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 Friendly Maids of WEEI

31 October 2015

Music depicts the beauty of sound. And very often beauty portrays the allure of music. A beautiful young violinist turns her gaze away from a moon-like vignette of a man. His name is crudely painted below his face – FREDDY.

They make a very romantic arrangement, but the couple are part of a larger image of five women, a musical quintet called The Friendly Maids of WEEI.  Marge is our violinist. On the left is Ethel on flute; Lilian on string bass; and on the the right, Mildred with her elbow on a piano; and Elizabeth on cello.

There's a saxophone too.

Postcards like this were a useful promotional material for a radio station. Based on the requests from listeners, the station management could judge both the popularity and signal strength of its programs. Since this new medium of show business lacked the visual cues of theatrical stage and cinema, programming needed a hook to attract an audience. Female musicians had a special appeal that worked for radio.

Radio Digest
March 1928

In 1928 this group provided music for WEEI radio, broadcasting from Boston, Massachusetts. If you tuned carefully to 590 kHz you could hear them play daily from 11:15 to 12, and after a short break for the noontime news, once again from 12:15 to 12:45 pm. The station's call letters came from the first owner of the station, the Edison Electric Illuminating Company, which began transmitting its signal on September 29, 1924.

Like many radio stations around the country, WEEI had a slogan, "The Friendly Voice", hence the name for the Friendly Maids. They appeared at midday after the 6:45-8 exercises; 8-8:45 musicale; 10-11:15 home service features. The afternoon brought market and garden reports with varied musical features. The evening changed to entertainment produced by NBC's Red Network in New York, which included symphony and band concerts.

One of the WEEI announcers was named Frederick Hawkins, and I suspect that Frederick is Freddy. He probably read the news with a great baritone voice too.

* * *

The earliest mention that I found of the Friendly Maids of WEEI was in newspaper radio schedules for 1927. Some time after 1928, they became the Metropolitan Dutch Girls. Even though it was radio, they still had to dress the part, and this next clipping shows the quintet in elaborate Dutch folk costumes, complete with wooden clogs. A footwear that must have annoyed WEEI's sound engineer to no end whenever any of them tapped a foot to the music.

Source:  Diana Lewis Burgin All Rights Reserved.

The image gives us the full names of the Friendly Maids: Lillian Arnold, string bass; Mildred Goodwin, piano; Ethel Hobart, flute; Elizabeth Lobdell, cello; and Marjorie Posselt, violin, who was the leader of the quintet. (Hobart was misspelled Kobart) I don't believe any of them was of Dutch ancestry, so I presume the name, Metropolitan Dutch Girls (which I found as a full name on several radio schedules) came from an advertiser's sponsorship. I don't know if this was their everyday dress for broadcasts.

I discovered their names from a family history blog about Ruth Posselt, a noted Boston concert violinist, whose first teacher was her older sister Marjorie Posselt. This excerpt from the blog of Ruth's descendant, Diana Lewis Burgin, gives the family details. 
 Ruth’s father, Emil Posselt, came from a musical family in Dresden Germany and emigrated to the US as a teenager in a German orchestra in 1885. He was a violist, violinist, and played several band instruments. According to family tradition, he toured with Nellie Melba when she concertized in the United States. A proud member of the musicians’ union (Boston local) Emil made a modest living as a freelance musician and music teacher. In 1893 he married Ida Lewis Pierce from Middleboro Massachusetts, whose forebears traced their lineage to the Mayflower and Anne pilgrims. Ida was a graduate of the Bridgewater Normal School and a singer; her sisters were all professional musicians and one of them, Maud Pierce Allan, had a career on the stage and in the movies. Emil and Ida also had 7 children: Gladys, Molly, Marjorie, Emil, Grace, Naomi and Ruth. All except Naomi had musical talent and Gladys, Marjorie and Grace made careers in music. Marjorie was Ruth’s first teacher, and Gladys was Ruth’s accompanist for several years before Ruth went to Europe. Later, Gladys married Emanuel Ondricek, a well-known Czech violinist and pedagogue and Ruth’s main teacher.
                                           Copyright © 2007 Diana Lewis Burgin. All Rights Reserved.

