in the station's heyday. (Local residents of a certain age were consulted, and the present-day paint was chipped away in search of the earliest color.) The depot's first floor has a station master / ticket office, a freight room, a bathroom and waiting rooms. The exterior façade has reverted to its original color -- cream, with some green detail. The front's wooden platform floor is back in place, too. The second floor, consisting of four rooms, has been similarly restored to reflect Lee's living quarters back in the 1930s (including period hardware, vintage clothing, antiques, et cetera.

In mid-September, nearly four months after its opening, the Museum was pleasantly reporting about the fine attendance which they had enjoyed so far. They had had a total of 558 visitors, some of them coming from as far as Mexico and Africa. One of the latest visitors had been no less than Nick Lee Foster -- Peggy Lee's daughter, who had been previously unable to come to the opening, and to travel at all, due to femur surgery.

To date, both the exhibits and the memorabilia remain in place for public viewing, along with the historically reconstructed features. Access to the general public is offered each year from the day of Peggy Lee's birthday (May the 26th) through Labor Day (September, the first Monday) for three afternoon hours (1:00 to 4:00), on three weekdays (Thursday through Saturday). At the public's service as a non-profit organization, the museum has made admission free, but appreciates donations, and has also made itself available by special appointment all-year round. Furthermore, the organization counts with a very tastefully designed website, reachable by clicking on this link.

Proclamations For A Peggy Lee Day
(Jamestown, North Dakota, 2012)

Wimbledon shall forever remain the North Dakota city which has honored the memory of Peggy Lee most deeply. It was not, however, the only city to partake in the 2012 commemoration of her birth date. The cities of Jamestown and Fargo took part in the celebration as well.

A Tribute To Miss Peggy Lee was offered by vocalist Stacy Sullivan at the University of Jamestown's Reiland Fine Arts Center on May 25, and again on May 26 in Fargo, at Island Park's The Stage. The concerts were preceded by an illustrated history of Peggy Lee, prepared and presented by local historian Steven Stark. Herself a major fan of Lee's music and accomplishments, Sullivan shared the stage with pianist Jon Weber and bassist Steven Doyle. Both events proved to be well attended, and rated very positively by the attending audience.

Along with local singer and college professor Kate Stevenson, Ms. Sullivan also performed at the depot's opening ceremony, in the afternoon of May 26, 2012. Both avowed Peggy Lee fans and skilled vocalists on their own, the two singers sang separately and then joined forces for a rendition of one of the most famous hits that Lee herself wrote, "It's A Good Day." One cute, memorable touch happened at this ceremony. Just as Ms. Stevenson was singing Miss Lee's first national solo hit, "Waiting For The Train To Come In," a train was suddenly heard whistling, and rapidly approaching through the Wimbledon tracks.

Naturally, the inauguration was attended by town and county officers as well, including Wimbledon mayor Roger Pickar, Valley City representative Phil Mueller, and Barnes City Commissioner Cindy Scwehr. "This is a very special day," Mueller pointed out. "Peggy Lee was a truly tremendous talent and a national treasure for our country."

Also of significant local impact was a proclamation made by the mayor of Jamestown, in whose Trinity Hospital Peggy Lee was born. Along with mentioning a few of Peggy Lee's awards and career achievements, the proclamation states the following: "I, Katie Anderson, Mayor of Jamestown, North Dakota, do hereby proclaim May 25 and May 26, 2012 Peggy Lee Day. I call upon public officials, educators, librarians, and all the people of Jamestown to celebrate the music legacy of Miss Peggy Lee, and to recognize the important role her music has played in this great nation with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs."

The May 2012 proclamation was not North Dakota's first major acknowledgment of Peggy Lee. Earlier in the month, Lee had been among the inductees in the newly created North Dakota Rock-Country Music Hall of Fame, too. Earlier honorable distinctions, dating back to the 1970s, will receive extended coverage below.

The pandemic experienced by the planet in 2020 curtailed most of the posthumous honors and tributes scheduled for the anniversary of Lee's centennial. In 2021, with the pandemic still ongoing, a few humble but appreciative attempts at honoring Lee's memory did take place. In September, a commemorative tree (a New Horizon elm) was planted at Valley City Park. Earlier in the year, around May 26, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum added to the honors by releasing an edit "in recognition of Peggy Lee on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of her birth, and in recognition of her illustrious career." This document honoring Peggy Lee suitably starts off with the state's recently adapted (2018) motto, "North Dakota - Be Legendary."

School Calls For Doctor Miss Lee
(Bismarck, North Dakota, 1975; Jamestown, North Dakota, 2000)

Peggy Lee was the recipient of two honorary doctorates in music. One was conferred by the University of Jamestown on May 1, 2000 -- one year before the honoree passed away. At that time, Lee's health issues sadly prevented any possibility of attendance, but her family gratefully attended in her stead. They
made sure that the university (then known as Jamestown College) would not be disappointed. Lee's only daughter, Nicki Lee Foster, flew to North Dakota to be at the ceremony, in the company of one of Lee's three grandchildren, Michael Foster. The family also gave the a portrait of the singer to the college.

Three years later, on a May 13, the University of Jamestown scheduled a follow-up ceremony. With their Reiland Fine Arts Center recently completed, college president Robert Badal and company hung Lee's portrait at the music wing of the center, during a dedication ceremony attended by over 50 people. "She was a phenomenal success," the Associated Press reported Badal as having said, "We're doing something to remember her."

