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 }

The Big Man's Band

08 December 2018

Music has always been a traditional way to greet guests.
In ancient times a European city would employ
musicians to welcome visitors from afar with a hearty fanfare.
And to make the best impression it was
played outdoorsloud and brassy by a wind band.
No doubt this big man's jovial smile and trumpet salute
was part of his city's famous hospitality.
He is Dicke Fritz ~ Fat Fritz.

Der „Dicke Fritz mit Capelle“
Gruss aus der Messe Frankurt a. M.

The Fat Fritz and Band
Greetings from the Fair Frankfurt on Main

What make's this postcard special is that it is one of the oldest in my collection with a postmark of 12/14 April 1898. It was sent from Frankfurt am Main, Germany to someone in Druten, Holland, a town in the Netherlands, east of Rotterdam.

The Messe is a celebrated trade fair of Frankfurt am Main that had been a feature of this city since medieval times. Now considered the world's largest event center, the Frankfurt Messe is owned by the City of Frankfurt and the German State of Hesse. It has 367,000 m² of exhibition hall area and more than 96,000 m² of free space and annually brings in about €661 million in business sales.

But in 1898 the center of the Messe was still held in Frankfurt's old city hall, the Römer, located in the Altstade. This three-story building complex offered 10,000 m² of exhibition space in nine connected houses that encircle six courtyards. I think Dicke Fritz and his band are standing at the Römer's main entrance.

* * *

Six years later Dicke Fritz and his band
were still welcoming visitors to Frankfurt.
He seems to have lost some weight
as his uniform hangs a bit looser.

Zur Feier der hundertsten Messe vom dicken Fritz
To celebrate the hundredth fair
from the fat Fritz

I'm not entirely sure if the caption means
Fritz is celebrating his 100th fair
or that he is celebrating the fair's 100th anniversary,
which seems strange as the fair had been around
since the 11th century.

In any case his postcard was postmarked
on 27/28 March 1904 to someone in Bern, Switzerland.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where sometimes life is a balancing act.

The American Woodmen Band of Louisville

01 December 2018

A drum major plays no instrument
yet still performs a special role in any band.
They lead the music and direct the marching
and command the attention of both bandsmen and audience.

With his tall bearskin hat in white fur,
elaborate military style dress coat,
and long signal baton,
this African-American man
strikes a conspicuous position
in the center of his band's photo.

The band's uniforms are more modest
but in a military style popular in the early 20th century.
On the far right is the music director
holding a black conductor's baton
and over his shoulder a satchel for the sheet music.

The instrumentation follows  a typical American town band setup
with mostly brass instruments and two clarinets.
One sousaphone covers the bass voice.
Six trombones handle the tenor line,
and likely occupied the band's front rank when marching.
Two mellophones and a euphonium played the alto parts.
and five cornets and trumpets, along with the two clarinets,
covered the treble melodies.

The bass drum tells us who they are
and where they were from.

First Battalion Band 

Louisville, KY

Twenty-one African-American bandsmen stand on the steps
of what looks like a public building.
It's a much faded and cracked photo
in large 8" x 10" format.

Just below the drum major's feet
the photographer has left a embossed logo.

Louisville, KY.

The photographer's location was easy to confirm as a Neighbors' Studio, 1113 West Walnut St. was listed in Louisville's business directories beginning in 1900 . It belonged to Jesse Robert Neighbors, an African-American professional photographer who was a native of Louisville born in 1876. The earliest listing in the city directory was as Neighbors Bros. presumably because Jesse first worked with a brother. But by 1910 it was just Neighbors' Studio.

Jesse R. Neighbors was married to Susie Neighbors and together they had five children, two sons and three daughters. As a black businessman he advertised in Louisville's newspaper for the colored community, The Louisville Leader, and operated his studio for about 30 years until around 1935. It must have provided him some success as he lived in a working class community that was a mix of both black and white families. Jesse Roberts Neighbors died in Louisville on April 4, 1940 at age 63.

