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 }

Time Flies

21 January 2017

The march of time follows a relentless drumbeat. A rhythm that's inevitable and unstoppable. Unless you have a camera. Only then, for just a brief instant, does the pulse of time pause.

Until the era of photography, humanity had limited ways to measure the effects of time on the human face. People could admire a painted portrait made in younger days. Friends and family might remark on wrinkles and gray. But it was the medium of the photograph that gave mankind its first accurate record of the human visage.  

This young gentleman turns his gaze to the side of his carte de visite so that we may admire his handsome side-burns. His eyes are downcast, serious yet self-effacing.

* *

His photo was taken by Brown's of 1222 Market St. in Wheeling, West Virginia. The price is marked on the back beneath a pair of female vignettes. 99cts. per doz. 8x10 copies $1. each. Note the camera and artist's palette behind the address banner.

I imagine the gentleman many years later taking that same cdv into the photographer's studio and asking, "Can you make another one like it?"

Indeed the camera captures the man in a reverse pose. Hair now silvered with  more grey bristle in his whiskers. His steely eyes are lifted upward, as if he's seen the world and is ready to meet it on his terms.  

* *

This carte de visite was likely made by the same photographer but in a different studio. Beneath interlinked initials, the backstamp says Brown and Higgins, No. 42 Twelfth Street, Wheeling, W. Va.

The man's name is unknown and there is no date. The photographers Brown & Higgins were listed as partners in the 1868 and 1872 city directory for Wheeling, WV.  Both were in the 1864 directory but listed separately, and in that year Bown's partner was named Wykes.  Addresses were not included in those directories but in the 1882 edition, John Brown had a photograph studio at 1222 Market St., and T. H. Higgins had a photo studio at 42 Twelfth St.

The reason I acquired these two versions of the same man was because I found them while searching for examples of Mr. Higgins' photo work.

This cornet player posed for a cabinet card photo at the studio of Higgins of Wheeling, W. Va. Dressed in a heavy twill suit, he stands with his cornet resting on a faux stone plinth. There seems to be more hair below his nose than on top his head. How he managed to play through his impressive soup strainer mustache is beyond my understanding of proper brass instrument technique.

The musician signed the back.

To my Old Friend
Geo, Skinner

Yours Truly
Geo. Drurnberg(?)

There is no date but it has the look of about +/− 1885. Unfortunately his signature defeats me. It looks like Drurnbag? which can't be right. I get no help in and I can't find anything like this name in the D listings of the Wheeling city directories.

Any suggestions, readers?

{click any image to enlarge}

* *

Around the same time a companion musician was also photographed by Higgins of Wheeling, W. Va. This man stands with his violin resting on a table. He wears a handsome suit with a long watch fob and a musical lyre tie pin, and sports a more conventional mustach. He signed his name on the front. Eugene Mack.

On the back is written:

Eugene Mack
(cartoon bird)
Trade Mark

The fanciful bird is an odd thing to add. Perhaps it was a joke intended for the recipient.

While this musician' name is clear, it does not appear in any of Wheeling's city directories from 1882 to 1898. Nor is the name in any census for West Virginia, though of course we cannot use the infamous missing 1890 U.S. census records.

* *

The story might have ended there. But I felt compelled to hunt through newspapers for any clues of cornet soloists or violinists in Wheeling. There was a thriving theater and hotel district as this city and a number of bands and orchestras employed musicians like these two men. 

Situated on the Ohio river, Wheeling is also on the great National Road, also known as the Cumberland Road, which was the first major westward route in the US. Later it was improved with the great Wheeling Suspension Bridge which crosses the Ohio River. If you had to go anywhere across eastern America in the 19th century, there was a good chance you passed through Wheeling.

In February 1889, Barlow Brothers' Minstrels stopped in Wheeling to perform at the Grand Opera House. Among the supporting artists was Eugene Mack, male soprano.

The audience was evidently well pleased.

Wheeling WV Daily Intelligencer
12 February 1889

In the following year 1890, the Dime Eden Musee in Omaha, NE ran an advert for the offerings on the New Year Week. Along with he Nebraska Triplets was  Jennie Ritchie, male impersonator, and Eugene Mack, female impersonator.

Omaha NE Daily Bee
28 December 1890

In a return engagement to Omaha in 1893, Eugene Mack, a phenomenal female impersonator shared the People's Theater stage with a midget sketch team, a serpentine and Spanish dancer, trapeze artists, comedians, and a world's champion club swinger.

Omaha NE Daily Bee
01 September 1893

So is my photo of a hirsute masculine violinist the same Eugene Mack, the male soprano and female impersonator? I don't know. But the trademark cartoon does offer a tantalizing suggestion that connects a songbird to a soprano voice. If both musicians were members of a traveling minstrel show that would explain why they were not found in Wheeling's directories or census records.

The whole truth may never be discovered, but sometimes the imagination fills in what we don't know.

Time flies.

And as for the anonymous Wheeling man with mutton chops, I think his side whiskers mark him as a distinguished gentleman with a public profession, i.e.banker, lawyer, doctor, or even politician. My guess is his earlier image as a young man is at age 20-25, while his later countenance adds 25 or even 30 years.  

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where watching time is an art.


Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

Your post is full of interesting tidbits. What do you think is an Alabama Moke? "Cunning" seems an odd description for infants.
I think Eugene Mack was a versatile man and did what he had to do to make a living.

La Nightingail said...

Something I've oft noticed about men as they age - many seem to become more handsome in their older years. The unnamed young man in that first photo would not appeal to me, but the older version of him would catch my attention. His face has filled out and the shape of it is less harsh. Actually, he reminds me of Burt Lancaster! :) I could do without those side whiskers, though.

Little Nell said...

Fine portraits of Mr Anonymous and I enjoyed the old playbills and descriptions too.

Wendy said...

I found a number of Dernbergers in West Virginia.

ScotSue said...

They are all such striking portraits. I had to smile at your description of the cornet player and how he managed to play through all that facial hair. Your research into Eugene MacKenzie made fascinating reading.


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