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 }

Music at the Fair

15 June 2019

Are ya goin’ to the fair?

Most folks we know will be there.

There's Henry, Bob, and Uncle Lou,

with all the kids and ladies too.

Ya know the fellas in the band will play.

It's goin’ to be a mighty grand day

down at the Dighton Fair.

* * *

It was a special day with hundreds of people eager to see old friends and have some fun. Yet somehow the unknown photographer of this postcard managed to get everyone to stand still and look at his camera. He wrote a useful caption onto the negative that reads:

Fair.  Dighton   Sept 22

There are not many towns in America with that name. There is one in Massachusetts and another in Kansas, but it seems highly improbable that the Citizen's Band of  McBain, Michigan, as painted on the band's bass drum, would travel so far for a town fair. Instead they went down the road to the crossroads of 19 Mile Road with 130th Avenue where the small community of Dighton put on an agricultural fair. It's about 14 miles from McBain, a city in north central Michigan with about 650 citizens now and 546 in 1910. The Dighton Store proudly posts on its building that it's been around "Since 1887."

In 1912, September 22 fell on a Sunday.

Dighton, Michigan

In September 1909 the Dighton Fair got a brief mention
in the Grand Rapids newspaper.

Grand Rapids MI Press
30 September 1909
The fruit exhibit had thirty-six different entries.
There were forty-two in the vegetable and grain department,
and fifty in the stock department.

Admission was free to all the exhibits and attractions.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where this weekend it's Sepia Sunday.

Mail Call

08 June 2019

In 1914 a German infantry division
consisted of approximately 18,000 soldiers.

During the course of the war, with over 200 divisions in action,
3.8 million German soldiers were spread around
the Western front with France and the Eastern front with Russia.
Each man writing a message to family and friends
whenever he had a free moment,
hoping for some return note or gift from home.
The Deutsche Feldpost took responsibility to deliver
the millions of letters, parcels, and postcards
sent to and from the troops.

And to accomplish this task,
manpower, steam power, and real horsepower
were vital to insure that the post went through reliably.
A photo postcard like this showing the Feldpost wagon
picking up sacks of army mail was something to be proud of

The back of the postcard shows that it was was distributed to German soldiers for free.

Kriegsspende von Angeh├Ârigen der Reichs-Post-und Telegraphenverwaltung

War donation from members of the Reichs post office and telegraph administration

The Kaiser's General Staff considered military postal service
such an important part of maintaining troop morale
that postage for the German Feldpost was free
allowing any soldier to easily write home or to friends.
One hundred years later the consequence for collectors like me
is that there are many more German wartime postcards
from 1914 – 1918 than British, French, or American.

* * *

The American Expeditionary Force mobilized 2 million men
to serve overseas in World War One,
but it did not reach a full force in France until the summer of 1918.
The trans-Atlantic distance was so great and the logistics of postal service
so complicated that there are few examples of postcards
sent back home by American soldiers.
Instead many more sent from an army training camp.

This colorized postcard shows
some American soldiers fixing packs onto mules.
A short verse is printed in the top corner.

 Army mules with their strong packs,
Strapped so strongly on their backs,
Remind me what I wish to do —
To send a pack of greetings to you.

The postmark is smudged
but the date is May 26, 1918
and is sent from Greensboro Trans. Com (?)
which I suspect is not Greensboro, NC
but a small military transit camp in Georgia
between Atlanta and Augusta,
where there were extensive military bases in 1918.
The message is indecipherable suggesting
the writer is either illiterate or foreign.
It was sent to someone in Stockport, NY.

* * *

This last postcard is remarkable in its simplicity.
It was in the same antique dealer's shoe box with the mules postcard.
The text reads:

SAFELY OVERSEAS.                                                       
Name ____Fred G. Wilkes
Organization___Co. D. 57th Enginers
American Expeditionary Forces
Via N. Y. City.

The back shows that the postcard had pre-paid postage, Soldiers' Mail
and was distributed by the American Red Cross.
It was sent to:

Mrs. Francis Wilkes
2 Manchester Ave.
Troy, NY

By 1918 Americans were very familiar with the appalling casualties taken on all sides of this terrible European War. The entry of the United States into the war, giving up neutrality to join Britain and France against Germany, was a very hotly debated political question.  One of the serious concerns was that the German U-Boat submarines posed a great risk to Allied shipping and especially American troop ships. A short postcard like this did a lot to reconcile a mother's worry. It was likely given to each soldier just prior to arrival at the French port, and then taken up by a navy postal clerk as the soldiers left the ship since the troop ship would then return immediately to the US.

