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 Ladies of Wien

28 November 2014

The young ladies of Wien

are unlike girls of Berlin.

Their music has charms

but their faces alarm.

They are so much better
when heard and not seen.

Die Wiener Damenkapelle
The Viennese Ladies Band

A postcard from Wien – Vienna, circa 1910
of a seven member "ladies" band/orchestra and their bandmaster.
All their individual first names are written over the band's name.
Notice that they all wear wristwatches too.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everything is not what it seems.

Brown's Family Orchestra

21 November 2014

Some puzzles turn out to be more challenging than they first appear. The solution seems tantalizingly apparent but somehow remains concealed. For some time this musical photo has been a riddle that remained unsolved. At least it was until this week when its secret was finally unlocked. The answer turned out to more interesting than expected.

It is a postcard photo of a family band posed outdoors in a field. Their name is displayed on the bass drum.
Brown's Family Orchestra
Wilmington, Del.
Father and mother stand on the left behind their five young children. All wear durable band uniforms with heavy capes and military style caps. Father holds a French horn which, because it is my instrument too, is the reason the photo first intrigued my interest. Mother has a tenor saxophone and in descending age the children hold a tuba, drum, cornet, alto horn and alto saxophone. The oldest boy appears about age 13 while the two on the right might be 5 or 6. Are they boys or girls? Maybe twins? The bobbed hair style suggests 1920s or 1930s. They have the look of a professional family band, a musical tradition that has its own album in my collection. The two stories that most resemble this group are the Lehr Family Orchestra and the Biehl Family Orchestra. Both of those groups included a violin player which at a stretch allowed for the term orchestra, but the Brown's instrumentation is just a small seven piece wind band. 

The back of the card has a note that reads
Harvest Home

A name, a place, a date. This puzzle seems pretty easy. But the question of who they are turned out to be a difficult question to answer.

_ _

The surname Brown is perhaps one of the most common in America, and quite a few live in Wilmington, Delaware. The date of 1925 makes the censuses of 1920 and 1930 of limited usefulness, since searching for a husband and wife named Brown with 5 children produced too many possible matches.

The note also adds confusion as it refers to a fairground called the Bullion Harvest Home which is in Venango County, Pennsylvania, some 300 miles from Wilmington. This private park was the property of Perry Edward Hoffman who established it near his farm west of the Alleghenies near Franklin, PA and rented it out for family reunions and fraternal society events.

Even the name Brown Family Orchestra proved problematic as there were several other groups with that same name beginning in the 1880s and going into the 1960s. The photo is actually on the Delaware State Heritage website but there is no information provided. No full name and no date.

It was a puzzle. Who exactly was this jovial family of musicians?

This week I tried searching again in which is a super archive that I only recently added to my list of research sites. Instead of orchestra I substituted band, and Bingo! the lock clicked open.

The Neosho MO Times
October 14, 1926

A detailed announcement of a Unique Program coming to the Orpheum Theater appeared in the Neosho MO Times for October 14, 1926. The Famous Brown Family Band was to perform.

The company includes Ralph, 15 years, bass; Vera, 12, the only girl, plays drums, traps, bells and xylophone; Martin, 9, the cornet; and Albert, 7, the cymbals and alto, while Mrs. Brown plays the piano and saxaphone (sic) and Mr. Brown, director, is master of the violin and French horn, and last but far from least is Gordon, the youngest of all who is past master of the saxaphone. 

In all it is just a true American family of musicians.

The family traveled with its own tutor, a licensed school teacher who made sure that Whether in Maine or California the Brown juniors get the instruction just the same as if they were in their school at home.

_ _

Riverside CA Daily Press
February 2, 1927

The Brown family band was next mentioned in a report from the Riverside CA Daily Press of February 2, 1927.

The family consists of Mr. and Mrs. H. H. Brown and five children, whose ages are 18, 12, 11, 10, 8 years respectively. Their home is in Delaware. Last winter they played in Florida and last summer at Revere Beach, near Boston. When crossing the continent they stopped along the route and played at theaters. They traveled in a well-equipped house on wheels. A school teacher accompanies them at all times, so the children keep up with the public schools.

