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 Fort Madison Prison Orchestra

23 February 2012

One of the qualities that I look for in a photograph is rarity. This photo image has two things that make it exceptional. The first is that it shows an orchestra made up of inmates from the Fort Madison, Iowa Penitentiary, and the second is that it shows black musicians playing with white musicians.

This glass slide of the Prison Orchestra Fort Madison, Iowa dates from 3-11-1914, as marked on the left side along with initials L.P.  The ensemble of 16 men in plain band uniforms includes 4 African-American men playing violin, string bass, cello, and trombone.  The other men play cornets, clarinet, alto saxophone, flutes (showing both the silver and wooden variety of flutes) and two men without instruments who likely played piano and drums. The slide is similar to other projector slides intended for cinemas to use as a filler during the era of early silent movies. It could have been shown between the feature films or even for a Chautauqua style lecture.
Since writing this post yesterday I have discovered that the prison did engage various performers and lecturers for its own Chautauqua series, beginning around 1908. So perhaps this slide was used for that purpose in the prison.

Fort Madison is a town in the lower southeast corner of Iowa, and was the site of the first US military base on the upper Mississippi. This maximum security prison, now know as the Iowa State Penitentiary, was established in 1838. This postcard of the State Prison, Fort Madison, Iowa has a cryptic date written on the back, perhaps Aug 1914, and a message.

This place has about 1400 inmates. it is getting
too Small. They treat the prisoners well and feed them good here.
They have movie shows! Opera house Band. Orchestra Church and Sunday School
Andy E

In 1920 the Iowa board of control for prisons listed 462  inmates for Fort Madison, so the writer may have been exaggerating for effect. One of the many progressive movements in the first decades of the 20th century was prison reform, and Fort Madison was fortunate to engage the services of Warden James C. Sanders (1865-1922). For ten years, beginning in 1908, Warden Sanders instituted changes in the prison. He abolished the lock step and degrading uniforms of convicts, established an orchestra and a band; and allowed recreational sports for the prisoners with teams in baseball and basketball. He was also opposed to the death penalty, and believed that a penitentiary should be a place of reform and correction.

The February 1915 edition of  The American Magazine, page 60, carried a profile on this innovative warden. Sanders was an experienced educator and also a gifted amateur musician on the cornet. There should be music everywhere he insisted, and so free that none could avoid hearing it. "Why,  I wouldn't run a dog fight without music," said Sanders. He followed a motto of "treating men as men" which was a very liberal attitude for a prison governor in this era.



The photo of a prison orchestra is unusual, but the truly remarkable part of this image is seeing black and white musicians together. This was 1914, an era when racial segregation was the law or custom in nearly every community and state. The Jim Crow Laws of Southern states placed such severe restrictions on African-Americans that it prevented them from sharing public life with white citizens. And the era's horrific violence perpetrated on people of color has left an indelible stain on America history.

Of course at this time, there were bands and orchestras of black musicians. But they almost never appear in photographs with white musicians. In professional orchestras and bands, black musicians were not accepted until the late 1960's and 70's. The professional prejudice even segregated them in the musicians union into "separate but equal" locals.

The black population of Iowa in the first decades of the 20th century was quite small with around 15,000 in 1910 or only 0.67% of the total population of 2,224,771. The state had a long history in the early 19th century of black immigration as it was the first Northern free state on the Mississippi. The Great Migration of blacks from the rural South to the urban North, began during WWI and continued into the 1970's, but most black immigrants chose the larger city centers instead of Iowa.

In December 1909, the Le Mars, Iowa Weekly ran a series on Warden Sander's prison reforms and featured one report on the music. It includes a photo of the orchestra, and despite the grainy reproduction, one can make out at least one black man, the violinist seated center right. It describes how Sanders led the first orchestra as solo cornet, and started a tradition of having the orchestra perform for the prison's noon meal. The inmates had to attend regular rehearsals and keep up their instrument. One imagines that the cell blocks sounded more like a music conservatory than a prison.