Of course to an amateur historian like myself, the question now became– What happened to Fred G. Wilkes?

USS Kroonland, Passenger Manifest
August 30, 1918
On August 30, 1918 the passenger manifest for the USS Kroonland leaving Hoboken, New Jersey included:


SS Kroonland, 1903
Source: Wikipedia
The SS Kroonland was an ocean liner for the Red Star Line, an American passenger ship that first served on the New York to Antwerp route in 1902. It was built in Philadelphia and was 580 feet long with room for 342 first-class passengers, 194 second-class, and 626 third-class, and crew of 25, or 1,127 people in total. When ordered into troop transport service in 1918 it was outfitted to carry 3,300 soldiers.

In August 1918 it squeezed in 34 more for a manifest of 3,334 soldiers. It joined six other transport ships in a convoy escorted by US Navy ships arriving in France on September 12. During the voyage, two crewmen died of the dreaded Spanish Flu. The epidemic was just getting started, and eventually would take the lives of millions of people around the world.

Happily another document for Free G. Wilkes appeared in a search of's archives. It was a passenger manifest for his return to the United States on June 28,1919 on board the USS Santa Olivia.

Santa Olivia, Passenger Manifest
June 28, 1919
The Santa Olivia was built in Philadelphia in 1918 at the same shipyard that built the Kroonland. At 420 feet in length it was initially designed as a freighter for taking cargo to France but was soon converted into a troop ship. It had a capacity of 1,857 soldiers plus the navy crew, but undoubtedly in 1919 had many more Doughboys crammed into every available space on the ship's return to the US.

Fred G. Wilkes was one of those men, happy to return home to his mother in Troy, NY after being "over there" nearly a year. He was 26 years old.  I bet he sent a postcard to her from New York City.

USS Santa Olivia, 1919
Source: Wikipedia

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Ding! "You've Got Mail!"

Piccolo and Bass

31 May 2019

They make an unlikely pair of buddies.

One is very short and handles the highest musical pitches.

The other is very long and sounds the lowest of notes.

 And sometimes the musicians who play them
don't match the size of their instruments.

It's what makes a musical bond
between the shrill piccolo
and the deep bass tuba
so comical.

 * * *

The first duo are two U. S. Navy bandsmen,
a diminutive tuba player not much taller than his instrument,
and a tall gangling piccoloist whose hand span
is as wide as his instrument is long.

The were identified on the back of their postcard
as Mutt & Jeff of the Passage Band.

There is no U.S. Navy ship named Passage
so it may refer to a place.
Mutt & Jeff refers to
a popular syndicated comic strip
created by cartoonist Bud Fisher in 1907
with two mismatched characters,
Mutt the tall one and Jeff his short sidekick.
My guess is that the photo dates from 1910 – 1930.

 * * *

The second disparate pair are
two U. S. Army or National Guard bandsmen
standing in front of a military canvas tent.
The taller man has a piccolo
and the much shorter fellow
is wrapped up inside a sousaphone.
Both wear the standard issue Campaign Hat M1911
given to America soldiers in World War One.

This postcard was likely taken 1910 – 1918.
It was signed on the back.

John Matteo + John Rosenberger
12 ft - fill 50 Kuez (?)


 * * *

The next duet is also posed outside a large tent
but they are U. S. Navy bandsmen
apparently on shore duty.
Again the taller sailor has a piccolo,
but the shorter bandsman is standing with a string bass,
an instrument that once was commonly used
by military bands in concerts
where the band performed seated.

This photo is a not a postcard
but a very small 2" x 3" image.
As the sailors are wearing leggings,
I would date them to the 1910 – 1930 era.

 * * *

The last musical pair are two members
of the Washington National Guard
who were featured in my story in February 2019 entitled
The Band at the Old Campground.
The two postcards, a full frontal photo and a comic backside,
date from 1910 when a professional wind band from Seattle
was engaged by the Washington National Guard
for its bi-annual maneuvers at American Lake near Tacoma,WA. 
The tall piccoloist was Sergt. Fred Graef, the drum major.
The short man swallowed by a helicon,
a precursor to the sousaphone,
was actually a clarinettist
named was Frank Avanzo or Aronzo.
Both were pretending to play
the two extremes of musical instruments
for humorous effect.