_ _

With those initials and names I quickly found them in the 1920 census for Wilmington Delaware. Herbert Brown, age 36 was born in Pennsylvania and worked as a Contractor. His wife's name was Luella Brown, age 34, and five children, Ralph, age 10; Verna, 5; Martin, 4; Albert, 2; and Gordon, 1. The father's draft card from 1918 gave his full name as Herbert Hinmon Brown and he worked for a company that made components for shipbuilding and railway rolling stock. How did he become a master of the violin and horn, two instruments with very different musical disciplines? Was he from a musical or theatrical family? That's a question that may never get answered. 

1920 U.S. Census, Wilmington, DE

Rocford IL Republic
September 25, 1926
According to the several newspaper notices that I found, the Brown family performed around the country from Florida to Massachusetts to California from 1925 to 1928 playing vaudeville theaters, county fairs, dance halls, church socials and the like. They traveled in a kind of early motor home described as an auto pullman car. I have been unable to find a picture of this vehicle, but it may have been a large converted bus or a house trailer towed behind a car. It even had a fold-out platform that Mr. Brown had built which the family used whenever they needed a stage.

In September 1926, Mr. Brown got into a dispute with a tourist camp near Rockford, IL which charged him 50¢ even thought the signs to the campground read "Free Tourist Camp".

In the 1920s most people used the trains to move around the United States. The interstate motorways did not exist and even the few numbered national highways were largely incomplete. Recreational camping was still a novelty and for a family of 8 people, including the tutor, to crisscross the country in these years was a formidable logistic feat.

How long they maintained this lifestyle is unknown but the dates suggest that it was more than just a summertime activity and evidently they made enough money to keep going. Undoubtedly the decline of the vaudeville theater circuit and the new popularity of movies with sound and then the rise of radio contributed to the end of traveling show business families. The Brown family decided to leave Wilmington and relocate to Shreveport, LA.

_ _

  Neosho MO Daily Democrat
October 16, 1926

Their Neosho, MO performance received several writeups in the papers. One report made special mention of the two youngest musicians, Albert and Gordon and corrected their respective instruments. Albert had the nickname of "Pud" Brown and was promoted as a seven (actually 8) year old saxophone wonder.  In a closeup of the band we can see that Albert Pud Brown is the older  boy on the right holding the alto saxophone.

Instead of picking up "Al" or "Bert" as a nickname, the family called him "Pud". The appellation stuck and he continued to use it for the rest of his life. Had the Neosho report left out this detail we might never learn about the rest of the Brown's story.

Though the family's roving life came to an end, Pud Brown chose to make his career as a professional musician playing saxophone and clarinet. He settled in Chicago which had become a booming center for jazz music as a result of Chicago's prohibition era nightclub scene. His specialty was in Dixieland music but his talent found him work playing with many well known bands like Phil Lavant's orchestra in 1938 and then Lawrence Welk's band where he met his future wife in 1941. During the war he returned briefly to Shreveport but Hollywood beckoned and he moved to Los Angeles where he was a sideman in the bands of Les Brown, Coleman Hawkins, Doc Cheatham, Kid Ory, and Louis Armstrong among many others. In 1975 he returned to Louisiana and the birthplace of American jazz – New Orleans. He played in Clive Wilson's Original Camelia Brass Band and was a regular featured musician at the French Quarter's Palm Court Jazz Cafe.  He was celebrated in jazz circles as one of the best of traditional Dixieland soloists on clarinet and saxophone.

Pud Brown died on May 27, 1996 and his obituary was written up in several newspapers including the New York Times, the Guardian, and the Independent. Some made just a mention of his early years touring in the family band but I don't know that anyone has ever made his connection to the postcard of Brown's Family Orchestra.

 Jazz Funeral for Albert "Pud" Brown, May 1996
Source: Wikimedia

Of course the musicians of New Orleans had to give one of their own a time-honored jazz funeral parade. Someone has generously posted several photos of their tribute on Wikimedia and this one shows the parade leader starting off under a traditional umbrella while holding a large photograph of Albert "Pud" Brown (1917 - 1996). You can see more at this link.

