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 }

Singin' In the Rain

16 March 2018

It's their hats you notice first.
A kind of bell hop's brimless cap.

Then it's their umbrellas.
Lots and lots
of furled and unfurled
multi-toned umbrellas.

It's a strange quasi-uniform
for a such large group of men.
One large banner reads
Greensboro Council
No. 296

Another smaller one reads


Asheville is where I live in North Carolina.
Who are these guys?

They are
The Order
of United Commercial Travelers
of America.

"By this sign shall ye know them"

On Friday,  June 4, 1915
about 500 members of the U.C.T.
convened their convention
in Durham, North Carolina.

Durham NC Morning Herald
04 June 1915

These men belonged to a professional society called the United Commercial Travelers. It was established in Columbus, OH in 1888 for traveling salesmen as a mutual aid organization providing disability and accidental death insurance for its members. It was modeled on other fraternal societies like Freemasons with secret rituals and orders. The UCT logo and cap badge mimicked masonic symbols with a crescent surrounding a sample case, the universal tool of the commercial traveler. The umbrella was also part of the Commercial Travelers' regalia, perhaps associated with its symbolism as protection against life's stormy weather and the hazards endured by door-to-door salesmen. The umbrella's panels were made in the society's three colors, white blue, and yellow.

This convention was an annual regional event for the UCT councils of both North and South Carolina. The location rotated between various cities in the Carolinas and this was, I believe, the first time Durham had hosted the United Commercial Travelers assembly. It was a two day affair and the convention program was published in the Durham Morning Herald. Friday was reserved for the society's business affairs, while social events were scheduled for Saturday. After a memorial service at 9:00 AM, at 10:30 the UCT delegates would march down Durham's main street in a grand parade. Just before they set off, a photographer would take a photo of the UCT grand council posed on the west side of Durham's city hall.

And if there was a parade,
there had to be a band.

Sitting on the curbstones in front of the UCT delegates was a line of musicians from the Durham Hosiery Mill Band. A bass drum with the band's name was placed in the center of the photo giving the photographer a good focus point.

It was mostly a brass band with a couple of saxophones and a clarinet. 

The 21 bandsmen were often called out to provide music for civic events.
After the parade there was an automobile drive around the city,
followed by a picnic in Durham's Lakewood park.
A Carolina League baseball game between teams
from Charlotte and Durham finished the day.

It is a very large photo, 8" x 19.5", which the newspaper probably printed in quantity sufficient for the 500 visiting delegates. This photo required two scans and a digital stitch.

Unfortunately I've been unable to find a large image viewer
that will work with Blogger,
so readers will have to
click the image

above to see it in a larger format.

Durham Hosiery Mill Band
Source: Durham County Library
The bandsmen were all employees of the Durham Hosiery Mill No. 1, which was just a mile from city hall. The mill was the first of 15 cotton mills in North Carolina operated by the Durham Hosiery Company which produced cotton socks and hose. This mill opened in 1902 and by 1907 had 1000 employees working at 11,000 spindles, 64 carding, and 1000 knitting machines. Most of its factory workers lived nearby in company housing.

Durham Hosiery Mill No. 1  circa 1908-10
Source: Durham County Library

The Durham Hosiery Mill Band started in 1913 with fourteen musicians under the direction of bandleader Charlie Warren. They practiced twice a week in the mill's spooling room. The bass drum was the last instrument acquired by the band. I suspect that the working environment of Mill No. 1 was very LOUD. Any employee who was granted permission to be a musician in the band must have felt very privileged to get away from the sound of machinery for an hour.

Durham NC Morning Herald
12 February 1913

By 1915, the Hosiery Mill Band was performing regular concerts for the factory workers as well as for church socials, baseball games, and civic parades in Durham. This community service helped the Hosiery Mill Co. maintain goodwill with Durham's business and political interests, as well as instill a sense of pride with its workers. Like many Southern factories in the early 20th century, the hosiery mill was a non-union workshop,  and the company went out of its way, using both carrot and stick, to discourage any union organizing.

