About The Group
This biography is a story about two brothers and two sisters who started their musical paths apart, but later joined their efforts. Together they put together a dream that became known as Sleepy Hollow Ranch. The story is not just a biography, but also a glimpse into the history of the dream that those four people and others helped create at Sleepy Hollow Ranch.
The Murray Sisters as they became known were the daughters of Yugoslavian immigrant parents, Peter and Eva Bogdanovich. They settled in Paw Paw, West Virginia. But by the time 1930 rolls around, the family had moved to the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area. The sisters real names were Sophie Murray and Julie Ruth Bogdanovich. It is here that their musical careers began.
In a May 1934 article, readers learn that the Murray Sisters had come to WTMJ in Milwaukee "...after a long stay at Shenandoah (Iowa)" and were well known for their harmony.
In 1934, the Murray Sisters then 22 and 18, with Sophie being older, as they had become known on stage, joined radio station WTMJ's Badger State Barn Dance program. Some of the other acts that were also on the show were Rocky Mountain Mary, the Anderson Trio and Happy Hank Jensen. One ad touts the show's entertainment as "Hill Billy Songs, Comedy, Yodelers and Dances." In those early days, the personal appearances would often be at the local movie theatres.
The Murray Sisters were one of the featured acts at the Sheboygan County fair in August of 1935. An article tells readers what to expect when the folks of the WTMJ Badger State Barn Dance provided the evening entertainment on Friday August 16, 1935. The local paper wrote that the barn dance troupe was a "versatile group of hilly billies, and well-known radio entertainers. They play not only the hilly billy type of song, but also modern and old-time ballads."
The first act mentioned was the Murray Sisters, a 'hilly billy harmony team.' They were from West Virginia and veterans of numerous radio broadcasts.
Other acts on the stage with the Murray Sisters were to be the Badger Ramblers, a group of four guys; the Owens Harmony Trio that sang hilly billy and old-time melodies; and Louisville Lou a ballad singer. Another act was Hiram, a comedian, saw soloist, dancer and guitar player. Rounding out the list was Rocky Mountain Mary, a yodeler; Curly Stemper, a cowboy baritone singer; Aloma Al, steel guitar player; Doc Wenzel on the piano and accordion along with Clem, Mirandy and Rebecca, the musical family. Acting as Master of Ceremonies was to be Happy Hank. (Note: The term 'hilly billy' is what the newspaper article used.)
Later in 1935, news articles were showing that the Murray Sisters were now a part of the WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic, making numerous appearances around the state of Iowa. One example was a six day run by the 1936 edition of the Barn Dance in Waterloo at the Iowa Theatre. The Barn Dance then included ten acts. The cast included Sheriff Quigley and Tillie Boggs (purveyors of merriment from Sunset Corners); the Three Tune Tossers (playing melodies that are different); Red and his Arkansas Ramblers (a whirlwind hillbilly band); The Murray SIsters (WHO's melody girls from Wyoming); Tom Sawyer (a one-man band who plays tunes on anything from a dollar bill to a shot gun); Dell and Scotty (the Sunflower Girls); and Grandpa Peppers (who is always cutting capers.)
It is interesting to note at times how the radio stations would promote the various acts to listeners. The descriptions were sometimes not accurate, but were more to create an image in the listener's mind. WHO in a 1939 souvenir program described the Murray Sisters as "Wyoming Mountain Gals, not only charming singers, but honest-to-goodness sisters. Accompanying themselves on guitar and mandolin, the Murray Sisters, Sophie and Julie, specialize in ballads of the plains and the backwood trails, old-fashioned songs with a simple heart-appeal." They mentioned that their popularity stemmed from past appearances on vaudeville stages and various radio stations.
By mid-1936, Pete and Sophie had married. The Newman Brothers evidently had convinced the Murray Sisters to join forces as entertainers. From Iowa, they were next seen in Pennsylvania. On July 4, 1936, they were part of the 4th of July entertainment at Ephrata Park in Lancaster, PA. They were being heard on WCAU at the time with a half-hour daily show at 2:30pm. The Georgia Wildcats were also part of the entertainment.