Louisville KY Leader
17 March 1923

The name of the band presented a challenge to identify their organization. They obviously belonged to a fraternal type society with the emblem symbols of an axe and maul behinds the initials UR AW. I recognized these as signs of the Woodmen society, but what did the UR and First Battalion stand for?

The answer was found in the Louisville Leader.

Lexington KY Leader
06 October 1928

In the first week of October 1928 the Leader column named Colored Notes announced that Lexington, KY was hosting a convention of the American Woodmen. The opening session would be held at the Pleasant Green Baptist church. Prof. C. C. Trimble, district manager of the American Woodmen of Memphis, TN was in charge if the convention. Mrs. D. L. Clark, captain of the Green Cross Nurses of Lexington was secretary.

 On the Friday evening Dr. T. T. Wendell would deliver an address on "How Can the American Woodmen as a Society Help to Lower the Death Rate in This City and Community?" Sunday afternoon would be a special memorial hour. There was also a street parade starting from Second  and Deweese street, led by a 21 piece American Woodmen band and ladies uniform rank from Louisville.

_ _ _

The original Woodmen society was organized in 1883 in Lyons, IA as the Modern Woodmen of America ostensibly as a non-religious society accepting "Jew and Gentile, the  Catholic and Protestant, the agnostic and the atheist" yet it was only open for white men. Factional disputes in 1890 resulted in the formation of a rival society called the Woodmen of the World, ironically led by Joseph Root, the same man who established the Modern Woodmen, but it too prohibited black membership. Though both Woodmen organizations followed quasi-masonic rituals of fraternal orders like using a tree stump as an altar, carrying axes in parades, and promoting four cardinal virtues - hospitality, service, loyalty and protection, the two versions of Woodmen developed as a way of providing affordable insurance benefits for its members.

The first Modern Woodmen group began with quite restrictive rules for membership despite having no religious affiliation. Only white males between the ages of 18-45 who resided in the 12 "healthiest" states – Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas were accepted. Residents of large cities were excluded, as well as men employed in certain professions such as railway workers, underground miners, gunpowder factory workers, liquor manufacturers, saloon keepers, sailors, and professional baseball players.

In 1901 another rival group was formed in Denver called the American Woodmen that initially started as an imitation of the other white Woodman groups. But early on it was somehow taken over by black members who wanted to create a benevolent society that could provide various life insurance, annuity, and investment products to African-American communities who were then denied coverage by most of the nation's underwriters.

At the beginning of the 20th century black Americans all around the country, not just in the South, faced discrimination and segregation at every level of American society. Organizations like the American Woodmen developed as a way of building a structure for mutual aid that could support and protect black families from financial hardship. But unlike the white Woodmen societies, membership in the AW was open to both men and women. By the 1920s the AW claimed it was the largest fraternal benevolent organization for African-Americans.

Camp Nicholas Biddle 4th District Encampment of
American Woodmen Uniform Ranks
Major General Jno. L. Jones Commanding
July 28 - Aug. 2, 1924
Source: University of Kentucky Library
The initials UR on the drum head stand for Uniform Ranks which was a special sub-set chapter of the American Woodmen. The same term was used by other fraternal societies to describe lodges that dressed in pseudo-military uniforms and enjoyed marching in formation. For example the Knights of Pythias, which had parallel chapters for African-Americans, wore elaborate uniforms with feathered hats, shoulder boards, braids, and swords — lots and lots of swords. In the 19th and early 20th century there was big money to be made selling fraternal society regalia.

In the summer of 1924 Louisville hosted the district encampment of the American Woodmen Uniform Ranks. For this convention hundreds of black men and women from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio traveled to Louisville for this event. A panoramic photograph was taken, possibly by Jesse Neighbors, of the assembled American Woodmen Uniform Ranks. I've enlarged two sections of it and improved the contrast.

