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 }

A Family Trio from Binghamton

22 February 2013

A small sketch
drawn from a cabinet card photograph

Setting the biscuits on the table, Mrs. Martell loosened her apron and hung it on the back of the kitchen door. It must be about time, she thought. She went into the parlor and squinted at the mantle clock. “My goodness,” she said. “It's later than I thought.” Returning to the kitchen she addressed the boy seated at the table. “Archibald, go tell Victoria that it is time to go. And stop poking that box. It's not for you.”

“VICKI, IT'S TIME,” the boy hollered, never raising his head from his plate.

“Archie, that's quite enough. Go upstairs, get your coat, and ask your sister to hurry. Albert should be here presently.”

Archie rose slowly from his chair and brushed the biscuit crumbs off his vest. “I don't know why we have to do this,” he grumbled.

“Because we promised Uncle Fred and Aunt Agatha that we would send them portraits for cousin Arabella's birthday. We haven't seen her for a while and it will be a thoughtful gift. Now upstairs with you.” She picked up the dishes and put them into the sink.

Just then the front door closed with a loud bang and Albert came into the kitchen. “I'm sorry Mother. Mr. Ferguson asked me to go through February's receipts again, so I missed the first trolley.” He stretched across the table for a biscuit. “Say Arch, where were you this morning? Mr. Ferguson said he saw you by the lake.” His brother shrugged and gave only a sly grin.

“That's all right, dear. Remember to always keep on the good side of your employer. There's fresh preserves in that ramekin.” She looked across the room. “Archie! Go get Victoria!” She watched him clump up the stairs. “Honestly, a cabbage is less stubborn than that boy, and listens better too. Albert dear, do you have your instrument?”

“Yes, my cornet is just there on top the piano,” he said pointing. “Why are we going now? Couldn't we go later on Saturday?”

“No, Mr. Murphy's new apprentice only works on Tuesday and Thursday, and we want him to meet your sister. Oh, and here she is,” Mrs. Martell said as she turned to the parlor doorway.

“Oh Mother, I could not decide what dress to wear, it's supposed to be spring and yet it is still so cold. Does this look alright?” The girl raised her arms and twirled.

“Yes, that's perfect. Attractive and yet professional,” said Mrs. Martell brushing the girl's shoulders.

“My students are impossible,” said Victoria. “Only four weeks to our concert and they can hardly play three notes in a row before making a mistake. And their rhythm is so bad, I'm afraid we shall have to play so slowly that no one will recognize the tunes.”

“I'm sure it is all very troubling. Now get your wrap dear. We don't want to be late,” said Mrs. Martell putting on her hat. “Archibald, carry your sister's instrument case. And Albert's too.”

“Why do I have to carry them? Why can't Vicki carry her own violin?” asked the boy. He glared at his sister.

“Because you are here and that's what a young gentleman does,” she said. “And get the box on the kitchen table. That's the pie that I … We,” giving a side glance to Victoria. “have baked for Mr. Clapper”

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A short time later they reached Murphy's photography studio at the corner of Court and Washington Streets, and Mrs. Martell held the door for her three children to enter. Archie quickly dropped the cases and box on the floor and collapsed onto a stool by the door. A young man with unnaturally shining hair and wearing a fancy brocade vest greeted them. “How are you this fine afternoon, Mrs. Martell?”

“We are very well, Mr. Clapper. I believe you know my son Albert, the assistant associate accounts clerk from Ferguson's mercantile.” The two men shook hands. “And this is my daughter Victoria, a music teacher and a most accomplished performer on the violin and piano.” Victoria stepped forward with a small tilt of her head and smiled. Mrs. Martell gestured to the stool. “Oh, and this is Archibald, her younger brother.”

Ignoring the boy, Mr. Clapper took Victoria's hand and raised it to his lips. “Indeed Miss Victoria and I are already acquainted from last Sunday's soiree at the Langerhans dinner. I am most delighted to meet you again.” He fingered the tight curl on his blond mustache. “I do so enjoy the musical arts. A song seems always to be in my heart.” Victoria giggled.

