Taggart, Charles Ross Biography

biography of Taggart, Charles Ross

19 March 1871, Washington, D.C., USA
4 July 1953, Kents Hill, Maine, USA
Charles Ross Taggart was born in Washington, D.C. His mother, Emily Divoll Taggart, was a missionary working in the Freedman's Bureau in Washington. His father, John Nelson Taggart, was from Pennsylvania, a Union soldier during the Civil War, and a postal clerk. He died 5 months before Taggart was born. At the age of 2, he and his mother relocated to Topsham, Vermont, where she had grown up and her parents still lived. Charles Ross Taggart was educated at a local district school, going on to the Mt. Hermon School for Boys in Northfield, Massachusetts, and later the Emerson School of Oratory and the New England Conservatory of Music, both in Boston, MA. From the time he was eight years old, he took music lessons, first on his mother's melodian, then on piano, with formal piano lessons in Montpelier, VT. In Topsham, Taggart taught the district school, the local singing school, as well as doing some clock tinkering, store clerking, and worked in the railroad express office in Bradford. He also traveled all over his locale with horse and buggy as a music teacher. In 1895, he had been inspired by a traveling performer to start performing himself, which he did for the first time on October 8th, 1895, at the Topsham Town Hall. Taggart would, for the next 43 years, travel all over the United States and parts of Canada as a one-man musical humorist and entertainer, playing the fiddle, piano, doing monologues, violin mimicry, ventriloquism, and various stunts. He would be in over 400 Chautauqua and Lyceum circuits, including the famous Redpath Chautauqua Bureau of Chicago, IL, where he was associated for over 25 years. In one of his publicity brochures from the 1920's, it was claimed that Taggart had given over 4,000 presentations, covering 44 of the 48 states in the Union at that time. One of Taggart's best known and best loved characters was "The Old Country Fiddler." As his early traveling was done primarily by train, Taggart moved from Topsham to Newbury in 1907, purchasing a home he named Elmbank, which just overlooked the local railroad depot. His credits include over 40 records for the Victor, Edison, Brunswick and Columbia companies. In 1923, Taggart appeared in a Lee DeForest Phono-Film, one of the earliest "talkies," entitled, "The Old Country Fiddler at the Singing School," one of Taggart's Old Country Fiddler routines. This was 4 years before Al Jolson appeared in "The Jazz Singer," which is often incorrectly called the first talking movie. Though he was primarily a one-man act, for a short while in the mid 1920's, Taggart was teamed up with 2 other fiddlers, and became "The Old Country Fiddler and his Fiddlers' Three." He also did one Chautauqua circuit in western New York state with his youngest daughter, Elizabeth, after her graduation from Grinnell College in Iowa, c. 1928. In 1937, during a performance, Taggart suffered a stroke, which, at the time, the audience simply assumed was part of the act. Unfortunately, the affliction was real. Taggart, in his resourceful Yankee way, simply reworked his program and continued for a short while afterward, playing one-handed piano pieces and strapping his fiddle bow to his right hand with a loose rubber band . In 1938, Taggart would officially retire, later selling his beloved home, Elmbank, and he and his wife, Edna, relocated to North Carolina to live with their eldest daughter and her family. He still continued to do some performing once in a while, mostly for free, or for an occasional meal. The family moved around the country, as the Taggart's son-in-law was a fisheries biologist who stocked trout ponds all over the U.S. Mrs.Taggart died in College Station, TX in 1950. Mr. Taggart wanted to relocate back to New England, and so in the spring of 1952, the family headed from College Station, TX towards Kents Hill (Town of Readfield), ME, where his youngest grandson and namesake, Charles Ross Chamberlain, was to be enrolled in the Kents Hill School. For a short time, the family stayed with friends in the Lebanon, NH area, and Taggart did some touring around up in his old haunts of Topsham and Newbury. It would be the last time Mr. Taggart would ever see Vermont. Arriving in Kents Hill, ME by September of 1952, Taggart would experience the last 10 months of his life. His mind and body began to diminish. In early 1953, his left leg was amputated above the knee, but he managed to write about the experience to his former school at MT Hermon, an institution he kept in constant contact with for all of his life, occasionally giving them benefit performances. Charles Ross Taggart died on the 4th of July, 1953. A simple grass marker in the Readfield Corner Cemetery has been the only testament to him, with only his name and years of existence, with no mention of his contribution to our cultural past. In 2011, a Vermont State Historic Roadside marker is to be erected in Newbury, VT, next to his former home, Elmbank, as well as a bronze plaque on the Topsham Town Hall, where he gave his first performance on October 8th, 1895.
Adam R. Boyce

-   "Vermonter Magazine" (USA), November 1927, Vol. 32, Iss. No. 6

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  1. Charles Ross Taggart (1923) (comedy sketches)