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 }

Vibrato Hair

08 June 2018

We see this kind of image all the time,
a man with long wavy hair
dressed in formal white tie and tails
contemplates the universe
while sitting on rocks by the seaside.
He's promoting a romantic notion
but what is he really selling?

And how do we interpret this mop topped fellow
dressed in a dinner jacket with an enormous black tie

as he aims his bow for the low G on his violin.
Sure, he's a dreamy guy
but what's his sales pitch?
Cologne? Luxury cars?
Life insurance?

Then there's this tousled hair chap
going for the high notes on his fiddle.
He's looking straight at you.
There's a hint of a smile
beneath his mustache.
What does he really want?

The first violinist is on a postcard captioned:

S. Rigo
Modernster aller Dirigenten
Most modern of all conductors

Most conductors today would hide their instrument,
but evidently Herr S. Rigo, violinist,
wants us to know he is a performer as well as music director.
I think he's made a surprisingly modern image for a musician
that could easily be from the 1970s, 80s, or even 2000s.
Except it was taken in 1911.

His postcard was mailed from Mannheim, Germany
on 17 October 1911
to Fräulein Helene Dehm
of some place in Württemberg (?)

* * *

The second violinist uses a very minimal caption:

Ota Gygi

His debonair picture was sent from Freiburg im Breisgau,
a city in Baden-Württemberg, Germany,
and postmarked 6 April 1910.
His animated pose is quite unusual
for a violinist's promotional photo
of this pre-WW1 era.

Ota Gygi was born in Russia in 1890 and studied music in Germany. According to a 1919 article in The National magazine, in August 1914 he was living in Berlin at the outbreak of war and arrested by German authorities as an enemy alien. He spent three months imprisoned in the Ruhleben Internment Camp before gaining release. With the aid of the American ambassador to Germany, he secured a U.S. passport and escaped to the USA, which was then still a neutral country in the conflict. In 1912 Ota Gygi had made a concert tour of America which persuaded him to immigrate even before the war.  In April 2016 I wrote a story entitled The Role of a Lifetime  about the music at the Ruhleben civilian detention camp where Gygi was held.

The National magazine
December 1919 p 493

The National magazine
December 1919 p 495

Ota Gygy was quite the self-promoter and in 1933 he originated the idea to develop the Amalgamated Broadcasting System (ABS) radio system with American comedian Ed Wynn. The company assembled 15 affiliate radio stations in the Northeast but could not compete with the two major radio systems, NBC and CBS. The ABS network lasted only five weeks before its creditors forced it into involuntary bankruptcy. In 1934 and 1936 Gygi tried unsuccessfully to organize another broadcasting company, but when Ed Wynn was asked if he would make another attempt at building a radio network, his reply was: "Never again. My business is to make people laugh, not to make myself feel like crying."

Ota Gygi died in Illinois in 1959.

* * *

The image of the third violinist comes from a postcard labeled:

Josef Kysilka, Violin-Virtuose

genannt: Mister Meschuggem, die große Bombe
called Mister Crazy, the big bomb.

Though we can't know what his act was exactly,
his long hair and wild eyes,
combined with a 19th century frock coat,
suggests he was a comic musician,
perhaps a one-liner comedian like Henny Youngman
who used his violin as a prop to tell jokes.

This postcard was sent from Frankfurt am Main
on 29 September 1912.

In today's world of advertising
we endure a relentless daily assault of imagery
that tries desperately to attract our attention
for just a few seconds of our consideration.
Yet once upon a time such images
were fresh and original,
like these three portraits of violinists.
They were only trying to sell themselves.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the tide waits for no man.

Mr. Draper's Children's Home Band of of Des Moines, Washington

02 June 2018

What does music teach a child?
The fun of making noise of course
by using the vocabulary of

the universal language of musical pitch.

 The game rules for recognizing patterns and order
in the
arithmetic of rhythm.
 And the discovery that self-discipline and teamwork
offer a lifetime of rewards.
But at its core music is also about learning love.
A love of beauty; a devotion to friendship;
and a joy in expressing emotions through sound.

This is a story about how one man taught children those basics of music and love. He's standing on the right in the image above. His name is Herman Mainard Draper. Next to him are his 16 foster children arranged in marching formation for a concert of their brass band. The caption tells us where, when, and who they are. 

