Cedar Rapids
El Kahir Temple Band in

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This postcard shows the members of Cedar Rapids' El Kahir temple of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine having their picture taken in Portland, Oregon. The Shriners were in Portland to attend the 46th session of the Imperial Council.

On Wednesday, June 16, 1920, members of Cedar Rapids’ El Kahir temple of Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine set out for Portland, Oregon, to attend the 46th annual session of the Imperial Council. Included in their number were the 42 members of the temple band and as well as the members of the "patrol," which served as a temple Color Guard. Of course, the entourage also included the Shriner’s wives.


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The El Kahir Shriners traveled to Portland in a special excursion train equipped with Pullman cars. The temple arranged for a grand send-off, offering the people of Cedar Rapids a free band concert and a tour of the train just prior to the group's departure. The train made a few stops along the route where the band performed concerts for the locals. But even when the train did not stop, the Shriners provided entertainment to townspeople and farmers along the route. To the front of the train, they affixed a steam calliope that played the song "How Dry I Am," a not-so-subtle commentary on the new Prohibition law which had just gone into effect a few months earlier.

The city of Portland did not have enough hotel rooms to accommodate the 100,000 visitors who were expected to attend the conference. So, many of the Shriners slept in their Pullman cars which were parked on temporary sidetracks that the railroad had constructed to accommodate all of the trains.

According to the (perhaps biased) accounts in the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, the El Kahir band and patrol were the hit of the conference, thanks to their apparently incessant performance of the "Iowa Corn Song" whose lyrics had been composed in 1912 by George Hamilton, a member of Des Moines’ Za-Ga-Zig Shrine. According to Shriner John Burlanek, "everybody, everywhere was singing the refrain" and "on one corner, an aged man who said he was a native of Iowa, wept unashamed as the Iowa song brought back fond memories."

After the conference ended, the Shriners had to make their own arrangements for the return trip to Iowa since many desired to engage in some sight-seeing on the way back home.

Despite the impression created by the reports in the Evening Gazette, the Imperial Council of 1920 was not all fun and games. It was at this meeting that the Shriners voted to establish a hospital for crippled children. Over the decades, this has grown into a network of hospitals which constitute the Shriner’s single most important philanthropy.

Background Information


June 16, 1920


Large Number Members And Their Wives To Make Trip To Coast; Band To Make Trip Joyous.

The El Kahir Shrine Special, containing local officers, representatives, patrol and band, which will leave this city Thursday at 10:20 p.m. for the forty-sixth annual session of the Imperial Council, A.A. O.N.M.S. at Portland, Ore., June 22 to 26, inclusive, will be preceded by a public band concert at Greene Square tomorrow evening beginning at 8 o’clock, by the Shrine band, under the direction of Charles A. Fraser, formerly lieutenant band leader of the 168th U.S. infantry Rainbow division, A.E. F. The band, consisting of forty-two pieces, will give the concert on a specially constructed platform.

The concert program as arranged is as follows:

  • Grand March, "Entry of the Bayards." Halvorsen.
  • Hungarian overture, "Coskonay." Bela.
  • Intermezzo characteristic, "The Wedding of the Rose." Jessel.
  • Marche, "Turque," (Patrol, Eilenberg.) [sic, March, "Turque Patrol."]
  • Intermission.
  • March, "Lorraine," (French), Game.
  • Overture (descriptive), "The Fall of Jericho," Maillochand. Synopsis: The trumpeters summoning the Jewish army. The army assembles. Trumpet call. Exhortations of the priests, choral and recitative. Prayer. The attack, falling of the walls. Triumphal march. Finale.
  • Dance. "The Wiggle-A-Wee," Arthur.
  • Grand selection, "MacBeth," (from Verdi’s opera), Tobain.
  • Caprice, "Basking in the Sunshine," Cameron.
  • March, "The Mystic Shrine," Jewell.

Fine Train for Trip.

The special train which will leave over the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railroad, is one of the finest specials that has ever been run out of the city. It will consist of six standard sleepers, two dining cars, baggage and observation car. It will be parked opposite Greene’s square from 5 to 10 p.m. tomorrow in order to give the public an opportunity to inspect it. The public is free to go through the train and see the finest examples of the car makers art.

Cedar Rapids will be given considerable publicity by the train. On each side will be hung banners containing the inscription: "El Kahir Temple, Cedar Rapids, Iowa." The same inscription will be on a huge electrically lighted drum that will adorn the rear end of the train. In addition to the msuic of the band that will regale the towns as the special passes through a calliope will be installed in the baggage car and will announce to the farmers and town people along the way the approach of the special.

Among the stops that will be made will be at Sioux City, Friday morning and at Aberdeen, S.D. Friday evening. At the latter stop the train will be augmented by the addition of two cars containing the members of the shrine temple at that place. A stop of twelve hours will be made at Spokane, Wash., Sunday. The temples along the route at the various stops will provide special entertainments for the local visitors.

Train Crew Belongs to Order.

The engineers and conductors of the special on the several divisions over which the train will pass, will be no strangers to the local shriners. All of them will be members of the order and former members of the local shrine. C.L. Sherwood, local passenger agent, will have charge of the train.

