“He gave those with the slimmest of purses a fair chance to hear the best music"
On the west side of Edgewater Park stands a memorial fountain erected in memory of Conrad Mizer, who is often referred to as the “Father of Park Concerts,” in Cleveland. Mizer spearheaded the establishment of large scale, free band concerts in city parks such as Edgewater, Gordon and Brookside Parks at the turn of the 20th century. “With Mizer, music was religion. His first conception with the open air concerts was that with trees for walls, the blue sky for a roof, and green grass for a carpet, nature has provided in the parks a church in which sermons, set to music and with harmony for the text, might be delivered to minds that were ready to receive them.” (Cleveland Leader May 29, 1904.)
Conrad Mizer was born in Cleveland to German immigrants. Referred to as “Cooney” by his many friends, he left school at a young age and learned the trade of a tailor’s cutter, eventually opening his own tailoring shop on Superior St. Mizer, being a very generous human being, gave credit freely which put him in debt and eventually caused him to lose his shop. After that, he worked as a journeyman tailor and devoted himself largely to writing and music. He used much of his earnings to support the arts and began organizing open air band concerts in Cleveland parks in 1897.
Mizer once said “The love of music is found to a certain extent in everyone and the human inclination to congregate will give the people pleasure” (Plain Dealer, May 28, 1904.) He was correct as the band concerts he organized in Cleveland parks attracted as many as 20,000-25,000 people on Sunday afternoons. Streetcars could not keep up with the demand for rides to the concerts and every inch of available seating was packed at the parks. Sometimes the crowds were so large that attendees couldn’t even get close enough to hear the music. Mizer not only planned and raised funds for concerts, but also for children’s festivals such as May Day and Romping Day at these parks. Youngsters could come (and they did by the thousands) for free days of fun, games, refreshments and prizes organized, and often funded, by Mizer.
Conrad Mizer became ill and died in May, 1904 at the age of 47. Soon after, the Conrad Mizer Memorial Association was established to raise funds for a tribute to Mizer in the parks. Many locations were discussed and F.W. Strieblinger was hired to design a memorial fountain. A bandstand was the original structure planned, but proved to be too costly. Instead, a site was selected near the existing bandstand at Edgewater Park. A 15’ high fountain made from Indiana limestone was constructed with a large bronze medallion showing the bust of Conrad Mizer in relief. The fountain cost $2500 which was raised mainly through donations.
The fountain was dedicated in October 1909 with thousands of Clevelanders in attendance. Mizer had never married nor had children and his young nephew, Thomas, was on hand to perform the unveiling. Numerous singers and bands performed and speeches were given. Mayor Tom Johnson gave an address honoring his friend and took the first drink of water from the fountain out of a silver cup.
While the Conrad Mizer Memorial Fountain is no longer running and the bandstand is gone, the memorial still stands over 100 years later at Edgewater Park. Conrad Mizer’s dedication to bringing music and recreation to the parks carries on today. While band concerts at the parks are no longer attracting 20,000 people on a Sunday afternoon, there are still many of opportunities to enjoy the arts, recreation and music throughout Cleveland Metroparks.