The Jolly Entertainers
Children's Industrial Home
Des Moines, Wash
Taken at Soldier' Home, Orting, WN. Sat. May, 14, 1910

I introduced this little band and their teacher, Mr. H. M. Draper, in a story two weeks ago entitled The Children's Home Band of Des Moines, Washington when 21 children were balanced atop a very precarious rock. That postcard of the children's home band was taken in 1925 during a grand tour of America that covered 14,000 miles of travel in two small buses and lasted 18 months. 

Who would undertake such an ambitious adventure with 21 kids even for a couple of weeks? It sounds like a kind of perpetual summer kids camp, or a never-ending family road trip. What motivated Herman M. Draper, the so-called superintendent of his own private orphanage, to embark on such a trip?

He was born in Ontario, Canada in 1857, one of eight children of a Methodist minister, Reverend and Mrs. Elisha Draper. Herman's talent for music took him to the Boston Conservatory of Music and later Brooklyn and London to master the art of a vocal method called the Tonic Sol-Fa system or Solfège which uses syllables for the musical scale pitches, i.e. Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti. He became a fervent advocate for its use in music education, believing that all children could easily comprehend it as a way to enjoy singing. In 1888 Draper got his start teaching music in Nebraska, first in Seward and then Kearney, where he organized boys bands, school orchestras, and vocal choirs. In 1897 he moved his family to Michigan's copper mining region where he set up a music store and gave music lessons on piano, voice and string instruments.

In 1878 he had married a Canadian woman, Annie Pacey with whom he had three children, Harry (born 1880), Cecil (1883) and Edith M. (1893) whose nickname was "Birdie".  She is pictured in the center of this next postcard image.

Hartel   Birdie and Papa   Doloros
Phillis        Mike        Maggie        Gudrun

Of the seven children, Birdie/Edith was actually the only one whose mother still lived. The other boys and girls now belonged to the extended Draper family that in 1907 moved to Seattle, WA from Michigan where Draper had been employed since 1903 as superintendent of the Good Will Farm and Home Finding Association in Houghton, MI. This institution took care of 45 children on a 57 acre farm and was deep in debt when Draper took over. Over the next few years he turned things around, eliminating the debt, adding a new building at a cost of $8,000, and making other improvements valued at $1,200. These included buying a knitting machine and small printing press which Draper used to teach his wards a useful trade. But his primary emphasis was musical training. He organized a brass band for the kids which played benefit concerts around the region to raise funds for the farm.

Despite his success, superintendent H. M. Draper had strong differences with the governors of the Good Will  Farm. In early 1906 shortly after a fire destroyed a building on the farm he resigned as he disapproved of the institution's rules for accepting children. Yet somehow he continued to work with the children's band and conceived an idea to take 21 of his wards to the Pacific Northwest which he had visited in 1900. He bought a truck for this purpose and converted it into a kind of motor home. It was 26 feet long, equipped for sleeping and cooking, and powered by a 24 hp engine. Draper publicized his project with concerts by the children's band and expected the journey would take several months. Naturally the governors of the farm were alarmed and took steps to stop it. Draper returned most of the children but still managed to take six with him to Seattle where he proposed to set up a new private orphanage.

Seattle Sunday Times
21 June 1908
Those same children were pictured in a Seattle Sunday Times report in June 1908 when Mr. and Mrs. H. M. Draper announced plans to move their children's home from the Ballard community of Seattle to Des Moines, WA, a small village on Puget Sound named by its first settlers after the much larger Des Moines, Iowa. At the time they had 12 children in their care, and had purchased a former hotel in Des Moines which had 28 rooms and eight lots for a playground and other activities. The intention was that the children would live there while attending the local public school. The Drapers still owed $3,500 on the property but Superintendent Draper was insistent that the children's home would be self sustaining. He secured a printing press to teach the children the printing trade, produce souvenir postcards, and do commercial work for local businesses. Draper also planned to raise funds from performances of the children's band, The Jolly Entertainers. Quoted in the newspaper, we can hear in his words a strong commitment to child welfare and a kind of progressive idealism.

"We are heartily in sympathy with the work of the many homes that are soliciting money for the care of young and helpless children, and gifts to these institutions cannot possibly go to a better cause; but ours is distinctly different proposition.

"Children ten to fifteen years of age, and many still younger, feel keenly the sting of 'pauper,' and it is our purpose to keep our home on a self-supporting basis and make a home for children that is a home in the highest sense of the word. A home with love and comfort; a home with culture and refinement; a home from which they can go out prepared to fight the battles of life, and be welcomed into the best society and be a benefit to the world."

Two years later the 1910 census recorded the progress Draper's orphanage had made.  

