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 }

Two Brothers in Music

16 January 2016

Cute is timeless. Whether it is lovable kittens or adorable children, cuteness transcends language for a universal exclamation of "awwww!" These two young boys, dressed in band uniforms and holding their musical instruments, rate pretty high on the sentimental scale of cute.

The smaller boy with a cornet looks about age 6. His mother has neatly rolled his trouser cuffs to adjust for his youthful height, and no doubt admonished him later for moving his head just when the shutter snapped. The other boy with a clarinet, or clarionet as it was often called in the old days, is a good head taller and might be age 9. Both wear a kind of sailor's tunic over a white shirt with bow tie. Their caps are a typical bandsman style with a wreath insignia that unfortunately lacks any letters for identification. 


They appear on an oversize cabinet card produced by:

The Wint Studio
Allentown, PA

It's a charming example of two very young musicians from early in the 20th century.

Fortunately this photograph can be closely dated because someone left the boy's names on the back.

They are in fact, brothers.


Written in ink on the flip side are the names:

Paul & Erwin Laudenslager

Nothing works better for genealogy research than a distinctive last name. Yet in Allentown, Pennsylvania with its strong heritage of Germanic names, Laudenslager, proved to be a fairly common surname. There were several Pauls that were suitable for establishing an identity. And though the name Erwin was not a popular first name, due to the troublesome German pronunciations for v and w it has inconsistent spelling. This meant looking for Irvin, Irwin, or even Ervin as well. Fortunately there was only one household in Allentown with both an Irvin and a Paul.


The 1910 Allentown, PA census listed, Charles H. Laudenslager with his wife Elda M., and sons, Irvin C. and Paul R. Laudenslager. Charles, age 32, worked in a Brewery. His eldest son Irvin,  was age 9 and brother Paul was 6 years old. These ages correspond very nicely with the ages of the boys in the photo, so it seems a sure bet that it was taken in 1910 give or take a year. 

Laudenslager, Charles H.
1910 US Census - Allentown, PA

{By a curious coincidence, the Laudenslagers at No. 319 North Eight St.lived only a half-block away in  Allentown from Mary Merkle at No. 247, whose niece sent her a postcard from Berlin in 1906 of a German military band. My story from February 2011 was called Midday in the Pleasure Gardens. It is indeed a small world when forgotten names on postcards and photographs are once once reacquainted with their neighbors.}

Allentown PA Democrat
November 1, 1910

That Irvin and Paul hold a clarinet and cornet is not particularly unusual. Allentown had such an astonishing number of bands in the 1900s that it would be more remarkable if they had not played a musical instrument.

Practically every civic occasion in Allentown, whether it was a fraternal society convention, a national holiday, or a new school dedication required a parade with a band. Often two or more. For the annual Halloween parade in 1910, the newspaper published a list of expenditures for musical organizations. It cost $119 to engage four drum corps and 11 bands to march in the parade. Two of the bands, the Young America Band and the Juvenile Band were composed entirely of boys aged 6 to 18.    

It should be noted that when you increase
the number of kittens in a photo,
the cuteness quotient begins to diminish.


The Young America Band of Allentown, PA was organized on June 29, 1908, a date inscribed on the head of the band's bass drum. This postcard shows the band with 28 musicians with a full compliment of brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. The youngest boys look about age 6 while a few might be as old as 18, though most are about 10 to 12 years old. They are dressed in splendid uniforms with ornate embroidery. They've removed their caps for the camera and placed a few on the floor in front. The bare headed band leader stands in the back center row.  

The postcard shows them in new uniforms, as it was reported in the Allentown Leader on March 3, 1909, that the postcards would be sold to benefit the band. The band director's name was George F. Bogh. A native of  nearby Catasaqua, PA, in regular life Bogh worked as a house painter and paper hanger, but for many years he had  played in several semi-professional bands in the Allentown area.

Allentown, PA Leader
March 3, 1909

In 1910, Allentown's city directory listed over two dozen masonic or fraternal groups, and the Young America Band was affiliated with one of them, a fraternal society called the Patriotic Order Sons of America, or P.O.S.A. This quasi-political society had 12 P.O.S.A. chapters or camps, in Allentown that met regularly nearly every week.throughout the city. The society, which still exists today, was established in 1847 in response to a wave of anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic sentiment in American public debate. Since its early decades it was known as part of a Nativist movement supporting native born "patriotic" ideals and advancing Protestant Christian education over Catholic.