Archie rolled his eyes and groaned loudly. Albert gave him a kick. “Get up and get your trombone out. And hand me my cornet.”

The two began assembling their instruments. Pressing the little lever at the end of the slide, Archie blew a sizable puddle of water onto the floor. Mr. Clapper frowned. “I believe we are all ready for you., if you will step this way,” he flapped his hand excitedly towards the next room. 

Selecting some chairs stacked by the side of some painted canvas flats, he arranged them in front of a large wall. “I must say that you and your mother are the most elegantly dressed ladies I can recall. Your ensemble will be most attractive in this afternoon light,” he said as he unrolled an ornate lino floor cloth and positioned it in front of a camera. “If Mr. Martell will sit here and the young man there, we shall have Miss Victoria stand center behind. This will make the classic Greek triangle.”

Mrs. Martell watched with approval. “Oh that shall be wonderful. Such artistic flair. Don't you think so Victoria?” The girl adjusted her dress and the small brooch on her collar.

The wicker seat creaked as Archie sat down. Albert took his place and played a quick fanfare. Archie made a move for his spit valve again, but Victoria touched him with her bow. “Watch it, Buster!” she whispered. Mr. Clapper directed them to look up. No, more right. Now down. A little to the left. Back. Hold still. Careful. Archie groaned. “Hush!” she hissed as the flash pan went off.

When the session was over, Victoria placed her violin into its case. “Oh, Mr. Clapper, I have a small surprise for you.” She went back to the stool and picked up the box. “This is for you, made fresh this morning.”

Placing the box on the counter, Mr. Clapper began to untie the string. “Why thank you. How did you know I have a bit of a sweet tooth?” He pulled the lid off and jumped back with a start. “MY LORD! What is that!” he exclaimed. “I … I … I really should see to these negatives. Good day to you” With eyes wide and a quick step,  he rushed off to a back room.

Mrs. Martell came over to the counter. “What on earth? It's just a peach pie,” she said. “Oh my land!” Her hand went to her mouth.

“What is it, Mother?” cried Vicki.

Staring up from a nest of dandelions and cress was a large green turtle. On the back of its shell, scrawled in white paint, was I LOVE U.

Albert doubled over in laughter. “I never knew turtles had such a taste for peaches, Vicki.”

“Archibald Blaine!”
shrieked Mrs. Martell. But it was too late. The door crashed sending Archie's case careening across the floor. The boy was gone.

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The preceding novelty is entirely fiction. This anonymous trio are unidentified and may or may not be brothers and sister. The age of the boy seemed too old in contrast to the youth of the other two to make the trio a father, mother, and son.

The names are all invented except for that of Ezra Murphy (born 1835, New York). Mr. Murphy was a photographer in Binghamton, New York who operated a studio there from 1860 through at least 1892.  However in 1900 he was listed in the city directory as an elevator conductor in a Binghamton municipal building. By 1910, his name disappears.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link for more photos
of anonymous family trios.

The Sutcliffe Family Pipe Band

14 February 2013

The national costume of Scotland must be the most distinctive fashion ever made into a brand name for a country. Plaid says Scottish even in sepia tones, so this photo postcard of seven Scots almost sparkles in the color of their tartan kilts and cloaks as they line up in ascending height with their pipes and drums.

This set of postcards came with no identification but I have discovered that they are the Sutcliffe Family Pipe Band, a traveling vaudeville troupe that was popular in the early 20th century.

Their formal pose and polished smiles set them apart from ordinary tourist postcards or photos of town bands. They may be Scottish but they are not in Scotland because in the lower corner of the photos is a signature of Apeda, NY which was the Apeda Studio of New York City. This photography studio, which first opened in 1906, had several locations in the city and specialized in producing promotional postcards and  photographs for the entertainers of the Broadway theater world.

This third photo has the seven men holding bagpipes and centered between drums and crossed swords. When I acquired the cards I could tell they must be a professional musical group, but I had few clues for identification. Though they wear uniforms similar to military units like the Black Watch pipe bands , the clear focus on the individuals in the second photo was not typical of photos of Scottish regimental bands of this era.