  1. Draper, Mainard – Head, M, W, age 52, Canada – Superintendent, Orphan's Home
  2. Draper, Annie H. –Wife, F, W, age 49, Canada – Matron, Orphan's Home
  3. Sawyer, Lloyd – Ward, M, W, S, age 17, Iowa – Printer, at-the-Home
  4. Erickson, Delores M.C. – Ward, F, W, age 15, Michigan – Housekeeper, at-the-Home
  5. Erickson, Gudrun A. – Ward, F, W, age 13, Michigan – Musician, Home Band
  6. Erickson, Phillis M. – Ward, F, W, age 12, Michigan – Musician, Home Band
  7. Stitt, Corda F. – Ward, F, W, age 14,  Oregon – Musician, Home Band
  8. Stitt, Thomas L. – Ward, M, W, age 11, Oregon – Choirboy, at-the-Home
  9. Stitt, Ivy C. – Ward, F, W, age 9, Washington – Musician, Home Band
  10. Stitt, Neva B. – Ward, F, W, age 7, Washington – Musician, Home Band
  11. Heede, Bourck, Henry – Ward, M, W, age 15, Minnesota – Printer, at-the-Home
  12. Guglielmo, Mike – Ward, M, W, age 14, Michigan – Printer, at-the-Home
  13. Guglielmo, Maggie – Ward, F, W, age 13, Michigan – Musician, Home Band
  14. Eaton, Max –Ward, – Ward, M, W, age 14, Kansas – Printer, at-the-Home
  15. Edmondes, Harold – Ward, M, W, age 12, Oklahoma – Printer, at-the-Home
  16. Sheridan, Francis E. – Ward, F, W, age 10, California – Choirboy, at-the-Home
  17. Ramsdell, Lena M. – Ward, F, W, age 16, California – None
  18. Ramsdell, Alfred C. – Ward, M, W, age 8, California – None
  19. Gippe, Esther M. – Ward, F, W, age 10, North Dakota – Musician, Home Band
  20. Gippe, Lawrence V. – Ward, M, W, age 8, North Dakota – Musician, Home Band
  21. James, Julia G. – Ward, F, W, age 9, Colorado – None
  22. James, Alice M. – Ward, F, W, age 6, Colorado – None
  23. James, Amelia – Ward, F, W, age 4, Colorado – None
  24. Snyder, Leslie – Ward, M, W, age 8, Washington – Musician, Home Band
  25. Hall, Eudora – Ward, F, W, age 7, Oklahoma – Musician, Home Band
  26. Walker, Lowell – Ward, M, W, age 5, Washington – None
  27. Draper, Elisha – Father, M, W, age 85, Canada – None
  28. Fraser, Ellen B. – Sister-in-Law, F, W, age 35, Canada – Ass't Matron, Orphan's Home
On the 21st of April 1910, there were 28 people residing at the Draper's Children's Home – 4 adults:  Herman M. and Annie H. Draper; Herman's father, Elisha Draper; and Herman's sister-in-law, Ellen B. Fraser; and 24 children. There were 14 girls and 10 boys, the youngest was age 4, the oldest 17.  The birthplace listed for the father of the three Erickson sisters was Swed.-Norwegian, their mother Nor.-Norwegian. Mike and Maggie Guglielmo's parents were Italian. Leslie Snyder's were German. But for most of the children the nativity of their parents was Un –  unknown.

What is remarkable is that this census record, presumably answered by Mr. Draper, listed occupations for eighteen children instead of the usual Scholar, At Home, or None. Four children worked as a Printer, at-the Home. Two were Choirboy, at-the-Home. And ten were Musician, Home Band, even though five were less than 10 years old!

The children's home printers produced a surprising variety of postcards. This one, captioned – Our Band,  Summer of 1910, was taken shortly after the census and shows 20 children. H. M. Draper proudly sits with his cornet in the center behind the bass drum. This ensemble is essentially a traditional brass band, with one or maybe two clarinets, four cornets not counting Mr. Draper, a generous number of alto and tenor horns, four tubas, and two drummers. There are no trombones which is to be expected as children usually lack the coordination and arm reach to properly extend a trombone slide.

The children are dressed in very smart uniforms. The boys wear a popular military style jacket and cap, while the girls' attire is a dark dress with a sailor suit collar and flat hat set off with enormous white ribbon bows over each ear. Maintaining twenty uniforms for growing children surely was not an inexpensive enterprise.