Lee's other doctorate was awarded to her by the North Dakota State University at a much earlier time (1975). Norma Deloris Egstrom was, therefore, a doctor for 25 years of her life, and "twice a doctor" for her very last year on earth.

Being an individual who liked reading and learning (and who had done very well as a pre-college, grade school student), the 55-year-old Lee was thrilled at the notion of receiving the 1975 honorary recognition. Moreover, the prospect of collecting the diploma doubled as an opportunity for her to go back to her hometown(s) -- an opportunity which she had been delaying for many years. The middle-aged artist was weary of what the act of revisiting old haunts means all too often: having to come to terms with the fact that many of the places stamped in one's memory will no longer be there, and ditto for many of the people with whom we once interacted. "When I went back to receive a doctorate from the university there, she told interviewer George Christy in 1984, "there were signs saying Peggy Lee sang here, which I found amusing and sweet." Notwithstanding the warmly enthusiastic reception from the people, she could not help but feel a bit disoriented and blue: "the railroad not only doesn’t run anymore, but they took up the tracks. I don’t know what they did with the various depots, and that made me a little sad because I couldn’t find where I was."

All in all, it was a bittersweet but ultimately very rewarding for the local girl who had made it big. Along with all the college graduates that year, she did collect her diploma at the commencement ceremonies. On the afternoon of May , 1975, the woman once known in town as Miss Egstrom was now Doctor Miss Lee.

In the evening after the ceremonies, still on campus, she performed in front o an audience estimated at four thousand. Next, following the show, a visibly moved Lee was presented with the state's highest award, the Rough Rider. (An honor to be further discussed below, this award has several physical representations. One is a portrait of the awardee, to be hung at the North Dakota's Capitol building. Lee's portrait had actually been hanging at the Capitol since back in 1963, the year on which she was originally named a winner. Another material manifestation of the award is a plaque with an attached bust of president Theodore Roosevelt. Lee received that plaque on this evening.) Former governor William Guy and then governor Arthur Link stepped into the stage to give her the award, and to publicly extol Lee for her "contributions to the enrichment of millions of lives all over this great land." They also presented her with what has been described as a "leather scroll" (perhaps the proclamation itself, roughly shaped like the coat of arms, several feet long, and actually made of tanned cowhide, at least during the William Guy governing period), on which North Dakota's coat-of-arms motto was inscribed: "strength from the soil."

Rough Riding For Colonel P. Lee
(Bismarck, North Dakota, 1963 & 1975)

Peggy Lee was among the very first North Dakotans nominated for the Theodore Roosevelt North Dakota Rough Rider Award. Ongoing now for over 50 years, the number of awardees is suitably expected to reach 50 within the ongoing 2020 decade. Peggy Lee was officially selected for the award on September 4, 1963. As I will be explaining in more detail below, the first official nominees for the award were the singer, a baseball player and a journalist.

The reader might appreciate learning a bit about the award first. The term "Rough Rider" refers to a notable unit of volunteers established in 1898 for the purpose of fighting on the Spanish-American War. The unit was set up by the assistant secretary of the Navy at the time -- a man named Theodore Roosevelt. Three years later, the people of the United States would vote him into their presidency. It is for those reasons that the award bears Roosevelt's name, and its recipients receive the title of honorary colonels.

Although this turn-of-the-century president was a New Yorker, North Dakotans have claimed him as an adopted compatriot. Years before his ascent to the presidency, he sought out both adventure and relaxation (hunting and resting) in the badlands of North Dakota, eventually setting up a ranching business in the area. "If it had not been for the years spent in North Dakota and what I learned there, I would not have been president of the United States," he told to one of the crowds which greeted him during a later visit, nominally made for the purpose of dedicating a Fargo College building (1910). Slyly, the New Yorker further pleased his farm-keeping audiences by declaring that ranching had taken "the snob out" of him, and that activities such as chasing cattle had become "the romance" of his life.

Although the combined total of days that Roosevelt actually spent in the badlands might have not amounted to a year (and even if his short-lived ranching business was ultimately a failure), many North Dakotans of yore believed his fervor for their state to be genuine.

Many also believed that love for their Dakota had been the inspiration behind his idea of creating the Rough Riders cavalry unit. State efforts to honor Roosevelt were set in motion as soon as he passed away, in 1919. An area of the North Dakota badlands was turned into a recreation area and named after him in 1935; the Theodore Roosevelt National Park was inaugurated next, in 1947. About 15 years later, the Theodore Roosevelt Roughrider Award became yet another manifestation of North Dakota's appreciation for the president.

Publicly announced by governor William Guy on August 29, 1961, the award was created as part of the celebrations honoring the state's centennial (1816-1961). It was one of several promotional/patriotic ideas set up by a centennial commission, established in 1959. Strasburg-born TV bandleader Lawrence Welk was brought to participate in the centennial festivities, and invited by the governor to stay at his mansion upon arrival. Somewhat unexpectedly, Welk was rewarded with the very first Rough Rider award on August the 28th. Although the centennial commission dissolved in 1961, two more awards were given by the governor within the next six months, one to Dickinson-born theatre actress Dorothy Stickney (November 2, 1961), the other to Centerville-born photographer Ivan Dmitri (April 13, 1962).

Those three North Dakotans were named before the award had been properly ratified. In 1963, the state's 38th legislative assembly did the ratification, establishing the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Right Award "as the highest one that it would bestow" to those North Dakotans who have "achiev[ed] national recognition in their fields of endeavor, thereby reflecting credit upon this state and its citizens." With a formal committee now in place, the first official meeting took place on August 29, 1963. It was at this ceremony that Jamestown-born Peggy Lee was selected to receive the award, along with Grand Forks-Fargo-raised baseball player Roger Maris and Velva-born CBS journalist Eric Sevareid. At the same 1963 ceremony, the previous three-winner set of Dmitri, Stickney and Welk was officially confirmed, too.

