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 }

The Multitalented Mr. Jensen and Mr. Johnson

31 January 2014

Photographs of 19th century musicians who display several musical instruments are fairly common, but this young man wins the talent prize for a multi-instrumentalist with five instruments – cornet, cello, two violins, and piano. Seated on a frilly covered piano stool he holds both a cornet and a violin. One foot rests on a violin case and behind it is the cornet case. The cello leans against his knee and on top of the piano is the other violin along with his top hat. There is even sheet music on the piano desk which unfortunately has been overexposed and is unreadable. The arrangement of his pose and instruments strongly suggests he is a professional musician. Though we have to wonder where he sat in an orchestra.

The man's direct stare at the camera accentuates his delicate features and I imagine he might be of Scandinavian origin with straw blond hair and blue eyes. Unfortunately all that remains of this photograph is the thin paper print, as sometime in the past it became separated from its original card mount. That leaves few clues for identification, so he could be American, or Canadian, or European. Since we really can't say where he is, but no one can prove otherwise, I will give him the name of Mr. Jensen.

The cornet's configuration is covered by his hand and the upright piano's label is also hidden, so we can't learn much about those instruments. However the string instruments are unusual because they all have machine gear winders for the strings instead of the more traditional friction pegs. Usually only the heavy strings of a double bass use these devices for adjusting the string tension. The 19th century was an age of innovation and yet novel mechanisms like these failed to last into our 21st century. Today no violin or cello would be fitted with such a heavy apparatus.

The cello keeps the basic form of a violincello but it has a crude almost folk craft construction. It has no end pin and the bridge appears to be fastened on with cord. It also looks like it has suffered some abuse. Most likely because it didn't have a case.

The instruments only give us a general era of mid-19th century for the photo, but Mr. Jensen's suit happens to resemble the clothing of another mufti-faceted musician who can help us date when his photograph was taken. If we compare lapels and buttons, he probably had his photograph made around 1885.

This gentleman wears a nearly identical suit coat as that of Mr. Jensen. It is fastened with only one top button which revealed the vest and allowed a pocket watch to be easily at hand. He only has three instruments placed around him so he rates only a second place prize, though he does get an honorable mention for a champion mustache. He holds a violin and on the floor beside him is a tenor horn (or possibly a baritone ) and a small Parlor guitar. Just behind is a metal folding music stand that has changed very little in 129 years and still remains a standard musician's accessory. It holds some sheet music and there is more in the open violin case next to his chair. The purpose of the music and instruments may be to demonstrate his accomplishment in the cultured art of music, but like Mr. Jensen, he could also be advertising his skill as a professional musician. 

This photograph is on dark green card stock and has no photographer's imprint, but it does have a penciled signature on the back.

Mr. R.  M. Johnson
East Troy

I have enhanced the scan to bring out the signature and the date of 1885.

The name R. M. Johnson was shared by thousands of American men in the 1880s. Even if we thought this musician's first name was Robert or Raymond, it would still match hundreds of other Pennsylvania names in official records.

Besides that problem, East Troy does not seem to exist as a place name in Pennsylvania anymore. However there are two small townships with the name of Troy. One is Troy Township in Bradford County in eastern Pennsylvania and the other is Troy Township in Crawford County in western Pennsylvania. Both have about the same population of 1,500 today, and to make things confusing, both have roads named East Troy Road.

A puzzle with this many pieces might turn it into another cold case like last week's story of the Broughton Band, except for a brief mention in the Harrisburg, PA, Daily Telegraph.

Harrisburg Daily Telegraph
26 February 1881

This clipping with the heading of
List of Patents comes from the Harrisburg Daily Telegraph of Saturday Evening, Feb. 26, 1881. The report lists 14 Pennsylvanian inventors and their inventions as recorded that week at the U.S. Patent Office. There is F. L. Blair of Allegheny City, cork cutting machine; J. Gearing, Pittsburgh, hoop iron mill; L. P. Teed, Erie, ladder.

And in the middle is
R. M. Johnson, East Troy, thill ripling.

The British government Patent Office conveniently printed a book with all these American inventors' names in the March 15, 1881 edition of The Commisioners of Patents Journal.

At the bottom of page 738 is a listing for:

238,124. Richard M. Johnson
of East, Troy, Pa.

for "A thill coupling"
Application filed
8th January, 1881.
– No model.

Could this be the same man? The patent listing doesn't indicate which East Troy it might be. The name might be just a coincidence.

Except that Richard M. Johnson's U.S. patent application for a thill coupling (ripling is a printer's typo) can also be found in Google's archives. He may not have had a model but he was required to provide an illustration, and in front of witnesses and his attorney, Richard M. Johnson signed it. 