So who were they? The letter S on the pipe banners was one clue, and another was found on the bass drum. The words SUT__FF_ FAMILY are painted on the drum shell but are partly obscured by the rope tensioners.

Several weeks later I found a fourth card that had the answer to their name. This photo card has a caption of   (SUTCLIFFE FAMILY) but unlike the other postcards, this postcard is printed in Britain. The two tallest pipers are easily recognized by their mustaches, but though the group still has seven performers in full Scottish garb, a woman has taken the place of one of the men. This photo includes bagpipes, drums, and swords along with a shield festooned with medals, and looking closely at the bass drum one can see the identical insignia of SUTCLIFFE FAMILY as in the other photo.

I found the name of the Sutcliffe Family first mentioned in a Boston Globe report of December 1893 as one of the groups scheduled for a Boston celebration of Scottish heritage. In the December 24, 1899 edition of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle there was a report of the acts appearing at the Cook Opera House in Rochester.

Rochester Democrat & Chronicle DEC 24, 1899

A novelty in acrobatics will be offered by the Sutcliffe family of four performers. They are Scotch and appear on the stage in kilts, to the accompaniment of bagpipe music, to which they dance Highland flings. These performers are now making their first tour of this section of the country after five years spent in South America. Their act includes aerial somersaults from shoulder to shoulder and pyramid falls and leaps, the acrobatics interspersed with music and comedy in a manner that is said to make the act quite different from the average run of acrobatic exhibitions.

One can only imagine the Sutcliffe's version of the Highland Fling. Their dance styles must have been as much a novelty as the music of pipes and drums. I can say from experience that the sound of pipers playing indoors in a theater can be very intense, even deafening. With the many new immigrants to America at the turn of the 20th century, Italian, German, Hungarian, and other national themed bands were proving very popular in theaters.

The Lowell Mass Sun APR 16, 1912

Vaudeville was a very competitive business and weekly newspaper reports on local theaters might mention dozens of performing artists and groups. Photos were not common, so it was a great surprise to find this report from April 16, 1912 of the Sutcliffe Family when they played Keith's Theater in Lowell, Massachusetts. There at the top of the report is the same Apeda photo of the 7 smiling pipers.

The Sutcliffe Family were not the only Scottish band in vaudeville, but they certainly played more places than most groups. I would expect that their circuit included Canada and other parts of the British Empire.

A great resource for showbiz research is They have made a transcription of the Billboard weekly magazine from this period and this snippet comes from the January 9, 1915 edition.

Letter from Alfred Sutcliffe, of the Sutcliffe Family, from Grimsby, England: "We spent seventeen years in America in the circus business, five years with Sells Brothers, and seven with the B. & B., LaPearl and other shows.
Now our country with others are at war. As we all cannot go to the front, we are doing our little bit a home. When not on the stage we are out with our bagpipe band recruiting. I don't know when we shall return to America again, as our King and country may need us."

During the war years, I found notices for the Sutcliffe Family playing in Shoreditch and other music halls in Britain. Did they have the same novelty appeal in England as they had in America? How many young men joined their parade to the recruiter's office?

Livonia NY Gazette AUG 3, 1923

After the war, the Sutcliffe family returned to the States and the vaudeville circuit, but by the times were changing and they were no longer the headline. That position was now taken over by a cinema title. The era of film would forever alter the world of music hall and vaudeville entertainers.

Scottish pipe bands are a natural for outdoor events and the Sutcliffe's turned to performing at county fairs. Their name shows up on advertisements and announcements like this 1923 ad for the Tri-County Fair in Caledonia, NY. The band continued playing until 1930 when their name disappears. After almost 40 years of marching around the world acting as ambassadors of Scottish culture, it was time to give the pipes and drums a rest.

Did they stay in America or return to Scotland? After so many years of touring the world could any one place be their home again?

UPDATE: Thanks to a comment from Piper Sean Folsom I looked up the Victor 78 record that he has with the Sutcliffe Troupe. It's available at the Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings at the University of California, Santa Barbara Library. The Sutcliffe pipe and drums made 4 recordings on July 5th, 1912 (not 1926 as printed on the later release label).

