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 North Western Silver Cornet Band

31 May 2010

The first popular brass bands in America came from the tradition of army bands that used Over The Shoulder (OTS) brass Saxhorns. These bands marched at the head of parades with their peculiar instruments pointing backwards to the marching troops behind them, and when standing they would perform in a circle with the bells facing out. This wonderful group shows off a consort of different sized Saxhorns ranging from soprano to bass, presumably silver plated, along with fine uniforms and plumed shakos. By the 1890's the OTS brass instruments had pretty much disappeared to be replaced by piston valve instruments that were easier to play and more comfortable to carry. more on Saxhorns
All of the photos I collect are original antiques but this one is a second generation reprint postcard from around 1910-18. The original was no doubt a larger cabinet or studio size photo which was embellished by an over zealous photographer with various outline detailing and eccentric calligraphy. But in doing the initial research, I was misdirected by the different writing on the top. From Pa. turns out to refer not to Pennsylvania but to someone's old dad! Hidden in the lower right corner is a quarter circle of faded writing that says From Jack Harris Gallery, Bryan O. A different corner of the north west.

A search in the 1880 US Census brings up almost all of these names for Bryan and other communities of Williams County, Ohio. Then I discovered this reference from the Bryan Times of Oct 30, 1884.

A Grand Concert by the North Western Silver Cornet Band

John H. Shouf takes pleasure in announcing that he has made arrangements for a grand concert in Music Hall Bryan (date will be fixed subsequently) by the North Western Silver Cornet Band, Prof. Miller, Director assisted by first class talent from abroad.
It is the purpose of the management to make the concert the most interesting and enjoyable ever given in Bryan. An interesting feature of the concert will be the presentation to ticketholders of the following lots of real estate situated in Bryan.
  • Frame house 1 1/2 story high, furnished throughout, on No.6 in Pratt & nelson's addition to Bryan, valued at $890.00
  • House and half acre of land in Will's Second addition to Bryan, valued at $325.00
  • Lot No.1 in Shouf's addition to Bryan, valued at $200.00
  • Lot No.3 in Shouf's addition to Bryan, valued at $175.00
  • Two Thirds of Lot No.4 in Shouf's addition to Bryan, valued at $125.00
  • Lot No.6 in Shouf's addition to Bryan, valued at $175.00 
Titles perfect and warranty deeds will be given. 
The concert will be given as soon as arrangements can be perfected.
Tickets each $2.00
Seats may be reserved without extra charge.
J.H. Shouf

John Shouf was born in Ohio in 1844 into a family of 10 children. He listed his occupation as farmer in the 1880 census for Pulaski, Ohio which is just next to Bryan. During the Civil War, he served in the Union army as a Private in the 3rd Ohio Cavalry. Perhaps that is where the musical organization comes from. It seems a curious sweepstakes to use a band concert to sell real estate. I can not find the outcome of this enterprise, but Mr. Shouf remained in Pulaski through the 1910 census. Certainly an good example of a 19th century entrepreneur.

Then I found an another reference to a band of the same name. This one for a July 4th, 1884 performance in Whitewater, Wisconsin, where The Chronicle describes Professor Joslin's Great North Western Menagerie and Colossal Combination of Startling Wonders whose "Four magnificent bands, in expensive uniforms, furnished music for the immense array, and soothed the savage breasts of the weird animals and huge monstrosities which go to make up the aggregated show."
After Professor Joslin, riding on his white horse at the head of the circus parade, there came, "the Great North Western Silver Cornet Band of eighteen pieces, with beautiful uniforms, consisting of black silk hats, gray linen dusters, blue overalls and cowhide boots. The music which they produced was prepared expressly for this band, and was something utterly unheard of before in musical circles. So touching was it that people held their hands over their ears to prevent their feelings being too greatly harrowed."

The report offers a lengthy and vivid description of this traveling entertainment, describing clowns, Ethiopian jugglers, an 8' tall giantess, a sacred white elephant, and even a hippopotamus!  It resembles descriptions of similar shows like those of  P.T. Barnum and Buffalo Bill Cody, that have their start in this period - every one using a large brass band.