Della   Will drop you a
few lines  am well
hope you are all well
have fine wether
give my Best Regards
to fell and Love and
all so will Close
good by  Joh..nne (?) Goud (?)
Kei..(?) Dath..(?)

This postcard shows 23 children, boys in white shirt and tie, girls in white dresses with fewer big bows and some in colors. It is captioned:

Children's home, Des Moines, Washington. 
H.M. Draper Superintendent
picture of the band taken at Kamloops, B.C. July 16, 1911

Kamloops, British Columbia is about 300 miles northeast of Des Moines. In 1911 its population was 3,772. The address side of the postcard was used for a message. One side shows a halftone photo of Our Home at Des Moines.

(Dear Mother)
This man & Part of these
children came from
Burley Colony & Part of
them came from Equality
colony whair I usta
live. thay are all orphans
Sing & play in the Theaters & support the home
& support them selves (thay are my kind of People)
MDH (?)

The reference to Burley Colony and Equality Colony are clues to Herman Draper's personal philosophy. These two communities were established in Washington state for the promotion of the Socialist Party ideals. Both were located in the Puget Sound area which had a large working class population sympathetic to labor unions and co-operative socialist ventures. The Equality Colony was founded in 1897 and the Burly Colony was next in 1898. Herman Draper visited the Burley Colony in 1900 and stayed there long enough to create successful bands and choirs for children and adults. These utopian communes were short-lived and the Burley Colony was down to only 17 residents in 1908. The Brotherhood, as it was called, was dissolved in 1913.

Still its influence on Herman Draper kept him connected to the union labor movement in Washington and led him to try his own version of a socialist experiment in child welfare. His name and the children's home band appeared numerous times in the Washington Labor Council journal. Draper was also a member of the Elks fraternal society and also, I believe, a member of the I.O.G.T., the International Organisation of Good Templars, a temperance society which was likely an outcome of his Methodist upbringing.

This next postcard comes from a year later. There are 21 children including a very small chap astride the bass drum. He looks about 3 or 4 years old. The fashions are a mixture. Some children wear band uniforms, some girls have plaid skirts and wool jumpers. Mr. Draper stands center at the back. The band now has a piccolo, an alto saxophone, and four trombones. It is captioned:

The Jolly Entertainers. At Little Falls, Washington, April 15, 1911
Children's Home, Des Moines, Washington;
H. M. Draper, Supt.

Little Falls is now called Vader and is about 300 miles west of the Puget Sound area, almost to Spokane, WA. In 1910 the town's population numbered 631.

Draper converted a barn on the Des Moines property into an "Opera House" where his wards could practice and occasionally give concerts. The newspaper reports of their performances rarely listed any music they played, but an 1917 advertisement for The Jolly Entertainers gives us a little idea of what their shows were like. 

Albany OR Democrat
22 February 1917
The Jolly Entertainers
from Children's Home, Des Moines, Wa., H.M. Draper, Superintendent

Dainty Dances—Splendid Band—Special Scenery
Graceful Drills—Comedy Sketches—Pretty Costumes
24---Komical Performers---24---Musicians

Go to this show if you want to laugh---Watch for Brass Band Street Parade
A Two Hours' Program of Mirth and Music

Mr. Draper had a broad knowledge of musical ensembles and early in his career helped to produce a community minstrel show in Nebraska. The children probably played in a popular style similar to vaudeville theater shows with music and dance interspersed with comic skits, though tempered for family style humor. In this era before radio and sound recording, musical skill and talent were a ticket to a good job for many young people.

The individual child musicians were often promoted on postcards from the Des Moines Children's Home. This one of a boy and girl on alto horn and cornet is captioned:

Our Band Babies
Carl Huntington, Age 8, Solo Alto
Kathryn Westover, age 7, Solo Cornet

Dear Friend
S...(?) S...(?)
this is a fine place
to work and plenty
of it  better come
over  Say if you come
bring any mail
from Globe with
you  your Friend  Ed.

Lebam, WA is a tiny village southwest of Seattle,
about 20 miles from the coast. Globe is a community just next to Lebam.

In August 1922, the newspaper in Albany, OR ran a lengthy article that I think neatly describes Herman Draper's ideas and history in providing for children.

Albany OR Democrat
03 August 1922

Albany People Marvel at Work
of Draper Children Musicians

One of Albany's most novel entertainments of the season took place last evening at First and Broadalbin  streets, and continued throughout today at various business corners, when the children from the home of Mr. and Mrs. H. M. Draper, at Des Moines, Washington, played band selections for more than an hour.