In November of 1936, an article touting their appearance at the Coal Township High School stadium at 8:00pm provided a bit of a different picture of the group's makeup at that time. At the time the group consisted of three brothers and two cousins and the group was known for their unique cowboy songs. Sid Newman was known as "The Deacon" and had actually been featured by Hollywood studios. He wsa a disabled World War I veteran who trained his voice while he wss recuperating. Elmer and Ken Newman were his brothers, both talented singers and musicians. Glenn Newman was described as a "snappy bass fiddler" and "Lil Abner" Newman was the comedian of the group; his sidekick was "Icky" Newman. The article continued the ruse that the Murray Sisters hailed from "...the Wyoming mountains."
On December 2, 1936, the Uniontown Fire company presented a program at the Coal Township High School Auditorium featuring the Sleepy Hollow Cowboys. In perhaps a promotion left over from the Murray Sisters Iowas days at WHO, they were billed as the Wyoming Mountain Cowgirls. Even better, the short two paragraph article stated that the Sleepy Hollow Cowboys "...were a troupe of five performers, born and reared in the Everglades of Florida with a Seminole Indian tribe. They later moved to Arizona where they were educated along the lives of regular cowboys."
In April 1937, the Sleepy Hollow Cowboys and Cowgirls made their first appearance at the Boyertown High School Auditorium, presenting two shows. The shows were to benefit the American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps Uniform fund. The show times were 7:45pm and 9:30pm. Before each show, local entertainers would present a skit. The local folks were Ralph (Jeff) Dottterer, Warren (Red) Knode, Lester (Les) Kolb and William (Bill) Eagle - Bill was also known as "Parade Bill". Red and Jeff got to see the Gang at the WCAU studios on an occasion before the shows. The next day, it was reported that over 1,200 people attended the shows.
July 4th weekend saw the Cake Hotel announce a new policy by C. E. Bingaman which called for the presentation of floor shows. The opening attraction for this new policy was to be the Sleepy Hollow Cowboys who were being heard over the NBC chains. It was advertised as Sunbury's newest night club. The Sleepy Hollow group was booked for two nights. However, no children or minors were allowed to attend the shows.
That weekend was a busy one for the Sleepy Hollow gang. They were the entertainment at St. Gabriel's Catholic Church in West Pottsgrove township at their annual festival. It was reported that about 8,000 people saw the fireworks display and were entertained by the Sleepy Hollow Cowboys and Cowgirls prior to the $400 worth of fireworks.
The Sleepy Hollow Cowboys were coming back from a broadcasting stint in Canada in mid-April 1938. They stopped off at a particular roadstand - Sleepy Hollow - which was along the Lincoln Highway near St. Clair Hollow. It seems this was not the first time they had made that stop. They were returning to do broadcasts over WCAU once again. An article mentions there were four men in the car and the mother of one of them.
The group felt at home stopping there for their group name was Sleepy Hollow Cowboys. The last time they had stopped there was in 1937. In another coincidence, it was discovered that one of the members of the Cowboys had the same surname as the Neiman brothers who ran the roadstand. It was the fourth time they had stopped there. The article then tells readers that the group took their name from a a place in Minnesota.
The group began to journey east. On October 11, 1939, they appeared over station CKLW in Windsor, Ontario, Canada based on our review of radio logs in the Detroit Free Press. A photo post card in our collection shows the group at CKLW and is marked 1939. It appears to have been a daily show for 15 minutes at 3:30pm. The last time the reader sees the Sleepy Hollow show listed for CKLW was on Friday, March 22, 1940. The following Monday, a Jamboree show had taken its slot. Perhaps this is when the move to what would become Sleepy Hollow Ranch on Pennsylvania Rte 663 between Quakertown and Pennsburg.