Is this photograph the same band? The description matches the photo. But I can't say yes with as much assurance as I can say that they are definitely from Bryan, Ohio. Possibly Professor Joslin was from Ohio too, as the name does show up in the same county. But this was a turbulent time in America, because in May 1884 there was a serious national recession set off by a panic on Wall St. Perhaps many shows went bust and the performers returned to their hometowns to pursue more stable work, while selling off their property with a sweep-stake lottery.

A Drum and Mellophone Duo

24 May 2010

One of the forgotten instruments of the American band movement is the mellophone. It looks something like a French horn with the bell twisting to the player's side but it is a very different instrument. Most notably the valves are played with the right hand while the left hand stays out of the bell and holds onto the center section. It also uses a cup-shaped mouthpiece that is similar to a cornet, instead of the funnel-shaped one used by the horn.

Judging by photographs, the mellophone was a very popular standard for American bands from the 1880's until the 1950's, acting as the alto voice in the ensemble as compared to the cornet's soprano, the trombone's tenor, and the tuba's bass. Musical instrument companies sold them as part of the sets marketed to community brass and wind bands. In Europe it was fairly uncommon, where alto and tenor horns with upright bells were the equivalent voice. It was never used as an orchestral instrument, but it does feature sometimes in the early theater and jazz bands of the 1920's. By the 1960's it was re-designed so that the bell pointed forward and offered a more comfortable playing position, and now it is found only in marching bands. Horn players are often forced in high school to use the bell-front mellophone when marching. I've never known anyone who did not hate it.

The snare drum is actually positioned as a drummer would use it during this period - turned onto its side against a chair back.

The names of these two young men and their hometown are unknown. Perhaps they had their photo taken after a concert and sent the postcard in an envelope. There's no writing on the back as mother would recognize them. Are they brothers?

The AZO style stampbox with upward triangles in the corners dates the photo between 1904-1918. But notice the US lapel pin. It suggests a patriotic day. Perhaps celebrating statehood? Oklahoma became a state on November 16, 1907; New Mexico and Arizona in January and February of 1912. Another mystery.

11th U.S. Cavalry Band

17 May 2010

It's a hot day in Iowa in 1904. The 11th U.S. Cavalry is passing in review on the parade ground of Fort Des Moines. The mounted band executes a left turn led by their drum major holding his saber in salute as they pass the photographer. The band's mascot trots along in front. Perhaps he knows the parade order better than the bandsmen and their horses.

Ft. Des Moines is new. The houses in the background are the officer's quarters which were just completed in November of 1903. The 11th Cavalry are also new. These soldiers have only recently arrived in May from northern Luzon in the Philippines, via Honolulu and San Francisco, where they served 3 years during the Philippine Insurrection. At full complement there are about 520 enlisted men and 29 officers in this cavalry, under the command of Colonel Earl D. Thomas. Their stay in Iowa will be a short one, for in October of 1906 they will transfer to Cuba to deal with yet another insurrection.

In anticipation of introducing this new regiment to Des Moines, the local Iowan civic leaders have invited the commandant to bring the 11th to the Iowa State fair for "Old Soldier's, Children's, and Des Moines Day" on August 23rd. The mounted band consists of 28 men - 1 Chief musician, 1 Chief trumpeter, 1 Principal musician, 1 Drum major, 4 Sergeants, 8 Corporals, 1 cook, and 11 Privates. Somewhere in this photo is young Jesse Orr Romig from Reading, Pennsylvania who was assigned to the band in July 1904.

Wanting to impress his parents, Jesse bought a copy of this large size photo probably from an enterprising local Des Moines photographer. On the back of the heavy card mount, he wrote in pencil,  
The 11 Cav. Band
at Guard Mounting
Passing in Review
With our mascot in
the front. He is a nice dog.
Don't he look like Tess.
To Father, Mother, Elsie, Arthur.
From Jesse Orr Romig   
a soldier

Jesse was 19, though the army thought he was 21. He was 5'5", with a ruddy complexion, blue eyes, and dark brown hair. He was born on May 28,1885 to William J. and Emma S. Romig of Reading, PA and he had an older brother Arthur and a younger sister Elsie. William Romig listed his occupation on the 1900 U.S. Census as foreman at a hosiery mill, but in 1910 he was a salesman at a music store. Perhaps Jesse and his siblings learned to play a musical instrument from their father while growing up in the Romig household.