1907 City Hall, Durham NC

The convention of the United Commercial Travelers was held at Durham's Academy of Music, a public theater adjoined to the city's main municipal building. Like many towns across American, the city/town hall incorporated an "opera house" in the same building so that local government could raise funds through rental of its performing space. Finished in 1903-04 the Durham civic building originally had a market on the ground floor, while the second floor offered a large convention room and theater. The newspaper had its office across the street which made it easy for the photographer to take a picture of the assembled UCT delegates.

Rotary Park, Durham NC

Just behind the building was Rotary Park which had a bandstand. On the left of this postcard we can see the arched windows and fire escapes of the backside of the Academy of Music.  This matches the metal stairs and windows of the UCT photo. Another photo of employees of Durham's Morning Herald shows another viewpoint of the same doorway stairs.

Durham NC Morning Herald
04 June 1915

Durham NC Morning Herald
04 June 1915

What made identification of this 1915 event even easier was that the newspaper printed several photographs of the officers of the United Commercial Travelers. The newsprint is grainy and the UCT photo is now faded with age, but I think I found some matches.

_ _

The first is Mr. R. E. Ward, the Grand Chaplain of the United Commercial Travelers. He is one of the few men with a mustache and I think the man with the resolute square jaw sitting just behind the bass drum is him. As the society had just observed a memorial service that morning, it seems likely that a Grand Chaplain would have taken center stage.

The other match is a man who does not wear the UCT fraternal cap and instead has  on a normal hat. He sits left of center next to two children who are with a woman who might be his wife. That's only speculation, but the turn of his head seems very like the profile of Mr. C. H. Webb, Grand Executive Committeeman.

No doubt there are Google engineers who specialize on matching ear lobes and jawbones. But you don't need a degree in anthropometry to see the resemblance of the man, seated right, second behind the clarinetist, to the big ears and full lips of Mr. J. C. Ferrell, Secretary of Durham UCT No. 546.

In the early summer of 1915, the skies were clear in Durham, but very dark in the rest of the world. The Great War in Europe was now approaching nearly a year of terrible bloodshed with no end in sight. The Durham Morning Herald's front page report on the UCT convention took only two of its seven columns. The other reports were about Russian losses at Peremysl to Austro-Hungarian forces; the German ambassador's report to President Wilson on the sinking of the Lusitania; the evacuation of Americans from the conflict in Mexico;  a speech by David Lloyd George, then minister of munitions, urging British industry to do more for the war; the destruction of the Austrian naval base; and a court report on the trial of a Raleigh man accused of fraudulently stuffing a ballot box.

Durham's cotton mills would soon be making more than just socks and hose. When America entered the war in the spring of 1917, canvas tarpaulins, soldier's leggings, munition sacks, and countless other military supplies were shipped from North Carolina factories to France. Though American soldiers made a valiant contribution to the allied war effort, it was America's industrial strength and financial power that really turned the war. By 1918, the Durham Hosiery Mill Band was playing for war bond drives, and Red Cross Benefits. There was reports that some members of the band might join the army band attached to a North Carolina field artillery regiment. When the war finished the Hosiery Mill Band was in the lineup for Durham's celebratory homecoming parade for the returning troops in April 1919.

The global economy rebounded in the post-war years but manufacturers of cotton hose now had competition from silk and other fashion materials. The Durham Hosiery Mill Co. struggled until 1922 when it decided to shut down the No. 1 Mill. It kept on a smaller workforce to make cotton yarn and cheap men's socks there until 1932, but began selling  off the nearby worker's house lots to developers. The Hosiery Mill Band disappeared from Durham's newspaper reports in 1920. Today the impressive No. 1 Hosiery Mill has been preserved as a historic architectural landmark and converted into attractive apartments.

During the Friday night welcome ceremony for the UCT, the mayor of Durham, Mr. B. S. Skinner, commented on the three cardinal principals of the order of United Commercial Travelers, Unity, Charity, and Temperance. These values remain an important part of the UCT organization that continues today. It has nearly 55,000 members in the US and Canada who "volunteer to enhance their communities through community service, charitable fundraising and helping those in need." Their website does not have any umbrellas or masonic-like insignia so the quasi-secret society fashions of the 1915 UCT don't seem to be part of the organization's 21st century traditions.

