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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Blake's Cornet Band

27 August 2011

This week's photograph is Blake's Cornet Band, posed outside of a hotel or shop in some American town of the 1890's. This large format albumen photograph has no additional writing, only the name of the band on the bass drum. (The B in Blake's is partly hidden) The uniforms and instrument types date this to sometime between 1888 and 1900.

The band might be named for their leader, who is likely the E-flat cornet player standing center front.  

Or it might be named for a place. I found this one 1884 newspaper reference for a Blake's Mills Cornet Band from New Philadelphia, Ohio. (Don't miss the sad story of Miss Laura Johnston)

Or the band name might refer to Blake's Opera House. There was one in Grand Ledge, Michigan and another in Olean, New York.

Or the band might even be part of Professor Blake's famous Dog & Pony Show, which from 1889 to 1912 was a traveling tent show of over 100 trained dogs, ponies, and monkeys. None of the gentlemen in this photo is saying though.

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Musical & Dramatic Courier
June 1881

This ad from the June 1881 Musical & Dramatic Courier out of New York is an example of the early marketing for band instruments. During the 19th century the term cornet band generally meant a brass band with no woodwinds and only a few drummers.  With 18 musicians, this has remained the typical size for a brass band. With the exception of one slide trombone to the left of the leader, all the other instruments are piston valve type. Sometime a band might pay extra for silver or nickle plated instruments and then call themselves a Silver Cornet Band. That might be the case with this band too, judging from the sparkle on their horns.

They do have a special double bell euphonium (3rd from L) which was a novelty brass instrument introduced in 1888 by the famous Patrick Glimore Band. It uses a 4th valve to change the voice range of the horn from alto to baritone. Just imagine multiple musical personalities. There was one in the Lowville Band but with the little bell on the opposite side.

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Trumpet Notes 1888

Though the band's uniforms are certainly impressive with the elaborate embroidery on white wool(?) , their trousers (and shoes too) seem ordinary civilian dress, more in keeping with a town band than a professional touring show band  with fancy stripes down the legs.

The 19th century's mania for uniforms created an amazing industry that produced all manner of ornamental fashions for thousands of different military, fraternal, and theatrical groups. Everyone loved a parade but in this era everyone also expected to march in one too. This advert for Wanamaker & Brown Band Uniforms was taken from Trumpet Notes of 1888. I have this suspicion that the choice of hat styles was a fancy related to the politics and national identities of the bandsmen. Or maybe it was just about the cost.
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My best guess is that Blake's Cornet Band is a town band made of amateur musicians. Perhaps they are from Blake's Mills, an old industrial village in central Ohio. The band may have assembled to provide music for a political rally or a summer holiday event. But where ever they are, these fellows are keeping the whole truth to themselves.

My contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Click the link for more enthusiasts of vintage photographs.

A Flutist in Maryland

20 August 2011

Every photo has two sides and sometimes, as demonstrated with last week's photos, it is not just the image but the writing on the back that creates the story. The photograph for this weekend is a carte de visite of a flutist., very similar to another Gentleman Flutist that I described earlier this year. But this time there are enough clues to make a better story. 

A well dressed man sits in front of a crude canvas backdrop holding a keyed concert flute made of blackwood, typical for this instrument in the 19th century. He gives the appearance of a professional musician, but not I think, of a bandsman. The clues come from the writing on the back.

Received at
Annapolis Maryland
Oct. 8th   1861

The date is 6 months into the War between the States, which began in April 1861, shortly after the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln. The place is Annapolis, the capital city of Maryland, a slave state that chose not to secede but to remain in the Union.

Annapolis is situated on the western side of the Chesapeake Bay about 25 miles south of Baltimore and 30 miles east of Washington, DC. On April 19, 1861, the first conflict of the war exploded in the Baltimore Riots when Southern secessionists attacked Federal troops marching to the defense of Washington. As a result, the assembly point for the Union Army was changed from Baltimore to Annapolis.