Nevertheless, Peggy Lee did not pick up or receive the award right away. Initially, the singer's busy schedule led her to decline the original request to come to North Dakota for the recipiency ceremony, which was required or expected as part of the awarding process. Afterwards, the vagaries of life and time resulted an indefinite postponement. Finally, on May 23, 1975, Lee was asked once more to come to receive the honor, under Arthur A. Link's governorship.

Being additionally told that she would be given an honorary doctorate on that same day, a gratefully overwhelmed Lee accepted, and asked her combo of musicians to come with her so that she could also give a concert to North Dakotans on that evening. (Further details have been given above, under the directly preceding discussion about doctorates.) The proclamation given to her by the state's governor on that May 23 read, in part: "The friendly state of North Dakota proudly commissions our Peggy Lee a distinguished colonel in our Theodore Roosevelt Rough Riders." It was thus that, three days before her 55th birthday, Peggy Lee ascended to the honorary rank of Colonel Lee, '75.

A 'Geophysical' Portrait Of Lady Lee
(North Dakota Forevermore)

Portrait Of A Lady is the title of an essay about Peggy Lee that was written by her friend and admirer, jazz critic Gene Lees. To conclude our exploration of the world where she grew up, it seems fitting to quote Lees' evocative opening paragraph: "The roads of North Dakota, like those of the prairie states and the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba that lie just across its northern border, run in straight lines, north to south, east to west. Even in the western part of the state, where the Missouri River, long ago the highway of discovery of the Lewis and Clark expedition, is in the early stage of its long journey to the Mississippi, the roads just cross it in those never-ending straight lines. Their occasional jogs are arbitrary, made by man, who wrote all these straight lines on the map. There is nothing to impede the roads or the wind. It comes sailing out of the west, never slowing even at Chicago to the east. And, much of the time in winter, it comes out of the north, whipping the dead grasses that protrude from the earth and its bleak skin of old snow, and slashing whatever flesh is in its way like a stream of razor blades. The last winter before Norma Deloris Egstrom left North Dakota, the temperature went down to 63 degrees below zero Fahrenheit; the following July it rose to 120 degrees."

By 1940, the former Norma Deloris Egstrom had indeed left North Dakota -- gone with the wind to Chicago in the east, and destined to travel from coast to coast in the years still to come. Gone was she, but she would never forget. "If you can, do something special for North Dakota," the bedridden North Dakotan said to her her daughter Nicki Foster at one point during the last years of her life, after her health had significantly deteriorated. "I learned so much from the character of the people there, a certain honesty and integrity that I wouldn't trade for anything," she would tell critic Larry Kart in 1983. Out of several other similar manifestations of her feelings for the world in which she grew up, perhaps the most succinct of them all is the one which she uttered for a 1970s interview with radio host Fred Hall: "North Dakota as a whole is my hometown."


Wimbledon's Exhibition Of Peggy Lee

Samples of the permanent exhibit at Wimbledon's museum. The exhibit consists of two parts. One part is dedicated to the Midland Continental Railroad and its operations in Wimbledon. That part is displayed on the walls of the first floor, and has already been represented by photography in the previous section. The exhibits dedicated to Norma Egstrom, aka Peggy Lee, are placed mostly in the second floor, where she resided during her high school years. Viewable above are two of of several such attractive panels, dedicated to her life and career, as well as some of the memorabilia -- a dress work by Lee, front covers of many of the albums. Shoes and more gowns are part of the additional memorabilia available, though not in view here.

Peggy Lee's Depotic Home

Pictures of the rooms in the depot's second floor, looking like they did back when they were inhabited by depot agents such as Marvin Egstrom and their family members (daughter Norma Deloris, in Egstrom's case). One of the two bedrooms can be seen here, along with the kitchen, and a carpeted corridor or sitting room near the staircase. (In addition to the bedroom, there is also a large room entirely dedicated to the exhibit and memorabilia.) Peggy Lee herself painted the sea canvas that hangs in one of the bedroom walls. The warmly smiling lady in one of the images is Mary Beth Orn, about whom more will be said shortly.

Heartbreak Hotel And Other Haunting Places

The first photo has reached me without any identifying specifics. It appears to be a room where some materials of value, including a life-size cutout of Peggy Lee, were stored before the remodeling of the Wimbledon depot. The worn-out walls serve as clues, allowing us to postulate two candidates. The first and likeliest is caboose 710, before it underwent repair. I am referring to the caboose that is parked in front of the depot. The walls looked very similar in a other pre-repair photos that I saw fews years ago, and the structure's proximity to the depot would have made it a suitable choice for temporary storage. The second candidate is the building located to the left of the depot, and pictured in the second image above. Long abandoned, it could have been used for temporary storage as well. (But, to reiterate, caboose 710 is the strongest, almost certain candidate.)

In the second shot, note the word "hotel" still in place, near the top of the abandoned building. This must be the same hotel that was remembered by Peggy Lee as being "old and deserted" even back in the mid-1930s, when she was living next door. I have already provided historical commentary and an earlier, additional photograph of the site, once known as the Kline Hotel (section VIII above). In her autobiography, Peggy Le offers a fittingly picturesque description of the haunted-looking place: "a family lived there -- a mother and father and a little girl named Helen -- but there were almost never any guests ... Helen was my playmate ... I can still see that hotel. There was a check-in desk and a big book to register names and a bell to tap ... There was even a dining room, and on the second floor were rooms, but only two beds had mattresses ... Helen said no one ever stayed there ..."