Solving a photo riddle always provides a satisfaction, but the surprise of discovering it was a very youthful photo of a celebrated musician makes this a very special reward. The bonus came from YouTube with a chance to actually hear Pud Brown and get a sense of what his family band sounded like. 

_ _

Pete Daily and his Chicagoans was a Dixieland band led by the cornet player Pete Daily. He started his band in Chicago but in 1942 moved to Hollywood and formed a 7 piece band. It included Pud Brown on clarinet and saxophone and may be the reason why he moved there. The band made several short films in 1951 and here are two which feature Pud. The first is called Goat Blues and Pud takes a solo at about 1:40.



This second clip is entitled Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone. and Pud Brown starts the tune playing tenor saxophone. This uptempo song by Sam H. Stept with lyrics by Sidney Clare was published in 1930 but shares essentially the same chords and melody structure as an earlier song from the 1920s – Has Anybody Seen My Gal? also known as Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue. It was a very popular melody in 1925, the same year that Brown's Family Band was touring. I suspect that Pud knew it backwards and forwards. 



But wait! For my friends at Sepia Saturday, there's a dog too!

Neosha MO Times
October 14, 1926

And not just any dog, but Sandow the World's Greatest Dog!

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more family stories that may include a dog or two.

Time for Two

14 November 2014

Today's extreme sports enthusiasts could learn something from the daring example of this happy couple of 1913 who are sledding  down a steep Alpine slope while at the same time playing two complex string instruments. If only they had had Go-Pro video cameras in their hats.


This unidentified Austrian duo are holding two unusual  instruments that produce a very distinctive and beautiful string sound.  

The large guitar is a type of harp guitar instrument developed in Vienna around 1850. It is called a contra guitar or a Schrammel guitar after the brothers Johann Schrammel (1850–1893) and Josef Schrammel (1852-1895) who popularized the instrument in their Viennese quartet of the 1880s.

The contra guitar or Kontragitarre typically has 15 strings, with the normal 6 strings of a regular fretted guitar combined with a second neck for 9 more strings played open without frets. Though associated with the music of Wien it was also used by small musical groups in the Alpine regions of Bavaria, Austria, and Switzerland. Note that the instrument in the postcard has an almost modern shape with its angled upper bout. This allows an easier reach of the higher frets by the left hand. 


The postcard was sent on 27/IV/1913 to Fräulein Berta Kocanter (?) of Wien. Given the calamitous events that changed the boundaries if not the landscape of Europe in the next 4 years, I like to think this card was saved for its happy memories of a more peaceful time.

YouTube provides a perfect video to hear and see these two instruments together in the duo of Alfons and Rita Bauer from a 1990 German television program.



Another musical couple who are perhaps a few years beyond extreme performances are pictured in this postcard from 1912.

Volkssänger-Duett Franzl –Mirzi
D' Juxvögl"

Frau Mirzi stands with a standard 6 string guitar while Herr Franzl has a zither on his lap. As Volkssänger the duo specialized in folk songs. Vogel means bird but their full name does not easily translate so I assume it is a contraction of a German dialect word.


Alpine zither
Source: Wikimedia

Franzl's instrument is an Alpine Zither which is a larger version of the regular concert zither having 42 strings. The first 4 or 5 melody strings are over a fretted fingerboard and a curved extension is added in the same manner as the contra guitar to support the length of the open bass strings.

The playing technique is similar to a steel guitar or a dulcimer but requires a very dexterous little finger on the right hand to reach the bass notes.


This Austrian postcard was sent in December 1910 to another Fräulein whose name and address is beyond my ability to decipher.

One characteristic of the Germanic folk music of the Alps is good humor. This duo - Original Christania Duo — Frankfurt a M. certainly demonstrate it with their clown faces and comic Alpine costumes. Surely they were singers too though the only one with an instrument is the man playing a guitar. I would guess his female companion undoubtedly had the last word in the act.

This postcard was sent in August 1913 from Hessen, Germany which is a good distance from the Alps. It shows how well the Alpine music style, even in satire, traveled throughout the Germanic people. 

YouTube provides several videos with the delightful sound of the zither and contra guitar. This group, die Kerschbam Zithermusi has one of the best using three zithers. Perfect music for any beer or wine.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link to see what other couples are up to.