After this riot, Maryland's General Assembly was called into special session  to decide the question of secession, but Annapolis's politics and public sympathy for the Confederate cause forced the Governor to move the state house to Frederick, MD. The legislature voted unanimously to remain in the Union, but of 85,000 Maryland men who signed up for military service, 25,000 fought on the Confederate side.

Annapolis has one other prominent role in American history, it is the location of the U.S. Naval Academy. In April 1861, when the threat of the Confederate force became real, the academy and the USS Constitution were moved to Newport, Rhode Island for the duration of the war. But Annapolis still remained the main port on the Chesapeake for all the shipping necessary for the Union Navy's war effort.

So who is this flutist and how did he come to be received in Annapolis in such a turbulent time? So far I have not discovered any easy answer. Woodwind instruments like the flute were rarely used in the regimental bands of this period, which were brass bands with perhaps only an E-flat clarinet or piccolo for the high treble lines. Military units also had fife bands for marching, but this keyed flute was more associated with the sophisticated music of the orchestra or theater. 

Surprisingly, there were quite a lot of traveling musical groups at this time during the war. This is the era of the minstrel shows, and one of the more popular groups, the George Christy Minstrels advertised a flute soloist, Mr. E. Haslan, who accompanied popular ballad songs. So it's possible that this flutist is a professional theater musician.

By the autumn of 1861, Annapolis was rapidly changing into a major logistic station for thousands of soldiers, sailors and their assorted equipment. Every week, more companies of soldiers arrived from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York. In fact the first large armada of troop transports would leave for North Carolina in late October. Later Annapolis became the site for both a Union hospital and prisoner of  war camp. With this great movement of military personnel around Maryland, I think it is probable that this flutist might be a military officer from New England who has just joined his regiment or his ship. The flute was long considered a mark of a gentleman, and was a common instrument for sailors too. 

The theme this weekend at Sepia Saturday was a photograph of a live oak tree overlooking the coastal salt marches of Glynn County, Georgia. It is titled "the Poet's Tree" for the Southern poet, Sidney Lanier (1842-1881).  Sidney Lanier is remembered today for his poetry, but he was also an accomplished flute player and composer, and his career as a musician deserves more examination. In 1873 he took a position as principal flute with the Peabody Conservatory Orchestra in Baltimore for $120 a month. His essays on music reflect a strong artistic ambition with a distinctive American flavor.

But as a young man he served in the Confederate Army. Around 1863 while on board  a blockade runner he was captured and sent to a Union POW camp at Point Lookout, MD. This camp on the mouth of the Potomac river, became infamous for the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions resulting in over 3,000 deaths. It was in this prison camp that Lanier contracted tuberculosis, eventually succumbing to the disease in 1881 in Tryon , NC.

Annapolis and Point Lookout are relatively close on the Chesapeake Bay, at least by water, and the possibility that these two flutists, one from the South and one from the North,  might have met is an intriguing thought. One that could easily inspire another short story.

I conclude with a charming YouTube video of a solo performance on a wooden flute very like the one in the photograph. This is not to say that the Annapolis gentleman played Irish tunes too, but his flute would certainly sound very like this.

My contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Follow the link for more enthusiasts of vintage photographs.

A Boston Love Story

13 August 2011

A short fiction
on two photographs

‘Oh, thank you for coming over Mrs. Wallace. It is such a trying time to be sure and so many lovely things to go through. You can see I've not made much progress but perhaps with your help we can set the household right.

‘I've just been going through this old chifferobe and looking at all the many pictures and cards in this drawer. Do you like that one? That's Miss Annie herself, she'd be around 22 or so I think. Oh look, here it is on the back, Annie Grace Davidson, August 1895. Don't she look sweet? So dressed up, like for the cotillion ball. Now somewhere I must have seen her sister Geneva's photo but you know how things will go a'missing. Gennie was the younger and only 19 then and oh how proud their folks must have been of the two of them.

‘Now the story I got from old Mrs. Nour, she was the Davidson housekeeper back then way before me. Mr. Davidson ran a printer shop and moved them all over Boston. First in Union Park, and then Washington St., and around this time they was across the harbor over in East Boston, Mass on 53 Eutaw. That's how they come to have their portraits done by this here Charles C. Fisher. He kept a photography studio just a short ways down toward the docks at 74 Meridian St. in East Boston.

