In the 1900s, what could a boy do for fun? There was no little league baseball, no pee wee football, no boy scout troops, no chess clubs. In fact childhood was considerably shorter than it is now, with many boys taking employment even before their teen years. But in many communities across the US, boys could have fun by making music in a brass band. The story of Meredith Willson's musical The Music Man is more true to this era than we might think today. And of all my photographs of young musicians of the 1900s, this one is my favorite, The Boys Concert Band.
What makes this large 8" x 6" albumen studio photo a special find is that the nine boys have signed it. Their small brass band of two cornets, an alto and a tenor horn, two tubas and a snare and bass drum have their names added in different colored inks and in different handwriting. They are dressed in sharp white duck trousers, dark shirts (blue is my guess in this sepia tone), white bow ties, and neat bandsmen caps with a monogram BCB badge. And one boy, perhaps age 6 or less, wears a fine embroidered bandmaster uniform and holds a long baton. On the snare drum, which is unusual since a snare drum head takes a lot of wear, is written their name - The Boys Concert Band.
There is no photographers mark but there is something on the back.
Unfortunately the mounting has been cut and part of the full text is lost,
but what we can read says:
.... ..... collection to uniforms taken in 1908
?mascot "Pete" Yater - with Baton
A wonderful photograph with date, names, even signatures - but no location.
Where are these boys? This could be any town in any state in 1908 America. But this is the kind of challenge that genealogy detectives love. Where shall we start?
The band's name is useless, and produces nothing on the internet. The names are fairly unique but individually they are still too common to develop a connection between each other or to any one place. A search on Ancestry,com provides the best results but comparing the residence of each name against the others makes for a very large grid of cross references.
Finally success. In the 1910 census for Pike Township, Perry County, Ohio I found a name and age that fit, then a second, and then a third. And then nearly all the names.
Frank Wright, the drummer standing left, born in 1891. Darl Rinken, the tuba next to him, born 1890. Frank or Francis Quinn, the drummer with folded hands, born 1894. Walter or William W. Hitchcock standing on right with his tuba in front, born 1896. Urban McGonagle, seated left with a cornet, born in 1895. Carl Craven, on alto horn, born 1896. Clarence Lehman, tenor horn, born 1895. Ben Craven, seated right with cornet, born 1891. And little Pete Yater? Missing.
Ben and Carl Craven were brothers in an extended family of 12 children. Their step-father, Phillip J. Flautt was a foreman at a planing mill. Two older step-sisters worked in a shirt factory, and another as a cashier at a "Motion Picture Show".
Urban McGonagle's father, John McGonagle was a bookkeeper at the Pike planing mill. One older sister was a milliner and his older brother was a deliveryman for a grocery.
The most elusive name was the mascot band leader, Pete Yater. The surname has a few spelling variants and both are in the Pike census. In this era, children succumbed to so many illnesses and accidents, he may have died before the 1910 census. But with the other names and ages fitting together so well, it seems certain that they all lived in Perry County, Ohio. Working class kids who played together in a brass band.
The name Pike is popular in Ohio, as it is shared by 8 different townships. The Pike in Perry County had a population of 2559 in 1910. Most of the work was in coal mines, planing mills, tile or insulation factories, and even oil drilling. Today, Perry County is described as one of the poorest counties in Ohio. But in 1908, music was evidently considered important for a boys education. Compare them to the 1909 Malta-McConnelsville Cadet Band that was only a short distance away in Malta-McConnelsville, Ohio. And it was only a few miles beyond that to Caldwell, OH which had a celebrated "Caldwell Kid Band" from 1906 to 1913.
Just like in The Music Man, part of this fade for bands was driven by the instrument companies which promoted music to generate more sales. But quite a lot of the bands for boys (and girls too), were established as a way to encourage discipline, teamwork, and civic pride that comes from making live music. These boys had fun and yet learned some important life skills.
This evening as I write, I checked some of my resources on Ancestry.com and noticed that someone yesterday had saved the same 1910 census for McGonagle. I looked into the family tree and discovered more information for Urban S. McGonagle. Seems the young boy with the cornet took up study of the law, and became a judge. He died in 1985.
This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the theme this weekend could be a boy's life.
Click the links to scout out more stories from old photographs.