A 1986 article recounting the history of the park indicates that Pete and Sophie purchased the 23 acre tract that was in Milford Township that included a five-room house for $2,200, supposedly shortly after being married in 1936. Later, the two couples formed an equal partnership and began building the ranch with the help of about 100 employees.
The ranch opened to the public on May 4, 1940 and the first act to perform was The Georgia Crackers.
WFIL Barn Dance to WFHIL Hayloft Jamboree
A couple of things were happening at once in mid-1940. On June 1, 1940, the WFIL Barn Dance appears on the radio listings, airing on Saturday nights from 8:00pm to 9:00pm. On June 22, 1940, the show began to originate from Sleepy Hollow Ranch, the first indication seen of the new venue. Prior to that time, that time slot showed a WFIL-WJZ (New York, NY) Barn Dance.
In December of 1944, the barn dance show began a new era over WFIL. While still called the WFIL Barn Dance initially, other ads indicate the show would become known as the Hayloft Hoedown. This would begin a long run of popularity for the show and station that would last for years. As popularity grew, it became a Saturday night staple of the ABC radio network of about 175 stations. In April of 1946, the network broadcast was increased from 15 minutes to a half-hour due to the popularity of the show. In the first ad promoting the new show in November of 1944, Elmer Newman and His Sleepy Hollow Gang were listed as the main act in the cast listing.
In May of 1945, Jack Steck took over the reigns of the show and it was renamed the WFIL Hayloft Hoedown. The show's second anniversary broadcast originated at the Earle Theater at 11th and Market Streets in Philadelphia. At the time it was being heard over the ABC network of over 175 stations. It was also one of the few network programs originating from Philadelphia. Originally the show took place at the Town Hall, located at Broad and Race Streets. Jack served as both producer and master of ceremonies for the show.
For the first few weeks of May 1945, the WFIL Barn Dance cast performed at the Sleepy Hollow Ranch as it re-opened for the 1945 season. On Saturday May 26, 1945, the radio listings now listed the WFIL Hayloft Hoedown at 10:00 for a half-hour broadcast. Thus, another iteration of barn dance type programs had started over the station.
The cast of that show included Carol Wynne, known as the Girl Next Door for her delivery of Western Ballads; Lew Carter, who was a veteran of the Marine landings on Tarawa and was known as the clown prince of the show; Jack Day was the popular cowboy baritone singer; Pop Johnston held fort as the dean of barn dance fiddlers; and, the Sleepy Hollow Ranch Gang including Elmer and Pete Newman; Sophie and Julie Murray; Monte Rosci and Pee Wee Miller (Mighty Mite of Music).
The show even had the attention of some magazines. Jenny Via offered a tip to the show concerning the Piano-Organ and accordion players on the show - Mil Spooner and Monty Rosci. Her advice was to add a good electric guitar man and form a 'Three Suns' trio that played hillbilly and western tunes. She further stated, 'Betcha an album of your recordings would command first place in anyone's music library.'
Lew Mel provided a bit of a review and insight of the show when he was invited to tag along with his friend Jack Howard during a visit to Philadelphia. He told readers that the "...show has a variety of talent that could not be beat." He described the Sleepy Hollow Ranch Gang as "...by far one of the smartest groups on the airwaves." He thought it was one of the finest hoedown shows possible. He wrote that he also noted the atmosphere of friendliness among the members of the cast, which seemed to give the show a bit of its popular spirit. He stated, "The group is one happy family with no one trying to out do the next fellow."
But was Jack Steck on board with the show? We learn in a 1946 article that the general manager of WFIL, Roger Clipp, just knew that a barn dance type program would be successful in Philadelphia. But Jack, who was well known in Philadelphia for his singing and comedy, tried to talk him out of it. But Mr. Clipp told Mr. Steck that he was putting him in charge of the show. And as we know, the rest is history.
One of the aspects of the show not written about elsewhere was Jack Steck's idea for a Trading Post. He asked for unusual objects from the audience and if anybody had that item, the audience member would take home a prize. Memory seems to tell us that a television game show of the modern era also had such a gimmick.
