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 Newspaper Boys' Band

20 September 2019

"What's black and white and read all over?"
"A Newspaper!"
It's an old grandfather's riddle,
perhaps less familiar to children today,
as newspapers,
now printed in glossy multi-colors,
struggle to stay relevant
in the age of the internet.

However at the beginning of the 20th century
newspapers were the dominant media
that gave everyone in their community
something to read and talk about.

Big cities and even small towns
often supported two or more papers.
which competed for readers and subscribers
by reporting on all the latest local, national and international news.

Yet sometimes that wasn't enough
to attract their community's attention,
so creative publishers recruited a few dozen boys,
dressed them up in fancy uniforms,
gave them shiny musical instruments,
and had them parade through their city's streets
playing music to the beat of a big bass drum
advertising the name
of the young musicians' newspaper sponsor.

It was also the age of the postcard
another important innovation
in what we now call social networking.
And newspaper publishers
had no problem printing up
thousands of postcards to give away.

But to proper subscribers of course.

This is a story of two of those boys' bands
depicted on three postcards.

* * *

The first image comes from a postcard with the half-tone image of the Denver Post Boy's Band advertising the Colorado State Fair, in Pueblo, Colorado, on September 10 to 12, 1907. The band had 44 boys under the guidance of Prof. Sidney Beal, music director and H. Wayne Russell, manager.

On the bass drum head, at the six o'clock position are the initials J. I. A. which stood for the Juvenile Improvement Association, whose full name was on a banner to the right. This organization was founded in Denver by Judge Ben B. Lindsey (1869 – 1943), a progressive jurist and social reformer known as the "Kid's Judge" who established Denver's first Juvenile and Family Court in 1903. The Juvenile Improvement Association raised money for the betterment of underprivileged children by financing nurseries for poor children, public playgrounds, and a juvenile detention home separate from adult facilities. It even had a bathtub installed in the courthouse basement for arrested children. The J. I. A. promoted sports for Denver's disadvantaged youth, mainly boys, as a way of giving the youth a useful focus, but with the assistance of the Denver Post newspaper, it also created a boys' band to teach discipline and teamwork.

The band leader, Prof. Sidney Beal, stands to the left of his band which seems rather drab in this newsprint image. In fact their uniform jackets were a bright scarlet red over white trousers. Formed in about 1906, the band soon became a favorite musical ensemble at state fairs in Colorado, New Mexico and  Wyoming.

This postcard was posted to Mrs. Maria Nolan of Harvard, Illinois on Sep 13, 1907. 

Dear Mother :-   I
am looking after a
booth for the "Post" at
the State Fair
in Pueblo this week.

* * *

Not quite a year later, the Denver Post Boys' Band (notice that the pesky possessive   has correctly moved from singular to plural. Good bass drum grammarians are hard to find.) put out a postcard advertising their appearance at Frontier Days, in Cheyenne, Wyoming on August 21-21-23, 1908. The band now has 50 boys, mostly on brass instruments with about 9 clarinets and 5 drums. Along the top edge is a slogan, They Met Me At The Depot with a message, "Some company here today from Stanton (?) Neb." (Nebraska) and "And maybe they will meet you."

The band posed on the steps to a different entrance, but the light posts and masonry are likely from the same building which we can presume was home to the Denver Post newspaper. At the back center, to the left of the drum major, is the band's leader, Prof. Sidney Beal. The postmark is obscured by the imprinted emblem on the message side, but 1908 is clear, so it was probably mailed in late August or early September to Miss Elma Osterberg of Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Am sending you letter
with this. Write me
when you are coming
Wish I could go &
come back with us.
Everything as usual here.
Regards to Mr. Miller
Write me again all
the news. how fat
are you getting.

* * *

The third bass drum announced another newspaper band, The Independent News Boy's Band of Massillon, Ohio, a city south of Akron and Cleveland and just 8 miles west of Canton. The newspaper was The Evening Independent, and still in print today, minus the "Evening" part. Unlike the so-called unemployed delinquent boys in Denver, these Massillon boys were members of the National Newsboys Association, and worked as "newsies" distributing and selling the Massillon Evening Independent. Dressed in smart white uniforms with braid trim, and with a few trouser hems folded up, the 25 young musicians of the band hold primarily brass instruments with 5 clarinets and three drums. Behind them is the building's cornerstone for the newspaper publisher,  The Independent Company.