This hotel ended up becoming a companion of sorts to the depot. Virginia Lulay, daughter of Wimbledon's last depot agent, was running it with her husband in the early 1970s, while her mother, Helen B. Russell, operated the MCRR premises across the road. Once the railroad ceased operating (1971), so did the hotel.

The Museum's Champions & The Museum's Inauguration (May 26, 2012, Wimbledon)

First row of images: two scenes from the opening day of the Midland Continental Wimbledon Museum, on May 26, 2012. Suitably singing "It's A Good Day" (a Peggy Lee perennial), vocalists Kate Stevenson (right) and Stacy Sullivan (left) stand together by the microphone, in the first photo. Accompanying them is Jon Weber, host of NPR's Piano Jazz. The second photo captures Holly Foster Wells, granddaughter of Peggy Lee, as the speaks to a partially visible audience of spectators and photographers. Now sitting, Stevenson can be seen in the audience. Next to her is harpist Stella Castellucci, a longtime friend of Peggy Lee. These inaugural proceedings took place right in front of the depot, on its porch.

Second row of images: we are now inside the depot, first on the first floor and then on the second floor, on what was once the living room and is now a Peggy Lee exhibition room. Seen in both photos is Mary Beth Orn, one of Wimbledon's leading lights in the realm of historical preservation. Currently the treasurer of Wimbledon's Depot Restoration Committee, the retired first-grade and kindergarten teacher has been heavily involved in the labor of restoring the depot, and has essentially become the museum's public voice. Next to Orn in one of these photos is, I believe, Virginia "Ginny" Lulay. They are looking at a copy of Peggy Lee's autobiography -- specifically, photos of Fargo's Black Building, which housed radio station WDAY, Fargo's WDAY director Ken Kennedy, and University of Minnesota's college bandleader Sev Olsen. The Lulay-Orn shot is from mid-2011, the solo Orn shot from mid-2012.

Both Ginny Lulay (1920-2011) and Norma Egstrom (1920-2001) were daughters of Wimbledon depot agents. In Lulay's case, the parent in question had been, as already mentioned, her mother. The town's last Midland Continental agent, Helen B.Russell was doubtlessly among its longest-lasting ones as well (1955-1970). Before taking this job, Mrs. Russell had worked as Wimbledon's postmaster, and had also held a variety of other downtown business jobs. Hence her daughter Ginny had grown up in the center of the town, keenly aware of its municipal affairs, and of the comings and goings of its residents. "I can see her walking across the street like it was yesterday," Lulay enthused at a celebration held at the town's Methodic Church commemorating what would have been Lee's 90th birthday, on May 26, 2010. "Even before she got real famous I started saving everything thinking, 'Oh, Peggy Lee!' and so I saved all the papers and stuff," Lulay added at another reunion, one year later. "I always was really excited about Peggy Lee. She just struck me and I saved everything."

Third row of images: the lady in the head shot is Myrna Bultema (1929-2007), a foundational figure in the history of the Midland Continental Wimbledon Depot, Featuring Peggy Lee. Details about Bultema's essential contributions have already been provided in the main text of this section. Herein it should be added that Bultema (née Legler) was also the mother of Mary Beth Orn. Like her daughter, Myrna Legler was a retired elementary school teacher in Wimbledon. And, following in her mother's footsteps, Mary Beth Orn has taken on the passionate preservation of the museum and its history. As for her personal opinion of Peggy Lee, Orn told the Associated Press in 2021 that "she was an amazing lady ... An old music teacher said she didn't know the meaning of the word 'can't' ... We think it's a tribute to her North Dakota roots."

The remaining photos spotlight two more preservationist figures, whose sustained efforts are on par with those of Wimbledon's Mary Beth Orn. Valley City's Wes Anderson has been the first and only curator of the Barnes County Historical Society and Wimbledon's Community Museum for over 25 years -- and running. Jamestown's Kate Stevenson is the Chair of the Foreign Language Department at the University of Jamestown. Through the first decade of the twenty-first century, both served as members of the Midland Continental Depot Restoration Committee. In the ensuing decades, each has remained invested in the maintenance of Peggy Lee's North Dakotan legacy.

Wes Anderson is first seen in a photo taken at the Barnes County Historical Society Museum. This 2010 shot finds him in the midst of working his magic on a film projector. At the time, Anderson was concentrating on a history project with two components, one oral (taped interviews of old-time residents), the other visual (local film footage , being gathered, then carefully inspected). The project aimed at not only preserving but also disseminating Barnes County's history. It is thanks to this Anderson project that fans of Peggy Lee can currently enjoy this 1950 clip, which shows the singer serving as Grand Marshall of the Twelfth North Dakota Winter Show, held in Valley City (the county seat of Barnes County). Intent on bringing attention to his county's resources and distinctions, Anderson has also posted numerous Valley City newspaper clips about the young Miss Egstrom at her bulletin board. Although his primary concern is naturally historical, the curator has spoken positively about Lee's musicianship, too. On special occasions such as the start of the museum's renovation and its eventual inauguration, the local press would fondly quote Anderson's musings about the singer whose individual style is best captured in songs such as Where Or When and Waiting For The Train To Come In: "before she came along, nobody sang like Peggy Lee. And now they try to emulate her ... To look out of her window and look at the tracks and wonder where they went, she found out."