Majorie Posselt was born in 1897 and was already a professional musician before she began work at WEEI. In 1926 Ethel Hobart, Elizabeth Lobdell, and Mildred Goodwin were all featured on WEEI radio as a flute, cello, and piano trio. On the 1920 census for Boston, Lilian Arnold, born in 1898, listed her occupation as Musician, orchestra. Then, as now, Boston was an important center for musicians, especially female musicians, and it had a long history of successful ladies orchestras and bands. Clearly the Friendly Maids / Dutch Girls quintet of WEEI were accomplished performers when they posed for the photographer. In an earlier decade they would be just a minor Bostonian chamber music group. But in 1927, they became something more.

It was the age of radio.

Radio Age
March 1927

The first radio broadcasts in the United States began in 1920, but there was a limited audience because there were so few radios. For all their simplicity, the early crystal sets required delicate tuning and lacked speakers, making it difficult to hear through a small earpiece. Over the next few years, radio technology changed rapidly, as enthusiasts struggled to understand complicated assemblies of vacuum tubes, electrical power - both AC and DC, aerial antennas, ground wires, speaker cones, and cabinets. The first magazines with a radio theme were designed to appeal to a geeky masculine readership with pages filled with electronic diagrams and detailed analysis of the latest advances in wireless science.

This first period of the radio age was all about basic communication. Music and entertainment was secondary. Three covers from 1927 issues of Radio Age illustrate this point.

* * *

Radio Age
May-June 1927

Presumably the runaway steam locomotive about to go off the rails in the first image will be saved at the last moment by a radio signal. That futuristic notion could still use some work in the 21st century.

The second image shows a telephone conversation  between New York and London. In fact the first transatlantic phone service opened in January 1927 and used radio rather than cable for part of the signal. Incredibly, the first videophone device was demonstrated in April 1927.
Radio Age
July-August 1927

On the last cover, I'm not sure what's happening between the deep sea diver and the airplane, but you could read about it on page 34.  

Meanwhile other radio magazines focused on a feminine readership, and the difference is striking. 

Radio Digest
February 1927

The magazine Radio Digest published long schedules of radio stations with their frequency and program times. Its articles covered radio celebrities, sports, and entertainment rather than the arcane minutiae of electric circuitry. The front covers also displayed more eye candy than Radio Age. The fluffy-haired blonde on the February 1927 issue was Gladys Johnson, the staff cellist at KGW in Portland, Oregon. She was supposedly well known to Radio Listeners throughout the territory from Alaska to Yucatan. Given the way that AM radio transmissions traveled through earth's atmosphere, that was probably not an exaggeration.

Radio Digest
February 1927

Radio Digest
October 1927

By the fall of 1927, Radio Digest switched to printing in color and singer Anne Cornwall from WMAQ, WEBH, and WQJ in Chicago adorned the cover for the October edition.

Radio Digest
October 1927

Radio Digest
January 1928

In January 1928, Miss Eunice Johnson from KOA in Denver, Colorado was the cover highlight for the Radio Digest. Beauty seemed to be her main talent, though still in her teens, she sings and talks to her audience like an old timer.

Radio Digest
January 1928

These covers came from a wonderful archive of the Old Time Radio Researcher Group, where there are hundreds of PDF files of similar magazines devoted to the people and technology of radio's pioneer history.

Marjorie and her quintet were not destined for a long run on radio. But they represent an important change in American culture as it accepted more contributions from talented women.. All across the country, radio stations competed for advertising dollars by trying out new programs, new music, and new novelties. The medium needed creative ideas to invent a modern entertainment. The Friendly Maids are an example of how hundreds of women found opportunities in radio and show business.  

The Radio Digest for March 1928 printed a long Who's Who list of radio personalities. There were coloratura sopranos, contraltos, tenors, baritones, basses, saxophonists, clarinetists, pianists, cellists, and even a one-man orchestra. Marjorie Posselt was listed the Leader of the Friendly Maids, Instrumental Quintet, WEEI.

Radio Digest
March 1928

Frederick Hawkins, the announcer for WEEI was on the list too, and it's unlikely we will ever know his full story. Marjorie's wistful expression was perhaps intended for another truelove.

Harrisburg PA Evening News
February 19, 1924

In February 1924, several newspapers around the country reported that Marjorie Posselt's violin, worth $1,600, was stolen from her automobile. When it was recovered by police she happily said, "It is closer to my heart than any man will ever get."

Harrisburg PA Evening News
February 19, 1924

I include the larger section of this newspaper page, so that you can also read about the eight foot tall statue of the Prince of Wales; the favorite winter sport of Columbia University students; the clever anti-blinding Kleig Eyes hood; and the British harbor pilot, possibly over 8 feet in height, who made an unexpected voyage to New York. 