The train will arrive at Portland Monday and will be parked during the session of the imperial council for the use of the members. Headquarters will be room 505, Hotel Imperial. After the session the train will be surrendered and the members who made the trip will return home by various ways. Some will take advantage of the opportunity to visit other places of interest before returning home.

The train will be specially for the officers, nobles, their wives and families. The band and patrol will go in full uniform. The patrol recently gave $200 to the American legion, $200 to the Home for the Friendless and $100 to the Home for Aged Women from the proceeds of the shrine minstrel show given.

Those Who Will Make Trip... [14]


June 18, 1920



Large Crowd Hears El Kahir Band and Sees Special Leave For Portland


Amid yells that could come only from strong lunged men who have crossed desert sands, supplemented by cheers from hundreds of spectators, the special train of ten coaches, bering more than a hundred members of El Kahir Shrine patrol and their wives, left the city at 11 p.m. yesterday, bound for Portland, Ore., where the forty-sixth annual convention of the Imperial Council, A.A.O.N.M.S. will be held June 22 to 26, inclusive.

Thousands of persons thronged Greene square to hear the concert given for two hours previous to the departure by the big Shrine band. This organization is seldom heard in public and its appearance always draws big crowds. It always has enjoyed a reputation for excellency which it more than lived up to last night.

Fez-topped heads were everywhere in evidence and the faces under the fez were full of eagerness and anticipation of the big ìjoy festî which is coming.

The special C., M. and St. P, train, which was sidetracked in front of the park pending departure, was one of the finest equipped trains ever leaving this city. Pursuant to the custom of Shriners on such occasions, who are always allowed great privileges, huge banners had been strung along the sides of the coaches. Everywhere the Shrine emblem was in evidence, even being painted on the locomotive and tender. From the cab windows protruded the fez-topped heads of the engineer and fireman and in the rear the conductor was similarly adorned. All are members of the order.

Shriners never go anywhere without letting the populace for miles around know it and last night a calliope steam whistle, attached to the front of the train, played, ìHow Dry I Am.î and other popular airs from early evening until the sound gradually dimmed as the train sped into the distance. [11]


June 26, 1920

Portland Takes Off Its Hat to El Kahir Band and Iowa Corn Song

by Verne Marshall

PORTLAND, Ore., June 26 – Special – Cedar Rapids Shriners felt that El Kahir patrol and band from their city had swept the platter clean at the Imperial council meeting here when their song, "Iowa," yestersday worked into the Portland theaters after the refrain had been taken up by everyone who heard the Iowans sing and play it in the big parades.

The Oregonian, Portland’s leading newspaper, yesterday said, "You simply can’t choke off that tall corn song from Iowa. It is being sung everywhere. The song made its first hit Tuesday morning, but it was not until the last big night parade was held that it came into its own."

Potentate David Turner, scorning the formality so rigidly observed by other temple officers as they rode in evening dress at the head of their own patrols and bands, stood on the rear seat of a car decorated in the old gold and black Iowa colors, adorned with huge rabbits, bells, pennants and flags and led the Cedar Rapids band when it played the Iowa song and the patrol when it sang. From the start of the parade to the finish the band played the air, quitting only long enough to let the partrol sing. Great crowds which had been waiting for and watching the parade for four hours, rose to their feet en masse when the Cedar Rapids boys swung along at midnight, and cheered them to the echo. Everywhere along the crowded streets the people are singing "I Am From Iowa, Iowa. That’s Where the Tall Corn Grows," and the air has become so popular that the theaters were forced to take it up and improvise accompaniments.

Without a doubt the El Kahir boys from Cedar Rapids made far and away the most lasting impression of the scores of bands and patrols, many of them far larger and previously more famous, that have been in Portland this week. The Cedar Rapids visitors began leaving yesterday, breaking up and starting on the return trip over various routes. [1]


June 28, 1920

"No city in which a Shriner’s convention has ever been held endeavored so hard to entertain its guest as did Portland," declared John Burlanek. Mr. Burlanek returned early today from the big Shrine convention held there last week.

"Portland people did all they could for us and they were really swamped. The offer of automobiles for us to use was almost unanimous from every motorist in the city. We certainly had a wonderful time."

Speaking of the hit made by the Iowa corn song, Mr. Burlanek said he never witnessed such wild enthusiasm from a crowd as when the Cedar Rapids delegation led in singing the song during the big parade on the day of the rose festival. "People simply yelled their heads off," he declared, "and everybody, everywhere was singing the refrain.

"I saw a woman from Centerville watching the parade, and on one corner, an aged man who said he was a native of Iowa, wept unashamed as the Iowa song brought back fond memories."

"Accomodations in hotels were absolutely unavailable for more than a small portion of approximately 100,000 visitors. We all slept in our Pullman cars. Temporary tracks were laid in many streets of the city and on these our cars were sidetracked.

"The Union Pacific railroad, on which practically all of the Shriner specials were taken into the city, had one or two high officials of the road on board. Passenger locomotives were taken from passenger trains for use on the specials and freight locomotives were used in their stead. All freight traffic in and out of the city was suspended during the five-day period when special trains were arriving and departing.

"One of the best things about the whole affair was our own Cedar Rapids, El Kahir band, which took all honors." [11]

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