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 Puzzling Parade

14 December 2013

This is a photo puzzle, and here is the first corner piece. We can see a figure of a boy, or maybe a young man, wearing a white shirt, coat, and the common soft cap of the early 20th century. He is also African-American. He is on the edge of a street and as we shall see, he is leading a parade.

This is an edge piece that connects to the first one. We see more children running along side a group of men who are walking more than marching, and are in a double line. They wear a mixture of caps and hats, and some have a ribbon or tag on their coat lapel. They look young and clean shaven.

A middle piece shows us that there are people watching this procession on the sidewalk. A sign reads John H. Lyons and underneath Hanover Rye. One man wears a straw boater so the season is not likely to be fall or winter.

Another middle piece from further up the street. There is another sign with vertical letters that reads New York Store. Hanging from some upper windows are American flags.

Another small middle piece makes this a challenging puzzle. If this was a parade of celebration, why do the men in the foreground have serious expressions? They seem oddly somber. They might be a fraternal society, but then they would be dressed in similar suits. And if it was a holiday parade, they should be looking around and smiling. Perhaps instead they are part of a funeral cortege. But would caps and straw hats be suitable for such an occasion?

To add to the confusion we have another corner piece that shows two musicians, a drummer and a cymbal player. Both are black and wear fancy embroidered uniforms with tasseled shakos.

It's a puzzle, alright. Put the pieces together and the complete picture is revealed on this small sepia tone postcard.  {click to enlarge}

Who are they? Why are they in a parade? Can we know where they are, or even venture a guess on which decade?

On the back of the postcard is one more clue. A rubber stamp in blue ink reads Photo by W. M. Adsit. There is no postmark. The AZO stamp box pattern suggests the years from 1910 to 1930. The penciled 1148 is a dealer's mark.

The name of Adsit comes up on an internet search for a photographer from Catskill, New York. In this small town on the Hudson river, halfway between Kingston and Albany, there once lived a Wallace M. Adsit (born 1862) who is listed in the census as a merchant of a candy store in 1910 and a photographer in the 1925 NY census. He lived on West Bridge St.

The other name on the small sign, John H. Lyons, also turns up as a resident of Catskill, NY. Mr. Lyons lived on West Bridge St. and ran a hotel or rooming house.

And the New York Store? It was at 46-48 Bridge St., Catskill, NY.

Catskill NY Recorder
April 1918

  Three hits makes a strong case for this to be a parade in Catskill, NY.  Could we date it?

Catskill NY Recorder
July 19, 1918
The Great War of 1914-1918 had already entered its third year when the United States reached a tipping point with the revelations in the infamous Zimmerman Telegram. President Wilson then declared war with Germany on April 6, 1917. But the US military was seriously underpowered compared to the millions of soldiers mobilized in the previous three years by its allies, Britain and France, and those of the central powers, Germany and Austria. In 1917 the US regular army had a force of only 121,00 men, so in May, Congress authorized the Selective Service Act. The first draft of young men between the ages of 21 and 31 was set for June 5, 1917. The second round came in June of 1918.

On July 19, 1918 the Catskill newspaper The Recorder appealed to its citizens to join in the big sendoff for the local boys joining up. The event was planned for July 24 when a special train would collect the new inductees to take them to Camp Dix for training.

Do not stand on the street or stay at home in bed — get in the parade! Join the ranks! Be one with the boys! March with them! Shout your loudest for victory and America! Show your appreciation of the fact that they are willing to give their lives for our country and for humanity the world over. Let their memory of Catskill's "send off" be one that will stick with them pleasantly all through their army life, to inspire them to battle and console them in their hours off duty.
"Send them away with a smile," as Gunner Depew writes in his story. "The very best thing you can give your son or husband or brother is a smile." Get in the ranks and march in the parade, people of Catskill.

Downstream in Kingston, NY the newpaper ran a headline on July 25, 1918 - The 360 Left For Camp Dix With Epochal Send-Off.  The inside pages have not only the names and vocations of every draftee, but the names of all the recent causalities suffered by the US troops in France.

Kingston NY Daily Freeman
July 25, 1918

Americans were not unaware of the horrors of the Western Front. The public debate leading up to the declaration had been strenuous and contentious. There were many groups opposed to war, and from pacifists and unions to isolationists and German-Americans, there were many strong opinions against the United States joining the conflict. But by the spring of 1918 when the first US soldiers had reached the battle lines, the pendulum of public interest had swung to the side of patriotism.

I believe this small postcard shows men of Catskill, NY taking their first steps toward serving in the U.S. Army in World War One. There is a kind of celebration going on that one can maybe see in the children and adults on the sidewalks, and clearly there is music. The men however appear to have less joy and more grim determination in their stride. Soon they will experience war in a way that no American men have seen in a generation.

The two black musicians remain an enigma. The reports all describe bands participating in these events, but these two drummers are not dressed like typical town bandsmen. Their uniforms are more like those of circus musicians, and I suspect that is who they are. They could be members of a traveling circus or minstrel band who happened to be near Catskill in July 1918 and joined in the grand parade.

Understanding history sometimes seems like looking though the wrong end of a telescope. We have to squint to see vague outlines and very small shapes and yet nothing comes into clear focus. What we can know is that Mr. Adsit took this photo and that someone saved it. Did they recognize a son, a husband, a brother, or a father in one of those faces?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link to see more obscure street photos.


Bob Scotney said...

A great post Mike with so much deduced from one postcard towards which you led us by the nose.

Postcardy said...

Great research. It was lucky that the photographer's name was on the card.

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

Excellent research. I so enjoyed the analysis and unfolding of the photo story, piece by piece.

Brett Payne said...

I wonder if the designs on the banners draped over the musicians' left shoulders can give us a clue to who they were? It looks a bit like a shield. There's a sign in the second image that appears to read, "Harley Davidson Motorcycles." From Wikipedia I learnt that "Harley-Davidson provided about 15,000 machines to the military forces during World War I" and by 1920 "was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world."

I suspect there's a lot more that will come out of this interesting picture in due course, and I look forward to reading of developments via the comments.

Jackie van Bergen said...

Some towns in Australia had similar send offs but much earlier (in 1914). We have centenary celebrations / commemorations next year.

Little Nell said...

What an interesting post and I really liked the jigsaw approach. I found it quite moving, though I’m not sure about the best thing you could give them would be a smile. These send-offs are always poignant.

21 Wits said...

My thoughts went to men enlisting for war as well, mostly by their expressions, but one piece of this mystery puzzle for me, is the piece of paper (or perhaps material) that hangs from only a few of them men that we can see. Surely that played an important part for something?

Boobook said...

Great research, Mike. And I learned a new word - I now know what a shako is! That might be useful in my next scrabble game :)

Kristin said...

And we'll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home...

anyjazz said...

You put together a fine post from just the clues in this photograph. Excellent, excellent research. Very impressive!

Tattered and Lost said...

Seeing this broken into the many images really makes it come alive. It's far more sensory.

I thought immediately they were marching off to war.

Fascinating image!

MichelleR said...

I happened upon your blog while looking for something else. Perhaps the following item from a newspaper in 1916 might help you date your postcard: "W. M. Adsit, at the lower town bridge, took some excellent photographs of the soldier boys as they were leaving for camp; also in group in front of the Armory on Wednesday evening." The Catskill Recorder, June 30, 1916

Mike Brubaker said...

Thank you for the excerpt and help, MichelleR. That really solves the puzzle and gives a real context for this parade.


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