Trio numbers were at times done by Jack Steck, Carol Wynne and Jesse Rogers. A picture that would be worth seeing is one of Pop Johnson, the champion fiddler. It seems his trademark outfit was wearing a top hat and tails.
Research finds little nuggets related to the show that readers might enjoy. Lew Carter who was the comedian of the Hayloft Hoedown went out to the Eastern Penetentiary to perform for the prisoners. A few days after he got back, a hand-made cigarette box came in the mail. It was so well done, it looked like something one would get from an expensive gift shop. Lew showed it off to the folks at the station and several asked how they could get one. Lew wrote the prisoners back to thank them for the gift and told them he could probably sell five or six of them if they could send them along and he would pay the going rate for them. The answer came in a letter to Lew, "We are making the six boxes for you. The price is high — one song." It was signed "A Lifer."
The Hayloft Hoedown also was influencing the public high school educational system in Philadelphia and surrounding areas. To tap into the hillbilly trend, several schools added Barn Dance Clubs to their after-school activities. Members of those clubs were taught hillbilly dance routines and songs. The clubs would hold an annual dance with the entire student body invited to attend. The student 'stars' would make guest appearances on local radio hillbilly shows. They would also make trips to various barn dances which professional entertainers conducted in the area.
Jack Steck continued to mix it up with the Hayloft Hoedown show. In the summer he began a new policy of trying to book a name guest star at each show held at the Town Hall. The first one was on June 30, 1945 and Foy Willing and His Riders of the Purple Sage were the guest stars. That same article mentioned that attendance at the shows was upwards to 1,500 people - paid admissions.
Perhaps the biggest aspect that arose from the WFIL Hayloft Hoedown show was that it began to air over the ABC network of radio stations and did so for many weeks and months. Ads have been seen touting over 225 consecutive weeks of broadcasts of the show.
The popularity of the WFIL Hayloft Hoedown caught on with the upper crust folks of Philadelphia. Jack Steck told Billboard magazine in 1946 that various entertainment units of the show had been booked for more than a dozen 'society parties' in the fall. But he was quick to note that there was no danger of seeing the hillbilly performers dressed in white tie and tails. He stated that 'special emphasis is placed, in arranging the bookings, that the performers are to appear in folk garb — hayseed and all.
The popularity of the show got the attention of sponsors. In 1946, it was reported that the Kold Kit Corporation would sponsor a half hour of the show at Town Hall at 10:00pm. The ABC network broadcast of the show was from 10:30pm to 11:00pm. The sponsor's contract was for 26 weeks. At the same time, the Sleepy Hollow Ranch Gang secured a sponsor for its WFIL shows - the Block Drug Company on Tuesday and Thursdays from 12:30pm to 12:55pm.
In May of 1946, the show celebrated its 100,000th person to pay admission to the Hayloft Hoedown at Town Hall. She ws Mrs. Florence Woods of Drexel Hill, PA. One of the prizes she received was a lunch date with the Sleepy Hollow Ranch Gang - dressed in full stage costumes. She also made an appearance with the group on the air with them as well.
The Sleepy Hollow Ranch may have caused one to thing of the cowboys on horseback in days gone by. But Pancake Pete Newman was aiming to change that. It was reported that in October of 1946 that he had applied for a pilot's license. Once approved, the idea was that the group would buy an airplane to enable them to travel from town to town for their personal appearances on their tours. Around that same time, the Sleepy Hollow Ranch Gang had completed some work for the Associated Transcription Company. It was also reported they were to make their first recordings for the Majestic record label in early October 1946.
It appears that the last show of the WFIL Hayloft Hoedown aired on Saturday, June 4, 1949. A Billboard ad for the Jolly Joyce Agency indicated the show had been on 225 weeks. No articles could be found about this sudden ending of the show.
It is interesting to note that in the same area were other venues potentially competing for the same audience attending Sleepy Hollow Ranch shows. One was Hickory Park, located at the junction of Routes 663 and 73. Another was the Circle J Ranch at the Quakertown Fairgrounds. Another was the C Bar C Ranch at Elverson where Routes 82 and 23 met Route 401.
