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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Uncle Fred Wagner and Friends

16 April 2011

The early photographers of Reading, Pennsylvania seem to have been very popular, based on the number of surviving photographs I have seen. Since Reading had one of the first major railroads in the US, several studios clustered around the train station, profiting on the location for both east/west and north/south travelers looking to have a photograph made.

This photo was taken at the Patton & Dietrich studio, who used a steam engine for their logo, and it shows a musician holding an uncommon instrument, an Alt Horn.  This is a kind of hybrid horn and cornet, with three rotary valves for the right hand, the opposite of the modern horn which is played with the left, and it is pitched in high Eb similar to the flugelhorn register. The alt horn was found in German bands in the 19th and early 20th century, but was never popular with American brass bands, which instead took up the piston valve melophone to cover the middle voice in a brass choir.

On the back of this CDV photo is written:
Lillie Seegers
Uncle Fred Wagner

Genealogy research is very frustrating when a name is shared by hundreds of people, and there were a great number of Fred Wagner's found all over Pennsylvania, and even more for the rest of America. This means there is never 100 percent certainty that you have found the correct records. So it comes down to measuring clues by probability, and amongst all these many Fred's, there was only one who described himself as a musician -a Frederich Wagner of Scranton, Pennsylvania, which is about 100 miles north of Reading.

Frederich Wagner was born in 1818 in W├╝rttemberg, Germany and lived in Wilkes-Barre, PA for the 1860 census, where he listed his occupation as music teacher. But in April 1861, America was torn apart with the first battles of the War between the States, and despite his age of 43, Fred enlisted in the 52nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

The American Civil War is also noted for establishing the first modern archives of military history and statistics, so finding a specific army service document often leads to more clues. Here is Fred's enlistment record card showing his service as Leader of Band from September 1861 to August 1862. And in the official history of the 52nd Regmt Penn. Vol. Infantry, published shortly after the war, there is the following:

On August I, 1861, John C. Dodge, Jr., of Lycoming County, who had been a captain in the Eleventh Pennsylvania Regiment in the three months' service, was given authority to raise a regiment. The ten companies which afterwards formed the Fifty-second Regiment were recruited during August and September in Luzerne, Clinton, Union, Columbia, Wyoming and Bradford Counties. Several of the companies were mainly recruited in Scranton, and vicinity, then a part of Luzerne County, now Lackawanna. By October ist all the ten companies were in Camp Curtin, Harrisburg, and the regimental organization was completed October 7, 1861, by the selection of the following field officers : John C. Dodge, Jr., colonel; Henry M. Hoyt, lieutenant-colonel; John B. Conyngham, major. The last two were from Wilkes-Barre as also was Company A, and the Wvoming Cornet Band, of the same place, under the leadership of Prof. Fred. Wagner, became part of the organization as the regimental band. A very handsome set of colors, State flag and U. S. flag,  were presented to the regiment by Governor Curtin on behalf of the State, before leaving for the seat of war. On November 8, 1861, the regiment left Camp Curtin, entrained in box cars, and proceeded via York ...

During this first year, the 52nd Penn. Vol. Regiment saw action as part of the Union Army of the Potomac under General McClellan. They fought in the battles of Williamsburg, Seven Pines, and Fair Oaks. Army musicians saw duty not just in brass bands playing marches, but also as buglers, and fife and drum units used for important signaling on the field. And during battles both union and confederate bandsmen were expected to attend to the wounded, much as medical corpsman do today. During the Civil War, twenty-two musicians were awarded the Medal of Honor, many for the rescue of comrades on the battlefield. 

Fred survived the war and settled in Scranton as a music teacher, with his wife Wineta (a.k.a. Mina or Minie) and son Charles F. Wagner. Unfortunately there were no other threads found to Fred's niece Lillie Seegers.

One the the big challenges in genealogy is finding a death notice. But as a veteran, Fred got a special record, showing his death in 1902 and burial in the Petersburg Cemetery in Scranton.  

So to judge by the records and Uncle Fred's fairly youthful likeness, the photo might date to early 1870's or perhaps even 1867 just after the war.

Is the man with the Alt Horn the same Prof. Frederich Wagner who was a bandleader for the 52nd Penn Vol. Regiment? Not certain but very plausible.

But Uncle Fred's story is only part of this history, as I have found other musicians who also posed for Misters Patton + Dietrich.

Remember   the Oboist from Reading, PA ?  At the time, without any identification, I assumed this was an oboist from Reading. So I focused on the history of Patton & Dietrich.

But look closely at the seat cushion and the baseboard line on the backdrop. It's nearly identical to Uncle Fred's photograph.



And then I acquired these two young string players, whose carte de visites have the same steam locomotive backstamp of Patton & Dietrich as the oboist.

They might be brothers, as there is a bit of family resemblance, and the photos were taped together in the same photo album. But again - no identification. 

But look at the cushions and backdrop. The same perspective.

There are other explanations, and much hangs on the accuracy of the writer on Uncle Fred's photograph.  But it does seem like I am collecting baseball cards from the same team.

Another interesting feature is that
this second boy is holding a viola, at least I think it is, as it appears larger than the younger boy's violin. A vintage photo of a viola is probably as rare as that of an oboe.

A notice found in an 1897 Scranton Tribune:
House-Warming Entertainment
About fifty of their friends were entertained on Wednesday evening by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Wisele  at their handsome new residence on Hospital street. The company were guests of their daughters, Misses Sadie and Gertie. Music for dancing was furnished by Professor Wagner's orchestra. Refreshments were served, and a delightful season was enjoyed by all.

Are these musicians from the same orchestra? And is Professor Fred Wagner the bandleader?
UPDATE: Brett's comment below on the card corners is correct, which would make Uncle Fred and friends circa 1875. So is this the Fred Wagner from Scranton? This may be two different stories, both with a character of the same name. As usual, with so many unresolved questions -

Only time will tell.

My contribution to Sepia Saturday



between the documents and the text, you've revealed a page of history. well done!!

Bob Scotney said...

The devil's in the detail. It just goes to show how it isn't always the subject that tells the story.Good series o photos.

Jinksy said...

What a musicl post this turned into! What a shame we can't hear them all! :)

Alan Burnett said...

What a fascinating journey you take us on. I am learning so much about not just photographic history but also musical instruments from reading your posts.

Brett Payne said...

A fascinating story of these cartes de visite. Judging by the poses, the clothing, the design on the reverse and, critically, the rounded corners of the card mount, I would say that these are unlikely to have been taken before about 1874, and are probably from around 1878-1881. Sorry if I'm setting the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons, but I wonder how that fits with your Mr Wagner?


Nancy said...

It's such fun to do research and turn up nuggets such as you've found for this post. If you continue research, I hope you find enough information to confirm the association of these men. They are very interesting photographs.

Postcardy said...

Great history and information about the men in the photos. I was surprised the band members had so many duties during the war.


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