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 }

Bears of Denmark and Dachshunds of Siam

17 February 2017

A good picture postcard is multidimensional.
Its image gives shape to a faraway place,
 drawing lines of light and shade,
height and distance.
Colors convey warmth,
gray tones cool.

The strange activities of lively native folk
add sensations of smell, touch, even sound.
It's a window looking onto a foreign scene,
inviting us to share a moment with a traveler. 

This postcard has those qualities.
A military band stands in a circle
playing their instruments.

We marvel at their impressive bearskin hats.
We admire the impressive stately buildings in the background.
We feel the contrast of sun and shade on the cobblestone plaza.
We can almost hear them.

The postcard caption reads:

Gardens Musikkorps
(paa Amalienborgplads)

But to be a really good postcard,
worthy of preservation
in a shoe box of memories,
there must be
a clear postmark date
a personal message on the back.

This postcard was sent
from Copenhagen to the United States
on 3 July 1907 to E. Kaiteryn Fell(?)
care of Richard Willits(?) – Esq.
of Westbury Station, New York.
The author leaves no name.

July 3rd
This is a beautiful
city, with its fine
buildings and harbor.
The picture repre-
sents the present
homes of the King and
. He is in his
country home now
entertaining the King
of Siam.  Reg(?) has been tra-
velling with us for some
time. It is so cold and
rainy here, one can not
realize you will be cele-
brating the 4th to-morrow.

And to be a great postcard,
there has to be an element of curiosity.
In this writer's cursive style
it's hidden in the letter S.

The Guardian
7 January 1907

The capital S posed a challenge to decipher two words. The first was King and Sons.  What did that mean? After checking the history of the plaza where the band performs it made sense. The bearskin bandsmen are on the octagonal courtyard of  Amalienborg, the residences of the Danish Royal Family, which consists of 4 palaces facing the plaza center where stands an equestrian statue of Amalienborg's founder, King Frederick V (1723-1766). In 1907 the Danish King was Frederick VIII (1843-1912) who had taken the Danish throne only the year before in 1906. At various times he lived in one palace, his father in another, and his sons in another.

The second S word was more confusing. Entertaining the King of Siam? In Denmark? Was that right?  In fact during the summer of 1907, the King of Siam embarked on an informal tour of Europe. Reportedly His Majesty King Chulalongkorn of Siam was traveling in strict incognito. He would begin his holiday in Sam Remo, Italy, progressing then to Paris, then London, Berlin, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and St. Petersburg. His entourage was considered a small group, with just the King, three Royal Princes, and nine state officials. It was said that King Chulalongkorn was an enthusiastic motorist. Perhaps they would use a bus.

* * *

Ruling Monarchs of the World
circa 1908
Source: Wikipedia

In 1907 most nations of the world were monarchies. Looking a bit like a royal athletic team, this postcard shows the portraits of 19 monarchs from 1908 with emperors, kings, and one queen. The King of Siam is at top left and the King of Denmark, is second row from the bottom, second from right. King Edward VII of Great Britain occupies the prime center position, with his nephews Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany on either side. 

King Chulalongkorn (1853 – 1910),  or more properly Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poraminthra Maha Chulalongkorn Phra Chunla Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua (Thai: พระบาทสมเด็จพระปรมินทรมหาจุฬาลงกรณ์ พระจุลจอมเกล้าเจ้าอยู่หัว) was the monarch of Siam, now known as Thailand. Also called King Rama V, he became King of Siam in 1868 under a regency at the young age of 15. He  assumed full powers in 1873. During his long reign of 42 years, King Chulalongkorn produced many great reforms in Siamese society. He reorganized his country's internal boundaries and local governments, established land surveys, modernized the army, and abolished slavery and forced labor. 

In 1907 he decided leave Bangkok to make a lengthy but ostensibly social tour of Europe. It was his second visit to Europe after an earlier one taken in 1897. Newspapers in America caught some of the excitement and thought they might lure him to visit the United States if they published his picture with a story of the trip.

