West Park’s Music Man
By Gary Swilik
Among the items in my personal collection is a 4-page booklet of sheet music for a song titled “Sweetheart Will You Love Me Then.” Here’s a sample of the lyrics:
The sun was sinking low and the sky was all aglow, as two lovers strolled beside a silvery stream. As he told love’s story sweet, her heart with rapture beat, for there is nothing half as fair as love’s young dream.
The song bears a copyright date of 1908 with words and music by “Richard J. Bagger of West Park, Ohio.” We set out to learn more about this mysterious music man who labored in West Park over a century ago. A search of the Plain Dealer archives uncovered only a single cryptic reference stating Richard Bagger was one of Cleveland’s “song poets.”
Digging deeper, we discovered Richard Bagger was born in Rockport (West Park) in 1880, the son of Nelson and Catherine Bagger who operated a basket factory here for many years. He went to school through the 8th grade, which was common for the times. He was in his late 20s, living with his parents at 3299 Warren Road, when he wrote the song we have in our collection.
By 1934, Richard was manager of the Warren Road Nursery near the Bagger Family home. He never married. In 1948, he died of a heart attack at age 67 at his sister's house at 14536 Triskett Road and was buried in Alger Cemetery. His death certificate lists his occupation as “retired florist.”
We can find no evidence Richard ever wrote or published another song. What inspired his single musical composition remains a mystery. A lost love? Someone he admired from afar? We’ll never know. However, we did find someone who personally knew our song writer. Wallace “Red” Matthei, 82, owner of Trucking Vantastiks, is Richard Bagger’s grand-nephew.
“My Uncle Richard always had a beard when I knew him,” Red remembers. “His nursery was opposite the shopping center on Warren Road and went all the way through to Triskett. I used to sell tomatoes on the roadside for him. He paid me in stamps. That was fine with me as my Uncle and I were both avid stamp collectors. I never knew he wrote any music but he may have been a photographer. He took some of the old photos I’ve donated to the historical society.”
Richard’s song probably hasn’t been heard in over a century but, since we have the words and music, we need only find a musician to play it for us. In effect, we’d be taking a musical time-trip back to 1908 to hear the way things used to be.
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