The man standing in the back row of the glass slide is not Warden Sanders, then 49, when it is compared to the other photos of him. It is more likely Mr. Stevenson, the Assistant Deputy Warden, who is described in this article as a former bugler of the Nebraska 1st Regiment and solo cornet with the Ringling Bros. Circus Band. 

In July 1911, The Des Moines, Iowa Daily News sent a young woman, Miss Sue McNamara to report on the improving effects of reform for the penitentiary and its inmates. She describes the joyful sound of music coming from the prison chapel, that runs contrary to her expectations for such an institution. The oppressive conditions in the prison have changed. The warden has taken away the guard's policeman clubs and replaced them with heavy canes. The cells are now more sanitary, and the humane treatment along with recreation time has given the convicts a better morale.

{for the Sepia Saturday readership, please note the advertisement for Arnant's Beautiful Shoes, saving you that rent money by selling from the 4th floor.}

Recently I acquired another unusual photo, a postcard never mailed and with no identification on it except the photographer's caption - ASSEMBLY, in the lower left corner. It shows a large group of men standing in lines in an open area of a factory or institution. In the foreground there is a group of musicians in band uniforms. On the bass drum are the words Concert Band.

The men are assembled in lines, and are uniformly dressed in white shirts, trousers and military type caps. Several are black, including a few men in the band. At the head of the lines are other men wearing dark trousers and holding canes. At the top of the gathering, one man in a suit seems to be reading an announcement. Something is about to happen.

The band is quiet for the moment, but two musicians have no music lyre on their instruments and instead have men dressed in baseball uniforms to hold their music. There is a baseball diamond behind the bass drummer.

Could this be a prison yard? Could it be Fort Madison Penitentiary?

This image was taken from a 1900 article on the history of the Fort Madison Penitentiary in The Bulletin of Iowa Institutions. It shows the same building as in the postcard. Compare the windows and the high wall at the back left. And in fact, it is a kind of factory - the New Shop Building,  where inmates worked at several industries including furniture making.

The men are preparing for a baseball game, In other contemporary references on the Fort Madison Prison, there were reports that even the musicians had their own Orchestra team. They played against the Blue Jays .

In 1920, there were 8 men scheduled to hang which was twice the number of all executions since the Iowa prison was first established in 1838. This was a place of incarceration. All the inmates had been convicted of serious crimes and sentenced to do prison time in atonement. They were sinners and not saints, but they were also men who nonetheless deserved some dignity. 

The irony is that in Fort Madison's Prison Orchestra they enjoyed a level of equality and freedom that they could not have experienced in the outside world of 1914. When I look at their faces I do not see hardened criminals, I see confident musicians who took pride in their musical accomplishments.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the theme this weekend is ladies' shoes.
My post from last October, A Vaudeville Girl
fits very nicely with feminine footwear,
otherwise click the link if you want to see more.

The Verdi Sextette

17 February 2012

One of the first commercial uses of photography was in making promotional photos of theatrical and musical groups. They were primarily sent out to agents and theater managers, since a picture, then as now, was often the best way of conveying charisma and talent in the show business world.

This set of three 8" x 10" photographs were taken at the DeHaven Studios in Chicago, also known as David Hyman Bloom and younger brother Samuel Bloom, the same photographers that took the first photo in my October post on A Vaudeville Girl. This musical ensemble of three men and three women, performing on two mandolins, guitar, cello, piano, and a single rose are clearly a professional group. They have similar theatrical dress with wide bow ties around their collars and neat stage slippers.

The only clue as to the name or  year for these musicians was penciled onto the back of just one photo.

Verdi Sextette
Imperial May 1-2-3

Not very much to go on, but interesting keywords for a search. Unfortunately it meant sifting through an enormous number of hits on concert programs that always seemed to include an opera excerpt by Verdi followed by the Sextette from Lucia di Lammermor by Donizetti. That made for hundreds of mistaken combinations of Verdi - Sextette.

On June 29, 1916, there was a notice in the Omaha World Herald of various amusements available that week to Nebraska citizens. Playing at the Empress, with continuous Vaudeville and Photoplays was the "Verdi Sextette" - High Class Vocalists and Instrumentalists.