The band got its start in April 1908 when it put on an amateur minstrel show to raise around $450–500 to purchase a set of instruments. By the following year 1909, under the direction of Mr. William H. Gary, who stands at back center in a dark uniform and holding a cornet, the Independent Newsboy's' Band put on public concerts at the theatre in the Massillon Armory. On that Memorial Day they joined the city parade to honor the veterans of the G. A. R.  A few weeks later on June 19, 1909, just prior to boarding a tally-ho, a horse drawn coach, for a concert at a village school reunion, the band posed for this very photo. It was noted that "They will return this evening in time to deliver and sell the papers."

Massillon OH Evening Independent
19 June 1909

And just after the 4th of July, 1909 the Evening Independent printed the photo.

Massillon OH Evening Independent
05 July 1909

The Independent Newsboys' Band postcard
was sent from Massillon, Ohio on September 3, 1909
to Arabelle Armstrong of Fredericksburg, OH.

Dear Niece - I'll answer
your card which I rec-
eived a few weeks
ago. We are as well
as usual;, and hope
you are the same
with love –
Aunt Belle

* * *

In April 2013 I wrote a story about A Newsboy from Milwaukee, that featured a cabinet card photo, circa 1903, of a young alto horn player in the Milwaukee Journal Newsboy Band. It's a handsome portrait that disguises the boy's connection to the difficult social conditions that galvanized reform of child welfare. In this era, newsboys were particularly susceptible to exploitation, as they were then considered independent contractors, and not protected by the few laws against child labor. And newspaper publishers took advantage of the cheap labor pool desperate for work of any kind at any wage. Newsboys were forced to pick up papers early in the morning and work until late at night to meet their supplier's quotas. No allowance was made for weather, school, or family. It was a tough trade and unlike children in sweat shops, mines, and factories, newsboys met the public everyday on the street.

Back in November 2012, I posted a story, The Toledo Newsboys' Band, about a band made up of newsboys of Toledo, Ohio. It was founded by a remarkable man, John E. Gunckel (1846-1915), a passenger agent with the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad, who devoted his life to improving the lives of poor boys. He established the first Toledo Newsboys Association in 1892 at a Christmas dinner he put on for 100 newsboys of the Toledo Blade. In 1904 at the St. Louis World's Fair dozens of similar newsboys associations formed the National Newsboys Association and they chose Gunckel as its first president. Like Judge Lindsey in Denver, John E. Gunckel used sports and bands to build self-esteem and teach useful skills so that boys would be encouraged to stick with their education and break the cycle of poverty. Many Toledo newsboys went on to successful careers in business, politics, and the arts and took great pride in their self-run organization. In 1942 Gunckel's Toledo Newsboys Association became the Boys Club of Toledo, which is now part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

The Independent Newsboys' Band of Massillon, OH had a short run from 1908 to about 1914 when their name disappears from the newspaper. The Denver Post Boy's' band lasted longer with reports of its activities continuing until about 1921. All of these local groups were part of larger state and national reform efforts to eliminate poverty and child abuse in America. And in nearly every town the first idea to help a poor kid on the street was to give him a musical instrument, a uniform, and a march tune to play.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Extra, Extra! Read all about it!
Getcha Old News at Sepia Saturday!


Molly's Canopy said...

What an interesting post. I am new to the history of newsboys and their bands, so I appreciated learning more from this and your previous posts. Those red uniforms must have been really something -- a shame they were only rendered in black and white. I was also struck by the terseness of the correspondence on the cards -- almost like your quick texts today. And I laughed out loud at your reference to the pesky possessive ' -- which has been giving me endless problems when writing about my Blakeslees' divorce. :-)

La Nightingail said...

Providing those young men with the opportunity to be involved in music was/is a wonderful idea. (Too bad girls, back then, weren't considered able to handle such things.) Participating in something musical in any form is strong inspiration for anyone of any age, but especially helpful to children which is why it's so wrong for music and art programs in schools to often be the first things eliminated when money runs short. Big mistake. There are two basic types of intelligence: logical and intuitive. Music and art combine both. Me thinks we need more intelligent people on school boards!

Avid Reader said...

I thorough enjoyed this post. What a great idea to have newsboy bands. I agree with La Nightengail that music develops our minds so well and is so important to experience when we're young.

Great post.

ScotSue said...

What a wonderful collection of boy bands and great to see so many boys given the chance to join in the discipline, team work and sheer enjoyment in making music. The band in the scarlet jackets and white trousers must have been a stirring sight, and the photographs of the newsboys band an inspired match for the prompt photograph.


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