As for the photos of Kate Stevenson above, she is shown first on campus, at the Raugust Library lobby. The educator is proudly standing in front of an exhibit called Peggy Lee: International Pop Icon, which she spearheaded in the spring of 2020. A bona fide fan since the second half of the 1990s, Stevenson has dedicated some of her spare time over the years to collecting Lee memorabilia, most of which she lent to this exhibition. Herself a vocalist, the professor has also kept Norma Egstrom's legacy alive by singing the Peggy Lee songbook, usually in the company of Valley City pianist Carrie Kraft. (Though trained as a coloratura soprano, Stevenson interprets those songs in Lee's conversational, pop-jazz singing style.) At engagements and in interviews, she is furthermore fond of regaling North Dakotan audiences with stories about the life and achievements of her senior, fellow North Dakotan songstress.

Jamestown's Hall Of Fame & Its Dorian-Gray-ish Underground Chamber

First set of images: the North Dakota Hall of Fame, located at the lower level of state's capitol building. Inaugurated in 1967, this hall has filled its walls with portraits of the Theodore Roosevelt North Dakota Roughrider Award recipients. The award is bestowed on North Dakotans deemed worthy of such an honor by the state's governor in conjunction with the secretary of state and the state's historical society. To qualify for this high recognition, the prospective candidate must be a "present or former North Dakotan who has been influenced by this state in achieving national recognition in his or her field of endeavor, thereby reflecting credit and honor upon North Dakota and its citizens."

In this first photo, taken shortly after the 1967 unveiling ceremony, we see the photos of all eight honorees to that date. From left to right, these are portraits of Lawrence Welk, Dorothy Stickney, Ivan Dmitri, Eric Sevareid and, near the corner, Peggy Lee. Shifting our gaze past the entrance, the other three wall portraits belong to Roger Maris, General Harold K. Johnson, and Doctor Anne H. Carlsen. Created by Emmet Morgan, the Lee portrait can be seen more closely in the second and fourth images. Morgan was responsible for painting seven of these eight portraits, Carlsen's being the exception. He modeled his Lee rendering after a color version of the publicity shot which is seen last above. The same color shot was put to yet another worthwhile use when Capitol and the singer picked it as the front cover of her 1964 album In The Name Of Love.

Governor William Guy was the man responsible for co-creating the award at the start of his tenure (1961), which lasted until 1973. Said to have referred to Peggy Lee as "North Dakota's best-known and best-loved woman," Guy is shown standing next to Lee's portrait in the second photo. He is also one of the four men staring at the same portrait in the first photo. (Ames, McKinney, and Rodgers are the names of the other three, who are unidentified otherwise.) A recognition for which Peggy Lee was picked as one of its earliest honorees, the Rough Rider Award is expected to be bestowed on its 50th recipient at some point within the decade of the 2020s.

Norma Deloris Egstrom From Wimbledon, Valley City, Nortonville And Jamestown, North Dakota

Front and back covers of Peggy Lee's last album for Capitol Records, released in 1972. (She would go on to do nearly ten more, for several other labels.) Her swan song for the one company that she considered her professional home, this album was proudly and defiantly called Norma Deloris Egstrom From Jamestown, North Dakota -- not Peggy Lee From Capitol Records, Hollywood. The entire back cover is taken over by a map of the region of North Dakota where Egstrom roots were, with Jamestown, Nortonville, Valley City, and Wimbledon clearly visible.

XXX. Appendix D
The Site Of Her Star Of Fame - A Photographic Showcase

Peggy Lee's Star of Fame can be found between Ivar Avenue and Vine Street, at 6319 Hollywood Boulevard. The location happens to be fairly close to Lee's musical alma mater, Capitol Records. About one block up Vine, the tower can easily be seen even before reaching the corner end of the street.

Since it provides shelter for Lee's Star of Fame, the Hollywood Boulevard building bearing the numbers 6319 and 6321 will be the primary focus of our attention. (By my estimation, those should be the numbers corresponding with the business in question. Most of the contemporaneous sources that I consulted match my estimation. There are, however, a couple of sources that refer to 6315 Hollywood Boulevard as the address of the restaurant shown in the first photo above, to be discussed in the next paragraphs. I believe those sources to be mistaken. Be that as it may, the building seen on the photo is the one of interest for our discussion.)

In the early 1930s, the building was shared by the triumvirate of businesses pictured in the first photo above. The left side was occupied by a House of Flowers. In the middle was Henry's, a celebrity hangout remembered as the very first Hollywood restaurant to stay open past midnight, and for being haunted by the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Al Jolson. Debuting in the mid-1920s with financial backing from Chaplin, the place was operated by Henry Bergman, a character actor who worked extensively for the silent era filmmaker-comedian.

Of greater interest to us is the right side of the building, under which Lee's star would be eventually placed. This 1930s photograph shows it housing Horton & Converse, a pharmacy business that had been founded back in 1917. By 1937, it had moved to 6313 -- a few numbers up, right past another famous restaurant, Sardi's. Horton & Converse has actually surviving the test of time, with its current location being on Wilshire Boulevard. In 2019, it reshaped itself into a medical supply store.)

Following Horton & Converse's departure, the building section of our greater interest became Vanity Fair Of Hollywood, a chic nightwear and lingerie brand. Meanwhile, the former Henry's space had been taken over by another restaurant since early 1933. Far from being new to the block, Perry's Brass Rail Café was a competing business that had previously operated at 6313, or thereabouts. Dating from around 1937, the second photo above gives just a glimpse of the entrance's awning, on the left side of the image. (Obviously, this photo is more concerned with the more famous Sardi's. Note the aforementioned relocation of Horton & Converse.)