The long and the short of it is
that these four photos of army/navy bandsmen
show that the 8 octave difference
between a tuba's (or double bass's)
thunderous low notes
and the piercing trills of a piccolo
were never a hindrance
to making real friendships
in a military band.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where smoking is only permitted in the smoking car.

Four Well-dressed Pipers

24 May 2019

The highland bagpipes are not an instrument
for a person of shy temperament
or overly cautious nature.

A piper must be brave, brash, even brazen
because you can not play it softly
and you can not hide the sound.

It requires a strong breath,
nimble fingers,
and a stout heart
to stand alone and make the bagpipes skirl.

So to play a highland bagpipe,
either nicely or badly,
you must expect to always be
the center of attention,
therefore you might as well look the part
with a dress that catches the eye.

* * *

The first highland piper is posed in a studio
with a vaguely plaid linoleum floor
and a cheap theatrical backdrop.
He is dressed in full Scottish kit
with tartan kilt, cloak, sporran,
buckle shoes and flat side cap.

He is definitely Scottish
but his photograph is not from Scotland.
It was taken by:

W. Stringer,
Photographic Artist,
8, hart St.
Off London Road


In the 1881 Kelly's directory of Liverpool,
there were six businesses on Hart Street:
a tool maker, a trunk maker, a painter, two joiners,
and at No. 8, William Stringer - hair dresser.

Thirteen years later in 1894,
more tradesmen had established shops
on the other side of Hart street.
Now there was a plumber, a furniture painter,
an engineer, two tailors, a cabinet maker,
a joiner, a trunk maker, a blacksmith,
a bill poster, a coach builder, a picture frame maker
and at No. 8 Hart St,
William Stringer - hair dresser & photographer.

I would date the style of this cabinet card photo
to around 1885-1890.

* * *

The second piper is also easily recognizable
as from Scotland
with a very similar Scottish uniform
of kilt, cloak, belt, and cap.
But his instrument has been abandoned
on the floor by his feet.
Perhaps its bag has burst
which might account for the young lad's sad expression.
Sepia tone is never trustworthy for color hues
but I'd bet that the boy's hair is bright red.

The photographer of this cabinet card was:

Alexr. Macintyre
Portrait & Landscape

Bonnar St.

In the 1896 directory for Dunfermline, of Fife, Scotland
Alexander Macintyre was one of five photographers in the city.
His business was in the 1890 directory
and continued at that address until 1911
when his occupation was listed as "retired."
The building illustrated in his photo's backstamp
is Dunfermline Abbey.
Once a large medieval Benedictine abbey
founded in 1128 by King David I of Scotland,
it is now a Church of Scotland parish church.
Alexander Macintyre's studio is only a short walk from the abbey.

* * *

My third piper was a member of the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland. Back in 2013 I posted a story on the Bandsmen of the Black Watch which featured a collection of colorized postcards of the celebrated Royal Highlanders Regiment. This postcard is from the same time period before the First World War, but is just a sepia photo print so we can't see the brilliant colors of the piper's tartan kilt and cloak.

What is particularly unusual is that he is a left handed piper. The modern technique for all woodwind instruments puts the left hand in the upper position on the finger holes or keys with the right hand below. This is because the lower tone holes are used more often, so the right dominant hand is usually in control. And for bagpipes that also places the bag under the left elbow. But here this man has everything reversed. Initially I thought the printer had flipped the image negative, but the piper's shoulder belt passes over his right shoulder just like the other pipers' uniforms. Likewise his cap is tilted to the right like theirs and the button seam of his jacket shows the buttons in the correct place for a man's garment.

It's a peculiar playing position that I can't recall seeing in a modern bagpiper. With drones over his right shoulder he would stand out rather awkwardly in a parade march where all the other pipers had drones over their left side. Conveniently this postcard was mailed from Scotland in 1903.

Black Watch Piper
Oban Scotland              Sept 25, 1903
Dear Friends. We are with you in mind quite
often this wk.  We are both well & enjoying ourselves
immensley   We are half way between Oben & Fort
Williams with mountains all around us. Most
beautiful  sceinery    Mrs T  A  Smith

The back of the card is postmarked September 25 1903 sent from Fort William
and then received 10 days later in Beloit, Wisconsin on October 5, 1903.
It was addressed to Mrs Prof Pearson of Beloit, WS.

