Blue Room Memories Didn't Go Up in
"Blue Room Memories Didn't go up in Smoke." Emmons County Record, 5 September 2000, sec. 4B.
Dozens of townspeople watched the spectacle of The Blue Room burning
on Main Street on Saturday, July 29, 2000, from a safe distance across
the street, and strangers drove into town off U.S. Highway 83 to find
out the source of all the smoke they could see from the highway.
There were tears among many of those present who grew up with The
Blue Room, which has been an institution in Strasburg since it was
built in about 1906. Several people mentioned that three generations
of their family had held their wedding receptions in the historic
building where the Bubbling Quintet, Lawrence Welk, John Schwab,
Mike Dosch, Ray and The Ravens, Trinity and other musicians performed
over the years.
Imogene Schwab choked back tears when she told about her family's
Mike and Johanna Schneider noted the nostalgia their family members
have for The Blue Room. The Schneiders, two of their children and
Johanna's six brothers and sisters all had their wedding parties
at The Blue Room.
There are memories of the late accordionist John Schwab playing
"The Wedding March" as he and his band would lead a wedding
party across Main Street to The Blue Room.
Joe Kraft said Schwab and his band would entertain the older generation
at a hall on the north side of the street in the afternoon and then
lead the parade to The Blue Room for the evening celebration.
Joe's mother, Frances Kraft, and Lenny (Mrs. John) Schwab, were
cooks for countless wedding parties, and years ago wedding parties
included two meals. Those were the days when weddings were held
Kraft said he saw his first movie in The Blue Room in the early
1930s when it was owned by Ray Bichler and Matt "Badge"
Fischer. He said he watched westerns starring cowboy actors such
as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.
He remembers when Badge pulled a trick on one of the town's authorities
on beer. The man claimed to be able to tell the difference between
Hamm's Beer and Grain Belt. He was proven wrong when Badge switched
the labels on two bottles of brew and served them to the expert.
He bragged about the quality of his favorite beer as he sipped from
the mislabeled bottle and said, "Now this is a beer!"
Then he was told of the prank.
The Blue Room even had blue beverages from time to time. Kraft
said he remembers back in the days when liquor laws and their enforcement
were less strict when men would add blue food coloring to drinks
they mixed at their tables. He said the dye was added to sugar water
and then mixed with liquor.
Jimmy Schwab, trumpeter in Strasburg's Bubbling Quintet, and his
brothers played in The Blue Room so many times over the years that
no one kept count.
Jimmy said he got interested in music because of his dad's friend,
Lawrence Welk. He remembers in 1938 when he was seven his dad (John)
gathered the family around the radio to hear Welk's broadcast from
the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh, Pa.
"I sat on the big window ledge in our sod house and listened
to the music and decided I wanted to be a musician," he said.
Jimmy's interest was in the "big band" sound, and he
followed Guy Lombardo, Freddy Martin, Harry James, Jan Garber and
Sammy Kaye and listened to Franklin McCormick's music show on Chicago's
WGN. He noted that Lawrence Welk out-lasted all of them.
In 1951, he got to dance to big bands in both of Chicago's famous
ballrooms, the Aragon and the Trianon.
Jimmy recalls some of the big touring bands that played The Blue
Room. They included, among others, Fats Carlson, Bob Calamy (who
wrote "Bubbles in the Wine" with Lawrence Welk) and Jimmy
"Dancing Shoes" Palmer.
Some (but certainly not all) of the area groups that played the
ballroom, in addition to those mentioned elsewhere, were the Weichel
Brothers, Matt Lipp, the Boschee Band, Roy Holzer and Leo Lipp.
Gary Keller assisted the Emmons County Record in gathering an overview
of The Blue Room's history.
It was built as a pool hall and bowling alley in about 1906 by
Ben Schneider. The next owner was Kasper B. Feist, who had it from
1910 until the fall of 1917 when Gregory Bichler bought it. Bichler
was the owner until September 1929 when he sold it to his son, Ray
Bichler, and Matt Fischer.
Bichler and Fischer enlarged the building in 1933 or 1934 to accommodate
a large dance hall which was also used as a movie theater and roller
skating rink. The theater seats were on long boards, and they could
readily be slid to the side to open up the main floor. The theater
operated as the MattRay Theater.
The business was sold to Tony Gabriel and Ignatz Schaeffer in 1940.
Gabriel sold out, and Fred Mattern joined Schaeffer in the business
until Mattern became sole owner in 1945. Mattern sold the business
to his son, Leo, who operated Mattern's Blue Room until March of
1972 when John and Lil Schneider became the owners.
The Schneiders sold to Virgil and Pat Horner in July of 1975, and
the Horners ran the business until selling it in January of 1993 to
Jim and Lori Carlson. The Carlsons sold to Dave Scherr in July of
1996, and he operated The Blue Room until selling to Schumacher
and Backer in June of 1998.
(Editor's note: Jolenta Masterson kindly did the following research
for the Record's tribute to The Blue Room).
In a round-a-bout way, I finally got in touch with the son of the
man who originally built The Blue Room. The son, John Bichler, lives
in San Marcos, Calif. He would be about 85 now and played basketball
with my uncle Ed Fischer.
The original builder of the "Pool Hall" was Grigori Bichler.
He died June 27, 1931 at age 56. It was about that time that John's
older brother, Ray Bichler, in partnership with Mathew A. Fischer
(nickname, "Badge"). It was at that time that they expanded
the Pool Hall by adding the MattRay Ballroom to the south. In the
30s and 40s it was also the only theater in town where movies were
shown. It was there that we saw the showing of "Gone With The
Prior to that, the silent movies were shown in a room above the
Baumgartner Drug Store. (This little tidbit is what my Mom told me.
My Dad took her to the silent movies there when they were courting
in the 20s.)
Matt Fischer died in 1988 and Ray Bichler moved to Spokane, Wash.
Ray's wife still lives in Spokane.
Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.