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
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

A Girls Band from Mount Gilead, Ohio

29 January 2011

This cabinet card photo of a Ladies Band comes from Mount Gilead, Ohio, a small village just north of Columbus. It may have been promotional material for advertising the band, as it looks like a professional group, but there are no names attached. The girls wear trim military-like dresses with matching hats. The man on the right, undoubtedly the leader, sports a fancy embroidered coat but a hat that seems one size too small. My guess is that the girl next to him is his daughter. Compare this band to Mr. Gierk's Ladies Band. Ladies Band of Richmond, MI

As brass bands go, it is pretty small with only 6 brass instruments and two drummers. The girls hold piston valve instruments, which are probably a matched set. But the bandleader holds a high pitch solo cornet - a side action rotary valve cornet in Eb, which was a style popular in 1860-1870s. You can find a similar one here at the National Music Museum. Pollmann SARV Cornet

The photo is badly faded and was never in good focus, so I have used photo software to improve the image. But fortunately on the back is the trademark of Theo. Brown, Photographer, Mt. Gilead, Ohio.

The 1880 US Census for Mount Gilead lists Theo. Brown photographer, age 33 with wife Anna Brown, age 22.  A photographer of the same name appears also in the 1870 census, but for Mt. Vernon, Ohio, which is in the next county just east. There are no census records found for this particular Theodore Brown for 1890 or 1900. But it seems safe to date this photo to around 1880-85.

One of the curious features of the 1880 census is the requirement that census-takers should record the health of each person, and whether they can work. So after each name comes their age, birthplace, occupation, and a remark about how they are feeling today. Mr. Jones - broken leg, still working; Mrs. Smith - at home, bronchitis; Mr. White - retired, rheumatism; etc. But people were listed as deaf, blind, or with other handicaps too. Several farmers are noted as Wore Out; and a few sons - Not Bright.

My contribution to Sepia Saturday

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.

A Mystery Band

08 January 2011

Many photographs are mysteries frozen in time. Where is this band? When was this photo taken? No one bothered to write anything onto the back of this wonderful postcard, so we must guess. It reminds me of a children's book, Where's Waldo? Let's look more closely, maybe his striped shirt will peak out from behind the bandstand. {click the image to zoom}

This is a big band with 30 players, not counting one more at the back of the bandstand. They stand in a traditional circle/square with the first cornet leading from the center. There are 4 French horns which is not typical for a town band. And they are piston valve horns too. At the six o'clock position with his back turned to the camera, is a bassoonist, again an unusual band instrument. The player at 5 o'clock seems to have no instrument, but he does have a cane. Maybe he is a piccolo player waiting to play the trio section. Didn't Waldo have a cane? Most, but not all, are playing from music folios clipped to their instruments. This is a pretty sophisticated group of professional-like musicians.

I think they are a circus band. Or possibly a "military" band, which was a concert band that specialized in "military" march music but was not connected with the regimental army bands. John Philip Sousa had many talented competitors whose bands toured America.

The bandstand is decorated  with something like evergreen foliage rather than  patriotic bunting, so it's not the grand and glorious 4th. But with several straw hats visible the people seem dressed for summer, and just to the left of the band  stands a dapper gentleman dressed in a striking white suit. Why is he looking away from the performance? Could he be the circus manager? The time is summer for sure and the dresses and hat styles suggest 1905-10.

On the bandstand, an older bandsman and a seated man both wear some kind of badge pinned to their lapels. Several other bandsmen have them too. There is a girl or maybe two at the back of the stage. Perhaps they will be part of the performance once the band moves onto the stand.

The store is named The Fair. There was a department store in Chicago called The Fair, contemporary with Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Wards. But with dirt streets this isn't Chicago, though there are trolley card rails, so this is not a small village. In the store window is a display with B.P.O.E. - the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Could this be an event for  the Elks Lodge?

Leaning against the large pillar, a man bends over showing the top of his straw boater. I think he is holding a camera taking a picture of the band too.  So many tantalizing clues and yet the mystery remains unsolved.   And we can't find Waldo either.

My contribution to Sepia Saturday


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