Durham NC Morning Herald
06 June 1915

Contrary to the stereotype image of a traveling salesman, the United Commercial Travelers were committed teetotalers, abstaining from alcohol. During the week the newspaper gently joked that Durham's soda pop shops might have good business over the weekend. At the Saturday picnic, lemonade was the delegates preferred beverage. After a fine dinner, a grand time was had by all at the baseball game and another annual convention of the United Commercial Travelers was adjourned.

Though many delegates took an evening train home, a number of UCT members stayed overnight on Saturday making Durham more lively than usual.

They gathered about the corner, in the hotel corridors and at other places and raised up their voices in song. They sang many selections such as "How Dry I Am,"  "The Bear Went Over the Mountain,"  "Why is a Wild Cat Wild?"  and other classic ballards of good repute in the community.

The delegates of the United Commercial Travelers
would have understood this next excerpt
from  Meredith Willson's classic musical,
The Music Man.



"Professor" Harold Hill, of course,
has discretely remained silent
in a back seat of the coach.
He's the one that
"Doesn't Know the Territory!"
and sets out to prove them wrong
in River City, Iowa.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where dark clouds always have a silvery sepia lining.

The Big Brass

09 March 2018

Piccolo and cornets can play the catchy melody.
Trombones and clarinets may add pretty harmony.
Cymbals and drums might make you tap your toes.
But only one sound really  brings you to your feet,
ready to holler and march along.
 It's the bass horn.

 This gentleman with his handsome imperial goatee
waits patiently for the photographer
as his hand rests
on an early version of a marching tuba.
It was the bottom end of a series
of unusual brass instruments
called over-the-shoulder saxhorns.
This family of conical brass instruments
developed in America
in the decades before the Civil War
to provide a new sound for marching bands.

The photograph is a small tintype (60 mm × 90 mm), more properly called a ferrotype, as it is made of iron sheet, not tin. The metal rectangle was coated with a dark lacquer or enamel and then painted with a photographic emulsion just before being put into a camera. Consequently the ferrotype records the original image just like a mirror. With digital software it is easy to reverse the image and show the subject as he truly was, with his waistcoat buttonholes on his left.

It also puts his instrument in the correct orientation as a right-handed instrument. It is an E-flat contrabass, I believe, and stands about 58 inches tall.  What makes this instrument unusual to our modern eyes is that when played the contrabass bell rested on the players left shoulder projecting backwards.

The over-the-shoulder or OTS brass instruments came in a variety of sizes that followed the patterns of the Belgian instrument maker, Adolphe Sax. His saxhorns were devised with the bell pointed up. But the Americans innovation was to make the bells aim to the back so that a brass band could march at the head of a parade and the sound would then be heard by the troops following behind. Here is a page from the 1872 catalog of the John F. Stratton musical instument company showing three sizes of bass horns.

1872 John F. Stratton Musical Instrument Co. catalog

The Stratton company also made five smaller sized OTS horns. The highest treble sounding instrument was the E-flat cornet, followed by a B-flat cornet, an E-flat alto horn, a B-flat tenor horn, and an E-flat baritone horn.

1872 John F. Stratton Musical Instrument Co. catalog

The instruments could also be made in the French fashion with bells up. Here is a set manufactured by the Boston Musical Instrument Co. in 1869. They correspond to Adolphe Sax's design in shape but he used piston valves, while the American makers primarily used the German rotary valve design with a clever twist in the finger keys.

1869 Boston Musical Instrument Co. catalog


This second ferrotype shows another OTS contrabass saxhorn that was shared as an arm rest by two uniformed bandsmen. I have also reversed this image to properly show the verity of the two men and their instrument, though we will never know which young bandsman was the bass saxhorn player. The embroidery on their jackets is typical of band uniforms of the 1870s to 1880s. Even though the jackets have shoulder bars, I think they are decorative and not a military insignia. Their caps have a wreath badge with initials, but the camera's focus was too poor to read them clearly. The first letter is obscure but the other two read C.B. which likely stands for Cornet Band. This is one of the difficult problems for tintype/ferrotype photos. Unless they survived with the photographer's protective paper wrapper, there is no indication of origin or date. The black metal also precludes any useful marks on the photo's back, so it's all guesswork when trying to identify the subjects or location.

