“The Gladiator” (1886)
Nothing among Sousa’s memoirs reveals the identity of the “gladiator,” but the first printing of the sheet music carried a dedication to Charles F. Towle of Boston. Towle was a journalist who was editor of the Boston Traveller at the time this march was written, but the nature of his association with Sousa is not known.
Sousa’s daughter Helen conjectured that her father might have been inspired by a literary account of some particular gladiator. It is unlikely that he would have dedicated a march to gladiators in general because of their ferocity and deeds of inhumanity, but perhaps one noble gladiator who had been a victim of circumstances might have been his inspiration. There has also been speculation that the march had some Masonic significance, inasmuch as it was written at the time he was “knighted” in Columbia Commandery No. 2, Knights Templar, but this lacks substantiation.
For Sousa, “The Gladiator” brought back both happy and unhappy memories. In 1885 he had written the dirge “The Honored Dead” for Stopper and Fisk, a music publisher in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. They were so pleased that they asked him to write a quickstep march. He responded with “The Gladiator,” but they rejected it. Their shortsightedness cost them dearly; Sousa then sold it to Harry Coleman of Philadelphia, and it eventually sold over a million copies.
Paul E. Bierley, The Works of John Philip Sousa (Westerville, Ohio: Integrity Press, 1984), 56. Used by permission.