But things were changing in the world. On October 16, 1940, both Elmer and Pete Newman registered to serve in the military service. In addition, their emcee, Hank Harrigan (aka Lester Williams) and their accordion player, Monty Rosci also filled out their draft card on the same date. One gets the sense that this was a tight knit group bonded like a family.
The group had a half-hour show each day over the local station WCBA/WSAN. At various times it was aired at 3:00pm or 11:30am. During 1941, Sleepy Hollow Ranch would run ads using the type of woodsy font found in their 1940 song folio. Ads were not always seen, but still one can see the many country music performers of the era that passed through their grounds.
In the latter part of 1941, one can also see that the group made appearances in the surrounding area beyond the Sleepy Hollow Ranch as well.
Over the years, many stars gave performances at the Sleepy Hollow Ranch. One of the more interesting names seen in the promotional ads was one of country music's earliest stars - Vernon Dalhart. He appeared there on Saturday and Sunday, June 28 and 29, 1941.
In 1940, the gang was heard twice a day; WEEU from 10:00am to 10:30am and then at 2:30pm to 3:00pm over WFIL.
In that first year, there many types of promotions going on to try and capture the interest of those attending the events at the Ranch. On one occasion, it might be ten baskets of groceries given away. Another promotion gave away two Farnsworth Table Model Radios. And they offered FREE parking. Imagine any entertainment venue offering that type of amenity in this modern age. One show was for the benefit of the Quakertown Hospital Fund Drive. In July 1940, ten watermelons were given away as gate prizes. August of 1940 saw a "gigantic amateur contest' with cash prizes; anyone over the age of 14 could compete. November 1, 1940 promoted a big halloween dance with cash awards for best costumes. On that same night, the Murray Sisters were to not only feature their western tunes, but also Yugoslavian songs. The November shows advertised that all shows were held in their steam heated auditorium. In 1941, one promotional item was a free electric washing machine.
In those days, the ads would promote the appearance of the Sleepy Hollow Ranch Cowboys and Cowgirls including the Murray Sisters, Elmer and his fiddle, Pete and his guitar, Monty on the accordion, Just Plain John singing his beautiful hymns and Hank Harrigan as his own busy self.
Below is a listing of acts that played at Sleepy Hollow Ranch during its inaugural seasons of 1940 and 1941 based upon information found in promotional ads.
In 1943, due to World War II, pleasure driving was banned. The Sleepy Hollow Ranch Gang then went on USO tours.
Browsing through articles over time, it would appear that that year of 1949 was one of the busier and perhaps lucrative ones for the gang. The new recording contract with a major label. The two Newman brothers also had their own radio shows over local stations.
Allentown's new radio station WAEB was promoting "Pancake Time" at 6:30am - a Monday through Saturday morning radio show.
Around that same time, WFIL-TV announced a new program. It was to be called "Wiffil Ranch". The premise was that it would give viewers a taste of life of the cowboys of the Old West. It made its debut on July 18, 1949. None other than Pancake Pete Newman was to host the half-hour show that would air at 6:00pm. The first film featured was "Phantom of the West".
Pete was to tell the viewing audience about "Western people and customs." It appears the target audience may have included the kids. The show was to organize a group known as "Pony Express Riders." The kids were to be asked to write Pancake Pete at the WFIL-TV studios.
Out of nowhere sometimes, little items buried in articles reveal some personal tidbits about a member or two in the group. Penny Britt (the wife of Elton Britt) told readers in one article that Julie and Elmer named their cocker spaniel after Rex Allen because both Rex and the dog were 'blondes'.
Sometimes it was not always about being on stage. Cash Box reported in January of 1953 that Pancake Pete Newman had an hour long show that aired over WNAR in Norristown, PA and WSAN in Allentown, PA, spinning records from his own library at Sleepy Hollow Ranch.
