Scott Joplin House Severely Vandalized

Word spread quickly through the music community in St. Louis and then by social media across the nation that the Scott Joplin House at 2658 Delmar Boulevard in the city had been badly vandalized. Allegedly a man with mental health problems broke into the historic site on Sunday, October 2. Apparently, the break-in was discovered by a neighbor walking by who noticed glass and debris on the sidewalk and called police.

Tragically, the intruder destroyed furnishings, displays, and instruments before escaping the large police contingent dispatched to end the destruction. The suspect was soon apprehended nearby and is in custody pending a judicial determination of his condition.

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Employees and volunteers are now in the process of determining the extent of he damage which is considerable and estimated in the tens of thousands of dollars. Because many ceramic items and windows were broken, the suspect was injured, and blood covered some of the damaged property. This will add to the difficulty of restoration. It is in a way fortunate that nothing in the historic site was original to Joplin or the property.

Richard Egan, musician, historian, and longtime supporter of the historic site’s Friends of Scott Joplin Association said that a neighborhood group first recognized the value of the property and purchased it for restoration in the 1980s. It was later owned by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, State Parks Division. The site has been open to the public since 1991 as a state historic site and featured furnishings that would have been contemporary to the period when Joplin occupied a second-floor apartment in the building from 1901 to 1903. There were many displays featuring ragtime music and the composers and performers associated with the local 1900 music scene and 1904 World Fair in St. Louis. Many of these displays were extensively damaged.

An annex called the Rose Bud Café had been added for gatherings and as a performance venue but was closed for restoration. It was named for Tom Turpin’s original establishment at 2220-2222 Market Street where Joplin and St. Louis ragtime musicians originally gathered and performed,

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The Joplin House was the first historic site in Missouri associated with an African American and its original purpose was to emphasize the contributions Joplin made to American music. “A new community-based heritage project has attempted to expand this historic narrative to include the more complex social history of African American urban migration and the transformation of a multi-ethnic neighborhood” and coverage of “uncomfortable topics of racial oppression, poverty, sanitation, prostitution, and STDs,” according to historian Timothy E. Baumann, writing in 2011.

As news of the damage to the Joplin House spread, 96-year-old Max Morath, ragtime historian, composer and performer for six decades remarked, “This is a tragedy, however, buildings are destroyed, and people die but the great music associated with them is immortal.”

The Joplin House (courtesy Missouri State Parks)

According to Brian Stith, Deputy Director, Missouri State Parks Department. the site will be closed to the public indefinitely while state officials attempt to restore and replace the damaged displays, furnishings, and property. Donations toward the recovery should be made to: Missouri State Parks Donations, Department of Natural Resources, P.O. Box 178, Jefferson City, Missouri 65102.

Larry Melton was a founder of the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in 1974 and the Sedalia Ragtime Archive in 1976. He was a Sedalia Chamber of Commerce manager before moving on to Union, Missouri where he is currently helping to conserve the Ragtime collection of the Sedalia Heritage Foundation. Write him at [email protected].

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