The ferrotype photos were also impossible to reproduce, as the photo was its own negative so to speak. Some photographers did have cameras with multiple lens that could take up to twelve individual prints at a time, but these were still limited and not common in the early decades of photography.

A closeup gives us a better view of the keywork. The OTS instruments were fairly heavy and yet the practicality of playing one on the shoulder is not really surprising when we consider how common it was then for men to carry sacks of grain or wooden kegs on their shoulders.


The other challenge with ferrotypes is that they are generally very dark, even when considering the effects of time on the silver emulsion. This is an uncorrected image of an original tintype of a bandsman holding his bass saxhorn in a formal "stand at ease" position. 

The process for making ferrotype photographs was faster than with the older daguerreotype or ambrotype photos, but the chemical reaction with light did not produce very good contrast unless there was a lot of light. Some photographers arranged their subjects in faux studio rooms that were really taken outdoors in sunlight. The camera's exposure time still took too long to consider any kind of flash lighting. Fortunately we live in an age when anyone can digitally alter photo images, so here is my attempt at correcting the ferrotype's contrast and mirror image effect.

This man's uniform is much more elaborate than the style worn by the previous duo. The photographer has hand painted gold color on the bandman's fringed epaulets, buttons, belt buckle, and  cap badge, which I presume that cost extra. He certainly has an extravagant livery, especially with the feather plume on his shako and the braided cords draped under his shoulder bars, that looks like a dress uniform for an army regimental band. However in this era there were no regulations for military band uniforms. He might easily be a member of a state militia band, or a professional civilian band. My hunch is that he is a member of a military band, but which one, and where and when, is only a guess.

It's difficult to follow all the plumbing but I believe this is a B-flat OTS bass saxhorn with rotary valves. Since the photographer refrained from applying any gold color to the instrument, it may be made of German Silver, i.e. nickle silver, a copper alloy with nickel and often zinc. This silvery metal gave rise to the popularity in the 19th century of "Silver Cornet Bands."  The material is still used in manufacturing brass instruments today as it is superior, and less costly, to silver plate.

In the 19th century, the evolution of musical instruments, and music too, followed fashions determined by many factors. The older 18th century military bands used trumpets and horns without valves as they were not invented until the 1820s. Since early brass instruments lacked an ability to play a full chromatic range, they could only play simple tunes in a single key. Any complex melody was performed on woodwind instruments like flutes, oboes, and clarinets. The only marching bass instrument was the bassoon, which while agile enough to play in any key, it was not very loud. And it didn't like getting wet.

Composers from previous centuries had plenty of choices for treble, alto, and tenor sounds. But a powerful bass vibe  was really only available in pipe organs or achieved with a number of massed string basses or bassoons. None of which were very practical for a marching band.  In the 1840s, instrument makers took advantage of new machine tools and cheaper brass sheet, to invent a new kind of brass instrument that used a plumbing mechanism, either French piston or German rotary valves, to easily change the length of the instrument and thereby give it a complete set of chromatic pitches. This musical subset of the industrial revolution not only introduced the treble pitch of cornets into music, but also the bass pitch of tubas too. This was like adding a new color of sound to a composer's orchestration pallet, and the course of music was changed forever. The invention of modern brass band instruments created a new sonic texture that inspired composers like Berlioz, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mahler to expand the dynamic range of an orchestra.

Today we can't get enough. Everyone knows the visceral enthusiasm of cranking up the BASS. Yet it's an energy that took time to evolve and for musicians to modify and improve. The patent for the first tuba was granted in 1835 to a German makers,  Wilhelm Friedrich Wieprecht and Johann Gottfried Moritz. In 1845 Adolph Sax patented his consort of saxhorns in Paris, but his most successful instruments were his saxophones, which were a hybrid of conical brass and woodwind technology.