The Poet Photographer

08 November 2014

Some photographs are more than a two-dimensional image. Some have hidden meanings and clever twists that convert a picture into poetry. This modest carte de visite photo is one of them.

A bearded man stands in a typical 1860's photographer's studio blowing into a type of woodwind instrument. His plain hat and coat are not those of a bandsman or professional musician. Though his instrument might be mistaken for a clarinet or even an oboe, it is something very different which is seldom pictured in early photographs.

He is playing a gentleman's instrument, a flageolet.  

English Flageolet
Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection

The flageolet or flageolett is a type of recorder or fipple flute which produces a whistle sound when the player's breath is split over a sharp edged window that is carved into the wooden tube. It descends from the recorder or blockflöte which was an ancient wind instrument common throughout the medieval and baroque eras. But the recorder lacked the ability to play very loudly and as Baroque composers like Bach became old fashioned in the new Classical era of Mozart, many early wind instruments like the recorder were made obsolete. Its replacement was the keyed flute which was played in a transverse manner by blowing across a hole placed in the top part of the tube. It offered more notes and more dynamic contrast.

But the flageolet had a brief period of resurgence in the early Romantic era when English and French instrument makers made a new version with keys. The ivory beak-like top is hollow and makes no noise. The lower section has 6 or 7 finger holes in front and one thumb hole in the back. The additional keywork untangles the fingerings for different notes. On 19th century flageolets there are often ivory buttons between the tone holes which are mainly decorative but help in holding the instrument. Like the recorder it was incapable of loud and soft dynamics and therefore was not intended as an orchestral or band instrument. Mostly it was played as a solo instrument for private enjoyment or occasionally as an accompaniment for voices. 

YouTube provides a very good demonstration of a flageolet played by Rubens Küffer - his first try with an original French flageolet. This one is made of ebony while the example above is in boxwood. It's a short video so stick with it until his courteous bow when he doffs his cap.



This second cdv shows the same musician but this time seated and surrounded by three men who have placed their hands on his shoulders in an affectionate manner. The flageolet player has removed his hat and holds a piece of paper in his hand. They have the look of friends rather than family and initially I thought they might be a quartet of singers.

The floor cloth has the same pattern as the first and the only thing to suggest that the photographs were taken at different times is the color of his hat. Cream for summer and grey for fall?

What is on that paper and why does he want us to look at it?

 _ _

The unsophisticated poses of the men and the way the paper mount of these two cdvs has been trimmed at the corners so as to better fit the early photo albums, likely dates them from around 1865 to 1870. On the back of both small photographs is a large dramatic design of a young man holding a flag and heroically waving his hand forward. On the flag is the word EXCELSIOR.  The photographer is:

Traveling Artist

His full mellifluous name was Cyrus G. Blatt of Bernville, Pennsylvania, and he was a traveling artist, a common term then used for photographers who took up a itinerant trade with their camera and went town to town with all their equipment making photographs. In the 1860s this part of southeast Pennsylvania seems to have been the center of American photography to judge by the thousands of carte de visites and later cabinet photos preserved from this area.   

Excelsior is a word usually defined as Ever Higher!

It is also the term for fine wood shavings used as packing material, the 19th century bubble wrap.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

The illustration of this flag man in the short kilt is actually a literary allusion which would have been instantly recognizable to anyone from the mid-19th century. He is the young standard-bearer in the poem Excelsior by  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).

Poetical Works of H. W. Longfellow pub. 1856
Source: Google Books

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth, who bore, 'mid snow and ice,
A banner with the strange device,

His brow was sad; his eye beneath,
Flashed like a falchion* from its sheath,
And like a silver clarion rung
The accents of that unknown tongue,

In happy homes he saw the light
Of household fires gleam warm and bright;
Above, the spectral glaciers shone,
And from his lips escaped a groan,

"Try not the Pass!" the old man said;
"Dark lowers the tempest overhead,
The roaring torrent is deep and wide!"
And loud that clarion voice replied,