In the hand are 14 pieces. The players range from 6 to 14 years of age, and all were trained by Mr. Draper at the home.

The visit of Mr. and Mrs. Draper to Albany yesterday was their first in five years, and the children themselves are enjoying their first sight of Albany. They continued southward late today. In the party are 25 of the 29 children who are at the home. They travel in two  automobiles, two trucks, with two trailers to carry their baggage. They are going as far south as they can and return to Des Moines in time for the opening of school next September, making expenses on their way by selling copies of their publication, issued by the children, and entitled: "Good Will." With each copy of the paper goes a postcard. It is a real outing for the youngsters, who were encamped at Bryant Park last night.

As the kidides’ band was playing last evening at the First National bank corner a slight commotion was noted at one side of the circle of children. It was little Marian Smith and her brother, Otto, who had discovered in the crowd of bystanders their little cousins, children of Mr. and Mrs. Leo Smith of Albany. The Smith families had been together not long ago in Montana, and were overjoyed to see each other again. One of the Draper Smiths was left at the home in Des Moines.

The children's band last evening played many popular and several semi-classical selections with ease. Individuals among them were selected to play solos, and among them was the tiniest of the lot. six years old. who played on the cornet without a false note.

Upon their first trip to Albany the Drapers gave a performance in a local theater.

This time, they said., they had no advance agent, and accordingly could not  book ahead. So they are simply playing here and there now. The children have with them their show equipment but did not use it here.

Mr. Draper, according to his own statement, is a believer in the brotherhood of man. His home is entirely self supporting, he says, dependent upon no charitable or governmental funds, though private subscriptions are accepted.

Mr. and Mrs. Draper are in their work primarily through their love of mankind, said Mr. Draper last night.

"Personally, I have no creed," he says, "I believe in the Brotherhood of Man and the Fatherhood of God. All are my brothers, whether Protestant or Catholic. I know neither Christian, Jew, Atheist, Infidel, Saint, Sinner, or man labeled with any belief — l know him as only as my blessed, beloved, eternal brother; soul of my soul, heart of  my heart, mind of my mind, eternal child of my All-Father-Mother, God. The same Divine Life that permeates all nature flows through every human being and I have no right to criticize or judge my fellow man.

My religion is to "Do good for good's sake."

I allow all others to think and act for themselves in matters of politics and religion, and all I ask is to have the same privilege accorded myself.

The following, taken from “Good Will," tells the story of how Mr. and Mrs. Draper came to be giving the care of real parents to the 29 children now in their charge:

“About 20 years ago ‘Daddy’ and ‘Mother’ Draper had charge of a Home Finding association in Michigan, but not being satisfied with the placing of children they determined to start a home of their own. In the Home in Michigan they were not allowed to take illegitimate children, could not take a baby under six months old, and were not allowed to take children to board. Mothers were forced, through poverty, to sign away all rights to their children so that they might be adopted into private families, sisters and brothers were separated and not permitted to know where each other were placed. These things all seemed wrong to us so we simply resigned, and with six little folks from that Home and a little girl of our own, all of whom were trained in music, we made our way to Seattle, paying our way by giving concerts en route. 

Our first Home was started in Ballard, then a suburb of Seattle, about 15 years ago, where we remained eight months, after which we moved to Des Moines, where we are now located. We now keep little sisters and brothers together and have, at the present time, one family of five children, three families of three and four families of two each, besides quite a number of single children. We have three girls with neither father, mother, sister nor brother; not a kith or kin that they know  anything about. Others have a father or a mother living while a few have neither father nor mother, but have sisters or brothers. But, taken together, we think we have the happiest and most contented little family (now numbering 29) in the state of Washington. They all attend the Des Moines public school and at the close of the last term all except one passed to the next grade. Two of our girls, lrene Wilkins and Kathryn Westover, are in the tenth grade high school.

Our Home is located on the bank of Puget sound in the little town of Des Moines, just half way between Seattle and Tacoma, on what is known as The High Line."

Besides his obvious skill as a music teacher,
Herman was clearly a very good salesman for his orphanage too.

* * *

The 1925 grand tour of the Des Moines, Washington Children's Home Band made the pages of newspapers across the country. This one from the Palatine IL Enterprise got things mixed up by calling it a "Boys' Band" and mistaking their hometown for the Des Moines in Iowa. In the photo the children are wearing short pants with white shirts and ties. Mr. Draper sits on the ground left. 

