14. Agnes V. Tolle – “The Singing Harpist”

This past week, I was enjoying browsing through Newspapers.com and GenealogyBank.com finding old newspaper articles about various ancestors. That is when I stumbled on to this distant cousin, and immediately knew that she would be this week’s post for the 52 Ancestors challenge.

Advertisement from The Springfield Republican, Springfield, MA. March 17, 1946.

Agnes V. Tolle is my 1st cousin, 2xs removed. Her mother, Agnes Donnelly, was a sister to my great, grandmother, Elizabeth Donnelly. Their eldest sister was Mary Ann Donnelly, who was the grandmother of comedienne, Imogene Coca. So, I had always known there was a little bit of showbiz on that branch of the family tree.

She was born on February 1, 1905 in Philadelphia, the daughter of Albert and Agnes (nee Donnelly) Tolle. Agnes began playing the harp at the age of seven.

“Well, my mother decided that I should play the harp, and after all, it’s an Irish harp.” Agnes was quoted as saying in the February 20, 1939 Harrisburg Telegraph.

Agnes and her 2 brothers, Albert and William and her sister, Mildred grew up on Glenwood Avenue in Philadelphia. Their father, sadly, had taken his own life in 1914, leaving their mother to raise them on her own. However, the arts must have been a huge influence in their life. Sometime before 1930, Agnes and her mother and sister moved to Manhattan where she began pursuing a career as a musician. They were located there in the 1930 census on West 170th Street, Agnes’ occupation listed as a musician at the theatre and her sister, Mildred was working as a dancer in a night club.

I found many advertisements and articles on Agnes, spanning from 1928 to 1950. She performed with Victor Borge’s orchestra and performed all over the country. And she performed at several cocktail rooms and restaurants in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

Advertisement from TheSheboygan Press, Sheboygan, Wisconsin., November 14, 1947.

Advertisement from TheSheboygan Press, Sheboygan, Wisconsin., November 14, 1947.

Advertisement from The Springfield Union, Springfield, MA., May 1, 1948.

Advertisement from The Springfield Union, Springfield, MA., May 1, 1948.

 

Advertisement from The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, PA. March 30, 1928

Advertisement from The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, PA. March 30, 1928

However, I discovered that playing the harp was not Agnes’ only passion. I found her name in the book, Bums No More: The 1959 Los Angeles Dodgers, World Champions of Baseball by Brian M. Endsley. On page 25, in a chapter talking about when the team last played as the Brooklyn Dodgers I found:

” ‘Died – Sept. 24, 1957’ That was the text on the hand-written cardboard epitaph placed in the rotunda at Ebbets Field that same evening in Brooklyn, New York by two distraught Brooklyn Dodger fans, Rosemarie Keegan and Agnes Tolle, after a night game with the Pittsburgh Pirates.”

Could it be that Agnes was a die-hard Brooklyn Dodger fan?

And then I discovered that this beautiful, sophisticated harpist also enjoyed BOWLING! In an article from the Reading Eagle on April 24, 1942:

“Agnes Tolle, harpist de luxe at the Abe Lincoln, bowls in the wee hours at Cole Watson’s… the harp hasn’t taken up the game as of yet.”

As an avid bowler myself, I really enjoyed finding that last article. I never would have guessed that I would have found another ancestor that enjoyed bowling.

Before searching the newspaper sites above, Agnes would have been just another name sitting in my family tree. Thanks to performing a few searches, I was able to find out that she was actually a fascinating person.

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