"Oh stay," the maiden said, "and rest
Thy weary head upon this breast! "
A tear stood in his bright blue eye,
But still he answered, with a sigh,

"Beware the pine-tree's withered branch!
Beware the awful avalanche!"
This was the peasant's last Good-night,
A voice replied, far up the height,

At break of day, as heavenward
The pious monks of Saint Bernard
Uttered the oft-repeated prayer,
A voice cried through the startled air,

A traveller, by the faithful hound,
Half-buried in the snow was found,
Still grasping in his hand of ice
That banner with the strange device,

There in the twilight cold and gray,
Lifeless, but beautiful, he lay,
And from the sky, serene and far,
A voice fell like a falling star,

* A falchion is a short sword with a curved blade.

Longfellow published this poem in a collection of his poetry in 1841 and it became one of his most well known short poems. Though he had traveled widely throughout Europe and spoke several languages, Longfellow reportedly took his inspiration for this poem from the motto Excelsior on the New York state seal. The poem was originally published without illustrations, but its popularity invited artists to render the words into art and even into song. This next image comes from a 4th grade school reader published in 1886 by a company using Excelsior as their trade name.

Sadlier's Excelsior 4th Reader: pub. 1886
Source: Google Books

The imagery in Longfellow's poem captured the sentiment of many aspiring adventurers, entrepreneurs, and artists of the second half of the 19th century. When you see a man with a banner held high on a mountaintop in a 19th century painting it undoubtedly is a reference to this poem. Composers also were captivated by the words. Franz Liszt used the idea of the ever upward youth for the prelude to an early secular oratorio entitled Die Glocken des Strassburger MünstersThe Bells of Strasbourg Cathedral. Richard Wagner like it so much he ‘borrowed’ Liszt’s Excelsior theme for the opening motif of his opera Parsifal. There were at least two popular song settings of Excelsior made by other composers, and even a ragtime piano piece published in 1909 by the composer Joseph Lamb entitled Excelsior - A Rag.

Title page: Excelsior - A Rag
by Joseph Lamb 1909

Walt Whitman
frontispiece to Leaves of Grass 1855

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was not the only poet who liked this wonderful exclamation. His contemporary Walt Whitman (1819-1892) also used it as a title of a poem that was published in 1855 in the collection Leaves of Grass, arguably the most influential literary work of the 19th century.

_ _

by Walt Whitman

Who has gone farthest? for I would go farther,
And who has been just? for I would be the most just
    person of the earth,

And who most cautious? for I would be more

And who has been happiest? O I think it is I !  I
        think no one was ever happier than I;

And who has lavish'd all? for I lavish constantly the
        best I have;
And who has been firmest? For I would be firmer;

And who proudest? for I think I have reason to be
        the proudest son alive — for I am the son of the
        brawny and tall-topt city;

And who has been bold and true? For I would be the boldest
        the boldest and truest being of the universe;
And who benevolent? For I would show more be-
         nevolence than all the rest;
And who has projected beautiful words through the
         longest time? By God! I will outvie him! I
         will say such words, they shall stretch through
         longer time!
And who has receiv'd the love of the most friends?
         For I know what it is to receive the passionate
         love of many friends;
And to whom has been given the sweetest from
         women, and paid them in kind? For I will
         take the like sweets and pay them in kind;
And who possesses a perfect and enamour'd body?
         For I do not believe any one possesses a more
         perfect or enamour'd body than mine;
And who thinks the amplest thoughts? For I will
         surround those thoughts;
And who has made hymns fit for the earth? For I
         am mad with devouring extacy to make joyous
         hymns for the whole earth!

U.S. Postal Stamps 1940

I will leave it to readers to decide which is the better poem, though it seems clear that Whitman has used Longfellow's thematic idea. What interests me is that both men cultivated an individual fashion style and frequently posed for photographs to enhance their celebrity status. And as you can see there is a resemblance between both poets and the musical gentleman from Pennsylvania. To be clear he is neither Whitman nor Longfellow, but I do think he might be a poet too.

This infant of undetermined gender is perched on a photographer's stool and has wiggled its foot just as the camera shutter blinked. The child seems unsupported but it's possible a hidden mother is holding on to it from behind the backdrop.

