The ancient fife and drum community lost more than a fellow fifer, founder, and friend on July 13, 2009. With the passing of Ed Olsen, we lost a living legend whose entire life united the ancients in music and good will. It was Ed who as a child never learned to ride a bike because he was too busy fifing for Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Brooklyn. It was through Ed that we learned about Jack Clapp and the VCA and the Three Rips (all of whom, by the way, had the biggest feet Ed had ever seen). It was Ed who moved to CT in 1953 to be closer to the hub of ancient music, and somehow the true golden years of the Ancients began. He ran a “Committee of 12” (in truth comprised of himself, Cathy, and the late Carl Emmanuelson) who devised and held the very first Ancient Muster in 1953, based on a foundation of “no judging, no prizes, no unkind words.” The art of mustering hasn’t just survived the passing of 50+ years, it has molded the Ancients into a unique community and is what identifies and binds us together in friendship.
It was his lifelong collection of fifes, drums, uniforms, accouterments, ephemera, papers and other documents, and images that comprises The Drum Corps Archives located in the Museum of Fife and Drum in Ivoryton, CT. His wit, sense of humor, personal charm, and most of all his dedication attracted a circle of close friends, now mostly gone — Freddie, Ken, Eddie Classey (no one ever really called him Eddie), Roy, Norm Ott (no one ever really called him Norm), Dave Boddie, the inimitable Bill Pace (who was called a lot of things,but no one ever called him Bill) — a long list that includes old timers that were even older than Ed himself–Charlie Miller, John Golet, Pete Mietzner, Ted Kurtze, Acton Ostling, Gus Moeller — a list that goes on and on.
He gave us a lexicon—“jollification,” “muster,” “circle of friendship,” “tattoo,” “F-Troop,” “standpiece,” “sutler”— some of which he slyly slipped into the jargon of the Ancients and others that developed around it. He conjured up images of “old New York,” which to him was nothing more (and nothing less) than the stories of Brooklyn neighborhood drum corps. Thus, we learned of a once-young “Nicky” Attanasio trying to get his drum through the subway turnstile without the benefit of a nickel, the awesome bass drumming of Lexy Sinclair, who was gone too soon; the 1946 “drum corps party” held at Korczak’s home in West Hartford, CT (“we are so ancient, it heurts”), and another held at Alex Smith’s farm in Clinton, memorialized in a photo of the original “Dreaded Drum Line.” We learned about the 1939 World’s Fair Field Day and the ill will created between certain drum corps when it may or may not have been Olsen who made sure an ornery old Creeker heard a rumor about one of the judges. We learned of the escapades of Eddy Breen an d Al Haggarty and the sorry situation of Haggarty’s mother, “who had a bad habit of believing everything I said,” through which we learned of Breen’s “bum foot.” We learned how the only good fife was a Cloos fife and of Ed’s consternation when he had to pay the exorbitant sum of $4 to replace the one he lost. He never lost that one, though! We learned of Jeremiah T. Mahoney, who wondered out loud how his corps had lost a competition based on one-third of a poorly executed rudiment (“And I wan’ ter know,” he said in his best Irish brogue, “whether ‘twas the first t’ird, the second t’ird, or the t’ird t’ird?”) and how Ed and his comrades left that drum corps meeting upon hearing of the bombing of Pearl Harbor to enlist in the armed forces — and through that, the escapades of Geronimo Field Music. Thank God Ed came back—there were others who did not.
When I think of Ed I see him sitting in a lawn chair under the tarp of Mo Schoos’s supercamper at the Westbrook Muster, an ice-cold ale in hand and regaling anyone who stopped by with these and other stories of days gone by. . . those of us who loved him best will never forget them, nor will we ever forget him.
Ed, if you can hear me, please! Save me a place right next to you! It’s your job to keep me in line!