The Empress was only one of 8 theaters in Omaha advertising their features, like the Gayety, "Where Everybody Goes", and the Monroe, "The Comfy Theater, Where Your Dime Works Overtime". Show business was all about real competition in a  time when entertainment was always a public event, unlike today's solitary activities of radio, television and internet.

The Verdi Sextette probably played a mix of operatic excerpts, no doubt from Italian operas along with traditional Italian popular songs. In the early 20th century, the mandolin enjoyed a popularity that rivaled the banjo, with many groups using the instrument for accompaniment. This was an age of immigrants and voices of the old country had a strong appeal. Though I expected to find their name linked to the Chautauqua movement which emphasized classical and educational music, this sextet seems to have found work on the vaudeville circuits.

The next month in 1916 there was an ad in the Hutchinson, Kansas News for a performance at the Riverside Park on July 21st. The program listed:
Whitney's Dolls (4 people)
Three Genettes (Dog Act)
Verdi Sextette (6 people)
Bell & Haywood (Double)

This was a big transition period for theaters. The cinema was still a novelty and films, besides being silent, were short. To make a full entertainment value for patrons, most theaters combined live performances of vaudeville acts with films or photoplays as they were sometimes called. The public was also just beginning to create a demand for national celebrities, like in the ad for the latest Charlie Chaplin movie, "The Fireman."

Another search turned up the mention of the Verdi Sextette in a trade newspaper review in the New York Dramatic Mirror of the latest acts touring Kansas City theaters in July 1916.
UPDATE:   I've added a postcard view of the Empress Theater from 1912 which was part of my post last month on A Theater Orchestra

The terse writing style in the descriptions of the variety acts would give a theater manager a good idea of whether it was profitable to engage a group. You can almost hear performers groaning after reading the adjective attached to their names.

New York Dramatic Mirror
1916 JUL 15


KANSAS CITY (Special) — Kansas City is experiencing the hottest weather (July 3) It has been called on to endure in the past two years and, though holding up fairly well, the few theaters remaining open are showing the effects of the extreme temperature.

Globe (Cyrus Jacobs, manager) : Julia Glfford still clinging to " the former Mrs. Bob Fitsslmmons," headlined last week at this theater and revealed a rather pleasing voice and some pretty gowns. A police sketch. " The Cop," last seen here at the Orpheum, was also shown with much merit on the same bill, which also included Mondanne Phillips and Willson and Sherwood. Otto and Olivia were painful, but the Camille Trio were very funny in a knockabout aerial act. The bill opening Sunday at 2, pleased immensely. Powder and Capman, two good-looking chaps with nimble feet, Gaylord and Langston, girl blackface comediennes, and Judson Cole, card manipulator, presented acts of merit. Olivette, Moffet and Claire offered Hawaiian music and some fast society dancing—their Castllllane dance being especially good. The Curtis Trio and Ed. Price completed the bill.
Empress (Daniel McCoy, manager): Topping the bill at this theater last week was one of the best magic and juggling novelty acts ever seen here, being presented by the Choy Heg Wa Troupe. Astane, in a table and chair act, and Florence and  Briggs. in a comedy sketch, both pleased. Bryan and Parker and the Penn City Trio were also on the bill. " The Beauty Doctors," a miniature musical comedy teeming with songs, pretty gowns, and handsome girls, and numbering several well-known musical comedy people, occupy first place on the current bill. The Verdi Sextette, " A Day in Dogville," and the Novelty Trio  secure results in their efforts to please. Taylor and Howard are the original nuts from Brazil, and are full of laughs. Electric and Fairmount Parks continue to draw enormous crowds.  JACK MCCLEE

After 1916 the Verdi Sextette seems to have disappeared. The Great War in Europe  expanded to America in 1917 and the public's tastes in music changed dramatically. Musicians changed their names, pulled politically incorrect music from their repertoire, and added patriotic songs to their act. And of course the cinema - the movies became a bigger business that forced all the theaters to change. The stage no longer had room for small ensembles like the Verdi Sextette.