We can actually hear them courtesy of the Library of Congress. Here is the
Scotch medley march (B-12157)
Reels: The Glendarual highlanders ; The cock o' the north ;
Comin' through the rye ; Miss McLeod

It's a shame we still have to imagine their acrobatic Highland flings.

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The embedded player above doesn't seem to work on Blogger anymore,
but we can still hear the Sutcliffe Troupe on YouTube
in "The 79th Highlanders Farewell To Gibraltar”,
a recording made on the same day, 5 July 1912,
for the Victor Recording Company.



A few years after I wrote this story, I acquired another postcard of the Famous Sutcliffe Family. In this photo the seven musicians are dressed in a different tartan and with white jackets. The youngest boy is standing precariously on the edge of the upturned bass drum. (Warning, Kids, don't try this at home!)
This card has a clear postmark of Edinburgh 10.30 AM, September 20, 1917. It was sent to miss G. Morris, of Pembrokeshire, South Wales. The message reads:

Dear G
Hoping you are A 1
as it leave me the same
will have a letter on
Saturday thanks
much for the box.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you can admire the fine art of turtle painting this weekend.

The Germantown Band in the Snow

09 February 2013

A century ago the town band was a basic element of civic culture in America. In small cities the musicians of a fraternal group, the workers in a factory, or even volunteer firemen might form a band. But in rural communities, a town band had a particularly high value because the only way to hear music was if it was performed by live musicians. Town parades, weddings, funerals, dances, school fetes, and church socials all needed music and these local musicians were the only people who could provide that entertainment talent. The states in the American Midwest boasted a remarkable number of small bands and this photo postcard shows a great example - the Town Band from Germantown, Iowa standing in the remains of a winter's snow.

The musicians were probably all farmers, and though they might raise a subscription to pay a band leader, they were undoubtedly amateurs playing for the joy of music. My guess is that the short clarinetist at the center is the man who called the tunes for this 21 man band. The drum says Germantown Band 1911, so that gives a useful starting year. The postcard, Photo by Struve, was never mailed though it has an address for Mrs. J. C. Miller of Paullina, Iowa. This makes it easier to find on a map as there are over 20 Germantowns scattered around the United States. Paulina in O'Brien County, Iowa is about 7 miles east of Germantown, and in 1910 it was a metropolis with 796 citizens.

Snowfall in Iowa happens even in May so this might be a spring day instead of winter. It doesn't look too cold. The musician's hats are the only suggestion of a uniform and the style seems more suitable for farmers than bankers.

Mr. Struve does not appear in the census records, at least as a professional photographer, and though it's good certainty that these fellows are in Iowa, I wanted a better confirmation. The building behind the band looked like a church, could I find it?

Not only did I find it, but this vintage postcard added the perfect proof of where and when the Germantown Band is standing.

This photo is also by Struve and shows a church and its congregation in Germantown, Iowa on Sunday, June 18, 1911. The snow is gone and the musicians must packing away their instruments, but the church doorway and the stained glass windows match the exterior details behind the band. The church is Saint Johns Lutheran Church, founded in 1878 by German immigrants from Illinois. It is situated at the crossroads of 480th Street and Oak Hill Ave. Google Maps provides a bird's eye view.  Look to the upper left corner for the shadow of the steeple, and be sure to click on the map to zoom in and out.

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In this part of Iowa, geometry is kept simple and they stick to the square. Even the modern irrigation circles that decorate much of the Midwest farmland are skipped over in favor of right angles.
Germantown was part of the great settlement of the prairie brought about by expansion of the railroads in the 1880s. Despite its name, the people in O'Brien County were mainly of German decent but came here from other American centers of German immigrants rather than directly from Germany.  

In 1860 the county population was 8.  By 1910, O'Brien had filled in the squares with 17,262 people. Germantown is included in Caledonia township, and this map, which was drawn in 1973, shows that German family names are still there.

The people of Iowa are great enthusiasts for genealogy and local history. The website provided that map and also this wonderful image of the Paullina, Iowa Military Band which dates from Nov. 4, 1906.