That was not all that was happening in early 1953. Cash Box later reported that the gang was taking a two week break to do some remodeling work at the Ranch. A new arena was built in a different location to provide a larger ring and seating capacity as well as other general overhaul work.
A feature story on the Sleepy Hollow Story in Billboard in June of 1954 provided some insight into Ranch operations and history. The article noted that before the park opened in 1940, the Sleepy Hollow Ranch Gang had been sponsored by Drug Trade Products of Chicago for ten years.
In 1954, there were eight members of the Newman family active in the management and entertainment at Sleepy Hollow Ranch. Ken (Pancake Pete) Newman and Sophie Murray's children MaryEva and Dan were one side of the family. Dan (Elmer) Newman and Julie Murray's children Danny and Charlie were the other side of the family. Kenny and Danny were the older children and developed into performers. MaryEva and Charlie were also trying their hands at entertainment. The other members of the entertainment family were Monty Rosci, the accordionist and Hank Harrigan, a West Virginia native, who had been with the group since 1940.
Entertainment offerings to the public were free dancing and kiddie rides. They had just received a license to sell liquor in December 1953. The admission fee in 1954 was 50 cents for adults and a 25 cents for children ten to 16. Rodeos and midget auto racing were a part of the entertainment during the season and the separate admission was $1.50 and 50 cents. The normal admission fee did include the entertainment which usually consisted of up to a half dozen acts that alternated during the day and night. Picnic space and parking was free. The parking lot could hold 1,500 cars.
The ranch opens on Sundays at 10:00am and the first stage show is at 1:00pm. The shows ran in half-hour intervals at that time. Booking of the acts at the Ranch was handled by the Jolly Joyce Agency along with Harry Cooke, Earl Kurtze and Dotty Nunnemaker.
Stars such as Eddy Arnold would net 70 per cent of the gross. Another 10 per cent was to cover the cost of newspaper, advertising and operating expenses. Other revenue streams for the Ranch were the leasing of rides and concession space, giving them 25 per cent of the gross. At that time, the Ranch had two kiddie rides. The Ranch also ran its own restaurant, soft drink stand and bingo concession.
With the 1954 season, the group was thining of expanding to two weekend shows (Saturday and Sunday).
The Sleepy Hollow Inn was open year-round and free square dancing was offered on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, with no admission fee.
Like many barn dance and hillbilly music shows of the era, the Sleepy Hollow Ranch entertainment scene also felt
the impact of the wave of rockabilly and rock and roll. The acts appearing at the Ranch were of a different mix,
catering to a new generation of music fans. Bill Haley and the Comets were an example of this change. Bill's popularity
was such that he made several appearances at the Ranch.
The years of 1958 and 1959 saw Bill Haley appearing once again along with such groups as The Comets and The Premiers.
In 1960, a few ads indicate the shifting musical scene. One ad touts The Roof Rockers (promoted as rock 'n roll) as well as Wanda Jackson who was perhaps a bit rockabilly at the time. But during that same time, stars such as Little Jimmy Dickens and Ozark Jubilee personalities were to appear.
Sponsors always seem to find a way into the history of the artists of that older era. During the research of this group and venue, one such sponsor stood out a bit. It was Freese's Farmer's Market and Auction. For about a year around 1950, they ran ads that featured not only their store, but would have country music acts appearing at the store to draw fans as well. The store featured auctions, a Farmer's Market, social party, used cars, furniture showrooms and Nettles' Restaurant. It was located on North State Street in Pottstown, PA. There were a variety of acts booked for these Friday evening specials, both known and lesser-known. On special occasions, the Sleepy Hollow Ranch Gang were the featured entertainment. Such was the case on May 20, 1950 for Freese's 12th Anniversary.