The Letters Patent No. 238,124, dated February 22, 1881 says:

Be it known that I, RICHARD M. JOHNSON, a citizen of the United States, resident at East Troy, in the county of Bradford and State of Pennsylvania, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Thill-Couplings; ... (etc.)

This official document places Richard M. Johnson in the East Troy of Bradford County, PA which connects him to the Harrisburg clipping. But is he the same man as the multitalented musician in the photograph?

I think the signatures are a very close match. The upper and lower case letters are of a similar proportion and the slant is consistent. The surname Johnson has the J  and  on  separate, while the two letters oh  connect.

A hunt through uncovers the name Richard Johnson age 34, occupation Laborer with his wife Alice, age 21 and daughter Bessie, age 2. He was also recorded in the 1860 and 1850 censuses for Troy, Bradford County, PA.  A descendent adds more with a family tree that includes his full name as Richard Morrell Johnson, his birth in 1845, Candor, New York and his death in 1903.

This might seem a confirmation. Except ...

Applying the same search filter to R.M. Johnson but for Crawford County in western Pennsylvania uncovers an entry in the 1870 census of Meadville, Crawford County, PA for Richard M. Johnson, age 26, occupation Laborer with wife Olive and son Charles.

However Meadville is about 30 miles west of the Troy in Crawford County, and this Richard M. Johnson has no other records for this county. This puzzle piece doesn't fit quite as easily as the others. Nonetheless it still keeps the possibility open that R. M. Johnson the musician is from western Pennsylvania and Richard M. Johnson the inventor is from eastern Pennsylvania.

If I am correct, R. M. Johnson was indeed a man of many talents. One of the more celebrated names in the 19th century was that of Richard Mentor Johnson (1780 – 1850), the 9th Vice President of the United States who served under President Martin Van Buren from 1837 to 1841. It would seem a practical habit for any man with the same first name to shorten it to just initials.

>> <<

If you have read this far you might have wondered  what a thill coupling is. Another patent illustration from 1902 of a Horse Detacher invented by T. P. Rumsey helps us understand. The horse is shown harnessed to the wagon between a pair of curved poles or thills (#1). The thills were hinged at the front axle and allowed the connection between horse and wagon to be flexible.

Since the horse was the most common engine of power that people of earlier centuries knew, it makes sense that this animal would inspire so many creative ideas. In the 1881 Patent Journal, in between Thermostat and Thimble, there are 78 improvements on Thill Couplings, including two with Anti-Rattler devices. The newspapers of the 1800s were filled with reports of  frightful accidents caused by horses and wagons. Evidently there was always room for improvements.

 >> <<

In a strange coincidence I found my own name listed in the 1881 Official Patent Report. In November of that same year, an L. K. Brubaker secured a Patent, No.249,741 for an improved Carriage Top. His full name was Levi K. Brubaker and he was from Lititz in southeast Pennsylvania. This is a borough of Lancaster County, the center of Amish and Mennonite traditions and it is where my forebears came from. This same folding buggy cover is probably still in use by Amish families, who believe an automobile, truck, or tractor is unnecessary for their way of life when a mule or horse will do. 

No doubt Mr. R. M. Johnson and Mr. L. K. Brubaker would have traded a lot of stories about horses and wagons had they ever met.
And Mr. Jensen? He probably knew some tall tales too.

>> <<

In the 19th century the patent office seemed to publish dozens of books every year. Mr. Johnson's thill coupler showed up on page 463 in a different edition and it included a reduced illustration and description.

But my attention was drawn to the entry just above it. This report has the patents in numerical order and No. 238,123 which precedes Johnson's invention is an image of something that everyone around the world today would instantly recognize. It is the Safety Pin, invented by Joel Jenkins of Mont Clair, New Jersey.

What kind of royalties do you suppose Mr. Jenkins received for his idea?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is thinking outside the box this weekend.

The Broughton Band - A Cold Case

24 January 2014

Though they don't look very cold, they are still standing in snow. There is not much left after a thaw, but it's still enough snow to think that the musicians of the Broughton Band were not playing for the 4th of July. Blowing on a brass instrument in the winter is not a pleasant pastime. With freezing temperatures it is not unlike the schoolyard challenge of touching ones tongue to a metal flagpole. That's why I believe this is either an early spring or late autumn concert photo.