Seated on the ground in the front center are young boys wearing a kind of scout uniform. Behind them are some female members, maybe they referred to themselves as Woodwomen, but they are proudly wearing a soldier or policeman style dress coat with a sword belted at their side. Behind them is a row of nurses that I believe were called Green Cross nurses. This was an public health service that came from Europe in the Great War, where women trained in practical nursing to assist soldiers with eating, bathing, and wound dressings to free regular nurses for more urgent medical tasks. The Green Cross idea came back to America and was adapted by the American Woodmen as another way to improve health care for the African-American community.

Many fraternal societies called their annual conventions an "encampment", a military term held over from the Civil War. In 1924 the location of this event in Louisville, KY was called the Camp Nicholas Biddle. I can't believe this place was named after Nicholas Biddle (1786 – 1844), a Philadelphia financier who was president of the Second Bank of the United States during the administrations of Presidents Monroe, Quincy Adams, and Jackson. I think it commemorates a former slave named Nicholas Biddle who was credited as being "the first man wounded in the Great American Rebellion, Baltimore, April 18,1861." Born a slave in 1796 Biddle escaped to freedom in Pennsylvania via the Underground Railroad. He may possibly have worked as a servant for the banker Nicholas Biddle, but more likely only adopted the famous man's name. In 1861 Biddle was an orderly for a Union army officer in the Washington Artillery of Pottsville, PA. This unit was part of the first Pennsylvania volunteers who answered the call to defend the nation's capital in 1861. As they traveled to Washington, D.C. they were assaulted in Baltimore by Confederate sympathizers and Nicholas Biddle, who was dressed in a Union uniform, sustained serious wounds. After reaching Washington they were met by President Lincoln who met Biddle and was impressed by his courage. When Biddle died in 1876 he was penniless but veterans of the Washington Artillery and the National Light Infantry raised money for his funeral and burial in a Pottsville cemetery. It's a history very deserving and appropriate for the American Woodmen to honor.

The URAW was led by Major General John L. Jones, who was instrumental in the 1920s in recruiting many lodges of Uniform Ranks for the American Woodmen. Of course his major general rank was a pseudo-military title of leadership used within the society, though it's possible he may have served in the US Army during WW1 or even in the brief Spanish-American War, but certainly not as a general officer.


On the far left of the photo is another band. This one is identified on the bass drum as the Chattanooga American Woodman No.3 Band. It's smaller than the Louisville band with only 13 musicians. Don't ask me how the snare drummer plays with his drum attached so high on his chest.

{click any photo to enlarge}

4th District Encampment of
American Woodmen Uniform Ranks
July 28 - Aug. 2, 1924
Source: University of Kentucky Library
The full photo shows the American Woodmen posed on bleachers at a Louisville sports field, all dressed in uniforms. There are a great number of swords but no axes, which were a special bit of Woodmen accoutrement. All the Woodmen fraternal societies, black and white, conducted field events in precision drill marching. Google Books offers a manual from 1907 entitled Official Drill and Equipment Regulations: Uniform Rank, Woodmen of the World  which illustrates suitable exercises with axes, all following standard infantry training but without rifles. (If you look very closely in the photo at the insignia on some uniform collars you will see the crossed axe and maul symbols of the Woodmen.)

1907 Official Drill and Equipment Regulations:
Uniform Rank, Woodmen of the World
Source: Google Books

The few reports on this American Woodman event in 1924 don't mention any band from the Louisville Woodmen, so I suspect my photo is from later, perhaps 1928 when the URAW encampment was held in Lexington, KY.

Trying to work out this forgotten history of an obscure group, I wondered if the address of the American Woodmen lodge in Louisville might offer a clue as to where the photo of the band was taken. Sadly time has turned that location into a parking lot for a commercial building. But it sparked a search for other public places that mentioned in Louisville's negro press. Perhaps a church? A school? Maybe the YMCA?

