This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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Schneider's 1908 High School Band

10 May 2010

This jolly group of young men left few clues to their identity. The photographer scrawled
E P.H.S. G C     1908-09 on the negative so we know they had a name. The P.H.S. would most likely be Public High School. But what does E stand for? And the G  C -  perhaps Glee Club? And what about the little paper squares on some of the hats?

But what makes this photo postcard unique is the young black man standing in the center holding a trombone. At this time in America, segregation was a standard across the country, and bands rarely mixed black and white musicians, or for that matter, men and women. Many states had only recently established Jim Crow laws. The minstrel shows with black-faced white performers were still a popular entertainment style. So this photo of what is clearly a band of brothers that includes an African-American, seems very remarkable given the date.

On the back is a message addressed to Miss Jean Sutherin of Ocean Park, California and postmarked Jun 10, 1909. Unfortunately the post office location is unclear.

I am planning a postcard shower for Robert on his birthday, June 19, and that you folks might like to join in with some cards. 
Want to surprise him. 
Love from Ethel.
This is Schneider's band.

Is Robert in this photo? Who is Schneider?  History may never know, but what a great example of America's youthful spirit!

UPDATE: Recently another copy of this same photo postcard was offered for sale and the seller identified the band as coming from East Palestine, Ohio which is in the northeast corner of Ohio on the Pennsylvania border. The E.P.H.S. G.C. presumably stands for East Palestine High School Glee Club.

What a terrific clue! Now with the birthday - June 19, and a place to search, I looked for all the Roberts born around 1895 who lived in East Palestine, OH. That produced about 10 choices. Then I checked each Robert under military records, since all these boys would be of draft age in 1918. And only one name came up with that date. Robert S. Chamberlin. The record from the Ohio Soldiers & Sailors Military Register shows his Br: East Palestine, O. June 19/98 and his address 91 W. Taggart St.   Looks like he served only 3 months in the College of Wooster Student Guard.

Then a search of the 1910 census records produced this: Robert and Mary Chamberlin and children Ethel Chamberlin age 19 and Robert S. Chamberlin - age 11, address Taggart St., East Palestine, Ohio. So the writer of the postcard is Robert's sister Ethel arranging an 11th birthday surprise, and judging the boy's ages would make Robert either the trombonist or drummer in the front. I vote for the trombone. Robert was a "Calendar Man" for the Rubber Works in 1920 and a married man in 1930 running his own insurance agency.

Now this is when the history detective work gets interesting. Who is the young black trombonist? East Palestine, was part of Unity township in Columbiana County, Ohio and in 1910 had a population of around 6300. It had a special industry of pottery and china and some coal mining. There were 4 census districts and on every page the enumerator's W marks a long column for race. The was not the time of diversity in America's population. The records show many nationalities under birthplaces - English, Irish, Russian, German, Italian, etc. but far fewer states are represented, hardly any from the South.

In that entire population there were only 5 people of a race other than white. One man was marked CH - Yie Sing, age 37, born in California, parents Chinese. The other 4, three men and one woman, were marked B - Black and all were servants. But only two of the men were of the right age. Samuel Wheeler, age 19, born in Pennsylvania was a servant in the household of a physician named Peter Hartford. James Washington, age 19, born in North Carolina was a servant for the family of Joseph A. Meek, a lumber merchant.

The 1910 U.S. Census included three questions on education. Can this person read? Can they write? And did they attend school anytime after Sept. 1, 1909?   Both Samuel and James could read and write. But only James Washington answered Yes to the last question. Is he the dashing trombonist in the center of this musical club? It's only a good guess that can never be definitive, but I like the odds.

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