They were such a handsome bunch, I like to think they might have moved to the west coast anyway and found work in the first era of Hollywood films. But then they would have lost their voices, so perhaps not.

This is my second contribution to  Sepia Saturday
where the theme this weekend is a picture of Claude Raines from 1912.

My first contribution is from an earlier post on Werner Fuetterer
which is about a rare portrayal of a horn player on screen.

Click the next link for more photos and stories about stage and screen.

A Tuba Player from Lowville, New York

10 February 2012

One of life's great pleasures is relaxing next to a fire in a comfortable chair and reading ... tuba music. The gentleman in this photograph seems to have taken a break from some serious practice on his tuba. With his instrument turned upside down for a good arm rest, he has a wire stand to hold his music, even though his tuba has a music lyre, and around his feet are strewn even more tuba parts. Just beside him on an ornately carved table, lies his bowler hat and a framed photo, perhaps of his sweetheart.

The instrument is a distinctive Courtois silver plated E-flat tuba that can be identified by its arrangement of three valves for the right hand and a single diagonal valve for the left hand. It is made by Antoine Courtois, the famous French musical instrument company established in 1789 and still manufacturing brass instruments today.

The photographer is George W. Carter of Lowville, New York. The large cabinet card has gold edges to date it around 1885 but there is no other identification. The furnishings suggest a parlor in a home but I think the mantle, window, and curtain are painted backdrops in Mr. Carter's studio. The additional appointments create a very clever illusion. Carter was described in a Lowville newspaper of 1871 as a landscape photographer, and the painting on the back wall could even be his artwork. He was born in 1848 and at age 19 was listed in the 1870 census as working in a photo gallery. He and his wife, Ida E. Carter continued to live in Lowville running a photography studio until sometime after 1920.

Lowville is in Lewis County in upstate New York, situated in the Black River valley of the Adirondack Mountains, just east of Lake Ontario. This past Memorial Day, I featured a 1908 postcard of the Lowville Band, and I also have another photograph contemporary with Mr. Carter's, of a cornet player named Frank Thompson, who was the leader of the band from 1883 to 1904. His biography initially started my research on the history of this wonderful small town and I plan to feature his tragic story in an upcoming post. Two online archives of newspapers from Lewis County at Northern New York Newspapers and for other parts of New York at have been veritable mother lodes of historic trivia allowing me to find more clues than would be possible with other photographs.

One detail that caught my attention was the camera's focus on the gentleman's left hand. I magnified it and it appears he has a signet ring. The initial looks to be the letter D in a calligraphy type set into a dark rectangle.

On October 12, 1882 the Lowville Times carried a short report on a two new musicians to join the band. A solo B-flat cornet player from Utica and Hallie Durez from Ogdensburg, NY who would play the tuba horn.

{Click the image to read the tragic end of a squirrel hunter.}

Hallie was actually Haley Duruz, born in New York in 1861. His father was Leon Duruz who was a wagon and carriage maker. Leon was Swiss but emigrated to New York as a boy and during the Civil War served in an Union Artillery Regiment from New York as a bugler.  In 1883 the Lowville Band performed a concert and along with some lavish praise the members were listed in the Lowville Democrat. Leon is playing baritone alongside his son.

The Boonville Herald speaks of the serenade given by our village band in that place last week Tuesday evening, and also of its music at the Gouverneur fair, as follows: "The Lowville band is a musical organization composed of eighteen young men of eminent musical talent and of a high order of discipline. They are favorites of their village neighbors and are assisted in a very liberal way in their excursions and enterprises. They are tastily uniformed and equipped with instruments of the finest quality for tone and finish.
The excursion yesterday was for their benefit, and was engineered by the indefatigable and ubiquitous George Sherwood, without whom Lowvllle would soon become extinct or of little influence among her sister villages. The personnel of the band organization is as follows:
C. L. Brown, drum major; Prof. R. McCrossen, leader and solo Bb cornet; W. J. Smith, 1st Bb cornet; Frank R. Smith, 2d Bb cornet; C. K. Doig, Eb clarinet; Don Warren, 1st Bb clarinet; Garey Warren, 2d Bb clarinet; E. T. Davies solo alto; Amos Bliss, 1st alto; A. E. Davis, 2d alto; Will Taylor, trombone; Frank Stoddard, 1st tenor; Frank Cook, 2d tenor; Leon Duruz, baritone; Hally Duruz, tuba; George Hutchins, 2d tuba; Hiram Cook, tenor drum, and Geo. Goutremout, bass drum."