Only a year after organizing the band, Mr. Bogh reported that the Allentown Young America Band had grown to over 30 musicians with more than 12 concert dates booked through the summer months. By September 1909, he could boast that his young bandsman had played 40 engagements for the year. To honor its success the Allentown Democrat put this same image of the Young America Band on the front page. The archival scan is poor for the photo, but unlike the postcard, this image provides a caption with the full names and instruments of all 28 boys. Neither Paul or Irvin Laudenslager are in the band picture, though there are at least two sets of brothers among the names.

Allentown PA Democrat
September 01, 1909

If you look closely at the postcard, one of the clarionet players seated on the left has a mark.
Evidently someone thought he was a cutie too.

Addressed to Master Eugene Stein of Carborn(?), NY and postmarked May 3, 1909.
The message reads:

This is my
fellow  i will
put X on him
His name is
William Mosser


The Young America Band followed in the footsteps of another boys band, the Juvenile Band of Allentown, PA. Its bass drum proclaimed that it was organized on Jan. 15, 1907. This postcard shows a full band of 43 musicians. The band leader sits in the center of the group. To judge by the sheepskins and rug, this photo may even have come from the same studio that took the picture of the Young America Band.

This rather raggedy postcard has an undivided back but was never mailed. The only clue comes from the name on the drum, but it is enough.

The director was Prof. Joseph Smith, an experienced bandleader who also ran a music store from his home. In 1907 the band got its start at the Century Band Hall as a spin off from a local men's band led by Smith. Many of the boys were already music students of Prof. Smith, whose honorific denoted no actual academic credentials but referred only to a title for music conductor like the word maestro. At the time he was already the leader of  three other bands in the region. The instruments were ordered as a set from the Carl Fisher Company of New York. Like the Young America Band, it took a few summers and several benefit concerts to raise enough money for fancy band uniforms.

By 1910, the Juvenile Band played summertime concerts in the parks, memorial and dedication events, and of course, parades.  Initially the concerts presented short elementary level music, but Smith soon had them performing arrangements he made of more difficult concert pieces for solo instruments, standard opera overtures, as well as popular songs, dances, and patriotic tunes.


Source: Men of Allentown, 1917

Longtime readers of this blog have met Prof. Joseph Smith before in a story I posted in January 2015. Clover the Horse and the Boys Band tells the tale of the world's oldest race horse and a boys band at the Rev. John Raker's Good Shepherd Home for crippled children in Allentown, PA. Prof. Smith first took his Juvenile Band to the home to perform in 1909, and by 1921 he added to his Allentown musical legacy by forming a traveling band from boys at the home. If you click the next image to enlarge it, you will spot his distinctive walrus mustache on the second man in from the far left.

* *

The Good Shepherd Home Band of Allentown, PA 1922

Before he took on the boys band of the Good Shepherd Home, Joseph Smith also led a ladies band. In July 1915, a special committee of ladies formed the idea of beginning an all female ensemble under Prof. Smith's direction. Unlike most other female bands of this era, this group developed not from young single women, but instead the interest came from older married women. Their first concert took some time to rehearse but by April of 1916 they were performing at venues in Allentown and even planned a festival of Ladies bands. Someday I hope to track down their postcard too.


In January 1912, George F. Bogh, the bandleader of the Young America Band, quit, "claiming a lack of interest on the part of the members." A replacement director was found but the band seems to have lost the interest of newspapers and by 1916 had disappeared from reports. The Allentown Juvenile Band maintained stronger enthusiasm, perhaps because it also organized a baseball team from its band musicians. On the seventh anniversary of its formation the band had over 50 musicians in 1915, but in this case its high numbers may have been equally unwieldy and unsustainable. Again this band's name does not appear in the papers after 1916.

The reasons are not hard to understand. These boys bands were run on shoe string budgets that needed continuous appeals for donations just to pay for music and travel expenses. More importantly, they were run by a single individual who lacked the accreditation of a real school, and it was in the 1910s-20s that music education first became part of a public school's curriculum. And then there are the kids, as of course youth groups of all kinds face the perennial challenge of recruiting new members to replace the old ones who grow up and move on. Undoubtedly many continued in music as members of adult bands and orchestras. Maybe even as professional musicians. But the times were changing. The United States entered the Great War in Europe in 1917. Radio became the new thing everyone had to have in 1924. Movie actors got a voice and stopped needing theater orchestras in 1927.  Music and culture are never static. Newspapers had bigger and noisier activities to report on than concerts by boys bands.

