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
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Cornets and Bicycles

09 June 2017

The owner of a long brushy mustache
lives with emotions hidden
under a perpetual shade tree.
Whether a frown or a smile,
it's all the same to the rest of the world.
This gentleman's face might convey
anxiety or annoyance
as easily as elation or delight.
Who can tell?
But I think there's
a hint of pride
beneath that brush
of a man pleased with his new bicycle.

He's dressed in a working man's shirt and trousers with a homburg hat cocked at a jaunty angle on his head. His bicycle is of a simple design without gears, chain guard, or fenders. But there is a bell on the handlebar and a tool bag under the top bar. It's an early safety bicycle, but more on that later.

His name is James C. Keeran which is written neatly in ink on the back of his small cabinet card photo. There is no photographer's logo, but the dealer from whom I purchased it identified the location as Shawnee, Kansas, a town in Johnson County and now part of the greater Kansas City KS/MO metropolitan area. 

Mr. Keeran also appeared in another photograph from the same lot, standing at the back of a brass band posing on the steps of an octagonal bandstand. It's either late fall or winter to judge by the snow on the ground, but perhaps not too cold as the men are dressed in ordinary suits without overcoats. In the background are some houses or shops with a horse and wagon on the right.

Six have mustaches and they all wear hats, but James C. Keeran is easy to spot at the back. The hat tilt is the same, though whether he is smiling or grimacing is hard to say.

There are ten musicians with snare drum, bass drum, a small tuba, two baritone horns, two tenor horns, and at least two cornets, with maybe a third hidden at top right. It's a typical American town brass band usually called a Cornet Band.

The photo is a large format albumen print and quite faded. It was part of several photos identified as coming from Shawnee, KS, and in fact a copy of this this photo is in the Johnson County Kansas Museum collection. But their photo doesn't have the names of the musicians written on the back in green ink.

On 26 January 1888 the Olathe Mirror, the official paper of the county, reported that: 

The Shawnee band is progressing finely under the management of James Keeran and Fritz Sauter. We think we have the best band in the county according to the town. The membership is composed of the following ames: Chas. Douglas, James Keeran, Fritz Sautter, Chas. Hollenback, B. F. hollenback, Chas. Loomis.

There will be a dance at the hall next Friday evening. Everybody invited. For the benefit of the band.

Olathe KS Mirror
26 January 1888

The earliest report of the Shawnee Band that I've found was from November 1887 when they were said to be progressing finely under the instructions of Mr. Johnson of Kansas City. So in only a few months they became proficient enough to give public concerts. Of the six members then listed in the band, four are names on the back of my photo.

According to the 1880 Kansas Agricultural Annual Report, the population of Shawnee was 2,477. In the 1890 report, the population surged to 2,612 making Shawnee the second largest township in Johnson County after Olathe. Of course the big city was Kansas City, Missouri which was actually a bit closer to Shawnee than Kansas City, Kansas which was north of the Kansas River. 

A cornet band provided a town with more than music. The band boys functioned as ambassadors to state and county fairs. Every town celebration from the 4th of July to a school graduation required a brass band. Politicians on the stump always engaged a band to energize their constituents. Funerals, weddings, store openings, church picnics, and fraternal society dinners were big public events for a small town and they all needed music to make the occasions memorable.

Olathe KS Mirror
25 April 1889

In April 1889 the Olathe Mirror published an audited account of Johnson County's expenditures. Listed were nine of the ten names on the Shawnee Cornet Band. Each man received 80¢ (except for two who got 90¢) for being witness before county attorney. It seems too coincidental that they were all members of the band so I suspect this was a fee for furnishing music at some civic event. I also think the list dates the photo to around 1889-1890.

Of course these men were not really professional musicians, but just ordinary town folk.

James C. Keeran (top row, left) was born in 1848 and would be about age 41 in 1890. He was a blacksmith, married to Amanda Keeran and by 1900 had six children from age 21 to 5.

Ben Hollenback (top row, center) or B. F. Hollenback was born in 1836, occupation Groceryman.

Charley Douglas (top row, right) was a farmer, born in 1867 and brother to Henry.