It was while doing a virtual stroll in Google maps around Louisville's Chestnut St. Family YMCA that I stumbled on the steps, figuratively speaking, after noticing the globe shaped light posts at the Western Branch Free Public Library on S. 10th and W. Chestnut. The two fixtures are a little different, but the placement on either side of the door is the same. More importantly the doorway, windows and brick work is identical. I'm convinced that this was where the URAW band's photo was taken, and the proof I believe lies in the history of the library.

The building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Louisville, KY, and was once called the Western Colored Branch Library. The first library opened in 1905 using rooms at a nearby private home, but in 1908 a new building was constructed with funds donated by the Scottish businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. His vision for public education created 2,509 Carnegie libraries around the world, with 1,689 built in the United States. In 1908 the Western Colored Branch became the first free public library for African-Americans in the South. It was recently restored in 2012 and remains an important and valuable part of Louisville's African-American community. I suspect that the black musicians of the American Woodmen band took a special interest in this library and that the decision to stand on its steps was a point of pride.

And if we look closely at the sign on the door,
and with a little digital enhancement,
I think the fuzzy letters read

The American Woodmen Uniform Rank peaked in membership in the late 1920s. Tragically it was also a time when the Klu Klux Klan marched enmasse on the streets of Washington and the evil of lynching was still prevalent in many parts of America. In the 1930s the Great Depression put financial burdens on many fraternal benevolent organizations. and in the 1940s another Great War added more anxiety. Then in the 1950s and 60s the Civil Rights movement brought more stress on African-American communities. The nation changed and mutual aid insurance did too. The American Woodmen are no longer active, though some of its resources were taken over by another insurance company.

But what impresses me about this 1920s photo of the URAW band and the history hidden behind it, is the importance African-Americans placed on community organizing. The American Woodmen represented an aspiration of a people who valued education and took pride in professionalism. And of course there is the way live music was once a part of many community activities. Even precision marching with an axe.

According to the Wikipedia page on the Assured Life Association, formerly Woodmen of the World, the American Woodmen referred to its members as "neighbors."  It's a very egalitarian term and surely it is no coincidence that Jesse R. Neighbors of Neighbors' Studio in Louisville took the photo. I think it very likely he was wearing his American Woodman uniform when he looked into the camera viewer and snapped the shutter.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
ssshh!  This is a library!

The Music of Bricks and Mortar

23 November 2018

Bricks and mortar.
It's still a common phrase
for a physical building,
even though the construction industry
now relies on many more engineered materials
than just bricks, blocks, and stone to build structures.

But a hundred years ago
one of the principal skilled trades
that helped build modern America
was that of the bricklayer.
It was work that required
specialist knowledge of construction methods,
mathematical calculations, and stamina.
Lots of stamina.

In fact the ancient tools of a mason,
the compass and the square,
became the symbols of Freemasonry,
a fraternal society which originated
in part from the medieval craft guilds of stonemasons.

However those first masons did not use any musical tools
like the tuba, clarinet, or cornet in their guilds order.
But these brickies from
Pennsylvania certainly did.

They are the
Bricklayers Band
of the Bethlehems PA. Union No. 8.

This large photo about 4" by 10"
shows 26 men dressed in a simple uniform
of white duck trousers, white shirt and broad cap
standing on a brick sidewalk and portico
and holding various wind band instruments.
The plural Bethlehems on the bass drum head
refers to the collective townships
of Bethlehem, South Bethlehem, and West Bethlehem,
which are divided by the Lehigh River and Monocacy Creek.
In 1917 they merged into the singular community of Bethlehem, PA.
This wonderful birds-eye view map of Bethlehems
from the Library of Congress archives was made in 1878
and shows off dozens of major structures -
churches, banks, factories, and homes,
all made of brick and stone.

