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 }

Hungarian Boys Bands – part 1

25 March 2016

This is a drummer with an attitude.
He looks confident, even cocky, because he knows
his drumsticks keep the band on the proper beat.
That kind of bold self assurance is not typical
of a boy who might be at best 10 years old.

His fellow musicians on piccolo and trumpet seem less certain,
maybe a bit apprehensive. Both boys need to know the tunes
because the sound of their instruments
always be easily heard.

A young horn player gazes off into the distance.
He might be age 11 or 12 but his poise
shows the maturity of a musician who knows his instrument.

The other wide-eyed horn player — maybe not so much.
One of the first lessons that brass players learn
is to keep a firm grip on your horn and not drop it.

His mates on trumpet and piccolo are aged 7 or 8,
surely not more than 10.

The rest of the band are older, around 12 to 15.
The bass trombonist might be 16.
All the brass instruments have rotary valves
which were the common design for central European brass bands.

Every boy wears a smart military uniform
with a tall shako hat and
collar badges of a musical lyre.
Two men sit in the center, a younger man with a trumpet,
and an older man dressed in a lighter colored coat,
whose stout baton embellished with silver bands,
and fierce upturned mustache marks him as the bandleader.

This is not an ordinary school band.
The tasseled lyre, or glockenspiel in German,
was a special instrument associated with military bands.
These boys are like cadets, or army bandsmen in training.

 But from where?   

{click the images to enlarge}

The answer is – somewhere near Budapest.
This postcard photo was postmarked from there
but the date is partly illegible. If it follows the
date style of Hungary with year/month/day
then it was mailed 1912 JUL 1.
There are several names scrawled in the message side,
and in the center is another date 1912 Jun 30
which corresponds well with the postmark.

Do the signatures belong to some of the boys in the band?
I can't really say. But it seems fair to say this wind band
is a group of young Austrian-Hungarian boys
from two summers before the onset of World War 1.

That might be the end of this story except that in my research,
I stumbled across a small thumbnail image on the internet.
It's the exact same photo including even the signature.
Die Schilzony-Kapelle 1909 [Robert Rohr]
It is labeled Die Schilzony-Kapelle 1909 [Robert Rohr] and is part of a short biography of a musician from the Danube Schwabian area of eastern Europe. His name was Nicholas Schilzonyi. According to this history written by Jody McKim Pharr, the bandleader pictured in this photo was Nikol Schilzong, also known as Niklas Schilzonyi, who was born in 1872 in Billed, Hungary as it was then called.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire, or Austria-Hungary as it is more properly called, was a union from 1867 to 1918 of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary, often referred to as the Dual Monarchy under Kaiser Franz Josef. In German it was abbreviated to k.u.k.kaiserlich und königlich for Imperial and Royal. The empire encompassed hundreds of different cultural, religious, and national groups. Though German was the official language, there were many others within this vast nation. This colorful map shows the mixture of Austria-Hungary's principal ethnic populations in 1910 when the photograph of the boys band was taken. I've marked the small town of Billed in the Banat district near the southeast border. Today the town is part of Romania. 

Ethnic Groups of Austria-Hungary, 1910
Source: Wikimedia

Niklas Schilzonyi was evidently a very gifted musician, whose talent was recognized at an early age when at just 13 years old he was appointed bandmaster of a state military band. He developed a music academy in Billed where in 1897, he secured permission, and possibly sponsorship, from the Kaiser to take his boys' band, a Knabenkapelle in German, on a grand tour of the United States. The band had 40 musicians from the Billed, Banat area and they presented concerts as Kaiser Franz Josef's Magyar Hussaren Knabenkapelle — The Hungarian Boys' Military Band. Surprisingly the first city to promote them in the US was San Francisco in August 1897.

This poster, found on the biography of Schilzonyi, comes from that 1897 tour and shows the boys dressed in splendid blue and red uniforms embellished with fancy embroidery, cloaks, and plumed hats. Schilzonyi stands on the right and a vignette of his portrait is in the top left corner.

Schilzonyi and his famous
Hungarian Boys' Military Band
Source:  Danube Swabian Biographies

The band boys ranged in age from 7 to 15, and traveled with a tutor named Michael Nussbaum who provided them with a regime of proper scholastic study. In the afternoons, Schilzonyi gave the band its musical training. In October 1897, the San Francisco Call newspaper published a delightful story describing the military precision needed to organize 40 boys into a musical band representing Austria-Hungary.  This illustration of the drum major and a little drummer was taken from that article.

San Francisco, CA Call17 October 1897

By November 1897, the Hungarian Boys' Military Band had moved onto southern California to give concerts. The cartoonist with the Los Angeles Herald sketched the boys in rehearsal. The sunny climate and plentiful oranges must have agreed with the boys as they stayed through the winter into 1898.

Los Angeles, CA Herald
14 November 1897

The tour continued into the next year with July concerts in Kansas City, MO.  

Kansas City, MO Journal
25 July 1898

By the third year on tour, the band dropped any reference to Kaiser Franz Josef, and instead called themselves Schilzonyi's Hungarian Boys' Military Band. The advertisements for concerts in New Orleans praised their music as of the highest order. But the concerts were often booked for fairs or vaudeville theaters where they competed with all kinds of distracting novelties and entertainments.

New Orleans, LA Times Picayune
05 August 1899

Brooklyn, NY Daily Eagle
28 January 1900

By January 1900, Nikclas Schilzonyi's band of Hungarian Boys were in  New York City. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle included a sketch of Schilzonyi with its report, which notes that their hometown was Billed, Hungary. The band's musical repertoire consists of over 500 pieces of music of the most difficult kind.

The band gave performances in Rochester, NY in February 1900 where a reviewer noted that the concert was limited to 50 minutes due to the youth of its musicians.  The program included a Hungarian march composed by Schilzonyi; the popular overture to Mignon by Thomas; Sousa's Star and Stripes march; and ragtime music, Georgia Camp Meeting.

At this point Schilzonyi probably took his band back home to Hungary, as references to their concerts disappear. After three years some of his musicians had likely reached the age for real military service. It may have been time to get newer and fresher kids for the band.

But Schilzonyi was not gone for very long. In November 1904 his band returned to Syracuse, NY.

This second tour would last until 1909.

* * *

Over the next 5 years, Niklas Schilzonyi's Knabenkapelle Hungarian Hussar Band played Boston; Pittsburgh; Chicago; Washington D.C.; Harrisburg, PA; Portland, OR; Vancouver B.C., and Winnipeg, Manitoba. The band's size occasionally changed, sometimes 30, as many as 50, but usually about 35. They were not always the headliner as they often toured as  an act within a traveling minstrel show. Steady summer work came by playing a couple of weeks at an amusement park, with two, sometimes three, shows a day. But novelty wears thin and Schilzonyi's band would have to move on to another city.    

Winnipeg, Manitoba Tribune
02 March 1907

Winnipeg, Manitoba Tribune
02 March 1907

They were a big hit at Winnipeg's Bijou Theater, as the booking was extended another week. A reviewer praised the youthful musicians who displayed marvelous ability as executive artists, and their playing is of a very high order of excellence. The tone masses are powerful and effective and the unity of attack extraordinary.

The Monday program, it changed each day, was:
  1. Autro-Hungary Armee March.
  2. Poet and Peasant, by Suppe.
  3. Sextette from Lucia da Lammermoor, by Donizetti.
  4. Second Regiment, March Militaire.
  5. Eight Fanfare, Trumpet solo.

* * *

The March 1907 Winnipeg Tribune report included a photo of the Hungarian Huzzar Band.  It's a grainy reproduction but we can see about 35 musicians, mostly young boys, all dressed in the same Austro-Hungarian style military uniforms.

Winnipeg, Manitoba Tribune
02 March 1907

The last report of Niklas Schilzonyi's Hungarian Boys' Military Band was a set of concerts in November 1909 at the Chutes amusement park in San Francisco. Again it seems likely that the band had overstayed America's enthusiasm for Hungarian boys' bands and it was time for them to return home to Billed, Hungary.

However the biography of Schilzonyi has a newspaper clipping that shows he was in Reno, Nevada in April 1912, performing as a "quick change artist" impersonating several great composers. He applied for citizenship in 1913 and took residence in  Whittier, CA near Los Angeles. He remarried and had children born in California. After the war years, he changed his name from Schilzonyi to Schilzony, but continued to teach music and direct bands. He took out patents for an invention of a double bore clarinet.  In 1927 his family life came apart and he divorced, moving to the east coast. His name was found in the 1940 census for New York City, but the date of his death is not known. 

So because the postcard's 1912 date seems in conflict with what is known of Schlizonyi's life history, I can't say with complete certainty that my postcard photo of a Knabenkapelle is Niklas Schilzonyi's boys' band. It's quite possible that the identification of this photo on the Danube Swabian biography of Schilzonyi was in error. A big handlebar mustache does make a very good disguise. But the photograph may date from earlier, perhaps in the period between 1900 and 1904 when he was back in Hungary recruiting a new band. Who knows for sure, one hundred years after the camera took the photo?

But for my purpose it does not matter. The postcard of the cryptic Hungarian boys band and the story of Niklas Schilzonyi are both perfect examples of one of Hungary's signature exports – musicians. Before the tragic events of 1914 intervened, the US tour of Schilzonyi's Boys' Band introduced America's youth to a level of extraordinary Hungarian musicianship that surely inspired boys from San Francisco to New Orleans to New York to aspire to play a band instrument. And as I've tried to show in the deconstruction of the postcard, the proud expressions of those young boys are of skilled musicians who knew how to play music.

To prove my point, this is only part one of my story on Hungarian Boys Bands.
Next weekend I'll have more.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where other boys play marbles.

Educated Sheep and Musical Pigs

18 March 2016

Sheep are silly.
Sheeps is sillier.
Trained Sheeps jumping over a flaming hurdle is just absurd.

But I'd probably pay money to see that.

I certainly paid 5 Euros to buy the postcard.

The image is a small reproduction of a poster for

Blaek Doblado
and his Flock of Trained Sheeps

Miss Doblado

A man in a long overcoat and tall hat stands next to wooden hurdle covered by a flaming arch. Six sheep wearing tiaras leap over it. On the other side stands a woman dressed in fancy pantaloons and holding a whip. Presumably it is Miss Doblado. A second scene below shows the man over a barrel as a ram bashes headlong into his butt. Miss Doblado looks amused.

Thrills and spills. Blaek Doblado's trained sheeps must have been a thousand laughs.

Someone, (Paul maybe?) thought Fräulein Hedwig Stede of Leipzig would enjoy this animal humor too, so he sent her the postcard from Oetzcsh-Gautzsch, a suburb of Leipzig, now called Markkleeberg, on 05 September 1903.

One hundred thirteen years later, that would be the end of the story for most people.
But my readers know that I can't help turning over any trivial image
to see what's on the other side.

It turns out there is quite a lot more to trained sheeps than you would think.
For one thing, they like to travel.

Paducah KY Evening Sun
12 September 1906

"Do animals reason?" is a question that has perplexed philosophers for ages, and was used to open a 1906 report in the Paducah, KY evening Sun on the trained animal displays appearing at the Barnum & Bailey Circus. There was Thompson's horses, both in harness and at liberty. Mlle. Lordy's dogs, canine actors of extraordinary intelligence. Winston's sea-lions, who could climb ladders and turn somersaults. 

And the Doblado troupe of trained sheep, a distinct novelty.  Not to mention two ponies, an elephant and a pair of dogs.

Three years after appearing in Germany, Blaek Doblado managed to bring his sheeps over to America. Did they travel first class or steerage?


Louisville KY Courier Journal
20 October 1907

The following year during the week of October 20, 1907, The Hopkins Theater of Louisville, Kentucky included Doblado's Sheep on its list of Continuous Vaudeville, tickets 10-20-30¢. No Higher.  The management provided this helpful description:

Doblado's Sheep
We Have Offered About Everything in the
Trained-Animal Line Excepting Sheep
Now We Have Imported a Lot of
the Wool-bearing Creatures
That Perform Stunts That
Will Amaze You.

The sheep followed the headliner Julius Steger & Co. performing his own musical dramatic play, "The Fifth Commandment", (Honor Thy Father and Mother); the 3–Sisters Urma–3, a charming trapeze act from old Europe – Not a bit like the ones you are thinking about.; and Charles Brown, a bundle of joyous melange of mirth, music, and melodious melody.

After the theater porter had swept the stage of burnt wool, Daisy Leon sang some attractive songs. Delbaugh & Meyer demonstrated the most difficult acrobatic feats. Harry Beaumont, a clever English magician set the audience a-going with his palmist tricks. He was followed by Kohler & Victoria, singers, talkers, and character comediennes. The ironically named Hardings were next, a musical pair with the male member playing the piano as only artists can, and the girlie — well, just wait and see her. Olive Rosen & Co. presented a Problem Play to excite laughter and drive dull care away. Edwin Lewis did an Entertaining Specialty, and Riley & Gannon represented Ireland in the comedy field.

To top it off there were Kinodrome Motion Pictures worth seeing, not the five-cent sort either. And for an Xtra! treat you could see Geo. Wilson of "Waltz Him Again" fame, the minstrel man who reminds you of old times when burnt cork was the emblem of the kings of Momus. He was one of them – almost two.


Louisville KY Courier Journal
24 June 1908

Perhaps Kentucky's bluegrass appealed to Doblado's sheep, as they returned to Louisville in the summer of 1908 to perform at the Fontaine Ferry Amusement Park. In the run up to the July 4th festivities, the park hired a pyrotechnic expert from Brooklyn, Mr. Ernest G. Dawson, to prepare a fireworks display. One morning in June, Dawson went down to a field along the river to stake out his explosive exhibit. There he encountered Prof. Doblado's sheep grazing in the same field. The animal act now included a goat, who was then testing himself against the ram.

The two animals became distracted by Dawson's activity and took exception to his presence. They set off for a package of fireworks Dawson had brought that was wrapped in red paper. The ram hooked it first with his horns, and then the goat spied the bundle on the ground and attacked it too. His horns collided with a percussive cap inside the package, and Boom, a bomb went off!

"A friendly and nearby tree is the only thing that saved me," remarked Mr. Dawson.     

I don't make this stuff up.
You can read the full story here
as reported by the Louisville Courier Journal.


Marion OH Daily Mirror
11 March 1909

Beginning in 1906, Doblado's trained sheep toured America for several years, jumping hurdles in theaters and fairgrounds across Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. The act involved anywhere from 8 to 12 sheeps, a goat with a headache, and a clown named Steve Miaco who was now a partner to the act. According to one newspaper account, his costume was evidently made in a mattress factory, as he endured an assault by Doblado's battering ram at every show. 

By 1909, the ram, whose name was Gustavo, had achieved enough celebrity to merit a photograph next to Prof. Doblado. The Marion, OH Daily Mirror published a photo of the ram and his master when they were scheduled to play at a local vaudeville theater. Gustavo's lineage was described as being from a breed of Spanish Pyrenees Mountain sheep. One newspaper calculated that he smashed into Miaco the clown's posterior 48 times a week, including matinees.   


But from time to time every act needs freshening up
in order to keep the audiences entertained.
Gustavo was about to acquire a sidekick.

A musical pig.

Anaconda MT Standard
20 June 1909

No vaudeville act could call itself the best unless it played in San Fransisco. But of course in 1909, the only practical way to get an animal act to the west coast was by train. It made good business sense to book shows along the way. One of the popular stops was the copper capital of the US, Anaconda, Montana. In June 1909, the Empire Theater of Anaconda welcomed the F.O.E, the Fraternal Order of Eagles, to nearby Butte, MT, with the headline act:

 Doblado's Trained Sheep and Pig. 
 Louie, the Clown Pig, Will Play the Bass Horn.

Like I said, I don't make this stuff up.

The show also included Doranto, a Chinese musician, the only artist in the world playing genuine Chinese musical instruments; John Buckley, an English Comedian singing, dancing, and talking; alongside The Lionells in their laughable comedy "The Silent Pardner."

To add even more novelty value for a 15¢ ticket, there was also:
 The Empirescope — Pictures That Will Not hurt Your Eyes.  

They played all week.

Anaconda MT Standard
20 June 1909

The Empire Theater considered itself a Family Theater too, I guess, as they ran a very large advert complete with photo.

The World's Greatest Wonder
Doblado's Trained Sheep.
A laugh from start to finish. The only
flock of trained sheep in the world.
“Louie,” a Trained Pig
The Only Brass Horn Player in the World

 This show is something altogether different than has ever been seen here before.

The advertisement provides a complete list of the tricks that Doblado's talented sheep would perform.
  1. Compliments
  2. Simultaneous jumping.
  3. Walking on knees.
  4. Zigzag march.
  5. Rolling ball.
  6. Dancing. with zigzag march.
  7. Cake walk.
  8. Three teeterers.
  9. Waltzing.
  10. Jumping through fire.
  11. Concluding with the butting ram,
    the greatest laugh producer in the world.
 The motion picture programme included:
  • "Legend of the Jew"
  • "Under Louis XIV"
  • "Holland in Winter"
  • "Ancient Egypt"

I know enough about animal husbandry to tell the difference between a sheep, a goat, and a pig. The flocks of fuzzy sheep I've met on the fields of the British Isles generally don't do much jumping. But sheep and goats descend from breeds that are capable of impressive agility as they clamber about on mountainous meadows, so I'm prepared to believe that sheep could be persuaded to jump over flaming hurdles. I can even imagine that with enough patience they could be trained to march and even dance. You don't have to sing to learn the steps to a waltz.  

But a pig playing a bass horn? I've known some porcine horn players, but never any musical pigs. It takes especially talented pig lips to master any brass instrument, much less a bass horn.

Doblado's educated sheep and musical pig, played San Fransisco and Oakland for a few weeks, and then headed back east to be in Gettysburg, PA by September 1909. The next year they headed south playing in Texas and Virginia. The last notice I found was for a county fair in late summer 1913 in Fayetteville, NC — Professor Doblado's Goats and Pigs. No mention of sheeps. Perhaps they were put out to pasture. 

No, they were only in training for more world tours.

Sydney Australia Morning Herald
07 April 1914

In April 1914, the Sydney, Australia Morning Herald announced The Wirth Bros.' Circus, The Greatest, Grandest, and Best Circus Company Ever Seen would give shows every evening at 8 o'clock under its new waterproof tents. In the middle of the Ginnettes Society of Equestriennes; Albert Toulouse, sensational balancer; Crotton and Skremka, classical gymnasts; the marvelous Flying Codonas aerialists; and Wezzan's Bedouin Arabs; was Doblado's Trained Sheep and Pigs.

Pigs plural.
Like a brass band of pigs.  

I don't make this stuff up.
I just report. You decide if its entertainment.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where sheeps may safely graze.


Thanks to a faithful reader from Down Under (see comments below)
I found the following clipping in the wonderful archives of the National Library of Australia
which offers a bit more detail on the circus life of Mr. Blaek Doblado
and his educated sheeps and musical pigs.

Like I said, I don't make this stuff up.


Warwick, Queensland Examiner and Times
08 July 1914

Black Doblado was twenty-five years ago a trainer of horses and dogs for show purposes.  After some successes the game began to appear commonplace. So many people had trained horses and dogs before that Doblado looked round for some new animal to practise upon. He tried deer, but the wild creatures refused to perform in spite of all his care and effort. He gave them up as a bad job and tried Spanish mountain sheep, with the result that he is now giving in connection with Wirth's circus about as remarkable an exhibition of animal cleverness as can be found in the world. 

He is the proprietor of another similar show now touring the United States but there is no other competitor in the field with a display of educated mutton. He shows six sheep – one of which, born on board ship performed in the tent on the evening of its first birthday, and a butting ram known as Buttinski which appears to be a compound of Jester rogue and faithful companion. The sheep play see-saw, jump hurdles, leap through hoops, waltz and go through all manner of antics. 

Louisa, the pig clown, adds to the gaiety of the performance and even undertakes the unpiglike task of blowing the euphonium. Doblado has been touring the world for seventeen years, and wherever he goes his sheep rouse enthusiastic wonder and the ram makes a hit, in fact quite a number of emphatic hits. Wirths open in Warwick on Tuesday, July 14.

The Big Hat

12 March 2016

This is not just a big hat. This is a Grand Hat! 
Any man who wears a tall bearskin shako
complete with white tassel and gilt chin strap
is not making a fashion statement so much
as a military command for our attention.
His coat gleams with polished buttons,
gold epaulets, knotted cords and braids.
His eyes gaze toward some distant field
as he fearlessly awaits the order to advance.

Who is this gallant soldier?

I don't know.
But I have some ideas.

For one thing he is not exactly a soldier.

He's a musician.

The man stands in a photographer's studio wearing a splendid full dress military style uniform. His bearskin hat adds an imposing 15 inches or so to his height. His left hand grasps the bell of a shiny brass instrument displayed on a small velvet covered side table. Close behind him is a painted theatrical backdrop of an imaginary paneled lobby and staircase. I would estimate his age as somewhere between 25 and 35. His imperial style beard looks oddly contemporary and would not be out of place on a modern era baseball player.

This musician's photograph was printed in an uncommon large format, sized 5.5" x 7.65" and mounted on a large board, 7.5" by 9.5". (I've cropped the image to remove the wide borders.) This was probably done to allow room for both the man's hat and his horn. The photograph's print style date it to somewhere between 1880 and 1895.

The only marks on the photo are those of the photographer.


Lebanon is a small city in southeast Pennsylvania, about 30 miles east of the state capital, Harrisburg, halfway to Reading. In 1880, Lebanon's population numbered 8,778 which swelled in the next decade to 14,664 by 1890. In the 1870s Mr. J. W. Graeff at 20 South 9th Street was one of only two photographers in the city. He advertised as The Artistic Photographer, – Good  Pictures Guaranteed.

Lebanon, PA Daily News
February 12, 1878

Mr. Graeff's full name was John William Graeff. He was born in Lebanon in 1850 and was the son of John Gaeff, a confectioner who came from Darmstadt, Germany. In the 1870 census J. W. Graeff was listed at age 20 as single and still living in his father's home. Louisa Lichtenthaler, the woman who would become his wife, also lived in the same house working as a clerk in Graeff Sr.'s confectionery shop. By the 1880 census, John and Louisa had a daughter, Ethel, age 1. Louisa's brother also lived in their house working with John as a photographer.

Like many enterprising businessmen, Graeff sometimes indulged in versification to set his advertisements apart from others in the dense columns of Lebanon's newspapers. This lengthy jingle was published in May 1882.

Lebanon, PA Daily News
May 16, 1882

Nonsense And Sense


The hog was born by nature,
A powerful thing to root;
And in the spring rips up the sod
With his tough and hardened snoot.

The toad is born by nature,
A powerful thing to leap;
And when he stands he does not stand.
But sits all on a heap.



There is an artist in our town,
Who understands his trade;
Go and see artistic work,
And have your portrait made.

Graeff is the artist's name,
A power in oil and inl;
And when you want a handsome job
Of J. W. Graeff please think.

Assisted by experienced men –
W. Householder is one;
As Operator he can't be beat,
Nowhere beneath the sun.

The Dry Plate process is the thing
For babies young or old;
Taking Pictures in a wink,
And brings them out most bold.

Come try the new dry plate,
It surely will you please;
As Photographs we can now take
With perfect skill and ease.

With it we make quick work,
A thing so long looked for;
For groups and babies its all the go,
Good pictures always sure.

20 South Ninth street is the place,
And don't forget the name;
J. W. GRAEFF, Photographer,
And the place to get a Frame.


The musical instrument in this photo is very unusual. It has rotary valves with side action keys that were typical of American brass instruments from about 1855 to 1885. But the circular shape is a transition from the instruments used by brass bands during the Civil War, when the bell was held over the player's shoulder pointing backward. This instrument's bell points to the player's left side. Its conical flare and mouthpiece are wide like a trombone, but the plumbing is shorter than a trombone, about the length of a B-flat cornet. It is far too short to match instruments like cornopeans, alt horns, or mellophones, which were developed later and generally had piston valves. So I don't know if this instrument was voiced as an alto or tenor instrument, but it does have a shiny brand new appearance.

It is similar, but not identical, to instruments listed in the Boston Musical Instrument Co. catalog of 1869. These instruments have top action rotary valves.

1869 Boston Musical Instrument Manufactory Catalog

This 1877 advertisement for a Citizens' Band Concert from nearby York, PA, has an illustration of a musician playing another similar transitional horn where the bell goes to the left and then bends upward. This bandsman does not wear a bearskin hat but instead has a more typical military flat cap. 

York, PA Daily
August 25, 1877


Lebanon, PA Daily News
November 04, 1876

In 1876, a few years after he first started out as a photographer in Lebanon, perhaps just after his marriage to Louisa, John W. Graeff advertised the addition to his photograph gallery of a music store dealing in Knabe pianos and Mason & Hamlin parlor organs. The shop also stocked sheet music for bands and orchestras and offered his expert services as a piano tuner.

Graeff also noted that he could furnish music for Parades, Excursions, Serenades, and Concerts. An adjacent advert offered tickets for the concluding events at the great 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

The reason Graeff included that bit of information was because he was the band leader of the Lebanon town band, The Perseverance Band. The name derived from the group's origins in 1857 as the band of the Perseverance Fire Company. In October 1861, the band joined the 93rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry from Lebanon, as the regiment marched to Washington, DC merging with hundreds of units being assembled into the Union Army. The band's service was of no small significance as five months later Lincoln's War Department determined that paying for hundreds of regimental brass bands was not a military necessity. The Perseverance Band was mustered out on March 19, 1862 and sent back to Lebanon.

It is very faint, but there is a shape of the American Eagle embossed onto the belt buckle of this musician. This symbol was used only by military bands connected to guard or volunteer regiments of the U.S. Army.

Lebanon PA Daily News
May 27, 1876

In 1861, John W. Graeff was only 11 years old, too young to be even a drummer boy during the war. But evidently he had developed musical and leadership skills. In 1875 the Perseverance Band leader, John Stanley, died and shortly after the band elected the young photographer John W. Graeff as his successor.

Though they were never part of the regular United States Army, after the war the Perseverance Band, like many former military bands attached to volunteer infantry regiments, continued to serve their communities as the representative of veterans. The soldiers of the 93rd PA Vols earned a distinguished service record and were proud of their participation many engagements during the war. After 1865, many veteran units reorganized into state guard units that added younger men but still celebrated the heritage of the older veterans. Every time there was a dedication for a battlefield monument or an encampment of the Union Army's veteran group, the G.A.R. or Grand Army of the Republic, Lebanon's soldiers would assemble. 

And if there were soldiers, they marched. And if they marched, it was to the sound of a military band. So military bands like the Perseverance Band had to dress the part. In 1876, Graeff took Lebanon's Perseverance Band to Philadelphia for a large parade of the Knights Templar, a fraternal society with quasi military ceremonies, that was connected to the Centennial festivities. Uniforms were very important. 


Philadelphia Times
July 5, 1876

To judge by the thousands of column inches that newspaper editors devoted to covering parades, these events were the center of 19th century American patriotism. A major parade might go on for several hours, and involve hundreds of different units from around the region or in the case of Philadelphia's Centennial, from around the nation. There was a gigantic celebration parade in Philadelphia on July 4th, 1876. In just one section of the parade, there were four regiment units whose uniforms included bearskin shakos. The Massachusetts Light Infantry of Boston pushed  extravagance to a higher degree with white bearskin hats, presumably made from polar bear pelts or maybe arctic fox.

Each regiment usually came with its own band, though it is not entirely clear if the descriptions are of the band or the soldiers uniforms. In any case, no camera of the time could truly capture all the sparkle and color of these military pageants.  Since this parade was a military centennial too celebrating units going back to 1776, the Perseverance Band of Lebanon was probably too young to be included.


America's democratic taste in military uniforms was heavily influenced by the patterns found in the old world's monarchies. French caps, German helmets, and British busbies all took a turn at dressing up the armed forces of the United States. The volunteer military bands, even small town ones, followed the trends too. This page from the Lyon & Healy Band Instrument and Uniform Catalog of 1901, gives an idea of the variety of hats that were available. Note that a $12 drum major's shako, even one in imitation bearskin, was an expensive uniform accessory compared to a Marine Band Cap at $10.50 per dozen..

1901 Lyon & Healy Band Instrument
and Uniform Catalog, page 79

During the tenure of its leader J. W. Graeff, the Perseverance Band marched in countless parades; performed hundreds of concerts in Lebanon and vicinity; provided musicians for events large and small; and represented the town's veterans, churches, and societies on enumerable occasions. Today the Perseverance Band of Lebanon, Pennsylvania remains one of the oldest musical organizations still active in America.

1901 Lyon & Healy Band Instrument
and Uniform Catalog, cover

Lebanon, PA Daily News
March 26, 1889

The newspaper ads for Graeff's Photograph Gallery stopped appearing in the Lebanon newspaper after 1886. This business closure makes the date for my bearskin hat musicians sometime prior to 1887. By 1889 Graeff ran new adverts offering music lessons at his private music academy on Piano, Organ, Voice Culture, and All the Instruments used in Military Band or Orchestra, as well as piano tuning. It would seem his music store proved more successful than photography.



In 1888, Prof. J. W. Graeff of Lebanon wrote an article entailed Music Among Farmers that was published by the Pennsylvania State Board of Agriculture. In it Graeff describes the societal changes occurring in the 1880s that were allowing music to flourish among the rural people of Lebanon County. He writes:
We learn that in our own county there are no less than nine hundred Miller organs, besides about four hundred pianos scattered through town and county, mostly through the county. We are glad to say that very few of them are merely ornaments, but, the contrary, the young gentlemen and ladies of the country often surpass the people of our cities in displaying their tastes in music, paying more attention to practice and study.
Not taking the interest into consideration in piano and organ playing, we notice what great progress is made in playing orchestra and band instruments by the boys. There is not a village, however small but on stated evenings they can be seen trodding along in all kinds of weather, walking for miles after a hard day's work, going to rehearsal.
Ten years ago, Lebanon county had only four or five brass bands, two of which were in Lebanon, now there are fifteen bands with an average membership of twenty, making the number in total three hundred. Two hundred of these are the boys from the country, and there are few poor bands at that, the same satisfactory remarks can be made about the advancement of music throughout the State. Now that there is so great a change, and that the boys of our farms have started the ball rolling in interest in instrumental music, we see much improvement yet to be made in voice culture especially among the fairer sex in city or country. Education in all branches, mathematics, geography, history, languages, etc. has advanced. The young people of the country are becoming more intelligent, their German dialect is improved and there are few who a few years ago were unable to speak, read, or write the English language have now mastered all.  Music should be taught in our schools as well as the other branches, not only in the towns and cities, but in every school house in the country.
From 1875 Graeff remained leader of the Perseverance Band for 16 years. But in October 1891 he moved his family to Philadelphia, where he found work as a teacher at a music school. He also reported that he was in demand as a piano tuner. On at last one occasion he performed a cornet solo at a Philadelphia church. He would remain in the big city for the next two decades. 


If you've followed all this history you may have guessed where this story leads. I believe that this photograph is a self portrait made by the photographer and band leader, John W. Graeff.

First, the photograph is exceptionally generous for this kind of subject. Musicians of this era, even military bandsmen, seldom spent extra money to have a large format photograph. This is different from the usual cabinet card. It looks like a memento of meritorious service, meant to be displayed prominently in a home, atop a mantelpiece or a piano.

Second, the time frame for the photo process, the musical instrument, and the uniform neatly align with the photographer's age. Nothing about the photo feels out of sync with the lifetime of John W. Graeff.

Third, since the Perseverance Band considered itself a military style band, this man's uniform perfectly fits that description. While it is possible there were other band musicians who wore bearskin hats, I think it very likely that Graeff as the chief musician and director of the Lebanon band, would choose to wear a special bearskin hat as a mark of his position as band leader. His life history clearly demonstrates that he possessed the right set of musical skills to be a bandsman, a music teacher, and and entrepreneur that would fit this image.

And there is one more musical clue in John W. Graeff's background
that I believe supports my argument that he made this self portrait.

Graeff died in Philadelphia on May 17, 1912 at age 62. The newspapers reported that he was a member of Lebanon's Moravian Church, one of the oldest of Protestant denominations, and would be buried in its Hebron Moravian Cemetery. The sect's early 15th century adherents, led by Jan Hus, came from Moravia in what was then called Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. In 1735, just before the revolutionary war, Moravians began immigrating to Britain's North American Colonies. The church established its first successful townships in eastern Pennsylvania where their mixed German/Czech heritage was more accepted. 

The music of the early Moravian Church was quite distinctive compared to the services of other Protestant denominations, and used brass ensembles of trombones to accompany its vocal choirs. This harmonious brass music became an important musical influence on American culture and the growth of instrumental music in the New World.

One aspect about this musical tradition is less well known. Whenever a congregant of the Moravian Church was taken to his or her final resting place, a Moravian trombone choir would play at the graveside.

So it was at the funeral of John W. Graeff in 1912.

Lebanon, PA Evening Report
May 20, 1912

I know that I can't prove anything conclusively,
and I admit that much of this evidence may be merely coincidental.
But even if this musician was not named John W. Graeff,
his magnificent bearskin hat manages to hold the secret
to two musical stories at once.  

It takes a Grand Hat to do that.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where old photos are always warm and fuzzy.


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