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
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Bands on Parade

25 November 2023

A long time ago Americans used to love a parade. If there was a special occasion, a holiday, a visiting dignitary, or a society convention there was always a parade. And if people were going to march, there had to be a band to lead the procession.  

Town bands were a popular way of promoting a community's commercial and retail interests. A city parade was a moving concert that drew a crowd and gave merchants a chance to advertise their stores. 

The band's instruments were shiny and their uniforms were flashy. The music didn't have to be sophisticated to attract attention, just loud, brash and with a strong beat. 

In a small town the members of the band would be friends and neighbors that everyone knew. In the time before recorded music, before radio and motion pictures with sound , live music and parades were spectacles that everyone in a community wanted to see.

Today I present a set of postcards
featuring four bands on parade.

My first postcard is the only true photograph in this cavalcade of parades. It shows a brass band (with one or two clarinets) of about 15, all men with a few young boys, set up in a simple marching formation on a dirt street. They wear white shirts and ties with a few in suit coats. It looks like a warm summer day. In the background is a long block of shops with a sizeable number of people hidden under the shop awnings that cover the sidewalk. 

This postcard was sent from Clearfield, Iowa on 22 June 1907 to Ralph Jarvis of Jolley, Iowa. Clearfield is in southwest Iowa near the state's border with Missouri. 1900 was when it had its peak population of 698 but in 2020 that number has declined to just 278. Jolley, Iowa is in central Iowa, about 140 miles north of Clearfield, and it reached its height in 1920 with 300 residents. Today its population is just 28. 

Do you know
this place


Clearfield, Iowa
Broadway St. 
Source: Google Maps 2021

The current 2021 Google streetview of Clearfield's Main Street, now called Broadway, shows the block with a recognizable frontage that retains the distinctive arch and hourglass brickwork seen in the 1907 photo. The shop awnings are gone and most of the retail ships look closed but Clearfield's post office occupies one of the old spaces in the block. It doesn't convey any sense of being as prosperous a place as it did in 1907.

* * *

The next postcard is of a parade with a band leading a line of marchers. The illustration was probably copied from a photo and then colorized on a half-tone print. A caption reads: 2nd Street Crookston, Minn. A large building on the street corner behind the band looks like a hotel. A clothing store is on the opposite side.

Crookston is in northwest Minnesota near the border with North Dakota and located in the vast Red River Valley. In 1910 it was a thriving city with 7,559 citizens, very close to its present population of 7,323. 

This card was sent on 6 February 1912 to Sister Nora Ambroson of North Leavitt St. in Chicago, Illinois. The address is on a block that is now a large modern hospital complex, but in 1912 it was near the location of Saint Mary of Nazareth Hospital. This small hospital was established in 1894 by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth to serve Chicago's Polish community. I believe the writer is a former nurse sister at the hospital who has moved to Crookston. Reading between the lines she sounds a bit lonesome.

Crookston  2/ 6/ 12
Dear Sister:
How are you
and all the others on
first floor?  Have you
been very busy since
I left.  I have not had
a word from any one
at home yet since I left
so I hope you will write
if you have any time.
Greet all from me. I am feeling (top)
fine and having a good
time up here.  Who are
working with you now?
Greet All & write soon.   Sr. Hanna.

Crookston, Minnesota, W 2nd St and Main
Source: Google Maps 2008

The Crookston streetview of 2008 on the corner of West 2nd Street and Main shows the tall hotel building with the same window arrangement. Though the image is grainy the building looks like it was restored. But the Google time machine plays a magician's trick because as soon as you cross Main street the structure suddenly vanishes as you jump four years into the future from 2008 to 2012. Sadly the old building has been demolished and turned into a parking lot.

* * *

Just a short march of 237 miles west of Crookston is Minot, North Dakota. In this colorized halftone photo 21 musicians are in parade position led by a drum major in a tall fur hat. They appear to be standing on a green football field, but I think this is an artistic license taken by the printer. Like the previous postcard this one was also printed in Germany where gigantic printing press factories churned out millions of cards for American orders. This was a common foreign business arrangement for US companies that in just a few years would be terminated by WW1. 

Minot is the county seat of Ward County, North Dakota in the north central region of the state. It saw it biggest growth between 1900 and 1910 when the population jumped 384.6% from 1,277 to 6,188 residents. However the postcard was sent on 10 July 1909 from Drake, North Dakota a small town 50 miles southeast of Minot. In 1910 its population was 348 citizens. Today it is a little less at 232. The card was addressed to Mrs. Gunda Dagfinrnd (?) of Malta, Montana, a city on the high plains of north central Montana. In 1910 it was bigger than Drake with 433 citizens and in the last century has actually grown to 1,860 with only a little decline since its height in the 1980s.

The writer on this card was H. Steen (?) who was Danish, I think, as the message is in that language and the first part translates as "I got here all right on Saturday morning and there was a lot to do here."  The handwriting style is too challenging for me to make out the remaining words.

Minot, North Dakota, Main St. and Central Ave.
Source: Google Maps, 2019

The three-story building behind the band was the Jacobson Opera House located at the corner of Main St and Central Avenue in Minot. The theatre was on the third floor and opened in January 1903 with seating for 800 patrons and a generous stage of 30 feet by 50 feet. It was an appropriate place to take a photo of the band since it's likely that some bandsmen played in the theater's orchestra too. In 1923 the Jacobson Opera House suffered the fate of many theaters in this era being destroyed in a fire. It was never rebuilt but the site was used in the 1960s for Minot's Taube Museum of Art. 

* * *

A similar postcard of a band was produced for the town of Wheaton, Minnesota. This parade has a band of about 13 musicians standing on a dirt street in front of a squad of men who may represent a fraternal society or other civic group. A few lines of adults and children watch from the sidewalk of a retail block. This is another colorized photo printed in Germany.

Wheaton is a small town in west central Minnesota on the border of South Dakota. In 1910 it boasted of a population of 1,300 which in a century has changed very little as today it has 1,426 residents. 

This card was sent on 24 August 1908 to Miss Hulda Hellenberg of Mishawaka, Illinois.

Dear Friend.
Arrived here all
O.K. and recieved
your postal and
was pleased to 
get it. Hoping you
are having a good time
as I am.
Mrs A Cordes

Wheaton, Minnesota, Broadway looking east
Source: Google Maps 2015

I was unable to find any of the buildings seen on the postcard in Google Maps streetview. Main Street is now called Broadway but most of the old buildings are no longer standing. Like most towns in the West and Midwest the streets are arranged in neat grids with a single main road for most of the retail and commercial businesses. This view looking east is my best guess. 

However I did find another postcard that is based on the identical photo but printed in gray tone by a company in New York City for the L. E. Baker & Co. A caption reads: 

Wheaton Band and Firemen
on Thanksgiving Day, Wheaton, Mi(nn) 

The postmark though is dated 26 September 1908, so this must be a parade from at least 1907, and possibly earlier.

Sept 25 1908
Dear Mother
It is Raining to
day I am well
and hope you are
the same
Geo Lane(?)

I hope it didn't rain on the firemen's parade.
Marching in mud is never fun.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where some people march to a different dog.


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