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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The Imperial Girls Band of Reading, Michigan

01 December 2011

This may be my favorite photo in all of my collection. It's a postcard of a ladies band, or actually a girls band, from the first decade of the 20th century. The symmetrical composition, clear focus, side lighting, and especially the young ladies themselves, I think transform this simple group portrait into an extraordinarily beautiful photograph. It's also a great example of a Ladies Band, a musical fad now forgotten, but once very popular in hundreds of small mid-west towns in America.

But like many of my finds, the back of the card is blank and has no postmark. There are no clues except the letter R embroidered onto their fez style hats.

Who were they? When were they? Where were they?

Patience has brought some answers though, and during a typical internet search for more photographs, I discovered more postcards of this same ladies band that were slightly different. This second one is identical but includes a caption written on the front, Girls Band, Reading, Mich. The clarity is a bit less than the first card and that is perhaps explained by the logo on the back showing it was printed by the Bryan Postcard Co,. of Bryan, OH.

The card was sent from Reading on March 10, 1910 to Mrs. Geo. Bateman of Lansing, MI.

Reading, Michigan is a small township in south central Michigan, about 75 miles west of Toledo, Ohio.  In 1910 the population was only 2104 citizens and yet they supported a very attractive band of 13 girls. Most playing brass instruments with one clarinet.

The gentleman at the back would likely be the band leader / music teacher, though he doesn't hold an instrument. Typically a leader would play a cornet. But even though there is now a place associated with the letter R, a date, and a town, it is not enough to identify him. But then I went delving into the thousands of photos that people post on of their family genealogy. What might be connected to Reading, Michigan?

There I found this same photocard attached to the name Simeon Jerome Whaley (1853 - 1936), along with a family portrait of the same man and his wife. Simeon was a brick mason, and with his wife Anna Davis Whaley had one son, Delevan (possibly aka: Robert), and four daughters, Winnifred, Margaret, Rae, and Jessie. According to his descendants, Simeon was the band leader and Rae Whaley, age 18, was also in the band. My first guess as to which one was her was incorrect. Can you find her?

This band and its leader closely resembles another photo I have from the same period: Gierks Ladies Band of Richmond, Michigan. There William Gierk, like Simeon, a father with several daughters, used his musical talents to establish a brass band for girls. Unlike Gierk's girls in their homemade dresses, Mr. Whaley invested in some fancier uniforms and hats. Perhaps all the the way from Detroit.

The following year, the photographer in Reading who had no doubt taken the earlier photo, posed the band again and this time added Copyright 1911. D. S. Kelly (p.240), full name Daniel S. Kelly, born 1870 in Michigan. Perhaps this was an indication he wanted to protect this photo from being pirated by the Bryan Postcard Co. Or maybe he just wanted to establish some artistic control and publish the photo in a magazine.

In any case the band has acquired a bass drum emblazoned with their full name, the Imperial Girls Band, Reading, Mich. Its interesting how close this second photo imitates the first and yet there is something missing that makes it not the equal. There are now 15 girls, adding two more clarinetists. The uniforms and hats are are the same, note the hat pins, but they look more serious. And Rae Whaley is still in the band. She is the tuba player seated on the right in both photos. But I believe, Simeon is not in the photo.

The photo card was sent June 22, 1911 by Lulu to Mrs. Jay Crandall of Adrain (sic Adrian), Michigan.

What a marvelous invention was the postcard. The simplest of messages sent practically instantaneously. What did people do before the postcard, when they needed to nag someone?

Two years later, Mr. Kelly posed the Imperial Girls Band once again. They now number 16 musicians, adding a third tuba, but I don't see Rae. The band leader has changed hats, moving to a white summertime cap. But he is not Simeon.

This man has a mustache too but his facial features seem too different from Simeon's three years earlier.

But Mr. Kelly has cleverly arranged the girls the same way as in the 1910 photo, and by super-imposing the two images using the same girls in the center as the focus, you can see that the man with the white hat is clearly taller.

