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 Kid Band of Platteville, Wisconsin

30 April 2011

When early photographers arranged the camera for a band photo, it was usually with the musicians facing the lens like The Cadet Band  Another common photograph was the outdoor concert performance like the  Mystery Band. But snapshots of a band rehearsal are most uncommon, especially ones that seem alive with sound like the Kid Band, from the State Normal School, Platteville, Wisconsin. Fourteen boys along with their teacher on cornet, sit at their school desks surrounded by chalkboards displaying a generous amount of musical classwork. Is it after noon? I make it out to be about 4:30.

This postcard with it's encouraging question was sent to Allen Powell of Genoa Junction, Wis by B. Cushman on July 13, 1911. But as the postmark 19_1? is unclear, the year is only a guess. And another good guess is that Allen is likely the same age as these boys, as I could not find his name in census records. 

Platteville is a small town in southwest Wisconsin, not far from the Mississippi river. With a heritage of lead and zinc mining, there are lots of miners in the census. But what kind of job was a "zinc roaster"?

The card back also has a stamp for M.A. Bishop - Books & Stationary, Wallpaper. There was a Platteville resident named Myron A. Bishop, born 1846 in Ohio whose occupation was listed in various decades as landlord or hotel owner. But by chance on the same page of the 1910 Census was another name, Clarence Riege - age 26, occupation: Music Teacher, usually a vocation description for young women.

The State Normal school, established in 1866, was the first teacher college in Wisconsin. So this class might be for more than elementary music. Clarence Riege remained in Platteville as a music teacher through the 1920 and 1930 census, and in one genealogy listing I find him as a "Prof." at the Normal School.  Is he the band leader in the photo? Maybe, but it's just another guess.

My contribution to Sepia Saturday

Uncle Fred Wagner and Friends

16 April 2011

The early photographers of Reading, Pennsylvania seem to have been very popular, based on the number of surviving photographs I have seen. Since Reading had one of the first major railroads in the US, several studios clustered around the train station, profiting on the location for both east/west and north/south travelers looking to have a photograph made.

This photo was taken at the Patton & Dietrich studio, who used a steam engine for their logo, and it shows a musician holding an uncommon instrument, an Alt Horn.  This is a kind of hybrid horn and cornet, with three rotary valves for the right hand, the opposite of the modern horn which is played with the left, and it is pitched in high Eb similar to the flugelhorn register. The alt horn was found in German bands in the 19th and early 20th century, but was never popular with American brass bands, which instead took up the piston valve melophone to cover the middle voice in a brass choir.

On the back of this CDV photo is written:
Lillie Seegers
Uncle Fred Wagner

Genealogy research is very frustrating when a name is shared by hundreds of people, and there were a great number of Fred Wagner's found all over Pennsylvania, and even more for the rest of America. This means there is never 100 percent certainty that you have found the correct records. So it comes down to measuring clues by probability, and amongst all these many Fred's, there was only one who described himself as a musician -a Frederich Wagner of Scranton, Pennsylvania, which is about 100 miles north of Reading.

Frederich Wagner was born in 1818 in Württemberg, Germany and lived in Wilkes-Barre, PA for the 1860 census, where he listed his occupation as music teacher. But in April 1861, America was torn apart with the first battles of the War between the States, and despite his age of 43, Fred enlisted in the 52nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

The American Civil War is also noted for establishing the first modern archives of military history and statistics, so finding a specific army service document often leads to more clues. Here is Fred's enlistment record card showing his service as Leader of Band from September 1861 to August 1862. And in the official history of the 52nd Regmt Penn. Vol. Infantry, published shortly after the war, there is the following:

On August I, 1861, John C. Dodge, Jr., of Lycoming County, who had been a captain in the Eleventh Pennsylvania Regiment in the three months' service, was given authority to raise a regiment. The ten companies which afterwards formed the Fifty-second Regiment were recruited during August and September in Luzerne, Clinton, Union, Columbia, Wyoming and Bradford Counties. Several of the companies were mainly recruited in Scranton, and vicinity, then a part of Luzerne County, now Lackawanna. By October ist all the ten companies were in Camp Curtin, Harrisburg, and the regimental organization was completed October 7, 1861, by the selection of the following field officers : John C. Dodge, Jr., colonel; Henry M. Hoyt, lieutenant-colonel; John B. Conyngham, major. The last two were from Wilkes-Barre as also was Company A, and the Wvoming Cornet Band, of the same place, under the leadership of Prof. Fred. Wagner, became part of the organization as the regimental band. A very handsome set of colors, State flag and U. S. flag,  were presented to the regiment by Governor Curtin on behalf of the State, before leaving for the seat of war. On November 8, 1861, the regiment left Camp Curtin, entrained in box cars, and proceeded via York ...

During this first year, the 52nd Penn. Vol. Regiment saw action as part of the Union Army of the Potomac under General McClellan. They fought in the battles of Williamsburg, Seven Pines, and Fair Oaks. Army musicians saw duty not just in brass bands playing marches, but also as buglers, and fife and drum units used for important signaling on the field. And during battles both union and confederate bandsmen were expected to attend to the wounded, much as medical corpsman do today. During the Civil War, twenty-two musicians were awarded the Medal of Honor, many for the rescue of comrades on the battlefield. 

Fred survived the war and settled in Scranton as a music teacher, with his wife Wineta (a.k.a. Mina or Minie) and son Charles F. Wagner. Unfortunately there were no other threads found to Fred's niece Lillie Seegers.

One the the big challenges in genealogy is finding a death notice. But as a veteran, Fred got a special record, showing his death in 1902 and burial in the Petersburg Cemetery in Scranton.  

So to judge by the records and Uncle Fred's fairly youthful likeness, the photo might date to early 1870's or perhaps even 1867 just after the war.

Is the man with the Alt Horn the same Prof. Frederich Wagner who was a bandleader for the 52nd Penn Vol. Regiment? Not certain but very plausible.

But Uncle Fred's story is only part of this history, as I have found other musicians who also posed for Misters Patton + Dietrich.

Remember   the Oboist from Reading, PA ?  At the time, without any identification, I assumed this was an oboist from Reading. So I focused on the history of Patton & Dietrich.

But look closely at the seat cushion and the baseboard line on the backdrop. It's nearly identical to Uncle Fred's photograph.



And then I acquired these two young string players, whose carte de visites have the same steam locomotive backstamp of Patton & Dietrich as the oboist.

They might be brothers, as there is a bit of family resemblance, and the photos were taped together in the same photo album. But again - no identification. 

But look at the cushions and backdrop. The same perspective.

There are other explanations, and much hangs on the accuracy of the writer on Uncle Fred's photograph.  But it does seem like I am collecting baseball cards from the same team.

Another interesting feature is that
this second boy is holding a viola, at least I think it is, as it appears larger than the younger boy's violin. A vintage photo of a viola is probably as rare as that of an oboe.

A notice found in an 1897 Scranton Tribune:
House-Warming Entertainment
About fifty of their friends were entertained on Wednesday evening by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Wisele  at their handsome new residence on Hospital street. The company were guests of their daughters, Misses Sadie and Gertie. Music for dancing was furnished by Professor Wagner's orchestra. Refreshments were served, and a delightful season was enjoyed by all.

Are these musicians from the same orchestra? And is Professor Fred Wagner the bandleader?
UPDATE: Brett's comment below on the card corners is correct, which would make Uncle Fred and friends circa 1875. So is this the Fred Wagner from Scranton? This may be two different stories, both with a character of the same name. As usual, with so many unresolved questions -

Only time will tell.

My contribution to Sepia Saturday

A German Navy Veterans Band

08 April 2011

Most early images of military musicians show army bandsmen, but there were navy bands too except that they seem to have posed less often for the camera. This stalwart group's caps and collars mark them as sailors, but from what country? The clue is in the cap band: Deutscher Marine V___. But the photographer bumped the tripod as the shutter tripped and the image is slightly blurred.