Palatine IL Enterprise
10 July 1925

Mr. and Mrs. Draper set out from Des Moines, Washington with with their children's band in June of 1924 and did not return until December 1925. It was reported that they visited 30 states in the 14,000 mile trip. It's unclear if they traveled in buses for the entire trip or sometimes took a train. But the experience must have been as exhausting as it was educational.

Seattle Daily Times
14 April 1927

Sadly this was the last tour for Herman and Annie. On April 13, 1927, Annie H. Draper died suddenly from heart failure in Des Moines. Since organizing their children's home Mrs. Draper had cared for more than 300 children, most of them orphans. She was 68 years old.

_ _

Seattle Daily Times
19 April 1927

Four days later on Sunday April 17, 1927 just before his wife's funeral  service, Herman M. Draper was stricken and died at their children's home. He was 70 years old.

He was survived by two sons C. C. Draper and H. P. Draper of Desmoines, WA and a daughter, Mrs. Edith M. Peck of Douglas, AZ. But countless unnamed children knew him as ‘Daddy’ too.

_ _ _

A week later on April 22, 1927 the Seattle Central Labor Council decided to investigate whether their unions could take over the Draper's Children's Industrial Home in Des Moines. They also agreed to supply money for temporary operation of the orphanage in order to prevent it, as one delegate put it, from "falling into the hands of tea-drinking high brows." Only a year before Mr. Draper had proposed to give his children's home to the labor council upon his death, but no one on the council had followed through with this idea. After the deaths of the Drapers, the children remained for a time in the care of Mrs. Louise Strong, the sister of Mrs. Draper. But the home was in financial difficulty and without Mr. Draper's tireless leadership the orphanage was closed, Eventually the building was torn down and the lots sold for development.

I've not found any record of what happened to the remaining children.

The print shop of the Children's Industrial Home of Des Moines, Washington produced a seemingly endless variety of souvenir postcards of the Jolly Entertainers children's band. I can't believe they were priced very high, so quantity sales were important for Draper's fundraising. Clearly he owned a camera, but I've yet to find a postcard image of Mrs. Annie Draper with the children, so I like to think it was she that took the pictures.

Last week on eBay I spotted an unmarked photo postcard of a children's band and immediately recognized ‘Daddy’ Draper standing at the back of the group of children. They are in front of a large rustic building or cabin with a porch. A sign over the steps reads WALDHEIM which I suspect is some camp or hotel retreat, possibly in New York's Adirondacks, but it could be anywhere. The girls in the band have that bobbed hair style popular in the 1920s. The only child I can identify is the girl standing beside Mr. Draper. She holds an unusual rotary valve cornet and I think she is Neva Stitt, the nine year old sister of Claire Stitt who were both featured on a postcard that dates from 1912.  In the photo she has the same curls and tilted head and looks about age 16, maybe 18. As she and Claire were listed in the 1910 census, that would date the WALDHEIM photo to around 1919-22.

_ _


It was unexpected to find so many newspaper accounts about such a small institution as Mr. Draper's orphanage. And even more a surprise to find him quoted in the papers regarding his heartfelt  philosophy to lead a life directed toward the benefit of homeless children. Of course that kind of social advocacy was not uncommon in his era anymore than it was in previous times or indeed in our century now. But in the early 1900s governments, whether city, state, or federal, did not have many social safety net systems. The effects of poverty on children were more visible in America then. The introduction of child labor laws in this era came about because children had been subjected to outrageous exploitation, neglect, and even violence. And likewise because women had limited access to proper pregnancy care, many children were abandoned and deprived of any real family support.

In the 1900s it became a serious public concern that led to many different kinds of orphanages established by municipalities, religious denominations, fraternal societies, and altruistic individuals like Herman and Annie Draper. What I find interesting is that so many of these refuges for homeless children developed musical bands and orchestras. Readers interested in my collection of photos and postcards of orphan children's bands can find them on this link. Most stories are quite long like this one, so scroll down to find the older ones.

Today we live in a world where cynicism and mistrust color every level of the social contract. A full biography of Herman and Annie Draper deserves more research than I can honestly give it now, but I believe that they were genuinely kind and loving people who sought to protect hundreds of children from cruel hardships. Such devotion and dedication to the power of love and the benefits of music inspired me to write a bit of their story in hope that their spirit will live on in American memory.

I would be remiss not to list two excellent histories of the Des Moines Children's Home which helped me to sketch out my own stories of the Draper's remarkable children's band. The first is called The Children's Industrial Home of Des Moines, compiled by Janis Trueba, of the Des Moines, Washington Historical Society.