Pittsburgh Press
7 April 1907

The King's tour had a not-so-subtle political purpose as he wanted improve his country's relations with Britain and France, and also gain support from other European leaders. Bordered by French Indochina, British Burma and Malaysia, and the Dutch East Indies, Siam had lost much of its original land to these powers and yet still remained an independent nation under King Chulalongkorn. The illustration comes from a large article on the King and his tour that was published in 1907 by the Pittsburgh Press. The king is described as both progressive and liberal, attributes that were likely to gain favor with American interests.

At the time the US had just stepped onto the global stage a few years before, when in 1898 it acquired Spain's possessions after the Spanish American War. American imperialism began with the ready-made Spanish colonies in the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico with Cuba, which became a U.S. protectorate. In 1904 the US began construction of the Panama Canal which would not be finished until 1914. King Chulalongkorn made his way to Europe via the Suez Canal.

Pittsburgh Press
7 April 1907

After he arrived in Britain in June 1907
the Manchester Guardian newspaper
published a more regal photograph
of King Chulalongkorn of Siam .
The Guardian
21 June 1907

Again the very best  postcards
have good dates
that add a special context
to the message.

On July 3rd, 1907, the Kingdom of Denmark
took the measure of the King of Siam.

The Most Astounding Discovery
that the king of Siam
is exactly the same height
as the emperor of Russia

was considered newsworthy
in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Little Rock, AK Democrat
3 July 1907

The Roskilde Domkirke is on the island of Zealand in eastern Denmark. It is a Lutheran church and since the 15th century it has been the traditional burial site of Danish monarchs.   

Roskilde Domkirke, Denmark
Source: Wikipedia

One section of the Roskilde Catherdral is named the Chapel of the Magi. It has two floors and the upper floor is supported by a granite column called the Kings Pillar, where for centuries the height of Danish and visiting foreign monarchs has been recorded. The tallest sovereign was supposedly King Christian I of Denmark (1426-1481), but it seems likely he was wearing lifts in his slippers then. Russia's Peter the Great stood against the pillar and measured a lofty 207cm or 81½ inches (6'_7½").  Nearly the shortest in stature, King Chulalongkorn stood 164cm or 64½ inches (5'_4"), only a centimeter taller than Denmark's Christian VII.

King's Pillar, Chapel of the Magi
Roskilde Domkirke, Denmark
Source: The Internets

Despite the Pittsburgh Press's enthusiasm for King Chulalongkorn's liberal views, he and Tsar Nicholas II shared more than just meeting eye to eye. They were both absolute monarchs with nearly unlimited power over both their subjects and their nation's government. Both men were also noted for an extravagant lifestyle where cost was never an issue.

King Chulalongkorn of Siam
and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia
in 1897
Source: Wikipedia

Rochester NY Democrat and Chronicle
9 August 1907

By August King Chulalongkorn's grand tour was coming to an end. Even in an era used to displays of royal opulence his spending on diamond, gold, and silverware was thought excessive. It was claimed he purchased $650,000 worth of jewelry in London, $500,000 in Frankfurt, $400,000 in Baden Baden where he took a cure at the spa. The reported value of his expenditure on luxury items was $3,000,000. So much for traveling incognito.  

* * *

Warren MN Sheaf
12 September 1907


Before he left Denmark, the King of Siam was presented with a huge wheel of local cheese made near Frijsenborg, a grand estate in Jutland. He took it on board the ship on his trip to Norway, and he became so fond of it he ordered a quantity of the same brand to be sent to his court in Bangkok.

* * *

Newspapers reported on King Chulalongkorn's exotic retinue, which did include a Queen, his  principal one, as well as some brothers, sons, and other officials. Despite his westernized tastes it was recognized that he was sovereign to a Buddhist nation. In American reports the descriptions of  his home country added titillating accounts of his 150 queens and immense harem that supposedly numbered in the thousands.