1878 Birds-eye view of Bethlehems, PA

Except for the bass drum, the photo is unmarked. But the name and place of the band was enough to quickly find it in the October 1912 edition of The Bricklayer Mason and Plasterer, the aptly named official journal of  the Bricklayers, Masons, and Plasterers International Union of America.  This trade union was formed in 1865 and is the oldest labor organization in North America as it also represents Canadian workers hence the "international union" label. In 1912 its journal included sections written in French, Italian, and German, the later printed in the old Fraktur typeface.

October 1912 The Bricklayer, Mason, and Plasterer
Source: Google Books

Subtitled "An Illustrated Monthly" the Bricklayer, Mason, and Plasterer was filled with dense reports on union affairs; lengthy lists of building contracts; numerous ads for levels and trowels; admonishments to Smoke Union Made Cigars and Tobacco; and a surprising number of photos.

_ _ _

August 1912 The Bricklayer, Mason, and Plasterer
Source: Google Books

In 1912 bricklayers were evidently suspicious of concrete construction, as this "new" engineering was considered inferior to fireproof brick and susceptible to catastrophic failure. Every month the journal reported on building collapses with photos of cracked or disintegrating concrete. Interestingly in 1912 the journal also reported on the finishing work on the Woolworth Building in New York City. With 57 floors and a height of 792 feet it was the tallest building in the world from 1913 to 1930. It required an enormous number of bricks.

_ _ _

But my real reason for reading through an old trade union journal was found on page 248 in the journal's "mail bag" section. It is a copy of the identical photo, captioned Bricklayers' Band, Union No. 8 Pa.  A letter accompanies the image:

October 1912 The Bricklayer, Mason, and Plasterer
Source: Google Books

No. 8 Pa. Takes Part in Labor Day Parade.

The Bricklayer, Mason and Plasterer:
     Under another cover we are sending you a photograph of the Bricklayers' Band of Union No. 8 Pa., which made its first public appearance on Labor Day, accompanied by about 130 members of the union. We proceeded to Bangor,  Pa., on two special cars to take part in the Four Cities Labor Day parade.
    Our Bricklayers' Band was organized May 8, 1911, and under the leadership of our worthy vice-president, Brither Steyers, it has become a grand success.
    With best wishes to one and all, I remain,   
    Yours fraternally,
      Emery Haney,
      Secretary No. 8 Pa.
      Bethlehem, Pa., Septermber 29, 1912

* * *

The Bricklayers' Union Band of Bethlehems had a short life to judge by the absence of any reports of the band in Pennsylvania newspapers after 1917. As the war years disrupted so much of American manufacturing and industry, employment for bricklayers probably became too challenging for the union to keep up its musical subsection.

Laying long repetitive courses of brick is hard methodical work. The sound of tapping bricks and slapping mortar into place is actually quite a rhythmic skill that trains the ear for a steady tempo. So did bricklayers whistle while they worked?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone needs another brick in the wall.

Charming the Snook

16 November 2018

Cocking a Snook.
Five pretty fingers times four.
Is it a tease? Is it a taunt?
Even with four smiles
we can't be sure.
Is it flirtatious sport or something worse?

Voila ce que vous me faites.
Cela vous Sera rendu
mais pas par moi.

je Souffre


That's what you do to me.
It will be returned
to you but not by me.

I am suffering


_ _ _

From left to right:
Miss Mac Sprit    Miss Haslam   Miss Cairns   Miss Wood

photo by Walery  - Paris

Wriggling the fingers with thumb to the nose is a gesture not seen much anymore, certainly not on my side of the Atlantic. For extra emphasis two hands may be used. It's called Cocking a Snook and is not intended as a nice thing. Traditionally it's associated with English customs as a signal of derision, usually made by annoying children. The internet has little to report on the origin of the phrase or the sign language. Perhaps the smiles of the four young women making this rude salute should temper our interpretation as being more on the coquettish side of expressions. Certainly the sender of this postcard has his or her own meaning for cocking a snook.