And what about that saxophone?  It turns out that it wasn't Freddy's instrument after all. It was Marjorie's. In 1941, the Palm Beach FL Reporter reviewed a solo recital she performed for the Ft. Lauderdale Music Study Club. Though her program was principally music for violin, she did offer several selections on saxophone.   

Sax and Violins. That's real show business talent.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more stories in a mirror.

Music in the Parlor

23 October 2015

A plucky young lass from Carlisle
strummed the harp with an angelic style.

In the band was her brother,

her sister,


and others, 


and her cousin who played the Base Vile.

His name was Valmah.

It was hard not to notice him.
String bass players, especially the vile ones,
always stand out in an orchestra.

* * *

This postcard is likely American,
and though Carlisle refers to a place in Pennsylvania,
these eight musicians could be from anywhere.
They may be a family group as there are
some similar facial features,
but my guess is that they are a church orchestra
gathered for a rehearsal or performance
in the front parlor of the pianist and the harpist,
who I imagine are

In the lower corner of the postcard is a penciled date of 5-17-07
which may indicate the year of the photo as 1907,
or it may be when the dealer first listed it for $0.50 in 2007.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where old photos are always plucking at the harp strings.

Boxed into a Corner

16 October 2015

"Now if everyone will just look over there," pointed the photographer.

"Very nice, ladies. Keep as close together as you can
and avoid looking at the flash pan."

"No, girls. I don't think that's a spider."

"Yes, I'll make plenty of copies for you to give to your fellas."

"Okay, please don't move. One ... two ... three."
The camera's shutter snapped
as the room was suddenly illuminated in a bright light.

* * *

Ten ladies of a small orchestra stand patiently with
their cornets, valve trombone, flute, drums,
violins, cello, and double bass in the corner of a small room,
which is decorated with fancy carpet and fine lace curtains.
Their cabinet photograph has no marks or identification
for time, place, or names.
Perhaps 1900s. Maybe somewhere in America.
But they must remain anonymous.
All we are left with is a mystery. 

Just what did they see up on the parlor wall?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link to see what everyone is looking at.

A Red Letter Day

09 October 2015

"Now if everyone will just look this way," cried the photographer.

"That's fine, lads. Keep your instruments at the ready." 

"And if the honorable gentlemen and the little lady would turn
toward the camera, please. Thank you very much, vicar."

He snapped the shutter. "Very, very nice. Postcards will be
available at my shop on the High Street later today
and at Mr. Rush's stationery shop on Monday."

In just a fraction of a second the camera captured a proud civic moment in the life of a small town, complete with a brass band, local dignitaries, citizenry and children. All are gathered around a large stone monolith which has chiseled on its side:

Victoria Memorial
Erected by Public Subscription

It's a horse trough.  

This small photograph has no date or mark, but the inscription on the trough indicates a British origin as it honors the memory of the late monarch, Queen Victoria, who died in January 1901 in the 63rd year of her reign. Many places around the United Kingdom and British Empire built monuments to her life. Apparently water troughs and fountains were a popular choice.

The photo has a special quality in the way it fixes the direct gaze of each individual. It was a quick pose, almost like a modern snapshot, with some people still in motion. The image has a sense of anticipation or excitement about an object that seems very ordinary. 

The other quality I like is that most British brass bands pictured in my photo collection are set in a very formal and orderly arrangement of musicians. A casual view like this is rare. This band probably finished playing only a few seconds before the photographer took the picture. 

However, despite its British appearance, without identification this watering trough might be in Australia or Canada instead of England. The only sure thing was written in stone, the year 1906.

It happens that there were surprisingly few commemorative cattle/horse troughs built that year.
The Luton Times and Advertiser of April 27, 1906 reported on one
that was constructed for the town of Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire.

Luton Times and Advertiser
April 27, 1906
THE VICTORIA MEMORIAL — The cattle trough and drinking fountain erected in Golden Square as a memorial of the late Queen Victoria was formally inaugurated on Saturday evening. In the absence, through indisposition, of Mr. Leopold de Rothschild, the water was turned on by Mr. Richard Purrett, the Chairman of the Committee who raised the funds, and the originator and main-spring of the movement.

The memorial stands in the centre of the Square and consists of a cattle trough of axed grey granite with a small push tap and bowl at one end for human beings, and a trough for sheep and dogs underneath. The inscription is "Victoria Memorial; erected by public subscription, 1906." Many leading townspeople were present, and a large crowd of the general public.  

Mr. Purrett gave details of the Committee's work since the proposal was first mooted. A sum of £91 16s. 3d. had been raised, including £11, the net proceeds of the concert in December last, whilst there was a further sum of £9 8s. 6d. outstanding under the head of subscriptions promised.

The present fountain had been erected at a cost of £64, but there would be some further expense for paving and incidentals. It was estimated that there would be a sum of £27 left over for the second fountain, which it was hoped to place in North-street. Mr. Platten, a vice-chairman of the Urban District Council (in the regretted absence of Mr. George Payne, the chairman), formally accepted the fountain, and said it would not only be a Victoria memorial, but also a Purrett memorial. – Mr. Purrett, in reply to a vote of thanks, said that was one of the red letter days of his life. 

Now look at the lettering on the side of the vicar's carriage – *RRETT . It seems odd that no one stood in front of the carriage. Could the missing letters complete the name PURRETT ? Quite possibly it was an advertisement for his business. Certainly the detail of the stone inscription matches the report, but this may be only a coincidence. But the clues seemed close enough to warrant more investigation. 

The town of Leighton Buzzard is in Bedfordshire, England, partway between Luton and Milton Keynes, and about 35 miles northwest of London. The unusual name is derived from the 12th century Leighton clergyman Theobald de Busar, who the Dean of Lincoln used to distinguish this Leighton from another Leighton in his diocese by adding the qualifier Leighton Buzzard.

In 1906 this small town was in an agricultural area where drovers regularly brought livestock into the center of Leighton Buzzard on market days. A combination fountain/trough like this one was a relatively inexpensive solution to the problem of providing drinking water for cattle, horses, and sheep. The fountain for people and dogs offered an extra value, as public water spigots were a rare convenience in England at the turn of the 20th century, (and even now they are not common to find.) The basic design was first made in the 1860s by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, a group that advocated for public access to free drinking water in London and other urban centers. It was considered a humanitarian effort to improve conditions for animals, but it was also associated with the Temperance Movement as an alternative refreshment for the working classes. 

Cattle Trough on London Wall
Source: Wikipedia

Of course in today's world there is little practical reason to keep a public water trough for livestock, so the water trough in Leighton Buzzard's Golden Square was likely removed a long time ago.  

Indeed, it is long gone, but there is another picture of it.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Through Time
 by Colin Ashby, 2013
Google books provided a virtual copy of Leighton Buzzard Through Time, by Colin Ashby, published in 2013. This charming collection of photos and stories of Leighton Buzzard included another vintage postcard street view of the Victoria Memorial horse trough in Leighton Buzzard. The upper story bay window and the arched doorway of the building in the background are a perfect match for the building backdrop in my photo.

Today there is only a roundabout on this site, though the main High St. of Leighton Buzzard  retains a quaint attractive quality. No doubt it has been a long time since anyone needed to water their horse there.

* * *

But what about the chairman of the horse trough fundraising committee? The man described as worthy of adding his name to the memorial too – Mr. Richard Purrett of Leighton Buzzard, does he have a story too?

In 1906 he actually raised enough money to erect two horse troughs for the town. But the second one encountered resistance from the local council which initially objected to its placement on North St. After a few months of debate, the council finally accepted the plan and the second fountain was "inaugurated" on August 29, 1907, as reported in the Luton Times and Advertiser:

The opening ceremony  of the new fountain was performed last (Thursday) night by Mr. R. Purrett. The Leighton Excelsior Band marched through the town and a large crowd collected. The Vicar of Leighton (the Rev. G. F. Hills) presided. and after the singing of the hymn, "O God, our help in ages past," made a short speech.

Mr. R. Purrett said that through the generosity of many noblemen, including the Duke of Bedford, Lord Rosebery, and various members of the illustrious Rothschild family, and also of the ladies and gentlemen of the town, they had been able to erect those memorials to the late Queen. He thanked them for the honor conferred on him in asking him to open two such memorials in his own home town, though he had urged that some subscriber be found for that purpose. The late Queen's life was a fountain of goodness. Over 150 horses had been seen to drink at the Golden square fountain in one day. ....  Mr. Purrett then turned on the water, and after taking the first drink handed the keys to Mr. Platten for the Urban Council. 

It is this description and the arrangement of the people in the photo that makes me believe that the tall bearded man proudly standing in the center is Richard Purrett. I think the staff in his left hand is the plumber's "key" or wrench for the water supply tap to the fountain. 

In order to raise funds for these two troughs, Mr. Purrett organized at least two benefit music concerts in 1905-06, which was not an unusual project for him as he owned a music business, a "music warehouse" specializing in pianofortes, harmoniums and organs. As a young man he started life in Bedfordshire as a farmer, but some time around 1869 he took over an existing business to sell musical instruments in Leighton Buzzard.

1890 Kelly's Bedfordshire Directory

County and city directories are a wealth of fascinating trivia. Just a few pages away from the 1890 commercial section on Pianoforte Warehouses (there were seven listings), are four pages devoted to Bedfordshire's Straw Hat trades.  Besides the categories of Straw Bleachers & Dyers; Straw Factors; and Straw Bottle Envelope Manufacturers, there are dozens and dozens of  men and women working as Straw Hat Block Makers; Straw Hat Blockers; Straw Hat Blocking Machine Makers; Straw Hat Finishers; Straw Hat Machinists; Straw Hat & Bonnet Manufacturers (with over 530 names); Straw Hat Wire Makers; Straw Hat Polish Makers; Straw Hat Lining & Tip Makers; Straw Hat Tip Stampers; and Straw Hat Varnish Makers. 

Considering that everyone in the 19th and most of the 20th centuries always wore a hat, it's not surprising that there were places specializing in mass producing hats and hat materials. But Bedfordshire would not have been my first or last guess for the center of Britain's straw hat industry. 

Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade GazetteJune 17, 1869

Mr. Richard Purrett had two sons and two daughters. One son, John Purrett, followed him to work as an assistant music seller in the Purrett music store, and I believe he may be the man in the straw hat just behind Purrett. Likewise the little girl peeking above the stone trough would likely be Purrett's granddaughter.

In July 1913, the Bucks Herald reported on the death of Mr. R. Purrett, age 71.

Bucks Herald
July 19, 1913

Did you spot the giant too?
Go back an look at the full photo and see if anyone stands out.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday No. 300
where the hidden stories in vintage photographs are always the best fun.

How to Play the Mandolin

02 October 2015

The first step towards mastery of the mandolin
is developing finger strength.
Daily exercises will improve digit dexterity
and harden the hand grip.

Remember, maintaining good posture is also an important key
towards advancing to the next level.


Students are encouraged to work together,
as playing duets helps with concentration
and cultivates good listening skills.

Pay careful attention to the music,
and learn to read ahead of the notes.

There are no tricks to learning the mandolin,
just a balanced approach between regular practice and musical fun.

* * *

These two young circus acrobats, presumably brother and sister,
are Les Andreu – Acrobates Mondains.
Their French postcards date from around 1906 to 1909.

Remember, playing the mandolin
can be hazardous to your health.
Always wear a properly secured safety harness.

* * *

 Laurens SC Advertiser
April 04, 1895

Perhaps the parents of Les Andreu knew about the Paris Medicine Co. which produced Grove's Tasteless Chill Tonc.  This mixture of quinine, lemon syrup, and other special  ingredients was a patent medicine concocted by a druggist, Dr. Edwin Wiley Grove (1850 – 1927), as a remedy for malarial childhood fevers and chills. A bottle cost only 50 cents in 1890, and supposedly "makes children as fat as pigs."  

It made Dr. Grove a very, very wealthy man.  

E.W. Grove sold his first elixir in 1878 through the company he originally started in Paris, Tennessee. Recognizing a need to reach a nationwide market, in 1889 he moved the business to St. Louis, Missouri. The drug company's advertisements used the fanciful image of a pig with the head of a smiling baby to create an instantly recognized brand that established Grove's Tasteless Chill Tonic as a national leader in the industry. 

Grove kept a summer home in  Asheville, North Carolina, a small town in the Appalachian mountains, which is where I now live. Since the 1890s it had a reputation as a healthful retreat for people suffering from the chronic conditions of tuberculosis. In 1913, Grove and his son-in-law, Fred Seely who was a pharmaceutical chemist and newspaperman., built the Grove Park Inn, a grand hotel and spa that became a focal point of tourism in Asheville. Ten Presidents, from Taft to Obama, have stayed at the Grove Park Inn.

 Cloverpoint KY Breckenridge News
May 14, 1890

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
which always carries a genuine guarantee to cure all ailments and complaints.


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