However the reports did not elaborate on the biggest difference between this royal family of Southeast Asia and the noble families of Europe. King Frederick VIII was surely proud of his eight children. But the diminutive King Chulalongkorn was father to 77 children — 33 sons and 44 daughters distributed among 4 Queens and 32 other consorts and concubines (116 in total).

As the King of Siam took leave of Germany, he expressed an interest in acquiring two dogs just like Kaiser Wilhelm's pet Dachshunds. Upon learning of this and also that the King would soon celebrate a birthday, the German Kaiser arranged to have seven pairs of dachshunds sent to the King so he could choose two favorites. Somehow that intention was lost in translation, as King Chulalongkorn accepted all 14 Dachshunds and took them back to Siam. The Kaiser took the extra expense of his gift in good humor.

Akron OH Beacon Journal
14 September 1907

We are left to imagine
how 14 Dachhunds traveled to Siam,
along with diamonds and Danish cheese,
where presumably it was all somehow divided
among the the King's numerous progeny.   

But  I can show you
how Kaiser Wihelm II
looked after his Weiner dogs,
three in number,
on board his Imperial yacht.

Der Kaiser mit seinen Hunden.
Kaiser Wilhelm II,  circa 1908
Source: The Internets

Let us return once more to the plaza of Amalienborg,
where the band of the Danish Royal Life Guards
continue to delight tourists of all kinds
from around the world.

In this more recent postcard
the bandsmen wear the dress uniform
of the Royal Life Guard
with red tunics, sky-blue trousers
and tall bearskin hats.

This card has no postmark, no message,
and no hidden connection to kings or dachshunds.
Just Danish bears,
so it only merits 4 points

And as a bonus for readers
who have stayed with my story to the end,
here is a YouTube postcard,
taken within the past year,
of the Changing of the Guard
at the Amalienborg place plaza
in Copenhagen.

* * *

* * *

If the music seems familiar but out of place
that is because it is not a Danish melody
but the march of the United States Navy,
Anchors Aweigh.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where Danish pigeons always get the best treats.


Bob Scotney said...

I never saw the changing of t he guard or the band during my visits to Copenhagen. At Roskilde I spent all my time in an hotel running training courses. Love the postcards.

Barbara Rogers said...

What a fun diversion about the King of Siam! I guess he wasn't the one that the Kind and I was written about, or you would have mentioned it. The pillar with the heights of kings was most interesting, and in a church no less! It is a bit of trivia that seems of interest for centuries! I happen to be the same height as King Chulalongkorn, and I love phonetically saying his name, Chula-longhorn!

Little Nell said...

That was quite a history lesson. I rather like the nuggests of information about the height of the kings, and the postcards were very interesting.

Wendy said...

And yet the "S" in Station and USA are clear!

I suppose the King of Siam had to serve 42 years in order to finish writing his full name.

Your posts are always so interesting, but this one has to be the cham-peen of quirkiness.

Alex Daw said...

This was such a good read (as indeed are all your posts). That King of Siam was quite something. Thank you.

Jo Featherston said...

Wonderful to bring out all that history about the King of Siam from one simple line in a postcard. I've been to Copenagen and watched the changing of the guard and have also visited the church at Roskilde where the kings are buried. I didn't photograph any pigeons there but I did take a photo of some European magpies, which are quite different to the ones we have in Australia.

La Nightingail said...

I always enjoy your posts, but this one really caught my eye when you mentioned the King of Siam. No, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) was not the subject king in "The King and I". That was King Mongkut (Rama IV), King Chulalongkorn's father who hired Anna Leonowens to come to Siam and teach some of his children - including Prince Chulalongkorn - the English language and English ways. He wanted to modernize his country and with the influence of Anna's teachings, the Prince continued on the path his father had set. This post of yours is a kind of 'small world' thing as I will be soloing with "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You" from the musical, "The King and I", in my choral group's coming spring concert! :)


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