On December 26, 1883, the Lowville Democrat carried a report that The Lowville Band had recently raised $160 for a new tuba. Could the shiny Courtois be that instrument?

{Click the image to read about the risk of winter  temperatures at -28º F.}

Evidently Hally Duruz was an accomplished musician as in January 1884 he was invited to join the Kingsford Band in Oswego, NY for a trial engagement. This was a larger band that offered a yearly salary.

{Click the image to read about a failed suicide and more dangerous drunks.}

In May 1885, another brief report noted that D.C. Barry, an experienced tuba player from Chester, Connecticut had arrived to play a season with the Lowville Silver Band. Did Haley move to Oswego and beyond? There were dozens of small bands throughout upstate New York. Many villages like Lowville were very proud of their musical culture and quite competitive. They often exchanged band concerts, sending their "boys" to play in neighboring towns. And civic sponsors regularly brought in professional musicians to augment and improve their band's musicianship.

Haley Duruz shows up back in Lowville in the 1905 New York Census, living with his parents and without a wife. Was he still playing tuba? That wasn't recorded.

Of course the design on the ring could be a different letter or even a picture of a duck. And there is nothing at all to connect it to Hallie aka Hally, Haley Duruz.  The photo is not a typical pose for a musician from this era and I like it because it shows a young man proud of his musical talent and fond of a good joke. I'll bet he played a solid bass line on every march.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the theme this weekend is a gentleman
perusing a book nearly as heavy as a tuba.
Follow the link for more stories about vintage photographs and books.

Four Dogs

03 February 2012

“Not Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and Astor together
could have raised money enough
to buy a quarter share in my little dog.”

― Ernest Thompson Seton

Every dog has its day, and every dog should have its story told, or at least be commemorated in a photograph, so here are four vintage photos of dogs.

The name of this first one is unknown, though some might recognize its breeding.
It is a West Highlands Terrier which stands attentive to the words of its master, Romer Williams, son of Charles Reynolds Williams, the subject of a long essay I wrote in December. The place is Wales and the time around 1902-3. Romer was a London solicitor like his father, and also specialized in estate law. The dog is getting a lecture on the proper way to retrieve stuffed cats.

Romer's dog is a distant ancestor to this next dog whose name I do know. Muffin and my son, Sam Brubaker scamper along a wet Savannah walkway, some twenty years ago. Muffin belonged to my father, who took this photo along with millions of others and printed it in a darkroom himself.

And of course, every boy should have a dog to share their stories. This dog, whose name is unknown, sits with my great uncle, Frank E. Shaw, who was born in 1906. The place is on a farm on the western shore of Maryland, and if Frank is about age 9, that's sometime around 1914-16.

This last photo is another uncle, Clifton Brubaker, taken sometime around 1920-21 near Breckenridge, Missouri. His mother, Ruby Mae Pratt Brubaker stands at the back. Uncle Clifton joined the navy and served in WWII on various ships including the battleship Missouri. He recently celebrated his 95th birthday, so perhaps we might still learn the dog's name.

UPDATE:    I'm informed by reliable sources that the dog's name was Brownie. After the dog died, Clifton was given mittens made out of Brownie's fur. He still has them too! Clifton's left hand is wrapped because of an injury in a farm gate caused by his older brother Lawrence. The camera was likely held by the oldest sister Cecile. My father has the camera and the negative of this photograph.

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent.
To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden,
where doing nothing was not boring--it was peace.”
― Milan Kundera

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the photo theme this weekend was a man and his dog.
Click the link to find more vintage photos and shaggy dog stories.


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