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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The Orphans Home Band of Mason City, Iowa

17 January 2011

Here is a collection of Real Photo Postcards from Mason City, Iowa, and it continues the theme I started in my previous post with the reference to the B.P.O.E. or the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. But in these photos, the fraternal organization, the I.O.O.F. - the Independent Order of Odd Fellows is the sponsor of the I.O.O.F. Orphans Home Band of Mason City, Iowa. The band has 3 cornets, 2 clarinets, 2 melophones, trombone, baritone, tuba, and 2 drums, typical of many small town bands.

The I.O.O.F. or Odd Fellows is a benevolent organization that has been part of American civic life since 1819, and continues today in its activities of charitable and educational projects. The three link logo on the bass drum stands for their motto Friendship, Love, Truth.

In May 1902, the Odd Fellows Lodge of Mason City laid the cornerstone for a new home for orphans and indigent to be built just outside the city center. Pictures of the institution show an imposing  4-story brick building with grand colonnades on each wing. The facility is still operated today by the Odd Fellows as a nursing home. 

The photos are not postmarked but can be reasonably dated to around 1910 because of what was written on the back of the first card. Someone named Hazel Jones kept this one and she wrote down the names of all the boys adding pencil numbers to the picture.

I found her listed, age 15, as an "inmate" at the Odd Fellows Home for Orphans and Indigent in the 1910 US Census for Mason City. She was one of 50 children and 16 elderly adults who lived there with a staff of about 8. Hazel may have had two younger siblings, as following her name on the census are Dorothy Jones, age 12, and Herbert Jones, age 8.   Almost all the boys' names are included on the census, though her names for Hadie and Callie Hixson are probably incorrect as these were names of girls. Hazel may have added the names in later years when memory fades.

The director of the band, J.M. Jenney, proved too elusive using my usual references, so I have no confirmed identity for him. He looks young, not much older than early 20's. From the boys appearance, their ages on the census seem to confirm a date of around 1910.

In the interest of helping the genealogists who are searching the internet I include Hazel Jones' list as follows.

  1. Lewis Gump  (age 16)
  2. Floyd Showers (age 16)
  3. Frank McGlothlen (not listed)
  4. J.M. Jenny (Jenney) - director (not listed)
  5. Raymond Showers (age 15)
  6. Callie Hixson (age 17 but listed as female)
  7. Dewey Steffen (age 12)
  8. Theodore Steffen (age 16)
  9. Hadie (Hattie) Hixson - (age 14 but listed as female)
  10. Robert Colfesh (Colflish) (age 10)
  11. Donald Brunton (age 14)
  12. Clifford Jewell (Goewell) (age 13)
  13. Luvern Schulz (Louvern Schultz) (age 13)

In the fall of 1910, the Odd Fellows held a grand state convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the city newspaper, the Gazette, published a lengthy article describing the event. The Mason City Orphans Band played a part in the parade and were praised as evidence of the good works of the Odd Fellows Lodges. Selling postcards would have been a good way to raise money for the band.

Mr. Gunn took up the subject of the Orphans' Home, which he said is a great institution which is taking the boys out of the streets, gathering them up and making good men out of them, who if left wild might be wearing stripes different from those worn by the band boys. The Odd Fellowship had taken them under its protection, said he, and has pledged to them protection and they are under the care of the most generous fraternal organization that the sun shines on.

Mr. Gunn said he had seen the children in the home and that they are growing up under influences that are for good and which will prepare them for success, perhaps not to be the greatest musicians or students, but to make a success of their particular choice of work.
But I hope you have kept reading, because there is more to this story. In 1957, one of the greatest musicals of all time, The Music Man, opened on Broadway, and introduced America to Professor Harold Hill and his River City boys band of 76 trombones. The composer and was Robert Meredith Willson who wrote the story and lyrics based partly on his life. Meredith Willson was born in 1902 in Mason City, Iowa and surely must have heard J.M. Jenney and the Orphans Home Band as a child. Willson's early career included playing flute and piccolo with John Philip Sousa's band in the early 1920's and then the New York Philharmonic under Toscanni.

While there were undoubtedly many other influences in creating The Music Man, these young boys of Mason City represent that amazing popularity of youth bands that Willson recreates in the musical. They flourished in practically every town and city in early 20th century America, and as an indirect result gave us Willson's great tunes.
If you've read this far, then you are whistling 76 Trombones right now!

Here is a postcard photo of the Odd Fellows Orphans Home in Mason City, postmarked from 1911 which would be contemporary with the boys in the band. The description I provided earlier is of the larger facility which was the Old Folks Home. Both buildings still stand in Mason City but the Orphans Home was built first. Compare this with the background of the last photo and we can see that the band is standing on the steps of the home.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I also grew up at the Odd Fellows Home in Mason City, there from 1950 when I was 4 years old till 1961 when I left the Home at the age of 15. As the book says..."it was the worst of times and the best of times" as all our lives are from time to time. My public school chums used to call the place, "The Plant"! I am fortunate to be able at this stage in my life to have re-connected with several of the "kids" I was with while being at the Home and I have good feelings about that!
Ralph Madison ""

Anonymous said...

I also grew up in the home - from age 10 to age 18; 1954-1962. I have started a Facebook group for those who were in the home and would like to connect. If you were raised in the home, you would be welcome to join.

Thomas Jay DeWitt


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