By the 1890s, the OTS saxhorns were out of favor, replaced by lighter piston valve brass instruments that were not as ungainly and whose bells pointed forward or upward. (Only the French horn retains the backward sounding bell.)  The Sousaphone, which descended from the older bass helicon, was not perfected until 1900 and still took decades before it became the dominant bass instrument of marching bands. Today a Sousaphone section might number 10, 12, or even 24 players or more. The forerunner of that impressive sound wave wall was the OTS bass saxhorns.

The sound of over-the-shoulder saxhorns may have been superseded by modern brass instrument designs, but it has not disappeared entirely. There are a number of small bands performing the music of saxhorn bands on period instruments. And in period costumes too. Here is a short video of a parade at the Gettysburg Remembrance Day in 2009. The band is the Federal City Brass Band playing Hail to The Chief to President Grant and then marching towards the camera. The OTS contrabass section leads the first rank of the band.



This second video from the same event in 2007
is longer and has three bands,
as well as President Grant too.
(Where exactly is he buried again?)
The first band uses the bell front and bell up instruments.
A fife and drum band follows,
and the Federal City Brass Band marches past at about 2:40



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
which always calls out the best in vintage photos.

Alte Kameraden

02 March 2018

Alte Kameraden auf dem Marsch durchs Land
Schließen Freundschaft felsenfest und treu.
Ob in Not oder in Gefahr,
Stets zusammen halten sie auf's neu.
Old comrades on the march through the country
Hold friendship rock solid and true.
Whether in need or in danger
Always together they keep it new.


Zur Attacke geht es Schlag auf Schlag,
Ruhm und Ehr soll bringen uns der Sieg,
Los, Kameraden, frisch wird geladen,
Das ist unsere Marschmusik.
During the attack, things happen fast,
Glory and honor will bring us victory,
Come, comrades, we shall reload,
This is our marching music.

Im Manöver zog das ganze Regiment
Ins Quartier zum nächsten Dorfhauselement
Und beim Wirte das Geflirte
Mit den Mädels und des Wirtes Töchterlein.
During maneuvers, the whole regiment
Took quarters in a nearby village
And at the inn we had a flirt
With the girls and the landlord's daughter.

Lachen scherzen, lachen scherzen, heute ist ja heut'
Morgen ist das ganze Regiment wer weiß wie weit.
Kameraden, ja das Scheiden ist nun einmal unser Los,
Darum nehmt das Glas zur Hand und wir rufen "Prost".
Laughing joking, laughing joking, today is today
Tomorrow the whole regiment will be
who knows how far away.
Comrades, that parting is truly now our fate
So take up the glass and we shout "Cheers".

Alter Wein gibt Jugendkraft;
Denn es schmeckt des Weines Lebenssaft.
Sind wir alt, das Herz bleibt jung
Und gewaltig die Erinnerung.
Old wine gives the strength of youth,
Because the taste of wine is the elixir of life.
Even if we are old, the heart stays young
And grand the memories.

Ob in Freude, ob in Not,
Bleiben wir getreu bis in den Tod.
Trinket aus und schenket ein
Und laßt uns alte Kameraden sein.
Whether in joy, whether in need,
We remain faithful unto death.
Drink up and pour again
And let's be old comrades.

Sind wir alt, das Herz bleibt jung,
Schwelgen in Erinnerung.
Trinket aus und schenket ein
Und laßt uns alte Kameraden sein.
Even if we are old, the heart stays young,
Delighting in memories.
Drink up and pour again
And let's be old comrades.

Lyrics to Alte Kameraden – Old Comrades
a popular military march
composed by German bandmaster Carl Teike
in 1889 in Ulm, Germany.

Ofner        Haas G.        Rommer        Petschka

Stracker Mathias

Stracker Karl                                         Fürst Benedikt

The postcard has no date
but the men wear
Austrian military band uniforms
from around 1914 or earlier.
The instruments of the seven musicians,
arranged on the ground in front of them,
include a bass helicon, a baritone tuba,
and several trumpets of different sizes.

And just to demonstrate that "comrades"
is a non-gender specific term,
here is an all-female brass quintet
Die Brassessoires
performing Alte Kameraden
at the Woodstock der Blasmusik 2012


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you can always find a friend.