1904 Register of Enlistments
Ft Des Moines, Iowa

Jesse signed up for the army in Reading as a laborer in July of 1904, but was sent to Ft. Des Moines to join the 11th Cavalry band. He may not have been the ideal soldier. His service record shows he was discharged in Iowa on Nov 8, 1905 on a "Surgeon's Certificate of Disability, without honor." He returned to Reading, married at least twice, worked as a printer at a newspaper, and died in New Jersey in 1965.

1904 Register of Enlistments
Ft Des Moines, Iowa

Jesse Romig was paid $13 a month for a 6-day work week. The drum major received more,  NCO's earned from $18 to $45 a month, and a 2nd Lieutenant got a $1500 annual salary. Work must have been hard since caring for the horses was part of each soldier's responsibilities. One bandsman from a reserve cavalry band thirty years later was quoted  "I still don't like the thought of a McClellan saddle, [it's] like sitting on the top rail of a fence." {Mounted Musicians - National Guard, Feb 2004 by Bruce P. Gleason}

The instruments at the front are helicons, a kind of tuba that was a smaller cousin to the sousaphone. Cornets and clarinets are behind them, struggling to read their music as they guide their horses with their knees. Colonel Francis Moore, the first commander of the regiment made a report in 1901, "I have 400 men who have never seen a horse, I have 400 horses who have never seen a man, and I have 15 Officers who have never seen a man or a horse."  No doubt that was still the case for many of the soldiers in this photograph.

The 11th Cavalry began in 1901 in Ft. Myer, Virginia as additional units were added to the army after the Spanish-American War. After service in the Philippines, Des Moines, and then Cuba in 1906, the 11th returned to the US in 1909 but went to Ft. Oglethorpe in north Georgia. In 1914 they were sent to restore peace to Ludlow, Colorado after violence broke out during a miner's strike. Then the conflict with Mexico and Pancho Villa gave the 11th a singular place in history when troops under Major Robert L. Howze led the last mounted  charge of U.S. Cavalry on May 5, 1916. The regiment then moved on to the Presidio in Monterey, CA where in 1924 they participated in fighting a horrific oil fire and 26 soldiers were lost. John Philip Sousa did write a march in 1924 called, "The Black Horse Troop", but it was written for a unit of the Ohio National Guard which was famous for its black horses. In the 30's the horse troopers of the 11th were used in several Hollywood films, including "Sergeant Murphy" which starred future president, Ronald Reagan. By the 1940s mechanized vehicles took over from horses and by the start of WWII the 11th Cavalry became an all armored unit. Blackhorsetroopers history

Des Moines Capital
15 March 1905

The best photographs have great clues. Just the addition of one soldier's full name and his unit made the virtual doors of internet research fly open. There is so much more trivia I could add, (I do wish Jesse had written down the mascot's name too.) but I'll finish with this. Col. E.D. Thomas, the commandant of 11th wrote a full page article in March 1905 for the Des Moines Capital newspaper. Clearly a man who took pride in precision, he itemizes every expense and statistic of his new post so as to impress the Iowa public on the economic rewards that came to a community from a military presence. His long list of the annual requirements for feeding his soldiers includes "8,541 three-pound cans of tomatoes, and 949 gallons of cucumber pickles."


01 October 2016

 Yesterday I received a copy of a wonderful book
by Bruce P. Gleason on the history of American mounted military bands.
This extraordinary photograph was used with my permission
as the image for the front cover.

Sound the Trumpet
Beat the Drums

Horse-Mounted Bands
of the U. S. Army, 1820-1940

by Bruce P. Gleason

Bruce P. Gleason is Associate Professor of Music Education and Music History at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the founding editor of Research and Issues in Music Education. His numerous articles have been published in the Journal of Band Research, Military History Quarterly, National Guard Magazine, the Journal of Historical Research in Music Education, and other journals.
Sound the Trumpet, Beat the Drums:
Horse-Mounted Bands of the U.S. Army, 1820–1940
Published by the University of Oklahoma Press.
ISBN-10: 0806154799
ISBN-13: 978-0806154794.
available in hardcover at Amazon and other bookstores.