A closeup detail of this large studio photo shows the Musikmeister's medals, which include two of the Iron Cross but with no Nazi insignias, so surely this is before 1933. The lack of Kaiser "Bill" mustaches suggests after 1920. 

But the caps are the real puzzle. What are those words? And it seems odd that these men are so old, for there are no raw recruits in this band.

According to the website German Militaria  the lettering pattern on a WWI era Reichsmarine sailor's cap would have a ship's name in block letters. But in 1935 the German navy became the Kriegsmarine, and after 1939 that word, in a large gothic font, replaced the ship name on the cap. And from 1945 to 1955 there was no German navy. So why do these cap bands read Deutscher Marine V_something?

But then I found a reference at the Deutscher Marinebund on the history of German navy clubs which began in 1891. Their first objectives being:
  • maintain the love for the Kaiser and homeland.
  • strengthen the links among the Navy Clubs. 
  • preserve the spirit of comradeship.
  • support welfare facilities for veteran sailors. 
In 1922 they changed the name to the Bund Deutscher Marine-Vereine and that is what I think is on these cap bands - Deutscher Marine Verein = German Navy Association.  By the 1930s there were 35,000 members in 600 clubs, and how could any German club not have a band? The band is typical of the 1920s-30s, with trumpets instead of the cornets found in earlier bands. And it has 4 horns too, but no valve trombones or melophones.

These men look like a veteran's group with  a good sprinkling of some old salts. They have a polished look with proper band uniforms, so could they be on tour promoting German tourism and naval comradeship?

Just above the back curtain are two logos, a Freemason compass on the right and the three links of the I.O.O.F. on the left. Remember the Independent Order of Odd Fellows from my earlier post on The Mason City IOOF Band ?  This is a concert photo at a local I.O.O.F fellowship hall, but where? If only we could see whose likeness is on the sculpture bust behind the curtain.

My contribution to Sepia Saturday

Oh Ophicleide, Ophicleide!

01 April 2011

Oh what a marvel is the Ophicleide! A brass instrument of the early 19th century that most of the world had abandoned by the 1870's, it somehow remained part of French musical culture and appears in early 20th century photo postcards.

Here  M. le curé répétant un solo = Monsieur the curate repeats a solo, perhaps with ill effect. But it shows an instrument and performer clearly familiar to the French public so fond of humorous postcards.

The Ophicleide is a bass instrument from the family of keyed bugles, and uses a mouthpiece like a trombone but with keys similar to a saxophone. The name comes from the Greek for "keyed serpent". A more detailed description can be found here: Ophicleide

The instrument was invented in 1817 and used in early opera orchestras and military bands, but the piston and rotary valved saxhorns proved more practical and colorful to musicians. So by the 1870s the ophicleide was obsolete, replaced by more popular technology. Except in France, where it found a useful niche in the Catholic church, supporting the tenor and bass vocal  lines in the musical service. 

But there were a few other performance opportunities for an ophicleide player, but not on the big stage (or even in the pit) of the opera house. In this postcard, two comic actors imitate typical French street buskers -

Chanteurs des Cours or 
Singers of the Court.
Jeunes filles, gardez bien
Ce qui vous appartient. = 
Young girls, Keep well 
What is yours.

It is part of a set of comic postcards published by A. Bergeret in Nancy, showing clowns and actors from the French vaudeville stage of the 1900s. Again, the instrument and performer was understood as part of the prevailing culture, the humor was in the buffoonery.

Check out my previous post on French postcards. The Serpent and The Ophicleide

The postcard was sent in 1903 and I include it only to show the wonderful handwriting, a kind of calligraphy that we rarely see anymore. Alas, one more beautiful art form knocked out by new technology. OMG LOL

And finally a YouTube video with the sound of an actual Ophicleide. The clip comes from the excellent collection of instruments at the Edinburgh University and the performer is Clifford Bevan.



My contribution to Sepia Saturday


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