Freese's was not your normal grocery store in case that is what you are thinking. One ad mentions they could accommodate up to 33,000 cars - no charge. Another ad tells the reader they were literaly a large farmer's market. They had over 110 stalls under one roof. The shopper could find everything from smoked meats from five well known butchers, dressed poultry, farm eggss, at least ten popular fruit and vegetable stall houlders, Lehigh and Lancaster County potatoes, swiss and sharp cheese, fresh oysters and clams, homemade baked goods, candies, cigars, tobgaccos, potato chips, cider, vinegar, ice cream, waffles, sodas, birch beer, cookies, novelties, toys, hardware, records, gold fish, white mice, auto accessories,mdeicines, liiniments, jewlery, new cooking utensils, electric applicances, religious books, cut flowers and potted plants, clothes, storm windows and screens. One could even buy a car from a local dealer. You could buy wholesale or retail. In addition to the Nettle's restaurant that served full course home cooked meals, there were six other restaurants. Nettle's Restaurant was owned and operated by Harvey and Grandy Nettles; the couple had been married almost 70 years when Grandy passed away in 2012. Daniel Freese owned Freese's Market and Auction which he began to build section by section in 1939. He sold the property to Berman Truck Mart in 1971. He died at the age of 86 in 1975.
Notable Personal Appearances ‐ Eddy Arnold
Of all the acts that appeared at Sleepy Hollow Ranch over the years from 1940 through 1963, the most popular appears to have been Eddy Arnold. Hank Harrigan recalled in a 1986 interview that Eddy pulled in about 8,000 people in 1944. But an article in the National Hillbilly News indicate he surpassed that in 1947 with a crowd over 11,000. The Ranch arranged for three more Sunday bookings of Arnold. Based on the ads in 1947, the June 22, 1947 show may have been the one with the large crowd. This was a time in Eddy's career where he hosted the Checkerboard Jamboree show over WSM. Notice the listing of Roy Wiggins, Eddy's steel player at the time, in one of the ads.
It seems Elmer Newman got the itch to try songwriting around 1946 and over a period of three months he wrote 17 songs and five of them were recorded.
Our collection includes numerous song folios and magazines with song lyrics. Here are songs that are credited to one of the Sleepy Hollow Ranch Gang members:
Recording History / Information
Pancake Pete Newman fell ill in early 1947. His doctor ordered him to go to Florida to recuperate. The expectation was that he would stay there for about a month. As soon as he returned, the Sleepy Hollow Ranch Gang was scheduled to record four sides for the Majestic label.
Research indicates the group recorded for Majestic in July of 1946 and December of 1947.
In the 1940's, the group made several recordings with the Majestic label. As sometimes the case, the trade publications would review the new releases. One such review was in Cash Box in July 1947. The group had released "I'm Lonesome Now" b/w "I Was Never Nearer Heaven In My Life" on Majestic 11012. Cash Box told readers, "The Sleepy Hollow Ranch Gang step out to offer ops a pair of sides that may attract phono play in spots that go for lots of wailing. The topside tune "I'm Lonesome Now," shows piper Elmer Newman in the tonsil department, as he runs thru this tear-jerker in slow tempo. Usual string accompaniment fills the bill throughout, with vocal efforts hogging the lime. On the backing with the Murray Sisters doing "I Was Never Nearer Heaven In My Life," the ensemble blends well as they offer more moody stuff. You take it from here."
In 1946, a new record label, Cowboy Records, was being led by Jack Howard of Philadelphia and songwriter James E. Myers ("Side Saddle Joe", "Westward Bound"). A short blurb in a magazine indicated the label had recorded eight sides with the Sleepy Hollow Ranch Gang and eight sides with the Santa Fe Rangers. The Sleepy Hollow Gang recordings included recordings by Monty Rosci doing accordion solos.
In January 1949, it was reported that the group had signed a three year deal with the RCA Victor label. Cash Box reviewed one of their latest offerings — "Till The End Of The World" b/w "Three Wishes" on RCA Victor 21-0036. Cash Box wrote: "Here's one platter that has just about everything. The Sleepy Hollow Ranch Gang open the topside with some lively melody, grand lyrics and great backgrounding to make "Till The End Of The World" one of the best westerns cut in many a moon. The flip, "Three Wishes," is just as good and sounds just as lively, lilting and happy as the topside. Both sides have moneymaker pressed right into them."