This 25 piece band has more boys than the Germantown band, but it is essentially the same typical small wind band instrumentation with mostly brass, a few clarinets, a piccolo, and a pair of drummers. The Paullina Band musicians are identified and the director, J. A. Cushing, is again a man seated in the center. He resembles the leader in the Germantown band, but that man looks much younger and the photo was taken at least 5 years later. I would think it a good bet that Mr. Struve was also behind the camera in 1906, so only he could tell us.

Extra Sepia points if you can read the valentine message on the bass drum.

O'Brien county is in the northwest corner of Iowa near the border with South Dakota. The next county to the west is Sioux county, and it is there in Orange City, a mere 17.5 miles from Germantown, that you would find the Best Amateur Band in Iowa. This image was cropped from a postcard and though it gives a date for the band of 1892-1902, the postcard is likely a reprint made around 1910-15 of an older photo. The heritage in Orange City was supposedly Dutch and not Deutsch, which may account for the fancier uniforms and French horns. The population in 1910 was about double of Paullina with 1,374.

(If you follow that link, note that you will be reading the second post on this blog. Seems like ancient history, as I no longer worry about conserving internet paper.)

These three bands may have shared musicians who might easily play with several musical groups. But in the 1900s, this corner of Iowa was hardly unique to have bands so close to each other. The German, Dutch, and Scandinavian heritage of these communities certainly contributed to the musical traditions of the people. But I think they were creating a new culture, a very American culture of band music that would prove a major influence on the direction of music education and music performance.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where it is a snow day all weekend.

The Youngest Band Leader

01 February 2013

In today's viral internet world, cuteness is a quality measured in hits. It's the number we use to assess which video in the endless stream of cuddly kittens, loveable pups, and dancing babies is the most distracting image in our modern daily life.

I think vintage photographs should also have a proper unit of measurement for cute - the Antique Adorable Winsome Scale or AAWS, and this small boy dressed in a band leader's uniform should easily rate 9.9 AAWS.

You can wave to him now.

The unmarked photo, produced by White, a noted theatrical photography studio at 1261 Broadway in New York City, might seem to be just another young boy with a stick and wearing a hat one-size too small. Surely there would be more to his story if we just knew his name.

Which we do. He is Roy DeForest.


Roy's picture is also found on the back of a souvenir postcard of the New York Orphan Boys' Band, a story I wrote 2 years ago on the boys' band of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum  and the man who was the orphanage's gym teacher and band director, Jimmy DeForest.

The story of Jimmy, an Irish immigrant who worked as a circus trapeze artist, a boxer and then trainer of Jack Dempsey, and for a time was also the manager of an orphan boys' band is a fascinating tale. But you will have to go back to that post to read it.

The story in this post is about his son, Roy De Forest- the youngest LEADER in the WORLD imitating SOUSA.


New York Orphan Boys' Band


In the 1910 census for Ocean township, Monmouth, NJ,  Roy, a.k.a. James R. DeForest, is listed at age 10 with his father James DeForest age 41, and his mother Catherine age 29.  Did mother have a favorite photo of Roy? She had a lot to choose from, as here is a second one of Roy with hat in hand.  How many AAWS would you give it?

This cut down cabinet photo, undoubtedly also by White, has no markings, so we can only guess at his age, about 4 or 5 maybe.

Unless we know where to look. Have you spotted the clue?


There are letters on Roy's band leader's cap that spell RACHEL GOLDSTEIN. What could that mean? This is not the period for designer uniforms, and the band was called the New York Orphan Boys' Band from the Hebrew Orphan Asylum. Why does it say Rachel Goldstein? Was she a patron?

In a way, yes. A fictional one.

It took some hunting, but I discovered the connection was in the title for a play. A melodrama in 4 acts by Theodore Kremer called Rachel Goldstein, or The Struggles of a Poor Girl in New York. produced for the Broadway stage in October 1903.

Newtown Register Oct. 29, 1903

See the Great Boat Scene in mid-ocean, The Flat-Iron Building on a windy day. Long Acre Square at Midnight. Hester Street on a busy day. The Yiddish Cake Walk. The Boys' Orphan Asylum Band of 25 New York Boys.