I was curious who Mrs Prof Pearson was
and wondered if Mrs. T. A. Smith might be the wife of a "Professor" too.
A quick search on the internet found
Beloit College, a small private liberal arts college.
In its 1903 college bulletin, the faculty list had:

Thomas A. Smith, Ph. D.
Hale Professor of Mathematics and Physics

and three names down:

Calvin W. Pearson, Ph. D.
Harwood Professor of German Language and Literature.

Professor Smith's wife was named Martha Jane Smith
and Professor Pearson's wife was Marthanna T. Pearson.
They lived just three short blocks from each other in Beloit.

1903 Beloit College bulletin

* * *

My last piper is dressed in a mostly khaki uniform of the British army which I believe dates from 1814-1918. His sporran matches the five tassels of the Black Watch piper so I  think he is a piper in the Black Watch Regiment too. His belt has the same broad buckle but his gaiters are olive drab color and not white. This photo postcard was never posted and has the look of a private printing, perhaps by a photographer taking pictures of individual soldiers before they shipped out.

* * *

The sepia tone of these portraits of pipers
of course can not show
the true splendor of the patterns in Scotch plaid.
Nonetheless they were still considered collectable images.
The success of Scottish tourism is partly due
to the attraction of the highland bagpipes.
Yet photos of these musicians
fail to demonstrate the thrilling sound of the instrument.
Fortunately in the 21st century we have YouTube for that.
Here is a talented young lad named Brogan Townsley
busking with his bagpipes in Perth, Perthshire, Scotland.


And for good measure here is one more,
a piper leading a wedding procession
through Kenmore Highland in Perthshire, Scotland.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you never know where Wallace is hiding.
Can you find him?

The Ship's Orchestra

18 May 2019

Once upon a time a man's mustache
was evidence of maturity
and a mark of a gentleman.
Cultivating lip hair to an impressive length
was a requirement to be part of the masculine community.
A fine mustache required hours minutes
of shaving, trimming, and grooming,

(Unless one had the misfortune to be a smooth-faced clarinettist.)

Society took notice of those who did not conform.
If your mates had mustaches
then fashion rules dictated
that you should sport one too.
And if your nation had a traditional style
then common practice required that your mustachio
should be twisted, waxed, and curled to the imperial standard.

It made a striking effect
for a group of musicians
dressed in the livery of a ship's orchestra.

One day long ago
ten musicians arranged themselves for the camera,
five strings – double bass, viola, and 3 violins
with two cornets, flute, clarinet, and trombone.
The leader sits center
holding a cornet and a conductor's baton.
They are outdoors on the deck of a ship
which we know because there is
a bearded sailor just behind them.

It's a large photo that is without any marks
as to where or when it was taken.
However the men's mustaches give us an era
of roughly 1890 to 1915.

But there is one tiny useful clue.

mbroidered on the hat band
of the sailor's cap is the ship's name


If the sailor would only turn his head
we might see the first letters,
but as he is unlikely to cooperate
we must use the clues we have.

His uniform with its flat cap, dark tunic and tied collar
is not the dress of a sailor in the navy
but of a seaman in the merchant marine.
The orchestra musicians and the seaman
are on board some kind of passenger ship,
one that has a double name
spelt _  _ NS Castle.

It was part of the fleet
of the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Line
for travel between Great Britain
and South and East Africa and Mauritius.

The African Monthly
December 1908

A Union-Castle ship left Southampton every Saturday
for South Africa with calls at Teneriffe and Las Palmas
in the Canaray Islands and sometimes stopping
at St Helena and Ascension Islands in the South Atlantic.
The outward bound voyage took about 18 days to Cape Town,
and the return from Durban was about 22 days.

Of the 37 ships in the Union-Castle fleet
22 are named   * * * - Castle.
But only one has a first name
ending with the letters NS,
the R. M. S. “Kinfauns Castle”

Union Castle Liner, R. M. S. "Kinfauns Castle"
Source: the internet
The Royal Mail Ship Kinfauns Castle was 515 feet in length and 59 in breadth. Built in Glasgow in 1899, she was powered by two coal fired quadruple expansion steam engines that turned twin four bladed manganese bronze propellers. The Kinfauns Castle and her sister ship the Kildonan Castle displaced nearly 10,000 tons and provided accommodations for 300 first class, 160 second class, and 200 third class passengers. The ship was fitted with 100 electric lights and 23 blowing and exhausting fans to ventilate its saloons, corridors, and cabins. In October 1899 a reporter for the Dundee Courier traveled on the Kinfauns Castle from London down to Southampton on its maiden voyage. He wrote:

Space will not permit of a detailed description of the rich mahogany and satin wood paneling and the exquisite carved work of the first class saloon, splendidly lighted by large square windows with hinged brass frames and by a handsome central dome, which is a special feature both in its size and from. Then there is the drawing-room, a lofty and spacious apartment designed in the modern English Renaissance style, paneled in sating wood, inlaid with tulipwood, and furnished with a Broadwood grand piano and with sofas and lounges of dark mahogany sumptuously upholstered in silk. The devotees of My Lady Nicotine were loud in their praise of a smoking-room which is designed after the manner of an old Dutch interior. The second saloon, situated on the upper deck, is framed in oak, and, like the first class saloon, it possesses a piano and is luxuriantly fitted up. Separate up-to-date libraries are provided for first, second, and third class passengers, and in the main saloon a large beautiful painting of the port of London by Colin Hunter, A.R.A., is shown.

(I include that last bit because Colin Hunter (1841–1904) was a Scottish artist who lived in London on Melbury Road right next to the Sylvester family featured in my story from February 2014 entitled Miss Sylvester's Violin. Hunter painted a striking portrait of Winifred Sylvester's father, army surgeon John Henry Sylvester dressed in his Indian army uniform, which I included in the story.)

There was a terrible storm brewing in late September 1899 when the Kinfauns Castle started on its first voyage. It was heading directly into the eye of the Boer War. This conflict between the British Empire and the two Boer states: the Republic of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, would last from October 1899 to May 1902.

So when the Kinfauns Castle arrived in Southampton in September 1899 it was immediately requisitioned by the Royal Navy for use as a troop ship to the conflict in South Africa. Most of the passengers were officers, but there were also units of army engineers, medical corps, and service corps assigned to the steerage cabins. The engineers brought on equipment for gas balloons. The soldiers and officers must have been thrilled at their good fortune to embark on this wartime journey on such a new luxury liner. The scene was recreated by the maritime artist Charles John de Lacy (1856–1929) with a crowd of people at the dockside waving farewell as the gallant lads cheer from the aft deck of the Kinfauns Castle.

The 'Kinfauns Castle' as a troopship
by Charles John De Lacy
Source: Wikimedia
Over the next several months hundreds of steamships would be appropriated for the war effort in  South Africa. Ships like the Kinfauns Castle would transport thousands of soldiers, horses, guns, munitions, equipment, and supplies 8,100 miles from Southampton to Cape Town. Little did they know the great price this foolhardy war would cost. The British forces took almost 100,000 casualties and saw 22,092 men killed in the two years of war.  The Boers suffered 6,189 men killed in action and 26,370 Boer women and children who perished in concentration camps. The financial debt incurred by the British government was estimated at £211,156,000, equivalent to about £202 trillion in 2014 monetary value.  

The Kinfauns Castle survived the Boer War and after 1902 returned to normal passenger ship work between England and South Africa. In 1914 the ship was again appropriated for another war, one that lasted much longer than the Boer War, and one that put all shipping at tremendous risk for attacks by German submarines. Yet by 1919 the Kinfauns Castle survived the Great War too and continued as a passenger liner until being sold for scrap in 1927.

Though its possible that there were musicians hired for that first maiden voyage of the Kinfauns Castle in 1899, I suspect the war removed any space available for musical instruments. So it seems more likely that this photo of the ship's orchestra dates from the inter-war period of peace that followed and probably is closer to 1902 that 1914. The mustache styles suggest several Germans are in the ensemble with some English and Scottish too, so the photo was not taken after July 1914.

Of the 37 steamships in the Union-Castle fleet, I suspect all had at least a small piano trio to play music at mealtimes if not a ten-piece orchestra like the one in my photo. The larger ships like the Kinfauns Castle needed to entertain a very large number of people, many with families, for several weeks at sea. Music provided one way to calm the spirits of people on troubled waters, so an orchestra was required for any dancing and theatrical entertainments. As many string musicians of this era could double on wind instruments, and visa versa, the musicians also likely played band music on deck to accompany the ship's daily events and activities. It was demanding work that would challenge any musician to maintain his musicianship in all kinds of weather, not to mention a wife and family back home. I doubt musicians were given luxury berths and the pay was probably not as good as theater work. But it was a steady job and you got to see the world, or at least whenever the ship was in port.

So here's my question.
Is mustache wax resistant to salt-water?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where every ship has its day.


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