A Medley of Violins

23 February 2018

It's not just a good photo.
It's a great photograph!
The clarity and definition are superb,
the result of a quality camera lens.
I know that mother and father were pleased
but I'm sure Daniel Y. Andre,
the photographer in Dixon, Illinois
was very proud to produce this quality of image.

This charming young girl is perhaps 10 or maybe 12 years old.
Holding her violin, her left fingers rest on the strings
while the bow in her right hand is ready for music.
Mr. Andre's camera has captured
the beautiful pattern in her gown
as well as the long ringlets of her hair.
But his real skill was balancing the light on her face
to give us a sense of her real character.

Her name was L. A. Garrison
which was written onto the back of her cabinet card.
Sadly this photo was made in the 1890s and
I can find no records for her or her family.

* * *

This second girl is
a couple years older, in her teens I think.
Her long wavy hair has no ringlets
but instead is tied back with two bows.
Her dress is similar to the Dixon girl
with ornate crochet work
and a long satin sash around her waist.
Her violin and bow is set in a proper playing posture,
but there is no weight, no tension in her hands,
so I don't think she is actually making any sound.

The photographer was Fritze Haase of Görlitz, Germany,
a city just on the border of Poland.
The girl stands gracefully just in front
of a sheepskin rug and a theatrical backdrop
that gives a crude illusion of wainscotting and bookshelf.
With her confident gaze into the camera,
she looks like an accomplished musician.
Sadly her musical dreams will soon be disrupted,
as her postcard was mailed on the 5th of June 1914.

* * *

This next violinist is older again by just a few years,
sixteen, maybe eighteen?
She strikes the same playing position
as the girl from
Görlitz, but her head is turned,
her eyes watching a hidden conductor
about to give the downbeat.

She also stands in front of a theatrical flat,
this one of a more artful interior if still crudely painted,
but with no sheepskin.
Her hair is carefully curled but pinned back.
The puffy shoulders of her white blouse
are a fashion of the late 1890s.
The photographer was Mr. Crain, Artist
of the Gem Studio
located at 1322 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, Washington.
The photo mount is small Cabinet Gem size, 3½ x 5¼,
just a bit larger than a cdv, which also dates from the 1890s.

* * *

Now another young lady looks to start her violin concert.
Her arms are a bit more relaxed than the Tacoma girl.
Her gaze is just to the right of the camera,
with just a hint of a sweet smile.
She is also age sixteen or eighteen,
to judge by her dress,from an earlier decade.
Her waist is tightly cinched
and her neck bound with a ribbon and lace collar.

We can not see her feet
because of the length of her dress.
But also the photographer's sheepskin,
or artificial grass, hides them too.
Behind her is another interior backdrop
showing faux wainscoting, coal fire,
and a decorative mantelpiece and mirror.
The photographer was C. M. Tuttle
of Sodus, New York,
a small town on Lake Ontario, just east of Rochester.
The gold scalloped edges on this cabinet card
were a new photo fashion from the mid-1880s.

* * *

My last violinist returns to a pose
not unlike the little girl of Dixon, IL.
However this young woman
displays eyes of a different kind for the camera.
Her fingers may be on the strings,
but her provocative glance seems intent
on playing more than just the violin.

The photographer was J. B. Scholl
of 210 State St., Chicago.
Mr. Scholl's studio had very good lighting
which he used with a simple gauze backdrop
to get a diaphanous effect on the woman's white gown.
The cabinet card's backstamp
claimed his successful specialty was the
Instantaneous Portraits of Children.
His initials J. B. S. were incorporated
into a design that showed he had exhibited in
Wien in 1873, Paris in 1880,
and also Berlin and Philadelphia.
His full name was John B. Scholl
and he was born in Illinois in 1857.

This violinist's name is written on the cabinet card's back.
She was Cora W. Dorman of Arcola, IL
G.F.C.    Apr. 1, 1891

In the 1880 census for Arcola, IL, which is a small town
about 175 miles south of Chicago,
Cora was the youngest daughter
of Solomon and Margaret Dorman.
Born in 1872 she was then the fourth of five children.
Her father was a furniture dealer
and her oldest sister was a teacher. 
In 1891, Cora was nineteen years old. 
Did her violin break a few heart strings too?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where recycling is a time honored tradition.


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