‘Now Etta, Mrs. Nour that is, said she thought Mr. Fisher had just started his photo camera studio around that time, maybe 1894, and that maybe he knew Miss Annie. They was about the same age it seems and she probably met him at one of those cycling clubs she used to go on about. That used to be all the rage. Everyone had to have a bicycle. Though how she managed with a dress like that I'd like to know. Not like the short things today.

‘Yes you're right about that. It is a fine picture of her. It's a shame Mr. Fisher gave it up not long afterward, around “02 I do believe. Mrs. Nour said he had to support his mama and little brother and went off to be an insurance man.

‘Seems the day they went to the studio, of course Mrs. Nour went along to carry all the dresses, there was a man getting his photo taken too. Lots of people would do that cause no one had those little box cameras we got today, and you could get a dozen cabinet photos for maybe $2 or $3. Sometimes there was special offers in the paper too. Anyways this man was a musician and he had his cornet. Let me see, where is that picture? Oh here it is in this pile here.

‘Ain't he a handsome one? Now I can't quite recollect what his name was. Is it on the back? No? Now we ought to have Mrs. Nour here to tell us, bless her heart, she was so good with names. Oh she went on about how this gentleman in his white tie and tailcoat took a shine to Miss Annie and Miss Geneva. He stayed around the studio and even played his cornet for them while they was sitting for their portraits.

‘Such a time that was, you could hear so many fine bands then. I wish I could remember his name. I'm not sure he didn't even play with the Boston Symphony orchestra, but you know there was lots of bands and orchestras in Boston then too. Oh when I was a little girl we'd go up to Point of Pines and hear Mr. A.H. Knoll and his fine band. They'd play for hours and he had a lady cornet player too, Miss Marie McNeil. My brother he played the cornet too and he took me to so many concerts. There was the Myles Standish Band up at Nantasket beach. In the summer you'd take the steamer. That band had Herbert L. Clarke who was the best cornet soloist ever, my brother used to say. But there was this Edward LAfricain and his Naval Brigade Band. We heard them a few times at Bass Point. He was a fine cornet player, and I believe he was principal trumpet of the Boston Symphony around this time too. He would have known our young gent here.

‘So as Mrs. Nour told it, this cornet player started to pay court. He came over to their new place when Mr. Davidson moved across the river to Melrose and became the Mr. David G. Davidson, manager of the Melrose Journal!   Miss Annie, she had just then started at the jewelry store. She was the bookkeeper for the longest time, and then later moved up to assistant manager! What's that? Yes I suppose that's where she got all these nice boxes for her things.

‘Anyway Miss Annie was real smitten on him. He got them all concert tickets and took the two sisters out to the parks that summer. Anyway, Mrs. Nour says it went on for a few months till about December. Then something happened. Don't know what exactly, but Mrs. Davidson noticed it first. Mrs. Christie, that's her name, she really kept her eyes on those girls. Well our gent here wasn't quite as smitten on Miss Annie as she thought. It really was young Miss Geneva who had his heart. Well, you know it just about broke that family apart, the way these affairs do.

‘Mr. Davidson wouldn't have none of it though, and he gave that musician a real dressing down. He was a man of few words but Mrs. Nour said what words he had! So that was the end of that. They never saw him again. And for a long while Miss Annie and Miss Gennie didn't get along. But Geneva she took up being a teacher and lived at home for few more years. Then she settled down before the war with that nice man that ran a haberdashery.

‘But poor Miss Annie never took a husband. And now she's gone, it's so sad. Thank the good Lord she had a nice long life. But you know what I found this morning when I was cleaning out this drawer? That photo of him was right on top. Just as neat as if she'd placed it there yesterday. What do you think of that?’

The preceding is a fiction conjured up from an assortment of facts about two unrelated photos from East Boston.

My contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link for more enthusiasts
of the stories behind old photographs.