Their postcard was sent from Geneva, Switzerland
on 12 October 1902
To Mademoiselle Louise Berlhalch(?).
But the card did not originate in Geneva but in Paris.
Hidden in the upper right cornet of the postcard is a small logo:
Alcazar d'Été

The Alcazar d'Été was a café-concert, a French version of the music hall and similar to a cabaret. It was located on the Champs-Élysées in Paris behind the Élysée Palace. It was a popular Parisian venue for many 19th century and early 20th century entertainers, mainly vocalists. It closed in 1914.

Miss Haslam at the Alcazar d'Été
Presumably these four ladies were British singers and dancers on its stage in 1902  Miss Haslam posed for a solo portrait which I suspect was taken on the same occasion by the Walery studio. Here she chooses a more discrete pose, though still showing off an ankle. Did she and her companions sing in French or English? What exactly did they mean by cocking a snook?

Joseph Stalin - Cocking a Snook
Source: Wikipedia

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone has a thing to fling.

The Faceless Statistics of War

10 November 2018

Tomorrow, November 11, 2018 will mark the 100th year since the end of World War I. Here in the United States it was originally designated  in 1919 as Armistice Day by President Woodrow Wilson and ever since November 11 has become "a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace." In 1954 it was changed to Veterans Day so it could honor the veterans of all wars. Since 1918 those veterans have served American in 30 foreign wars and conflicts. In truth the United States still remains a nation at war, with combat troops serving in many troubled places around the globe.

Yet the casualty statistics of the Great War of 1914-1918 were truly staggering numbers that rapidly exceeded the human cost of wars in previous decades. As the war progressed every nation at war formed special bureaucratic offices to handle the public relations  necessary to sustain the war effort through these difficult times. As victors the allied propaganda still remains part of our societal consciousness, but Germany has evolved much more dramatically through two great wars. So it was surprising to discover this small bit of German ephemera – a postcard with the Great War's statistics from the German perspective of 1917.

_ _ _

AlleRechte vorbehalten. Nachdruck nur mit Genehmigung des Verlags. Gesetzlich geschütz.
All rights reserved. Reproduction only with the permission of the publisher. Protected by law.

Deutschlands Erfolge zu Lande  am Ende des dritten Kriegsjahres
(Hinzu kommen die Erfloge sit August 1917.)

 Germany's successes on land at the end of the third year of the war
(Added to this are the accomplishments of August 1917)
Gefangene   (ausschließlich der seit August 1917 gemachten Gefangenen)
Prisoners   (excluding prisoners taken since August 1917)

Über 3 Millionen Mann
(darunter 28755 Offiziere, ungefähr die Gesamteinwohnerzahl der Schweiz.)
Over 3 million men
(including 28,755 officers, approximately the total population of Switzerland)

        Russen . .           9, 500,000  . . .   Russian
        Franzosen . .     4,400,000    . . .  French
        Engländer . .     1,600,000    . . .  English
        Italiener . . .      1,600, 000   . . .   Italian
       Belgier, Serben                                Belgian, Serbian
       und Rumänen 
   1,040,000    . . .  and Romanian

(Ungefähr so viel wie die Gesamteinwohnerzahl Belgiens, Hollands, und der Schweiz.)
(about as much as the total population of Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland.)

Tote und Verwundete (ausschließlich der seit August 1917 hinzugekommenen Verluste):
Dead and wounded (excluding the losses added since August 1917):
12,156  Geschütze ~ Guns
8, 353 Maschinengewehre ~ machine guns

Geschütze (ausschließlich der seit August 1917 in Italien und Rußland
hinzugekommenen Geschützte und Maschinengewehre):

Guns (excluding guns and machine guns added in Italy and Russia
since August 1917)

Von Deutschland besetztes feindliches Gebiet am 17 August 1917:
555,500 qkm ~
sq km
Hostile territory occupied by Germany on 17 August 1917:
Hinzu kommt noch das seit dem 1 Aug 1917 besetzte Gebiet in Italien und Rußland
In addition there is the area occupied since 1 Aug 1917 in Italy and Russia

Das Deutsche Reich mißt: 540,800 qkm.
The German Reich measures 540,800 square kilometers.
Von den Feinden zur Zeit noch besetztes Gebiet in Europa:
900 qkm im Elsaß.