What do you think? Am I wrong? Is it the same man?
Who is he? I don't know. Simeon Whaley may have found more work as a brick mason that took away time with the girls band. There may have been a more accomplished musician in Reading, who was a better music instructor. Perhaps one day I can solve this mystery when a descendant of these young ladies finds this post and has an answer

On August 18, 1913, The Evening Statesman of Marshall, Michigan in the adjacent county published a list of events for the opening of their county fair. There were four bands providing music, and the Imperial Girls Band of Reading was one of them, performing 4 times throughout the day.

Tuesday —
1 P. M. —  Grand blowing of factory whistles for fifteen minutes.
1:30 P. M. — No.2 Platform band concert by Ladies' Imperial band of Reading.
1:30 P. M. — Opposite No. 1 Fire station, the St. Clair Sisters in balloon ascension and releasing 100 small balloons, as an announcement to the outside cities that the homecoming celebration is opened.
2 P. M. — Main and Jefferson "Do Bell" unit on high wire. Grand Trunk band.
2:30 P. M. — No. 2 platform Jackson street, Major Westerman. clever baton swinging act. 4 Iskikawa Japs Acrobatic feats. Rennello and Sister, sensational bicycle act. Elks band.
3:15 P. M. — Main and McCamly streets, Prince, the diving dog, a thrilling high dive. Sanitarium band.
4:14 P. M. — State street between Jefferson and McCamly, sensational Smithson, leap the gap, Sanitarium band.
4:30 P. M. — In front of the Ellis Publishing company. The Flying Hubers, aerial act. Sanitarium band.
5 P. M. — No. 1 Stand, new city hall. The Reynolds Four foot jugglers and acrobats, Wilson and Aubery, some comedy. The Bluchers, trampoplain act. Girls' Imperial band.
7 P. M.—No. 2 Platform. Elks band concert.
7 P. M. — Opposite No. 1 Fire station, St. Clair sisters in balloon ascension, double parachute drop.
7:30 P. M. — No. 1 platform, the Reynolds four foot jugglers and acrobates. Wilson and Aubery, some comedy, the Bluchers, trampoplian act. Grand Trunk band.
8 P. M. — In front Ellis Publishing company, the Flying Hubers, great aerial act. Ladies Imperial band.
8:40 P. M. — Corner Main and Jefferson, "Do Bell" the limit on high wire. Ladies Imperial band.
9 P. M. — No. 2 platform, new city hall. Major Westerman, clever baton swinging act. Four Iskikawa Japs, acrobatic feats. Rennello and Sister, sensational bicycle act. Elks band.
9:30 P. M. — State street between Jefferson and McCamly. sensational Smithson leap the gap. Grand Trunk band.
10 P. M. — Main and MCamly street. Prince, the diving dog.

My contribution to Sepia Saturday

A thumbnail of this week's photo theme is in the logo below.
Click the link above to find more enthusiasts of vintage photographs.


Linda said...

Excellent detective work on your part! I didn't know all-girl bands were popular long ago. I'll have to keep in mind for future reference.

Wendy said...

What a fun read! I'll guess that the 2 men are not the same person because the ears are too different.

Postcardy said...

I am impressed with your detective work. It is very interesting to see different photos of the same band. I don't think the man looks the same.

Bob Scotney said...

Intriguing detective work. I can't make my mind up about the men. I didn't know that had photos as well.

Anonymous said...

I'm tempted to say that it's two different men. Well done on your sleuthing - I would love to have seen Prince the diving dog at 10 o'clock! :-) Jo

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Mike, you put so much information and time into your articles. This is such an interesting post, and I see why that first photo is your very favorite; it is perfect.


Kathy M.

Alan Burnett said...

Yet another tour de force Mike. The images are wonderful but you add layer after layer of interest by your researches and comments. Great Sepia Saturday material.

Howard said...

Stunning postcards Mike, you must have been delighted when you finally identified them

Liz Stratton said...

Your post gives me hope that all the mysteries in my stack will ultimately be solved!

Bruno Laliberté said...

They all look rather splendid.
I wonder what their repertoire would have been like...
Any idea?

Cmil said...

I have a violin that was handmade by d.s. kelly 1916 reading mich.

Cmil said...

Love the pic tho


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