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 }

Sibling Rivalry

13 July 2018

Children are natural competitors.
The toys, games, and other playthings
of childhood are not just
youthful diversions.
Sometimes they are exercises
in learning the necessary skills of life.

And as every parent knows
restraining the fierce contest
between brothers and sisters
is a constant challenge.

Teaching young kids a musical instrument
redirects their boundless energy
into an engaging pursuit
that encourages mental discipline,
emotional self-control,
and physical skills,
as well as being fun.

This set of cabinet card photographs
illustrate how some families in the 1890s
used music in the home
to tame sibling rivalry.

The first trio of children are from Paw Paw, Illinois where the photographer at Parke's Studio arranged them in a classic artist's triangle. The youngest is perhaps age four or five and holds a cornet. The next oldest, age six or seven, holds a cello. Though both wear dresses, judging by their haircuts I suspect that that they may be boys. The oldest is definitely a boy and sits on a chair with a violin in his hand. His feet are still a couple of inches off the floor but I'd estimate his age at seven or eight.

* * *

The next trio is a brother with two younger sisters, maybe ten , eight, and six years old respectively. All three hold violins under their chins. The smallest girl looks a bit uneasy as she sits perched atop a faux boulder in the Star Gallery of photographer W. C. Heneks of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Mr. Heneks wrote a caption onto the negative that is difficult to read against the white floor. Using digital processing I reversed the colors to reveal a single name, Colburn, which I presume is the name of the family. That would be an unusual effect for a private photo but not uncommon for a souvenir photo for professional entertainers. Somehow this set of children with their big ears and long noses don't display much of the self-confidence of a real vaudeville family band.

* * *

The last group of four boys is actually a quintet with their father. The youngest is a cellist though as his instrument is taller than he is, he must stand to play it. He might be five or six years old. His next older brother plays a piccolo and appears about age seven. The two oldest boys are at such similar height that I think they are twins albeit fraternal ones. They are around eight or nine and each has a violin at their chin. Father looks on from the side with his clarinet. Such an ensemble would make some interesting music. Most likely the father is their music teacher.

They were photographed by the Wendt studio of Boonton, New Jersey, just west of Newark and New York City. Frank Wendt (1859-1930) was well known for his promotional photos of circus and theatrical people. In 1898 he took over the work of New York City's Bowery district photographer Charles Eisenmann (1855-1927) who had photographed many of the freaks and performers presented by the celebrated impresario P.T. Barnum. Wendt moved his studio to Boonton and this family orchestra may be from there, or could be another family orchestra trying to make it big in show business.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where all the children are way above average.


La Nightingail said...

If, in fact, the two younger instrumentalists in the first picture are actually boys wearing dresses it's no wonder they look so glum. As for the Colburn trio - there's no denying the look of them being part of the same family! The father and four look like they might have had fun playing together. One would hope, anyway. :)

Barbara Rogers said...

Well, I'll take your word for it that they're having fun...since none of them look very happy. And how on earth could a child that small play a cello? Boggles the mind!

Mollys Canopy said...

The Colburn photo interested me, since there was a surname, so I did a quick look-up on FamilySearch. The 1885 Iowa State Census for Cedar Rapids lists an Emory A. Colburn and his wife Mary with a son and two daughters who, by circa 1890, might have been the right ages for the children in this photo. A long shot, but could this be the family?

Kathy Morales said...

The family resemblances are very strong in all of those photographs.

Debby's Family Genealogy Blog said...

Great photos! I like the theme around music and the clothes they wore.

Susan Kelly said...

They appear to take their music seriously.

Mike Brubaker said...

Molly - Well done! I neglected to look the name up in census records and instead looked for something in newspaper archives. Emory A Colburn looks like a very good match as there were no other Colburns by that spelling in the city. He was a carpenter in Cedar Rapids, and both he and wife Mary A. Colburn were born in New York. The boy's name was Herbert L Colburn, born 1877, and his sisters were Clara Colburn, born 1881, and Fay Colburn, born 1884. So if the photo was taken in about 1890, their ages would be 13, 10, and 6, which looks very close to the ages of these children. Unfortunately their names don't appear in the few Iowa newspaper archives.

Interestingly, by 1905 Emory and Mary were back in Moriah, New York near the southern tip of Lake Champlain. Emory died there in August 1919. Sadly just 3 weeks before in July 1919 so did Mary A. Colburn in Owego, NY (though I can't be certain it was the same Mary A.)

Were they victims of the Great Influenza epidemic?

Mollys Canopy said...

Happy to help! State censuses can be valuable, especially for that frustrating 1880-1900 period, so it's good that Iowa had one. I also found the Colburns in the 1900 Federal census, but Herbert appears to have moved out by then and there was a younger brother Carroll in the family. I hope some descendants of the Colburns find your post with the wonderful violin photo!


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