  2 October 2016 

As I have learned over the past several years
of doing research for my blog
upturning one more stone in the river of history
will sometimes produce unexpected rewards.

Tonight I decided to check again
for any new material on the Eleventh Cavalry Band
in the Iowa newspaper archives.

What I found is not a little unsettling
because of how it coincides with updating this story
on the very weekend that Bruce Gleason's book is released
with Jesse Orr Romig's photo on the cover .

On August 10, 1904 the Des Moines Register and Leader printed a story on a concert by the Eleventh Cavalry Band.
They included a photograph of the band.

Somewhere in this group of army musicians
could be a young soldier named Jesse Orr Romig.

How cool is that?

Des Moines Register and Leader
10 August 1904

In August 1904, the 11th Cavalry band had 29 members with plans to increase the number to 40. Their bandleader was A. Perwein, an Austrian-German American with thirteen years service in army bands. He was formerly a solo cornetist with the United States military academy. The band was also with the regiment in the Philippines where they lost three musicians to cholera. 

Des Moines Register and Leader
11 August 1904

The following day the newspaper ran a brief review of the band's performance before 5,000 people. When the band played "The Star Spangled Banner" apparently not everyone followed the military rule to bare their heads.

One of the 11th Cavalry bandsmen commented:

"In Manila I tell you every one takes off his hat when he hears The Star Spangled Banner, and if he doesn't take it off it is knocked off, and the natives will help knock it. Over here the most of the people act as if they never heard of the United States or cared very little about it."

In 1904, the "Banner" was typically played only when raising the American flag. It did not become our national anthem until 1931.


Des Moines Register
21 August 1904

The band's music program concludes with the march American Patrol by Meacham. It was this tune that was given to me in the 5th grade when I was transferred to a new school and auditioned for a place in the school band. At the time I had absolutely no clue how to read any of the rhythms, so I failed miserably and nearly gave up ever learning to play the horn. Fortunately I transferred again in 6th grade and somehow recovered the notion that music might be fun. 

And it still is too. 


This is my contribution to October's Sepia Saturday
where everyone is on  the move.

Schneider's 1908 High School Band

10 May 2010

This jolly group of young men left few clues to their identity. The photographer scrawled
E P.H.S. G C     1908-09 on the negative so we know they had a name. The P.H.S. would most likely be Public High School. But what does E stand for? And the G  C -  perhaps Glee Club? And what about the little paper squares on some of the hats?

But what makes this photo postcard unique is the young black man standing in the center holding a trombone. At this time in America, segregation was a standard across the country, and bands rarely mixed black and white musicians, or for that matter, men and women. Many states had only recently established Jim Crow laws. The minstrel shows with black-faced white performers were still a popular entertainment style. So this photo of what is clearly a band of brothers that includes an African-American, seems very remarkable given the date.

On the back is a message addressed to Miss Jean Sutherin of Ocean Park, California and postmarked Jun 10, 1909. Unfortunately the post office location is unclear.

I am planning a postcard shower for Robert on his birthday, June 19, and that you folks might like to join in with some cards. 
Want to surprise him. 
Love from Ethel.
This is Schneider's band.

Is Robert in this photo? Who is Schneider?  History may never know, but what a great example of America's youthful spirit!

UPDATE: Recently another copy of this same photo postcard was offered for sale and the seller identified the band as coming from East Palestine, Ohio which is in the northeast corner of Ohio on the Pennsylvania border. The E.P.H.S. G.C. presumably stands for East Palestine High School Glee Club.

What a terrific clue! Now with the birthday - June 19, and a place to search, I looked for all the Roberts born around 1895 who lived in East Palestine, OH. That produced about 10 choices. Then I checked each Robert under military records, since all these boys would be of draft age in 1918. And only one name came up with that date. Robert S. Chamberlin. The record from the Ohio Soldiers & Sailors Military Register shows his Br: East Palestine, O. June 19/98 and his address 91 W. Taggart St.   Looks like he served only 3 months in the College of Wooster Student Guard.

Then a search of the 1910 census records produced this: Robert and Mary Chamberlin and children Ethel Chamberlin age 19 and Robert S. Chamberlin - age 11, address Taggart St., East Palestine, Ohio. So the writer of the postcard is Robert's sister Ethel arranging an 11th birthday surprise, and judging the boy's ages would make Robert either the trombonist or drummer in the front. I vote for the trombone. Robert was a "Calendar Man" for the Rubber Works in 1920 and a married man in 1930 running his own insurance agency.