For the entire 1930s, the restaurant business remained this building's primary occupant. When one Norma Deloris Egstrom arrived in town (early 1938), the address 6321 Hollywood Boulevard had belonged to the Weiss Café for about one year and four months. The enterprise had been apparently owned by Martin Weiss, with his restaurateur father Harry listed in an executive capacity. According to a press article published in 1938, the café "specialized in 35 and 40 cent luncheons and 65 cent full-course dinners. Free parking is available across from the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel." The promotion in the above-pictured ad promises "everything from soup to dessert in 12 luxuriant courses," including the most delicious, tasty, succulent goose for any young Tom (and perchance for any cornfed Norma, too).

With the start of next decade, restaurants no longer enjoyed possession of the building's largest space. Remodeled, the space properly became known as the Admiral Theatre on May 16, 1940, when it opened its doors to those interested in watching the venue's inaugural double feature. The latter consisted of the flicks His Majesty’s Mistress and Torpedoed (first photo above).

Note that the 6319 side of the building still remained tied to the nourishment industry. Apparently part of the theatre's premises, we see above a concession stand that identifies itself as a "health juice bar," with carrot juice presumably known as being a worth-advertising, fresh and popular choice of beverage.

Judging from the second photo above, the theatre was still running but perhaps already in decline by 1957. Consisting of The Searchers (1956) and Frances In The Navy (1955), the 1957 double feature on display does not exactly suggest up-to-date programming or a venue exuding the fresh smell of success.

But something very fresh did happen in the area within the next few years. On August 15, 1958, the first eight Stars of Fame were experimentally put in place on the northwest corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. Lawsuits delayed the formalizations and continuation of the project until 1960. The official groundbreaking happened on February 8, at which time Peggy Lee was part of the large, distinguished batch of artists to be awarded stars. For publicity purposes, a promotional ceremony ensued on February 9 (touting Joan Woodward's not-yet-in-place star). Finally, on March 28, Stanley Kramer's star became the very first to be officially placed.

Dating from 1964, the last photo above gives us a view of the sidewalk under the Admiral Theatre's awning, after Peggy Lee's star had been already placed. I believe her star to be the one surrounded by the three young ladies in the picture.

The 1960s found the Admiral in definite decline, running mostly second-rate features and revivals, and operating under a slightly altered name (the Rector's Admiral Theatre). In 1969, the space was bought and renovated by the Trans-Beacon Corporation, then holders of the RKO film library. The right side of the building was being occupied by a kiosk from the Orange Julius beverage chain. Around 1971, the Trans-Beacon Corporation went bankrupt. That period probably corresponds with the removals of their "TB" initials, previously visible between the two Vine signs (first photo above).

Current to this day is, on the other hand, the corporation's name for the new facility. Through its ups and downs, the place has now been known as the Vine Theatre for nearly four decades. It actually stopped running films for the public in October 2007. By that time, most of the double features were in Spanish, the tickets priced at seven dollars, and the marquee re-purposed to advertise the availability of their "digital screening room" for rental (second photo above). Private rental has indeed became the theatre's main raison d'etre during the last few years.

Taken around 2014 or late 2013, the third photo shows the theatre during a reconstruction period, after Dolby Laboratories leased it and lavishly renovated its interior -- but not the exterior. The space was still in occasional use as a private-screening room when the pandemic hit New York City.

The two 2000s images above reveal that, during most of the last two decades, the right side of the structure was occupied by a food stand called Sandy Burger. With no known connection to the similarly named fast food chain (Sandy's Burgers), this stand was apparently named after its owner's birth or nickname. Burgers were the small house's specialty, naturally.

Dating from 2019, the fourth image offers a dim glimpse of the 2017 Hollywood Boulevard's most recent occupant. Perfect Pita took over around 2015, offering a primarily Lebanese menu. Perfect or otherwise, the place seemed to be doing reasonably good business, thanks to its kebab, falafel, and assorted Mediterranean plates. Nevertheless, during the pandemic period, it updated its status to "permanently closed."

Readers wanting to learn further details of interest about this location should consult my main sources. Blogger B Counter offers an extensive, well documented and thoroughly sourced chronicle, rich with photography not included in my presentation above. B Counter also gives her due to Noir City Dame (a regular poster at the fantastic Noirish Los Angeles Forum) for one of her excellent, historically oriented research posts, on which both of us have leaned.

Let us take a quick walk to the destination of our interest. Those who are unfamiliar with Hollywood's Boulevard's Walk of Fame should note that both sides of the street are paved with stars. In the first image, we are approaching the Vine Theatre from Ivar Avenue. We are right under its awning in the second image, but still determined to move further, all the way to the area where sunlight starts to shine. In the third image, we should be eyeing the star closest to us.

Peggy Lee's star is in good company. Also living at 6319 Hollywood Boulevard, her immediate neighbor is Sis Laurence Olivier. Among the other personalities nearly are Sophie Tucker (6321) and Gordon MaacRae (6325). Parallel across the street are the inventor of the cinematograph, August Lumière (6320), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (6318), and Humphrey Bogart (6322).