By the enemies at the time still occupied territory in Europe:
900 square kilometers in in Alsace

Die Gesamtzahl der erbeuteten Geschütze ist ungefähr 12 mal so groß
als die Zahl der gesamten amerik. Geschütze bei Ausbruch des Krieges.
The total number of captured guns is about 12 times greater
than the total number of American guns at the outbreak of war..

The numbers were doubtlessly intended to impress rather than horrify. Numbers to demonstrate the power of the military to protect a besieged people and defeat a multitude of enemies. Numbers of breathtaking size to quell any misapprehension of the German war effort.

This pocket guide to the war was prepared by author O. Schulze, and published by H. M. Hauschild, of Bremen.(The company was established in 1855 and endured the turbulent 20th century to succumb to bankruptcy in 2013)

In the message space on the back of the postcard is a note in purple pencil. I can't make out the first words, but the last are clear.

von Welt Kreig
from World War
1914 - 1918

_ _ _

Today the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany or Bundesrepublik Deutschland covers just 357,021 km² (137,847 sq mi) a consequence of both the first and second World Wars. But in 1917 when this postcard was published the German Empire was much larger. The static war of Germany's Western Front in France was not how the war was fought in the east against Russia where the Germans engaged in battles of mobility across what is now Poland and Ukraine. With Germany's ally, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, the Eastern Front stretched roughly 1,600 miles from the Baltic to the Black Sea. By contrast the line of trenches on the Western Front covered only 440 miles from the North Sea to the Swiss border. And where the allied forces in France suffered a loss of 7,500,000 men between August 1914 and November 11, 1918, Russia and its ally Romania fighting in the East against the Germans, Austrians, and Turks sustained 9,900,000 casualties. It is disturbing that those numbers are frighteningly similar to the exaggerated statistics on this propaganda postcard.

The number that I found most incredible was 3,000,000 prisoners. Very soon after the start of the war, Germany's push through Belgium and early success on the Eastern Front produced huge numbers of captured Belgian and Russian soldiers. By the war's end in 1918 there were  2,415,000 prisoners held in camps all across Germany. This map shows the principal POW camps of WW1 scattered around Germany as small red dots.

Prisoner of War Camps
in Germany
Source: The Internet

It is very difficult to comprehend just how large that number is within the much larger statistics of the Great War. By way of example here is a group photo of a single barrack at the POW Camp in Göttingen, a university town almost in the center of Germany. Pressed together shoulder to shoulder are ± 111 men, all soldiers of Belgium, France, and Russia. Removed from the war, they were at least safe from death in battle, but nevertheless they still endured guilt at their own survival; sorrow for their fallen comrades; and anger at their impotence to have any further purpose in the war.

It's important to have human faces to remember when we encounter numbers tragic beyond measure. To look into a soldier's eyes that have seen horrible things we can not know is perhaps one way to honor the sacrifice our veterans made for us.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where photos become monuments to history.

The Breeches Role

03 November 2018

“Clothes make a man.”

It's supposedly a very old proverb,
but I prefer the longer quote
from Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain.

“Clothes make the man.
Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

It has always been the case that
what a person wears defines how they will be perceived by others.
And in the world of show business it is especially true for entertainers.
For this female pianist, head turned toward the camera,
fingers poised over the keyboard,
her clothing of fancy neckerchief, ruffed collars,
smart tailcoat, and satin breeches
certainly prove that clothes do in fact make her the man.