Now this is when the history detective work gets interesting. Who is the young black trombonist? East Palestine, was part of Unity township in Columbiana County, Ohio and in 1910 had a population of around 6300. It had a special industry of pottery and china and some coal mining. There were 4 census districts and on every page the enumerator's W marks a long column for race. The was not the time of diversity in America's population. The records show many nationalities under birthplaces - English, Irish, Russian, German, Italian, etc. but far fewer states are represented, hardly any from the South.

In that entire population there were only 5 people of a race other than white. One man was marked CH - Yie Sing, age 37, born in California, parents Chinese. The other 4, three men and one woman, were marked B - Black and all were servants. But only two of the men were of the right age. Samuel Wheeler, age 19, born in Pennsylvania was a servant in the household of a physician named Peter Hartford. James Washington, age 19, born in North Carolina was a servant for the family of Joseph A. Meek, a lumber merchant.

The 1910 U.S. Census included three questions on education. Can this person read? Can they write? And did they attend school anytime after Sept. 1, 1909?   Both Samuel and James could read and write. But only James Washington answered Yes to the last question. Is he the dashing trombonist in the center of this musical club? It's only a good guess that can never be definitive, but I like the odds.

Gierk's Ladies Band of Richmond, Michigan

06 May 2010

A brass band of ladies from Richmond, Michigan c.1912 - 1916. They are led by the gentleman at the back holding a cornet. His name is Fred Gierk Jr. and he must have been an enterprising musician to organize this group.

It helps the research when names are distinctive and Gierk is a most uncommon surname in America. Since Mr. Gierk thoughtfully had the photographer add an address, it allowed me to find in the U.S. Census Records a Fred Gierk, Jr. of Casco township in St. Clair County, Michigan. It is only a few miles from Richmond. Casco and Richmond are in the "thumb" of the Michigan mitten, and are quite close to Lake St. Clair which is a not-so-great lake linking Lake Huron and Lake Erie.

Fred was born in 1874 and lists his occupation as farmer. His wife Mary Gierk is 4 years younger and his daughter Edna was born in 1898. In the 1920 census, Fredrick Senior is living on the farm and lists his birth year as 1841 in Brandenburg, Prussia now Germany. Perhaps this is where the music tradition comes from. There don't seem to have been any other children in the family. 

Looking at the band, I'd like to think young Edna and maybe even Mary are there. Look at the girl on trombone seated in the center, and the women next to the bass drum. But this is just guesswork. Fred appears to be in his mid-thirties so I'd date the photo before WWI. The card was unused but the postcard stampbox is an AZO with 4 triangles up which is consistent with this time-frame.

The photographer is Clarence W. Flowers who worked in Richmond, MI from 1910 to 1920, listing his occupation as "photographer, own shop". In the 1900 census he was merely a "House & Sign Painter".

The hats and bows are the big feature here. Certainly not store bought, these farmer girls would make their own. But what color?

UPDATE Correction 4/17/11:  Recently I noticed in my Blogspot statistics that someone had found this post by doing a search on "Gierk Richmond Michigan". Curious as to the result, I did a new search and found a website on the community history of Richmond, MI that I had not seen before.

Under the index to Family Histories is an entry on Gierk taken from a 1951 Richmond Review. The article on families of Richmond in Macomb county, describes Fred Gierk's brother William Gierk as the founder of Gierk's Ladies Band, which performed from 1913-14. He also organized the Richmond Cornet Band, according to the article.

William Gierk (or Giske or Girke as it was spelled in the 1910 Richmond MI Census) was born in 1868 and ran a shoe store. With his wife, Martha, they had three daughters - Laura, Rena, and Viola - aged respectively 14,10,and 6 in 1910 and in 1911 added twins Howard and Florence. William died in 1941.

It makes sense now that a businessman, who played the cornet and also had three daughters, would promote the town (and his store) with a Ladies Band. So I offer this correction and apology for getting it wrong. But I was pretty close with brother Fred, and I still think the musical talent may have come from their Prussian father, Fredrick Sr.


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