The second is an essay on called Jolly Entertainers: The Draper Children's Home Band (King County) by Peter Blecha. Both websites provide many more fascinating details on the Drapers and numerous pictures of the children.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the rain in Spain is mainly unexplained.

Oreste Vessella's Italian Band

26 May 2018

His sparkling white uniform positively glows
with the musical authority of a noteworthy bandmaster.
With his baton tucked under his crossed arms,
he stands center
the two highest wind instrumentalists,
the piccoloist and E-flat clarinetist,
and is
surrounded by his bandsmen
who are dressed in matching dark uniforms.

On his right are more clarinets, tenorhorns, chimes, and timpani. 

On his left are more trumpets, euphoniums,
horns, valve trombones, bassoon, and bass drum,
making a total of 41 musicians.

This is
Oreste Vessella's
Italian Band

on the Steel Pier of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

In 1911 you did not have to visit
America's most famous seaside resort
to hear Maestro Vessella's Band.

Source: 1911 The Theatre vol. 14

Instead you could relax in front of your
Victor Victrola
and tap your toe to the sound of
nine of the greatest military bands on earth:

Vessella's Italian Band
U. S. Marine Band
Pryor's Band
Sousa's Band
Kryl's Bohemian Band
Police Band
of Mexico
Garde Republicaine Band
of France
Black Diamonds Band
of London
Royal Military Band
of Madrid

As we can see, the illustration of Vessella's Italian Band used in the Victor-Victrola advertisement is a variation of the band's postcard photo, this time having Maestro Vessella seated with the same bandsmen. The postcard was mailed from Atlantic City on the 4th of July1913 when surely the band played every patriotic tune they knew for the holiday patrons.

But before we go any further let's hear what Oreste Vessella's Italian Band actually sounded like. Here is the Grand March from Giuseppe Verdi's opera Aïda as performed for the Victor Talking Machine Co. on November 5, 1912 in Camden, New Jersey, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. This streaming sound file comes from the Library of Congress archives.

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{Click any image for a larger view}

Atlantic City was not a typical American township. It was first conceived as a seaside retreat by developers in 1853 when the first hotel was built to attract people who sought the healthful benefits of sunshine, saltwater, and ocean breezes. In the post Civil War decades, the railroad magnates and hoteliers soon recognized Atlantic City as a real money-maker, as by 1874 the trains from Philadelphia brought over 500,000 passengers a year to the oceanfront resort. The famous boardwalk was originally just a temporary seasonal construction to reduce the amount of sand tracked into hotels by the guests.  The big boom period came in the first decade of the 20th century when more hotels and casinos were built alongside the beach amusement strip.

These gigantic hotels attracted large business and social groups as well individuals and families. The allure of seaside recreations and novelty amusements appealed to people who rarely encountered ocean waves. Even A. H. Klausmeier of Kansas City, Missouri learned something about Atlantic City in September 1909.

We landed
on Advisory Board

Jutting out from the boardwalk, across the wide sand beach and into the ocean was the Steel Pier. Finished in June 1898 it eventually reached 2,298 feet (700 m) long, though over the years Atlantic hurricanes and fires have now reduced it to just 1000 ft.

On August 27, 1909 Miss Henrietta Held of Pittsburgh received this postcard with a birdseye view from the Dunlop Hotel in Atlantic City of the Boardwalk, Steeple Chase, Steel Pier, and Beach.

Atlantic City 8/26 or 27
Frederick is fat + getting fatter
I am bad + getting worse.  We
don't want to come home.
Evaline + Frederick
at the "Hygeia" hotel.

The Steel Pier, Atlantic City, NJ, circa 1915
Source: Wikipedia

Though there were a good number of hearty souls who enjoyed swimming in the ocean, I think the principal recreation in Atlantic City during the 1900s was strolling and sitting. The Steel Pier accommodated a lot of room to do both and provided shade for the more sensitive folk.

Just three weeks before Evaline & Frederick's note, Miss Henrietta Held received a postcard from Atlantic City showing crowds of people on the Steel Pier and under it too. 

"I am trying
to make my
eyes behave"  Lots
of boys down
here from Pitts
J. M.

In this age before amplification, the Steel Pier had a specially designed central concert stage covered by an arched roof. The audience sat on rows of park benches that allowed people to come and go as they pleased. This postcard shows several hundred people under the Steel Pier's Music Arcade listening to Vessella's Band. From 1903 to at least 1916 Oreste Vessella's Italian Band was the featured band at the Atlantic City Steel Pier. Programs included arrangements of popular opera music, many written by Vessella, that included German and French operas as well as Italian. There were marches of course, and various dances medleys from polkas to waltzes. Usually there was a solo instrumentalist or vocalist on every concert.