Here is another example.
This looks like a handsome couple
but they are of the same sex,
as the gent with the top hat is actually a woman.

This next woman in a thoughtful pose
is also dressed as a man.
The key masculine garb are her breeches,
the short pants that were once the elegant mark
of a fashionable gentleman.

* * *

The first woman's photo is on a French postcard with a caption:
Rosine Damande,
Original Chanteuse, Diseuse au Piano.
Original singer, (dramatic)
monologuist and piano.

The postcard was never mailed and is unmarked
but it likely dates from 1910-1914.
The photographer left his stamp on the back:
Louis Martin, 52 Faubourg Saint-Martin, Paris.
Another clue that this is a French singer/pianist
is the ornately carved music stand above the keyboard.
It is a Pleyel piano, a celebrated French piano manufacturer
founded in Paris in 1807 by the composer Ignace Pleyel.
It was the favorite instrument of Frédéric Chopin,
who may be the 19th century pianist
Rosine Damande is dressed to resemble.

 * * *

The second postcard is of a pair female entertainers.

Ella und Leni Dejon
jugenl.(ich) Gesangs-Duett
Youthful Vocal Duet

They are two sisters pictured in
three small photo images surrounded
by an Art Nouveau style frame.
In the center the pair wear suitably feminine dresses
with embroidered decoration and curious berets,
perhaps an indication of French background,
maybe from the Alsace-Lorraine region
which was part of Germany from 1870 to 1918.
On either side they are dressed as a couple.
Presumably Ella is the shy girl on the left
and Leni is her attentive beau with top hat and then straw boater
who wears knee length breeches in both. 

The postcard was sent from Mainz
to Frankfurt am Main in 1908.

* * *

The third image come from a German postcard captioned:

Anny Köster, weibl.(ich) Humorist
Female Humorist

Pictured in two small photos, seated and standing,
Anny's costume is very similar to Rosine's,
with a ruffled cravat, tailcoat, and short breeches.
The round object Anny holds is a cap, I think,
possibly one like those worn
by male university students in Germany. 
The music halls of Germany and Austria
provided a very large circuit
for traveling theatrical entertainers
who produced thousands of promotional postcards.
But the way
Anny Köster chose to appear in a man's wardrobe
was probably a way to stand out as a female
as the majority of German comics were men.
Since many of these humorists often included
comic songs and musical instruments,
I suspect that they were part of Anny's performance too.

This postcard was also sent for Frankfurt
but this time posted from Leipzig on 14 July 1911.

Entertainers in our century dress appropriately for their music and their audience's expectation. A country and western singer must wear a cowboy hat, even if they've never ridden a horse or milked a cow. A rock band must appear in torn jeans and ragged tee shirt, even after years of success have made them millionaires. And in my closet are the uniforms of an orchestra musician: white tie with black tail coat and a formal black tie tuxedo. Though I wouldn't wear either livery around the house or out for an errand to the supermarket, when you are on stage this fashion left over from the 19th century does make you feel like a proper musical artist.

But in the 1900s the female entertainers pictured on these postcards followed different social constraints and unwritten rules on proper dress. Trousers and pant suits were not suitable for women's ordinary wear in public or private. These women were indulging in the freedom of the stage to assume the Breeches Role, a theatrical contrivance mainly associated with opera when a woman dons "breeches", a gentleman's knee pants, to portray a man. Mozart's Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, or Octavian in Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier are two of the most famous examples of a Breeches Role, sometimes called Trouser Role. A female singer plays a male character, purposely scored for an alto or mezzo voice. The audience knows the artist is a woman, but suspends disbelief to watch her rendition of a man. It's vaguely similar to transvestite cross-dressing but in the 1900s the breeches had a different connotation. It would be wrong for our modern eyes to interpret any sexual orientation to these performers. It was just play acting.

So do clothes really make the man?
Or does it require a woman's touch?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday 
Click the link for more grand stories about pianos and bears.


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