Allentown, PA Democrat
April 20, 1911

Newspapers of this era loveed to run long lists of names, especially band members. In April 1911, the Allentown Democrat ran a review of a Juvenile Band concert that included all the names of the musicians. There under second bb clarionet is Ervin Laudenslager. Brother Paul is not on the list but he may have played at one time too. Descriptions of the first Juvenile Band uniforms are sketchy but don't rule out the possibility that Paul and Irvin were dressed in their photo for the Juvenile Band. Both brothers married, settling down in the Allentown area, and both lived to a good age.  

When asked by a representative of  The Democrat what qualifications a boy must possess to be eligible to join the band, Prof. Smith replied, "A good set of teeth."

Cuteness was optional.

  17 JAN 2016 UPDATE:  

Like any archaeologist knows, there's always more if you keep digging. This morning I discovered another photo of the Allentown Juvenile Band published in a modern collection of historic photos called Bethlehem Revisited by William G. Weiner Jr and Karen M. Samuels. It was taken at Oakland Park near Bethlehem, PA in 1908. The uniforms are identical to those worn by Irvin and Paul Laudenslager and I feel certain that they are pictured in this photo too. How cute is that?


Just a week after I posted this story I acquired this second postcard of Prof. Smith's Juvenile Band of Allentown. It was postmarked in 1908 like the image just above, but this photograph was taken from inside a photographer's studio. There are 44 young boys in this band which is two more musicians than in the photo in Oakland Park. They are all wearing the same tunics but the caps in this postcard have a slightly softer shape. Perhaps there were caps for summer and winter.

The uniforms are subtly different than that worn by Paul and Irvin Laudenslager. Their sailor tunics had three stripes on the collar and three pipings on the sleeves, whereas this 1908 band have four stripes and no sleeve piping.  Are Paul and Irvin in this photo? In 1908 they would be age 4 and 7, so I think they were too young to play in such a large band. Which is another reason to date their photo at 1910. 

The postcard was sent to Miss Emma Kriebel c/o Daniel H. Kriebel of  Sansdale, PA on August 9(?) 1908.

Cousin Emma.
This band of boys we have heard play on
Sat. at the picnic  it was fine Hoping to see you soon.

The 1908 postcard photo excerpted from the book Bethlehem Revisited  has a note saying it was taken in Oakland Park on Aug 5 - 08, which was a Sunday. Katie writes that she heard them on Saturday which, based on the postmark, would be the day before. It's funny how coincidences can run in tandem.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where rescued children are a specialty.


Titania Staeheli said...

Great investigation work; haven't we all photos stashed away with perhaps some "hopefully" prodigy playing the piano or the cello?..and we always forget to put the names on the back of the photos.

Postcardy said...

The first photo fits the prompt very well, and the amount of information you found is amazing.

Alan Burnett said...

As always, a feast of a post rich in both images and information. I really do hope that you collect your posts together and publish them at some stage - these are too good to be lost on the web.

Karen S. said...

Oh my yes, they are incredibly cute, both of them. They look so grown up in their uniforms too.

Little Nell said...

Wonderful to read of these young musicians in the bands, but the two brothers are charming.

La Nightingail said...

As always, a great post full of interesting photos & background. And thank heaven for music in schools! And for boys (& eventually with girls allowed) bands. Music & participation in things such as bands, orchestras, and choruses are instrumental ('scuse the pun) in keeping some young people in school &/or out of trouble. My own son played in high school band (trombone)& buckled down & did what he had to do to keep his grades up because he loved playing in the band & didn't want to miss being allowed to play in performances because of poor grades.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting how the youth bands became popular much earlier in America than they did in Australia. You have such a wealth of information about them. And I say Ditto to Alan's comments. Your work needs to be preserved by publishing.

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

Magnificent, once again. I agree with the others that these posts must preserved somehow. Your analysis of cuteness is very amusing. Too much of a good thing is often too much.

Sharon said...

Great investigative work once again!

You made me smile (but I agree) that the cuteness diminishes when there are many kittens/boys.

Just wondering (excuse my ignorance) why good teeth would be a criteria? A nice smile when playing? Or is it more technical?

Deb Gould said...

Paul and Ervin ARE cute...and those band uniforms (in the big band) are incredibly ornate -- they're as loud as the music those guys probably played...

Wendy said...

Now I wonder what other neighbors of Mary Merkle and the Laudenslagers might one day be featured in your blog.

diane b said...

Great sleuthing and interesting history of the band. Fab pots and postcards reflecting your interest in music. A good choice for cute kids.

Kristin said...

Allentown seems to have been quite a musical town. I wonder who will turn up next?


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