The unnamed photographer of this large 9.25 x 5.5 inch sepia photo posed the band against what appears to be a white limestone wall. The 18 musicians are a mix of ages. The older men sport handlebar mustaches while the young men are clean shaven. There is even one boy age 8-10 (back right) who does not have a uniform. The uniforms appear new and are a simple style that imitates those of military cadets. It was a popular outfit with town bands in the 1900s. The caps have a music lyre badge but no letters. Though they look like a brass band there are three clarinets in the back row. My best guess is that the photo dates from 1895 to 1910.

It is the first photograph of a town band that I acquired for my collection.

It is also a cold case.

Written on the back are the names of some of the members of the Broughton Band.

Uncle Harry Sanders
Second Front Row Mr. Barth
       R.I. Station Master
Will Christ Chapman F.R.
Will Will          "                "
Matt Deitrick                   "

R. Neill Rahm

Roy Bauers   Back Row
Rod Schockinnney
Charlie Arnett

Ten names of musicians written in ink. The band's name stenciled on the bass drum. A photograph style from the turn of the century. All great clues to solve the question of who, where, and when.

Unfortunately this is a puzzle that refuses to unlock any answers.

Broughton is not a common name for an American town. There are only three tiny villages named Broughton in Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania but there is no Broughton Band recorded in the historic newspapers of those community's respective counties. The biggest place that has a single mention of a Broughton Band, presumably named after the bandleader, is in Aberdeen, South Dakota. But the Aberdeen city directory for 1903, 1905, and 1913 does not list the band. New Oxford, Pennsylvania near Gettysburg, had a Broughton Cornet Band in the 1890s but it does not seem to have lasted into the 20th century. It's also possible that the name Broughton came from a manufacturing plant and that this is a company band. But what did they make? Are they in front of the factory walls?

In a search of the census records at, none of the 10 names showed up for the Broughton villages in Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or for that matter the larger town of Aberdeen in South Dakota. Some surnames produced a few hits, but when the forenames were included the full names were not found in those counties. Removing the location filter for a general search did not produce any patterns either.

Is Uncle Harry Sanders the tall man with the helicon or the younger man with the trombone?

Mr. Barth is noted as the R.I. Station Master.  The initials R.I. could be an abbreviation for the state of Rhode Island or more likely the Rock Island Railroad which runs southwest from Chicago to Iowa, Kansas, and Oklahoma. But without a first name, Mr. Barth has too many relatives to make a useful search term. Is he the euphonium player on the left or the tenorhorn on the right? If this photo follows the conventional rules of the time, the cornet player in the center is the bandleader.

The correction on Will and Chris Chapman suggests the person making the annotation was unsure about their memory. Were they brothers? Father and son? Is there a resemblance behind the mustaches of the snare drummer and the bass horn player?

The other names like Rahm and Ristine are possibly incorrect spellings, and Schockinney gets no hits of any kind. Any attempt with alternate spellings makes little improvement.

Sometimes history lines up in little logical boxes like a Sudoku puzzle. But sometimes the numbers still don't add up in the right sequence and just cancel each other out. This photo puzzle defeats me, as I am unable to find any location in the United States where all these names are present at the same time. It is a mystery that now gets filed as a cold case, and the musicians of the Broughton Band, whoever, wherever and whenever they are, will just have to stand out in the snow for a bit longer. With any luck a great great nephew will one day do an internet search and recognize Uncle Harry.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more snow stories.

The POW Orchestra at Münster

17 January 2014

They are soldiers, but their mix of different uniform jackets and caps show that they are clearly not from the same unit. They are musicians, but violins, cellos, and double basses alongside cornets, horns, and clarinets denotes something more than just military bandsmen. In the top corner someone has written in ink (Orchestre Symphonique) – Symphony Orchestra in French, but the hut behind them is not an opera house. In fact it is a barracks of a German camp for prisonniers de guerre – French prisoners of war from the war of 1914 - 1918.

The 34 musicians have military insignia and uniform styles that are mostly French, and though there may be some Belgian soldiers too, I don't recognize any British uniforms. There are three men seated in the center with kepis who have no instruments and I think they must  be the POW camp officers. Beside them seated on the right is a pale faced man without hat who holds a baton. He is certainly the orchestra's conductor. Though they are French, the brass instruments, including the trombones at the back, all have German style rotary valves instead of the typical French piston valves. One man standing center in the 4th row has a folio which usually designates the pianist.

The postcard was signed:

Pierre Rabin
Cie. P, Lager I
Münster  I/18ie

The numeral 6 is perhaps a barrack number. Cie.P stands for Compagnie – Company P. The I/18ie (though the number might be 78) is for 1st division or corps / 18th regiment. Lager I is a German word indicating Camp I in Münster, Westphalia, which is in north central Germany about 80 miles east of the Netherlands.