In August 1918, Miss Mildred G. Price of Brightwood in Washington, D.C. got this card of Vessella's Band from someone who enjoyed music.

Dear Mil:
This band has all
gone back to Italy to fight
but we heard a wonderful
symphony orchestra on
this pier last night.
It is lovely down
here and we are at a
d.... (unclear) place.   Dot

What Dot refers to is the Great War of 1914-18. It is easy to forget that there were many belligerent nations embroiled in this horrific war. Initially Italy belonged to a secret Triple-Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary. But in 1915 Italy rejected its Germanic compact and instead joined the Triple Entente of the Russian Empire, the French Third Republic, and the United Kingdom. Italy's main national interests were along its borders with Austria and the Adriatic nations. Most of its battles were against the Austrian-Hungarian forces and fought in the Alpine regions of the Austrian Littoral and northern Dalmatia.

Though I have not discovered reports that any of Oreste Vessella's bandsmen actually did go back to Italy, as most of the musicians, including Vessella himself, were born in Italy, many would have considered it their patriotic duty to King Victor Emmanuel III and/or Italy's constitutional government to return to the aid of their countrymen. Vesssella's band did appear on the Steel Pier bandstand in the summer season of 1916, but not in 1917, so perhaps some of the band were absent that year. However it may be that Vessella just found a better gig.

In June 1918 his band was playing at the Rocking Chair Movies at Brighton Beach in Manhattan. The picture "The Toys of Fate" was silent of course, and the band provided the musical accompaniment. The venue was a novel outdoor cinema with the large screen placed in the ocean before the huge veranda of the Brighton Baths, (and) may be viewed easily by thousands of spectators. The feature films are shown successfully both at high and low tides. This theater is probably the only one in the world whose seating capacity if affected by the rise and fall of the ocean.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
26 June 1918

Oreste Vessella was born in Alife, Italy in 1877. He was the nephew of Alessandro Vessella (1860-1929) the celebrated leader of the Band of Rome. Oreste trained as a clarinetist in Naples and then did further study of composition in Genoa. He came to America in 1901 as just an ordinary musician in an Italian band embarking on a nationwide tour. In about 1902 the band's conductor became ill, and the young clarinetist Oreste took up the baton. He was such a success that he never handed it back. By 1903 his name appears as a band leader appearing at the Atlantic City Steel Pier. Between 1915 and 1927 he wrote the music for a few comic operettas which played in New York and Philadelphia theatres. They didn't play long and the shows are now forgotten.

With the advent of sound films and then radio in the 1920s and 30s, the public's interest in the grand traditions of Italian band music rapidly began to dim. As recordings of jazz and pop music took over the show business charts, the phrase "Big Band" no longer referred to a large concert wind ensemble like Vessella's band.

Yet once upon a time thousands of people heard beautiful music drifting across the beaches and along the boardwalk of Atlantic City. The sound of an Italian band became an integral element of American ever evolving musical culture. And it was not just the band's wonderful interpretations of opera melodies that became part of our popular conscience. The Italian instrumentalists also influenced the playing styles of American musicians. The Italian fondness for agile clarinets and piccolos, brilliant trumpets, and bombastic bass tubas, became musical sound colors that American players and composers much admired and imitated. Just as German, Bohemian, Hungarian musicians contributed to America's love of music, so did Italian musicians like these bandsmen.

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Oreste Vessella died in Atlantic City on the 20th of June 1963.

The Billboard
13 July 1963

Pittsburgh Daily Post
04 October 1903

Anaconda MT Standard
10 August 1911

I could end my brief account on Oreste Vessella,
the great Italian bandmaster of Atlanic City here.
But my research revealed a fascinating love story
that is worthy of another post.
The following clipping should be
enough to entice my readers' interest.

Buffalo NY Sunday Morning News
21 February 1904

So stay tuned
for a sequel on Oreste Vessella
inspired by

The Long Distance ’Phone Romance
of the Millionaire's
Daughter and the
Italian Band Master.

an Atlantic City Love Story

Bizet's Carmen Selection performed by Oreste Vessella's Italian Band.
It was recorded on November 8, 1912
and is preserved in the archives of the Library of Congress.

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This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where this weekend everyone's heading for the beach.


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