Pete Wortz (3rd row left) was Peter Wertz, a Prussian immigrant born in 1833 who was a farmer and also ran a dry goods and grocery in Shawnee. For a time he was town clerk and treasurer.

Harvey Maloney (3rd row, right) was born in 1869 and became a physician like his father who kept a practice in Shawnee.

Ben Earnshaw (2nd row, left) was born in  1869 and became a farmer. In 1900 he was the Shawnee enumerator for the US Census. Based on his handwriting in the census, I believe it is his handwriting on the back of the photo.

Henry C. Douglas (2nd row, center) was born in 1862 and also became a farmer.

Fritz Sautter (2nd row, right) was Earnest F. Sautter born in 1864, occupation groceryman. In 1900 Suatter, Maloney, Hollenback and James Keeran were all neighbors living on the same street.

Homer or Omer Hughes (1st row, left) proved too elusive to find in the census records but he is likely the brother to Norman Hughes (1st row, right) born 1868 and a nurseryman in the 1900 census.

* * *

Olathe KS Mirror
09 December 1886

The cycle rage hit Kansas in the mid 1880s when the high wheeler or penny-farthing, was the bicycle to have. Early bicycles often promoted inventive engineering for the times. Alber Ott, bicycle agent for Olathe, Kansas in 1886, advertised a Quadrant Tandent Tricycle stretching the rules of geometry. The high wheel bicycles were stable once in motion but were prone to accidents when speeding down hills. In Kansas though, that was not likely a problem.

Olathe KS Mirror
10 October 1889

Olathe KS Mirror
24 May 1888

James Keeran's cycle was a "safety bicycle" which was more like a modern bike. However there were some differences. Propulsion came from pedals moving a heavy chain over a single gear, yet the safety bicycle still had no brakes. Stopping required a rider to use the same back-pedal force as on the high wheelers, but without the assist from modern coaster brakes! The tire are pneumatic but Mr. Keeran probably kept several rubber patches in his tool kit to mend blowouts. And based on the bicycle and horse incident reported in the Olathe Mirror, he had a good reason for that bell on the handlebars.

The safety bicycle was the image used by bicycle dealers adverting in the late 1890s. The Monarch Cycle Mfg.Co. of Chicago-New York-London offered a model very similar to Mr. Keeran's. I think his photo dates from this decade, perhaps 1897 to 1899, and he looks a decade older than in his band photo.

Parsons KS Daily Sun
15 August 1897

The Shawnee Band's last report in the Olathe Mirror was in 1891. It may have continued on under a different direction and name, or maybe the men just moved on with family and business concerns and were unable to keep the band going. But James C. Keeran liked bicycles and cornets and they kept him going strong. He died in 1935 at age 87.

"All the World Loves A Winner"

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where there's always another box of old photos.


Wendy said...

This post is another winner. And you know all the world loves a winner. I believe I would have preferred the safety bicycle to that 3-wheeler. That was a bulky way to get around.

La Nightingail said...

As always, a most interesting & illuminating post - with handsome moustaches to boot. My bike had those back-pedal brakes & I much preferred them to handlebar brakes. To me, it was much easier to come to a smooth controlled stop or slow down than with the hand operated brakes. But then maybe that's because I wasn't used to using the hand brakes?

Jo Featherston said...

Amazing photographic analysis and research of the people in the photograph, as always. Who knows, perhaps the man in the prompt was a musician when he wasn't working with boxes. He certainly had the moustache for it!

Barbara Rogers said...

How nice that musicians names are on the back of your photo, making it worth more than the copy in the museum! The bicycle reflects how the more modern individuals were getting around at the time. But you never said whether or not it was a handlebar mustache (which I think it was not because of lack of the waxing to make the ends stick up...)

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

I have to say I'm always daunted when attempting to comment on your posts which are all so detailed and wonderfully researched. You are such a skilled story teller! This week, like always, your photo is a splendid match.

Little Nell said...

Full marks for matching the bowler and moustache. I like to think his expression was one of intense concentration.

Tattered and Lost said...

Do you think those were special riding shoes? Or were they just worn out shoes? You can see the indentations where his toes are. Would a gentleman have worn bicycle shoes with street clothes?


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