Münster was one of hundreds of locations for POW camps that the German military constructed shortly after the outbreak of war in August 1914. Eventually the German VII Army Corps would build four camps there for enlisted ranks or Mannschaftslager with Münster I outside the city in rural farmland; Münster II on a horse racecourse; Münster III in a former Army barracks; and Münster IV set apart for just Russian army prisoners.

Back in 2012 I wrote about another Prisoner of War Camp Orchestra which was also in Münster. This was the second of two different orchestra photos that came from the same estate, but the location was not notated on the photographs. This group of musicians included Italian and British soldiers.

I believe the cellist standing at the back left of the first orchestra photo (only his cello scroll and bow is visible) is the same cellist seated left in the second photo.

And the horn player with the champion mustachio seated left on the front row of the first photo is certainly the same horn player standing right in the second photo. I can speak from experience that playing the horn requires that a mustache be well groomed.

The note on the first photograph confirms the location of the other orchestra photographs as being at Münster Lager I. The French soldiers may have been among the first units captured and committed to the Münster POW camp, and so consequently were the first to establish their own orchestre symphonique for musique française. As the wind instruments are of German origin, they may have been contributed by the YMCA relief effort which I described in my earlier POW orchestra story.

The same dealer of the first photo had another postcard from the Münster camp which I also acquired. It shows a group of 12 soldiers seated around two crude tables inside some barrack room. They have numerous pens, papers, and card files that suggest some official business. I might have passed over it except that the back of the card was included in the description.

It was signed by the same soldier:

Pierre Rabin
Cie. P, Lager I
Münster  I/18

If you look closely, two of the men are also in the photo of the orchestra.

The older man on the right has the regimental numeral 1 on his collar which though faint matches the kepi and collar of the man seated center in the orchestra photo. The pale faced man on the left is very recognizable as the conductor of the orchestra. There is a patch on his jacket pocket with the number 18 which might match the regiment number written on the back of the two photos. He must have been a skilled musician to assume the position of conductor for this orchestra.

I can not say that either of these two men is Pierre Rabin, or that Monsieur Rabin is even pictured in the two groups of soldiers. But it makes the photos more interesting to have a double link of two recognized faces along with the name.

One the back wall are two notices in French of course, which are difficult to read.

The other sign affixed to the table cloth in front of the officer is more clear.

Gef...? Lager I

This translates from German as Bank Office, Gef...? Camp I Münster. Some of the POW camps printed their own camp currency and had tokens for paying for the limited services and goods available to the soldiers. There may have been some substitute accounting for the military pay that could not be paid by the French government. Families of servicemen may also have sent money or goods that needed to be kept secure from any risk of theft in the camp.

This next postcard was produced as a propaganda postal by the German army and shows a concert in an assembly area in one of the Münster POW camps. The caption is in French and Dutch.

Münster-Westphalie 1915 — Concert par la section harmonie, le dimanche après déjeuner
Münster-Westfalien 1915 — Concert door de harmonie afdeling, 's zondag na het ontbijt

It translates as Concert by the band section, the Sunday after lunch (or breakfast if you are Dutch.) Harmonie is the French name for a wind band and no string instruments are visible here, though there are about the same number of musicians as in the Orchestre Symphonique. They are gathered in a circle with a conductor standing in the center. Around them are hundreds of other soldiers listening. In the background are lines of washing set out to dry.

Is Pierre Rabin playing an instrument? Maybe even leading the band? We may never know, but it is a pleasant thought to remember one French soldier's name attached to the camaraderie of orchestra musicians rather than belonging to a long list of casualties on a battlefield monument.

>>> <<<

In August of this year the world will observe the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War also known as World War I. At that time, no one thought the war would drag on for over 4 years, or that so many lives would be destroyed by this horrific conflict. The millions of soldiers who were captured in this First World War may have counted themselves lucky to be spared from the battlefield but they had other hardships to endure. The POW camps were overcrowded and poorly managed, and men were subjected to forced labor, malnutrition, and disease. But if they had one universal complaint it was boredom. Music provided a kind of emotional relief, both for the men playing in the orchestras and the soldiers listening, and it must have contributed to giving them a feeling of hope, optimism, and even liberation. This was an era before radio and recordings so musical performances had a purpose and power that was very different from our modern era. Over the next few years I will be offering stories from military musicians of 1914-1918 that will be my way of commemorating this history.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link for more faces from the Great War.

A Picture of a Band

10 January 2014




In the corner of a parlor three unknown musicians play a trio for clarinet, piccolo, and piano. They hardly constitute a band as very few pianists can march and play at the same time.