(Note also the adverts for Page's Perfect Pile Cure and Chas Bender's Umbrella Hospital)


The story follows a young Hebrew girl named Rachel Goldstein as she and her father emigrate to America from Russia. (In this era the word Hebrew is the equivalent of Jew which was almost never used, and Russia was much larger and included most of Poland and Eastern Europe).  The plot involves shipboard romance; murder; storms at sea; false arrest; amnesia by lightning strike; deceptive disguises; diamond theft; gunshots; courtroom drama; poisoned cigars; and finally rescue by the wealthy brother who happens to be the jury foreman and who then dies. Let's just say it's complicated, but in the end Rachel gets her guy and they live happily ever after on 5th Avenue. Basically a standard soap opera plot, only Kosher.

The sets for this elaborate production were filled with every kind of theatrical effect including a recreation of the passenger ship, Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse; the Savoy Hotel restaurant; and a typical New York street market. This excerpt came from the play's synopsis in a review from October 1903.

Next we are brought to Hester Street, where Rachel and her father are peddling. The Hebrew Boys' Orphan Asylum Band, by permission of the management, is allowed to march on the scene and play several selections to the pronounced edification of the auditors on and off the stage. From Hester Street the action moves into Rachel's room. Here more "thrills" are passed out.

NY Morning Telegraph June 28, 1903

In June 1903, the New York Morning Telegram ran a half page feature on the star of the show Louise Beaton as she prepared for her role as Rachel Goldstein. The novelty in this play was her portrayal of a Yiddish heroine, apparently a character not seen before on the New York stage. The illustrations show the actress as the young unpolished immigrant girl (top left), and then as the more sophisticated socialite she becomes at the end of the play (top right). The lower figures are when she assumes a disguise as her father to foil the dastardly villains.

This play was quite successful, attracting an audience of many of the people depicted in the production. At one performance when Miss Beaton was indisposed, there was a near riot of patrons demanding their money back. But one newspaper account from May 1903, caught my attention.

NY Evening Telegram May 20, 1903

In the spring of 1903, Louise Beaton (who was married to theater producer A.H. Woods and was not Jewish as far as I know) traveled to Russia's Bessarabia to observe the Yiddish culture there and study for this role of Rachel Goldstein. Bessarabia is on the Black Sea in what is now Moldavia. In this report she describes the anti-Semitic unrest that led to the infamous  Kishinev pogrom on April 6, 1903. A Russian newspaper had made outrageous allegations of Jewish involvement in a murder-suicide of Christians and then incited the public to act against the Jews. The riots left 47 or 49 Jews murdered, 92 severely wounded and 700 houses destroyed.

Kishineff Massacre
an elegy for violin & piano by Herman Shapiro

This tragic crime was the start of a larger effort to remove the Jewish population of Russia and more pogroms came in 1905. This combination of political revolution and racial hatred would lead to more Jewish emigration from Russia and Eastern Europe. A scene depicted not only in Rachel Goldstein  but in another later Broadway musical -  Fiddler on the Roof .

This cover page of sheet music came from the Wikipedia entry for the Kishinev pogrom and shows how this monstrous event affected the New York public. Louise Beaton's statement of concern for the Jewish people of this region seems genuine and heartfelt. The experience clearly left a deep impression with her and added to her empathy with the character of Rachel.


The Hebrew Orphans Asylum was one of over 50 orphanages in the boroughs of New York. There were institutions for unfortunate children of every kind - Catholic, Protestant, Hebrew (Jewish), Colored, Scandinavian, and even a lodging house for destitute newsboys. The Hebrew Orphans Asylum first organized its Boys' Band in the 1880s, and by 1903 it was already a recognized musical group making regular appearances at parades and grand ceremonies all around New York City. Many of the young musicians would go on to find work in the New York theater orchestras and bands. A Broadway melodrama that portrayed the immigrant Jewish community would make a perfect promotion for the charity to show off the boys in the band. These photographs of the 3 year old band leader Roy DeForest would also make an attractive souvenir to sell in the theater lobby.

So how many AAWS does little Roy rate now?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the message is all about boys and bicycles.


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