XXXI. Appendix E

The Autobiography

Peggy Lee wrote her autobiography during the mid-1980s, when she was in her sixties. She referred to its inception as follows: "I started to think of writing the book when I was in New Orleans after ... heart surgery [October 1985]. There I was, convalescing in a room crammed with flowers from all over the United States, from Europe, Japan, with hundreds of messages of love and encouragement signed by all kinds of remarkable people -– a bellboy at a hotel where I once stayed, the President of the United States regretting that the emergency has canceled my engagement to sing at the White House. And ‘I found myself asking, How did I, Norma Deloris Egstrom, little Miss Nobody, get here from Jamestown, North Dakota?’ "

Two hardcover editions came out initially, one in the US, the other in the UK. The American edition (1989), from Daniel I. Fine Publishers, is pictured first above. Next is view in the British version (1990), published by Bloomsbury. In addition to the front covers, there are several other notable differences between these two editions. One pertains to chronology. The publisher of the British edition starts off --as would be expected-- with Lee's years as a girl and a teenager (1920-1940). For its part, the publisher of the American version opens with the singer's chapter about her days with bandleader Benny Goodman (1941-1943), and then moves back to her earlier years. I have also been told that, unlike the American edition, the British edition does not include a list of Lee's albums and singles. The remaining image features the front cover of the earliest paperback edition. This edition was released by MacMillan's Pan sub-division in the United Kingdom (1991).

Seen right above are two other paperback editions of Peggy Lee's autobiography. The first, with its glamour shot on the front cover, is a reprint of the American edition. It was published by Berkley in 1992.

The pink cover belongs to Bloomsbury's own paperback reprint of its British hardcover version. It came out in 2002. This edition adds to Lee's text a post-mortem Epilogue and Appreciation, written by Will Friedwald. It also provides a substantially updated list of singles and albums, by David Torresen. Offsetting such pluses are a few minuses -- most notably, the omission of some of the photos found in the hardback editions.

The last image features the back cover of the aforementioned US autobiography edition (1989). Among the seven photographs on display in that back cover, we can see several of Peggy Lee's most iconic photos -- or rather, companion shots to the better-known, iconic ones.

The Biographies

Images seen above: Peter Richmond's biography, in three editions, and James Gavin's biography, in its only edition so far. Of the Richmond items, the original, American 2006 hardcover edition is displayed first. It was published by MacMillan's Henry Holt & Company. The second image belongs to the British edition, on Aurum Press, published on hardback and, reportedly, also on paperback. The third photo displays the 2007 paperback reprint of the American edition; this reprint was published by MacMillan's Picador Press.

As part of my research for this discographical page, I have naturally consulted Peter Richmond's and James Gavin's above-shown biographies of the singer. I have been particularly interested in comparing the chronology of each book with the sequence of events that can be gleaned from Lee's own autobiographical comments. (In passing, I would like to thank both authors for including my name in the Acknowledgments sections of their respective books. I should also clarify that I had no direct contact with either of them, nor do I fully endorse either text.)

Published in 2006, Richmond's account is valuable because he interviewed residents of the towns in which Norma Deloris Egstrom (Peggy Lee) lived during her early years. He also received worthwhile documentation from local individuals and institutions invested in preserving the history of the North Dakota towns where Egstrom spent her formative years. Published by Simon & Schuster in November of 2014, James Gavin's account also draws from rare newspaper clippings and interviews -- more extensively so.

Both texts offer well-written prose, and both make the high quality of Lee's musical legacy abundantly clear. Richmond's text is the most effusive of the two -- arguably bordering on overstatement at times, but generally pleasant and engaging. His gratitude to those who met with him for interviews also leads to thorough exaltation and praise of those subjects' achievements. On the other hand, there are a few, brief book sections where Richmond's own music biases run rampant, leading him to become highly critical of the singer's interpretative choices.

While it should keep the interest of the general reader, Gavin's biographical portrait is more problematic than Richmond's. This biographer was apparently intent on conjuring up a significantly dark and thoroughly unpleasant portrait of the artist's personality. During his period of writing and research, there was word of mouth to the effect that the author was gearing his prose toward the full development of a persona preconceived before the process. During my reading of the book, I did see the application of this approach to some of the material sourced from texts known to me. The material was rephrased or reinterpreted in a rather insidious manner, nowhere apparent in the original text. As part of the author's pursuit, interviewees who held grudges against the singer might have also been given far more weight than those who did not. (The validity of this last point is harder for me and anyone but the author to ascertain, of course. I am basing it in private commentary from several interviewees, who remarked about the exclusion of the positive comments that they had made, and/or professed to have found themselves trying to explain to the author that the personality which he was suggesting did not gel with the person they had known.)

Leaving aside the author's questionable modus operandi, the book does offer worthwhile factual detail, from which I have benefitted. The bulk of such beneficial details have actually made it into the present page -- e.g., some of the locations and specific dates for early performances in North Dakota, gathered in part from documentation provided by state institutions such as the Barnes County Historical Museum, and in part from interviews conducted with North Dakota residents. To sum up, this biography is valuable for the amount of factual research on which it stands, but is not recommended to readers in search of a fair, balanced portrait of Peggy Lee's lifetime character and personality.

A Friend's Reminiscence, A Life Chronicle, A Musical Analysis

Diving Deep For Sea Shells is actually the autobiography of harpist Stella Castellucci, who was a member of Peggy Lee's touring group from 1953 to 1956 (the Decca period), and also played for her periodically between 1957 and 1960 (Capitol years). Co-authored with Edgar Amaya and originally published in 2014, this fine memoir naturally concentrates on Castellucci's life and contributions to the world of harp music, but many of its pages contain references to the times that Miss Castellucci shared with Miss Lee. It is worth noting that the harpist and the vocalist remained friends until the latter's passing. The text has enjoyed two editions, both of them pictured above. (Black & white cover: Balboa Press, July 2014. Color cover: LitFire Publishing, 2015.)

