Joseph Ludgate, “long distance singer”

Joseph Lucgate handbille (Sangamon Valley Collection)

The “champion long distance singer of the world” called Springfield home for about four months in 1895.

Joseph C. Ludgate (1864-1947) arrived in December 1894 to command the local corps of the Salvation Army “with a history,” the Illinois State Journal said, “much of which reads as entertainingly as a story of the imagination.”

In Ludgate’s case, “long distance singer” referred to how long Ludgate could sing, not how far away he could be heard. When he put on one of his shows March 30, 1895 at the Salvation Army Hall, Seventh and Washington streets, handbills promised “51 songs will be sung without stopping.”

“This service is one of the most enjoyable, soul stirring, care destroying, joy producing Halllujah services you ever attended,” the handbill promised.

Ludgate was born in London, England, and first sang in a concert hall there when only 7 years old. The Salvation Army began trying to enlist him at age 17 – music was one of the Army’s key recruitment tools – but Ludgate was reluctant to sign up, so much so that he emigrated to Canada “to put himself out of the way of further persuasion,” the Journal’s story said.

It didn’t work. Ludgate enlisted in the Salvation Armuy two years later, singing and working for the Army in New York, Toronto, Detroit and elsewhere. He married Nellie Ryerson Ludgate (1865-1933), another Army captain, in 1882. The marriage got off to an inauspicious start, the Journal reported.

Immediately after their union, they went to Patterson, N.J. Those were the days when the army was in ill repute in many places, and one of those places was Patterson. While conducting a street meeting, they were arrested by order of the city officials for disturbing the peace and were lodged in jail. It was an unwelcome place to spend a honeymoon, but Captain and Mrs. Ludgate were previously advised of what might happen and were prepared for the hardship.

Salvation Army workers kept appearing on Patterson streets and kept being jailed – up to 50 at one point – according to the Journal story. “Finally the authorities were outgeneraled and gave up the fight,” the newspaper said.

The Army had its rocky moments in Springfield too, but Ludgate was received warmly. “Captain Ludgate is a man of good address and one whose acquaintance and friendship are worthy of cultivation,” the Journal’s welcome story said.

Ludgate and his family pastored in Springfield only until April 1895. But while he was here, Ludgate regularly employed his singing specialty at Army services, apparently effectively. The Journal announced Ludgate’s final Springfield appearance:

It has been a very bad night the past winter that has prevented a large audience, often running into the hundreds, from standing attentively to listen to his remarkably fine singing, accompanied by his concertina. … The barracks, corner of Seventh and Washington streets, should be crowded on Monday night, whenhe will farewell to leave for his new appointment.

The Ludgates moved to Chicago and apparently remained in that area for the bulk of their Salvation Army careers. Joseph and Nellie Ludgate are buried in Wheaton Cemetery.

Hat tip: Curtis Mann of Lincoln Library’s Sangamon Valley Collection for bringing Joseph Ludgate to our attention.

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