The Ladies Band of White City, Kansas

05 August 2011

The state of Kansas has a wonderful legacy of Ladies Bands from the 19th and early 20th century. This ladies brass band from White City. Kansas, shows 16 women with a nice mixture of ages, along with the typical lone gentleman as bandleader in the back center. Compare this band to another from Kansas, the Udall Ladies Band. The instrumentation of 5 cornets, 5 alto/tenor horns, 1 euphonium, 2 valve trombones, 2 tubas, and 2 drums represents the basic list of brass instruments that a town might purchase from a mail order catalog like the Sears & Roebuck Company.

Most of the women are probably from White City, which was established in 1871 in Morris County, KS, about 24 miles south of Junction City. The first town names proposed were Swedeland or New Chicago, but they settled on naming it White City  after F. C. White, a railroad superintendent. The town was along a branch of the famed Rock Island Line that ran from Chicago to New Mexico.

At least one young woman (marked with an X) lived 10 miles up the rail line in Alta Vista in the adjoining county of Wabaunsee County, KS. She is identified as Mrs. Union Thomas, on the back of this postcard  posted in 1910 by her husband Union Thomas to their son U.P. Thomas.  The Woodman Logrolling Picnic could refer to either Woodmen of the World , or Modern Woodmen of the World , competing fraternal organizations that were started by the same man. 

Union was born in Ohio in 1861, at the start of the War Between The States, which may explain his unusual first name, and his wife Rachel Thomas was born in 1866. Union had various occupations in Alta Vista, mainly as a butcher. He also owned a pond for making ice in the winter, a useful material for a meat merchant in Kansas. Perhaps it was this same pond where the Woodmen rolled logs.

In the 1910 census though, his occupation was Manager, Opera House and Rachel was his Helper. Many American towns had small theaters which doubled as courthouses or city halls. They booked traveling vaudeville acts and silent movies and sometimes maintained an ensemble of musicians for music accompaniment. But this was hardly a "Grand Opera" theater.

Their son Union Pearly Thomas was born in Kansas in 1885, but was on the road in 1910, hence the address Sacramento, California - General Delivery. He must not have been much of a letter writer, judging by the tone his dad takes suggesting that U.P. may have forgotten what his mother looked like. For the April 1910 census he was living in Laramie, Wyoming, and was recorded by a spelling challenged census taker as a Stenegropher, Union Pacific Railroad.  He lived in a rooming house with a Carpender and a Threatre Pianoist.  Later U.P. Thomas went on to become a banker in Alta Vista and in the 1920's moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he was joined by his father after the death of Rachel.

Today the population of Morris County is about 6,000 and Wabaunsee county is similar, but in 1910 they were more than double today's numbers, with over 12,000 people in each county. The turn into the 20th century brought a new influx of immigrants, but not all were farmers. The railroads and livestock industry needed more people than they use today and were major  employers. In short, rural life was more crowded than we see it today. Work involved larger teams of men and women. To operate a farm with horse drawn equipment involved far more trades than today's farm system.

Both White City and Alta Vista had musical bands for men too. How did these immigrant farmers and small town shopkeepers develop such a community spirit to organize and participate in musical groups like this? Despite the larger population, Kansas is still a very big open country. It took time and effort, and above all commitment to belong to a ladies band like this.

Thanks to Google Maps we can get a better sense of place than anything I can write. This view is on the main road looking west towards White City. Go ahead and drive on in.

This time Toto, we are definitely in Kansas.

View Larger Map

My contribution to Sepia Saturday 
where the theme this weekend was a photo 
of the pavilion at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893
also known as The White City.
Click the link for more enthusiasts of vintage photos.

Alfred W. Musgrave (1874-1947)
Source: Musgrave Family Collection


After posting this in 2011, I received an email from the granddaughter of the man standing in the center of the back row. He was the band leader and his name was Alfred W. Musgrave (1874-1947). His wife Mamie Baird Musgrave (1877-1975) is standing far left on the back row with a tuba. In the 1910 census Alfred listed his occupation as Photographer, own shop, and most likely took this studio photograph.

I have posted another photo and story on the White City Ladies Band with more detail on Alfred Musgrave's life. To read it click this link:  On The Road in White City, Kansas


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