So where is this Picture of a Band ?

Just behind the beer bottle on the piano desk there is a large photograph of a band with about 24 musicians. There are hazy outlines of cornets, tubas, clarinets, and drums. A drum major with a tall bearskin hat appears to be standing at the back. Written across the bass drum is a long name with letters almost readable, but the camera lens was focused somewhere else so it is forever blurred and unclear. It seems likely that at least two members of the trio are also in this photo. Sadly this is another musical mystery of time and place that will probably never reveal its secrets.

But just like with music, a photo always improves with beer.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everything is by the book this weekend.

The Mason City Band

03 January 2014

Why march in a parade when you could ride? No sensible musician would pass up a spot on the band wagon. But for a parade vehicle of 1910, horse power had a new meaning when the Mason City Band rode on a motorized touring bus.

Fifteen musicians plus a driver, direct their attention toward the camera in this postcard from Mason City, Iowa. The front of the bus has the marque The Overland for the Overland Automobile Company, of Terre Haute, Indiana, which began building motorcars in 1903. The company was sold in 1908 to John North Willys  who renamed it the Willys-Overland company, which became best known in World War 2 as the manufacturer of the all purpose military vehicle, the Jeep.

The model number for this bus is not known, nor is the horsepower, however notice that the rear wheels are chain driven.

Source: Library of Congress

This photograph is titled Seeing Chicago, auto at Monroe near State, Chicago, Ill. and comes from the archives of the Library of Congress.  The photographer was Hans Behm and it dates between 1900 and 1915. The radiator grill is not visible, but many details like the shape of the seats and the running board are so like the Mason City vehicle that I believe it is also an Overland touring bus.

The photographer of the Mason City brass band was standing opposite a building with a sign for
W.J. Daly Co. ...UMBING. This was William J. Daly, whose plumbing company specialized in steam and hot water heating and was located on 314 N. Main St in Mason City. Some years later the street was renamed to N. Federal Ave. Unfortunately Google Street View has not yet mapped downtown Mason City for us to see if the building is still there.

1910 Mason City, IA city directory

The back of the postcard shows a postmark of OCT 22, 1910 and is addressed to Mr. Harold Hazen of Garden City, Kansas.

Dear Son  I am at Mason today it has been raining for some days but it is clear this morning I have been trying to start home for a week but have not got started yet but I am going to start Mon shure am going back to Rockwell this afternoon going out Home tomorrow and start home at 6 Mom ur.. love

In the 1901 census, Harold Hazen, age 17, lived on a farm outside of Garden City, KS with his parents Henry D. and Rhoda J. Hazen and 4 sibilings. 

1910 Mason City, IA city directory

The population of Mason City was approximately 16,800 in the 1910 city directory which listed six bands and orchestras, including the Mason City Band of 25 pieces. It was directed by Harry B. Keeler who also was listed as the president of the Mason City College of Music on 744 E. State St. Mr. Keeler believed his town could be the equal to any of the big cities back east, and he promoted the band as a way of developing Mason City as a center of culture. He must have been a perceptive music director because he recognized talent in a young boy who would one day put Mason City on America's musical map. With 76 trombones.

Today, not far from where Mr. Daly had his plumbing office, is the Music Man Square, a museum and community center devoted to Mason City's favorite son, the composer Meredith Willson (1902 – 1984) who wrote many songs and Broadway musicals, the most famous being The Music Man. Willson developed his early aptitude for music on the piccolo and flute, and in 1918 went off to New York City to study at Frank Damrosch's Institute of Musical Art, now called the Julliard School.

At age 19 he left the school to join John Philip Sousa's band. After working with the premier band in America for a couple of years, he returned to New York to play flute and piccolo with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini. In 1929 he left for California to pursue a career in Hollywood composing music for the new media of radio and movies with sound. The Music Man was Willson's first musical and was produced in 1957 based on material from his 1948 memoir There I Stood With My Piccolo. 

Meredith and Rini Willson from their weekday NBC radio program Ev'ry Day.
Source: Wikipedia

According to a biography, Meredith Willson, America's Music Man by Bill Oates, Willson got his professional start by playing the piccolo with the Mason City Band under Harry Keeler. Did he ever get to ride on the Overland touring bus? If he did, the most sensible and less deafening place to seat a piccoloist would be on the back right. You have to watch where you point those things!

For another band that might have influenced Meredith Willson, read this post I wrote in 2011 on  The Orphans Home Band of Mason City, Iowa.  There will be another installment on that story in the near future. 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more stories on wheels.


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