November 3, 1963 — A Fire Burns The Ranch
Early Sunday morning November 3, 1963, Sleepy Hollow Ranch met an unexpected fate — a fiery end. The fire was discovered by a passing motorist around 5:40am Sunday morning. By the time the first fire company arrived, the bunkhouse type building as engulfed in flames. In all, firemen from five volunteer depqrtments in Bucks and Montgomery Counties (Pennsburg, Milford Township, East Greenville, Red Hill and Green Lane) battled the blaze.
The motorist woke up one of the owners - Daniel Newman (who lived next to the ranch). He ran 300 yards to a neighbor's house to notify the Pennsburg Fire Department.
Over 100 firemen were on the scene. Fire Chief Harold Boardman of Milford Township said the firemen had enough water but the fire had a 'good head start.'
The news reported that the Newman's had insurance, but probably not sufficient to cover the estimated $50,000 in losses. The insurance covered the combination of the dance hall, retaurant and bar.
The fire also burned two of the four concession stands near the burning building, but firemen were able to put out the flames before those were badly damaged. A small fire in the rear of the property in a wooded area was also put out.
According to a news report, Sleepy Hollow Ranch was closed around 2:30am Sunday morning by one of the bartenders. He told Fire Marshal William D. Underkuffler of Upper Bucks County that when he left, he saw no sign of a fire. An accompanying picture showed the venue had been leveled. The 100 by 80 foot one-story frame building was gone.
The gang at Sleepy Hollow had a Saturday morning radio show over WSAN, which was celebrating its 40th anniversary in 1963. One wonders what listeners might have heard from them the week after the fire.
In May of 1945, the 11.9 acre property was put up for sale. It included a modern three bedroom home with an apartment above; a basement with a large recreation room, built-in bar and fireplace. Also included were garages and horse stables. The sale included 7 rustic log cabin concession stands and a 45x45 rotunda. Acres of parking. A 150x250 rodeo arena with a seating capacity of 2,000. Liquor (bar) license was also part of the offering.
Revival Concerts — August 17, 1986 & August 20, 1989
The Milford Historical and Preservation Society put together a reunion concert of sorts to conjur up memories of the days of old when the Sleepy Hollow Ranch Gang were hosting many of country music's great performers. They former members of the 'family' came from far and wide to attend. Hank Harrigan (his real name was Lester Williams) brought his accorion with him from Florida where he was living in retirement. Monty Rosci, by then a retired jeweler living in Haverstown, drove up for the reunion. Julie Newman, one of the two Murray Sisters, drove in from her home in Richland Township to join her son Charlie who brought a banjo and steel guitar.
Monty Rosci enjoyed the scene, pointing to the large crowd assembled in front of a temporary stage. He noted, "See the people here. They love things like this."
Julie was having a ball relating that many said her voice is still the same though she knows it wasn't, but enjoyed the compliments all the same. She said folks kept coming up to her and asking, "Remember me?".
Even though rain dampened the audience that day, the band played two concerts to crowds of 3,000 each time. Their concert may have given some of the younger fans a taste of the music that was played in a by gone era.
A few years later, another "Sleepy Hollow" day was held and over 5,000 people showed up on the farm of Robert and Linda Duck to the Uppder Bucks. But there were hoops to go through to enable the historical society and the Ducks to hold the concert, but in the end, the concert was held. Old Sleepy Hollow regulars showed up - Hank Harrigan who was an announcer, Monty Rosci was on the scene once again along with Julie Newman.
As one might expect, other events were held similar to what was held in the past - horseback riders competing in riding events, conventional races such as the barrel race. The Sleepy Hollow Gang, the Newman Brothers and other old-timers took the stage for the second performance at 7:00pm to close the day. Mr. Duck said that in 1986, the Milford Historical Society netted $8,000. He was hopeful they raised more this go around.
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