Another book source available to Peggy Lee fans is Robert Strom's chronicle of the singer's career. Strom relies largely on magazines and newspaper articles to present chronological capsules of Lee's life and career, from 1920 to 1995. This publication is particularly noteworthy for the many black & white photos of Lee that it contains, some of them still rare. Released in April 2005, the front cover of the McFarland & Co. hardcover is seen above. McFarland released a paperback edition in April 2014.

Published midway though Peggy Lee's centennial year, Tish Oney's Peggy Lee: A Century Of Song is a welcome piece of musical analysis. Both a music academician and seasoned singer, Oney offers an expert and sober yet accessible study of Lee's technique and style. As suggested by the book's title, the author has set out to cover the work of the centennial artist in chronological order, thereby discussing the merits of Lee's interpretations from her early years with Benny Goodman in the 1940s to her last solo recordings in the 1990s.

Throughout, Oney generously cites both Peggy Lee's official website and the present (also official) discography as sources on which her analysis was anchored. (Again, I did not have contact with the author during her book writing period.) In passing, I should also make mention of Oney's own tribute CD to Peggy Lee. Released by Rhombus Records in 2008, Dear Peg includes several Lee compositions that are rarely if at all covered by other tribute artists (e.g., "Boomerang," "It Must Be So," "Happy With The Blues"), and even one Lee composition that had never ever seen the light of day before ("Burn It Slow"). Her fine singing counts with the expert backing of John Chiodini, the excellent musician who variously worked as Peggy Lee's musical director, producer, arranger, guitarist, and co-songwriter during the last decades of her career.

The Present Essay: Motivation And Reliability

Back when I made the decision to create this particular page, the facts that surrounded Lee's pre-recording days lay scattered and disorganized in a variety of texts. There were frequent discrepancies between those sources, too. From one text to another, the chronology could differ in multiple spots. Also, some details presented in one account were absent and/or could hardly be matched with the version of events in another account.

A resulting feeling of confusion motivated me to put this page together.  My original impetus was a desire to clarify, organize, and contextualize the available information.

Of the extant sources, I obviously gave special consideration to Peggy Lee's autobiography. Admittedly, her approach to chronology tends to be more approximate than exact ... but such tends to be the orientation of an autobiographical accounts. We should bear in mind that Lee wrote this text by herself (without the benefit of a ghostwriter or a researcher), and that she did so nearly 50 years after the particular events which I have attempted to recount above.

In addition to the autobiography, I have paid close attention to dozens and dozens of newspaper and magazine interviews that have been published over the decades. In the late 1990s, a very large portion of such items was jointly transcribed by David Torresen and myself. After they were placed in Peggy Lee's official website (of which Torresen is sole webmaster), such interviews and articles have proven helpful to many fans and researchers, including the Lee biographers whose work was discussed above.

Coverage of Lee's earlier days in North Dakota has proven to be especially challenging, in part because it was not initially one of my research areas of interest. (I do love it now.) The other part: handling the considerable amount of available detail about those years has been a very time-consuming proposition. More recently, published biographies of the singer have fortunately fleshed out those earlier periods of her life. Accordingly, I have made pertinent additions or modifications to this text after reading such biographical publications. More updates may take place in the future.

This page's account is, then, a collage of all the sources at my reach. Obviously, the account's reliability is partially dependent on such sources, and on how much I have chosen to trust each of them. Furthermore, I must acknowledge that I am not using (do not currently have access to) certain primary material (local newspapers from the first half of the twentieth century, historical documents from the same period), all of which is arguably preferable and more reliable than the sources available for my consultation.  

For all the reasons mentioned or implied in the preceding paragraphs, it should go without saying that this page cannot possibly be free of factual errors.  I hope that corrections will come forth as time marches on.  My main goal is precisely to have all the extant, divergent sources collated into an easy-to-modify and easy-to-update text (one malleable enough to handle the contributions of better documentation as/if it turns up). 

Last but not least, I would like to ask for the indulgence of any strict discographers who might come across this supplementary page. Admittedly, the pursuits at hand are more biographical than discographical, and hence somewhat outside the scope of this discography's main trajectory.


Through most of this particular section, identification of the photography can be found in or gleaned from the main text, and should not require further description. I would like to add a few words about the imagery immediately above, all of it connected to the last two authors discussed, Stella Castellucci and Tish Oney.

I have already written about Oney's CD Dear Peg. Not pictured here is a more recent CD of hers, titled The Best Part, again in the company of John Chiodini. That 2019 release includes more rare compositions, these ones co-written by Chiodini and Lee: "Brand New Baby," "I've Been Along For Too Long," and "Most Of All I Love You." As for two images of Stella Castellucci above, the one in the middle captures her at home with co-writer Edgar Amaya, during the process of redacting their book. The last image is a shot of Castellucci during her visit to Wimbledon, North Dakota, for the town's opening of the Peggy Lee Museum (2012).

Closing photos and quotes below: companions to those which opened this page. The first photo dates from 1962, the second from around 1955. Once again, the quotes accompanying these two shots were uttered by the artist herself, and they are are key to understanding the personal philosophy and professional triumphs of North-Dakota-born Norma Deloris Egstrom, known to Hollywood as Miss Peggy Lee.