The style is typical of thousands of similar children's  photographs made by traveling artist photographers.

But the printing on the back is what makes it a unique photo.

C. G. Blatt's
Photographic Emporium,

Isn't this a good old treat,
Where the public fears no cheat,
They know his pictures have no beat,
In finish, excellence,–and cheap.

Sour faces made so sweet,
And the style so nice and neat:
Besides they are so very cheap,
That the poor man need not squeak.

And all this you will find,
If you only come in time,
To see C. G. Blatt, you see,
Who will still in Bernville be.

He knows that you must laugh
Fifteen pictures for one and a half,
Additional pictures he will
Give fifteen for one dollar bill.

 > <

Cyrus G. Blatt was a poet as well as a photographer with high aspirations. His promotional idea was one of the first jingles printed so that the public might remember his business. Born in 1841, the same year as Longfellow's poem, he was listed as a photographer in the Bernville census of 1870. There are no military records with his exact name, so he may not have served in the Civil War. At some point he quit the traveling artist work to takeover a studio in Bernville, PA. His home still remains as a historic landmark in this small town of 900 citizens. 

There are a few varieties of Cyrus's advertising rhymes. This next one has 5 verses and refers to a photographer's specialized techniques and mishaps. 

Source: American Museum of Photography
C. G. Blatt's
Photographic Emporium,
Bernville, Pa.

Only have your shadow secured by C. G. Blatt,
Will take better portraits than any you had;
I take them myself, as no other can,
I color them, too, as no other man.
I praise each production than goes from my shed;
The ears and the nose, the mouth, and the head.
'Tis true that an eye may be lost to the view,
Or an ear left uncolored and awfully blue.
A scratch on the plate, or a hand double size,
A bright pinky color close up to the eyes;
One side of the head in shadow, no doubt,
The other is lost and quite eaten out.
By the rays of the sun and open air light,
Is a fallacy settled by those who have sight,
No matter whatever I do is well done,
Influenced by moon or influenced by sun.
My portraits are second to none, and I say it
Or rather my language being different I pray it.
Then such are my pictures, such also am I,
I live to be laughed at by all passers by.

> <

 I like how the word Emporium has the same grand qualities as Excelsior!  A 1939 article in the Reading PA Times on past times of Bernville said that C. G. Blatt advertised "magic invisible photographs" and gave them this astonishing name: "aquamirabiliso-graphictrickography".

His output of photographs continued to about 1900 and he died in 1915 at age 77. His obituary noted that in his early career he traveled Berks county with a magic lantern show and that on his death the locality of Bernville loses one of its most useful citizens. 

As you may have guessed, I believe this bearded gentleman is Cyrus G. Blatt. In the second photo I think he is holding an advertising flyer for his photography Emporium and that the other men are his assistants and apprentices. A man who liked words would likely dress the part of the romantic poet, and the few clues to his evident good humor make me think that he would enjoy music and song too. The flageolet would be a perfect musical instrument to accompany a traveling artist like C. G. Blatt. What better way to let customers know that your wagon was approaching than to announce it with the ever higher trill of a flageolet. Perhaps there was even a melody that he played for his poems.

Of course I can't prove it beyond doubt, and instead this may be some unknown musical shop keeper from some other town in Pennsylvania. But sometimes poetry has hidden meanings that we can never learn unless we keep striving higher and higher.


>>> <<<

Sam Loyd's "Excelsior" 1858
White to play and mate in 5 moves
using the least likely chess piece.

One last interesting trivia connected to this poetry theme. The great puzzle maker and chessmaster Sam Loyd (1841 - 1911) created a special chess problem in 1858 to challenge a friend who claimed to be able to always find the one chess piece that would finish a game with checkmate.

Loyd bet his friend that he could not pick out the one chessman in this problem which could not possibly play for a checkmate of the black king. But actually would! Sam Loyd gave it the title Excelsior in honor of Longfellow's heroic boy who climbed ever higher to the top. 

{ see the answer below }

Did I ever mention that I like poetry and puzzles too?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone else has gone finshin'

Excelsior Solution
follow Pawn b2
to its promotion to Queen a8 - checkmate


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP