This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

A Lady Bugler for the G.A.R.

27 January 2017

Whether paintings or photographs, good portraits should describe a complete person. A skilled photographer arranges the camera to capture a personality more than just an image. The details of clothes, hats, props, and even body posture can covey special significance about the subject. But the rivers of history sometimes wash away those connotations, and what was once obvious is now hidden. This is a story about that kind of portrait photograph.

The photo shows a striking young woman dressed in a handsome dress jacket and wearing a smart homburg hat. With her high collar and black bow tie, it's a mannish fashion partly feminized with puffy shoulders. She is standing and the hat with her long neck and torso give her a tall appearance, almost a military bearing.

She also holds a silver cornet.

A closeup reveals gleaming engraving on her cornet with mother-of-pearl on the valve buttons. This prop is a symbol of pride, an instrument of an accomplished musician. But the photograph has no name or date marked on it.

More significant than the cornet is the badge pinned to her jacket. It is a fringed satin ribbon with embroidered lettering.

Post No. 15
G. A. R.
Bristol, R. I.

The G. A. R. stands for the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal group for Union military veterans of the Civil War. It was founded in 1866 to provide former soldiers and sailors fellowship and assistance during the post-war period. It quickly became the predominant advocate for veterans and also a political base for Republicans who in the decades of reconstruction controlled Congress and the White House. In Rhode Island there were 27 G.A.R. Posts. This was of course a men's society so it is odd to see a symbol of the G.A.R. pinned onto a woman. But it does offer a clue where the photo was made.

The mount is on a large cabinet card with a single embossed logo of the photographer.


In fact there was a photographer named Lyndon Anderström who lived in Bristol, RI at the turn of the 19th century. He was born in Rhode Island while his father, a cabinet maker, came from Sweden.

Bristol is a New England port city in Rhode Island, the smallest state in geographic area of the 50 United States. In 1890 it had about 5,478 citizens living there who worked at various maritime industries. Though not large it was a very cosmopolitan place where many immigrants from around the world passed through. It was also an important port for the early American slave trade. 

Chicago Daily Tribune
17 August 1900
It's not often that search terms can bring up an instant identification, but "Babbitt Post, Bristol" with "bugle" instead of "cornet" brought up an exact match. A small report in the Chicago Tribune from August 17, 1900 had the headline:


Babbitt Post, G.A.R., of Bristol, Mass.(sic) is the only G.A.R. organization in the country which boasts the possession of a woman bugler. It is expected that the comrades of the Grand Army will have a chance both to see and hear her during the coming encampment in Chicago.

Miss Munro is a pretty young woman of 25. She has always been fond of music and took the post of bugler for the local Grand Army post because of the fact that her father, who is a veteran of two wars, is no longer able to take an active part in G.A.R. work. She made her first appearance as the official bugler of Babbitt Post on last Memorial day, and the veterans declare that they have never answered to such inspiring calls as those which came from her bugle.

The report includes a crude woodcut illustration that exactly matches my photograph with cornet, homburg, and ribbon. The caption reads:

Bugler Mary Munro

* *

The August 26, 1900 Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune placed her at top right of a giant collage of Unique Men and Women at G.A.R. Encampment. This was a major convention event for Chicago which despite the Great Fire of 1871, was rapidly becoming the Midwest center for industry and commerce. In 1900 it boasted of a population of 1,698,575. By 1910 it would rise to 2,185,283.   

Besides Bugler Mary Munro, we can read about Mrs. Philena T. Carpenter of Chicago, the oldest surviving army nurse; Gilbert Barnes, a veteran of Pennsylvania Cavalry and long distance pedestrian; James A Rappe, age 85 and a veteran of three wars who rode a bicycle to Chicago from Marinette, WS via New York; George W. Sutherland and his stuffed eagle who marched ahead of the G.A.R. for fifteen years.

And don't miss the long sidebar article on the history of men wearing corsets.

Chicago Sunday Tribune
26 August 1900

It was 35 years since the end of the War between the States, but the Union soldiers' memories and friendships endured. Despite the natural attrition of death, the Tribune article cited a 1900 membership of 288,000 veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic. Chicago's national reunion event was expected to attract around 50,000 old soldiers. Of course there would be parades, speeches, honor guards, bands, and even mock battles, but the highlight seemed to be the soliders' favorite part of their war years, sleeping in military style tents at 147 campgrounds scattered around Chicago.

Boston Sunday Journal
9 September 1900

A week later in September 1900, the Boston Journal published a better rendition of Miss Munro's photograph. They corrected the Chicago newspaper's mistake on Bristol's location and captioned the image:

Rhode Island's
Girl Bugler.

Miss Mary G. Munro Occupies
a Unique Place in the Hearts
of Bristol's Grand Army Post.

 * *

Boston Journal
9 September 1900

The accompanying article explained that the photograph was taken especially for the Journal. Miss Mary G. Munro had received her appointment as bugler to the Babbitt Post on January 19, 1900. She had studied the cornet for five or six years but only recently taken up learning bugle calls. Her tutor was William F. Livesey, leader of the Hedley-Livesey Band of Bristol, RI. Mary was also proficient in vocal music and piano. (I should point out here that a cornet is perfectly capable of playing bugle calls which require only a simple overtone arpeggio. But a bugle can not play the complete musical scale of a cornet and therefore can't play any real melodic tunes.)

Military buglers in Bristol, all men of course, came from the naval militia which had a tradition that understandably would not accept a women bugler. Miss Munro however won them over with her proper renditions of "assembly", "recall", "retreat", "taps", and "Adjutant's call". She does not find that it calls for much physical exertion to blow a bugle. She says that it is not at all difficult. Her services are given gratuitously to Babbitt Post where she is an honorary member. Her principal musical service would be to play "taps" at a veteran's burial.

Her father, William H. Munro, a veteran of two wars, was 77 years old. He served three years with the Second Rhode Island Volunteers Regiment during the Civil War. Before that in 1841-42 he marched as part of the state militia force used against the so-called Dorr Rebellion, a small civil strife particular to Rhode Island which had important implications for the Secessionist efforts 20 years later. (The instigator, Thomas Wilson Dorr, sought a major change to the Rhode Island state constitution mandating universal male suffrage.)

William H. Munro also claimed descent with the Indian Chief know as King Philip of the Wampanoag tribe.

The 1900 US Census for Bristol listed Munro, William born 1823, age 76. A widower, Munro lived with a son, William, age 31; a daughter Sarah, age 34; and another daughter, Mamie, age 24. Mamie being short for Mary G. Munro.

Munro, William H.
1900 US Census Bristol, Rhode Island

The story of
Mary G. Munro, bugler for the G.A.R.
might end here.
But as any regular reader of my blog knows
there is always more
if you dig deeper
into the archives of history.

At age 25 in 1900, Mary was old enough to also be included in the 1880 census, as all the 1890 U.S. censuses were destroyed by a fire in 1921. William H. Munro, a H(ouse) Carpenter is listed in Bristol, age 56; along with his wife Charlotte, age 46; daughter Sarah S., age 14; son Frank W., age 11; and daughter Mary G. Munro, age 5.

Munro, William H.
1880 US Census Bristol, Rhode Island

 The dates were right. The ages were fit with the 1900 census. The middle initials were there. Frank W. was certainly the brother William. Ironically the census enumerator was even named Bennett G. Munro.

 It all added up.

Except for one thing.

The color of their skin.

In the 1900 census, the Munro family were W – white.
In the 1880 census, they were M –  mullato

The newspaper reference to the Second Rhode Island Volunteers led to finding the name of Munro, William H. in the 1863 Consolidated List of soldiers of Class subject to do military duty for Newport and Bristol, RI.  William H. Munro is described as age 38, occupation Carpenter, M for married, and marked Col – colored. The remark place him in the 2nd Regt. R. I. Vol.

1863 Union Army Enlistment for Bristol, RI 

William H. Munro's veteran's reference card confirms his service in Companies C, G of the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry. The date on the consolidated list is June 27, 1863. Just a week later on July 2-4, the Second R.I. Volunteers were at the battle of Gettysburg.

From Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, to Appomattox, the Rhode Islanders saw it all. The regiment lost 9 officers and 111 men killed or mortally wounded, and 2 officers and 74 men died of disease, for a total cost of 196 lives.

* *

In 1904 the Journal of the G.A.R.
Annual Encampment of the Department of Rhode Island
published its annual page of
Comrades reported Deceased during the Year 1903

Post No. 15 lost
William H. Munro,
Private, Co. G in 2nd R. I. Inf. and 1st R. I. Lt Battery
on March 10, 1903

He would have been nearly 80 years old.
1904 Journal of the G.A.R.
Annual Encampment of the Department of Rhode Island

We can not know,
but when the casket
of William H. Munro
was lowered into his grave,
I imagine that
the sound of
his daughter's bugle
filled the air.

In 1956,  Albert Woolson, the last surviving member of the G.A.R. died,
and the Grand Army of the Republic was formally dissolved.


I believe the portrait of Mary G. Munro shows a confident woman who wanted her musical skill to honor her father's service and his comrades-in-arms. Undoubtedly she knew something of the hardship of racial prejudice, segregation, and discrimination. Whether she and her father considered their family to be white, black, native American, or mulatto must remain unknown. It was a different time and they needed to fit in as best they could.

It's actually not difficult to imagine that beautiful Miss Munro's heritage was a mix of every kind of ethnic group. Consider that all of New England was once the home to the original native peoples. In the 18th and early 19th century, Bristol sea captains made profit on the importation of African people to America and the Caribbean. Rhode Island was also known as a destination for Portuguese immigrants whose ancestry included Africans from even earlier centuries. Even in sepia tone we can see bits of several racial types in her face.

The divisive perception of race and color still resonates a century later in America. It was founded on an evil called slavery that implicated people in its nefarious trade from Georgia to Rhode Island. It led to arguably the greatest event in American history, the Civil War. Today that same struggle for civil justice and racial equality continues to generate a bitter acrimony that corrodes American politics. In 1863 Mary's father, William H. Munro, like thousands of men in other Northern states,  volunteered save the union for Abraham Lincoln. They may not have understood the problems that would come, but they knew that slavery was wrong. It was why the old soldiers of the Grand Army of the Republic were proud of their service to their country.

Yet in 1900 Mary G. Munro seemed to bridge another difficult divide in American society. Her Chicago G.A.R. performance was proof that a woman was just as capable a musician as any man. Playing her cornet/bugle may have been just a small demonstration, noteworthy for just a few summer weeks in 1900, but it still made a strong statement for female equality. Was there also a hidden statement about a woman of color too?   Can you see that in her hint of a smile?   

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Where It Don't Mean a Thing
(If It Ain't Got That Sepia Swing).

Time Flies

21 January 2017

The march of time follows a relentless drumbeat. A rhythm that's inevitable and unstoppable. Unless you have a camera. Only then, for just a brief instant, does the pulse of time pause.

Until the era of photography, humanity had limited ways to measure the effects of time on the human face. People could admire a painted portrait made in younger days. Friends and family might remark on wrinkles and gray. But it was the medium of the photograph that gave mankind its first accurate record of the human visage.  

This young gentleman turns his gaze to the side of his carte de visite so that we may admire his handsome side-burns. His eyes are downcast, serious yet self-effacing.

* *

His photo was taken by Brown's of 1222 Market St. in Wheeling, West Virginia. The price is marked on the back beneath a pair of female vignettes. 99cts. per doz. 8x10 copies $1. each. Note the camera and artist's palette behind the address banner.

I imagine the gentleman many years later taking that same cdv into the photographer's studio and asking, "Can you make another one like it?"

Indeed the camera captures the man in a reverse pose. Hair now silvered with  more grey bristle in his whiskers. His steely eyes are lifted upward, as if he's seen the world and is ready to meet it on his terms.  

* *

This carte de visite was likely made by the same photographer but in a different studio. Beneath interlinked initials, the backstamp says Brown and Higgins, No. 42 Twelfth Street, Wheeling, W. Va.

The man's name is unknown and there is no date. The photographers Brown & Higgins were listed as partners in the 1868 and 1872 city directory for Wheeling, WV.  Both were in the 1864 directory but listed separately, and in that year Bown's partner was named Wykes.  Addresses were not included in those directories but in the 1882 edition, John Brown had a photograph studio at 1222 Market St., and T. H. Higgins had a photo studio at 42 Twelfth St.

The reason I acquired these two versions of the same man was because I found them while searching for examples of Mr. Higgins' photo work.

This cornet player posed for a cabinet card photo at the studio of Higgins of Wheeling, W. Va. Dressed in a heavy twill suit, he stands with his cornet resting on a faux stone plinth. There seems to be more hair below his nose than on top his head. How he managed to play through his impressive soup strainer mustache is beyond my understanding of proper brass instrument technique.

The musician signed the back.

To my Old Friend
Geo, Skinner

Yours Truly
Geo. Drurnberg(?)

There is no date but it has the look of about +/− 1885. Unfortunately his signature defeats me. It looks like Drurnbag? which can't be right. I get no help in and I can't find anything like this name in the D listings of the Wheeling city directories.

Any suggestions, readers?

{click any image to enlarge}

* *

Around the same time a companion musician was also photographed by Higgins of Wheeling, W. Va. This man stands with his violin resting on a table. He wears a handsome suit with a long watch fob and a musical lyre tie pin, and sports a more conventional mustach. He signed his name on the front. Eugene Mack.

On the back is written:

Eugene Mack
(cartoon bird)
Trade Mark

The fanciful bird is an odd thing to add. Perhaps it was a joke intended for the recipient.

While this musician' name is clear, it does not appear in any of Wheeling's city directories from 1882 to 1898. Nor is the name in any census for West Virginia, though of course we cannot use the infamous missing 1890 U.S. census records.

* *

The story might have ended there. But I felt compelled to hunt through newspapers for any clues of cornet soloists or violinists in Wheeling. There was a thriving theater and hotel district as this city and a number of bands and orchestras employed musicians like these two men. 

Situated on the Ohio river, Wheeling is also on the great National Road, also known as the Cumberland Road, which was the first major westward route in the US. Later it was improved with the great Wheeling Suspension Bridge which crosses the Ohio River. If you had to go anywhere across eastern America in the 19th century, there was a good chance you passed through Wheeling.

In February 1889, Barlow Brothers' Minstrels stopped in Wheeling to perform at the Grand Opera House. Among the supporting artists was Eugene Mack, male soprano.

The audience was evidently well pleased.

Wheeling WV Daily Intelligencer
12 February 1889

In the following year 1890, the Dime Eden Musee in Omaha, NE ran an advert for the offerings on the New Year Week. Along with he Nebraska Triplets was  Jennie Ritchie, male impersonator, and Eugene Mack, female impersonator.

Omaha NE Daily Bee
28 December 1890

In a return engagement to Omaha in 1893, Eugene Mack, a phenomenal female impersonator shared the People's Theater stage with a midget sketch team, a serpentine and Spanish dancer, trapeze artists, comedians, and a world's champion club swinger.

Omaha NE Daily Bee
01 September 1893

So is my photo of a hirsute masculine violinist the same Eugene Mack, the male soprano and female impersonator? I don't know. But the trademark cartoon does offer a tantalizing suggestion that connects a songbird to a soprano voice. If both musicians were members of a traveling minstrel show that would explain why they were not found in Wheeling's directories or census records.

The whole truth may never be discovered, but sometimes the imagination fills in what we don't know.

Time flies.

And as for the anonymous Wheeling man with mutton chops, I think his side whiskers mark him as a distinguished gentleman with a public profession, i.e.banker, lawyer, doctor, or even politician. My guess is his earlier image as a young man is at age 20-25, while his later countenance adds 25 or even 30 years.  

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where watching time is an art.

A Birdseye View of a Girls Orchestra

13 January 2017

They say two is company, three's a crowd.
And that applies to double bass players
when there are only two instruments to share.
On the other hand,
bass drummers
often do the job of two
by doubling up on cymbals,
with half a pair fixed onto the top of the drum.

Cellists usually come in pairs,
though some like to hide
behind snare drummers.
Violinists always seem to come in gangs.

An orchestra should have
a generous number of strings
but really needs only one oboe.
(back row, second from left)
Having two trombones is okay,
but five clarinets is a bit excessive.

Three cornets
and a melophone
is about right.
Although a single flutist is apt to get lost
in the sound of such a large group.

And with 41 musicians,
all young ladies,
this is definitely a very large orchestra.

The Orchestra
of the Iowa State Industrial School for Girls
Mitchellville, IA

Reichard the Druggist (photographer)

Each girl wears a nearly identical dress, with hair done up in a similar style and held with a large bow. But there are few real smiles on their faces. Several have what I would describe as scowls, even though the sun is not in their eyes. Their unhappy demeanor is not typical of a school orchestra, because this was not a typical school. The Iowa State Industrial School for Girls was a place of incarceration, a reformatory for "wayward", "unfortunate", and "incorrigible" girls. This state institution was established in 1889 as a spinoff from the Iowa reformatory for boys. Girls, ages 10 to 18, who had run foul of the law, and often were without one or both parents, were made wards of the state and sent to this school for correctional education and vocational training. Mitchellville, IA is a small town near Des Moines, just below the center of the state, and in 1900 it had a population of 768. About 220 were young female inmates at the State Industrial School for Girls.  

In 1899 the girls at the school protested over what they considered bad conditions by going on a destructive rampage of school property, mainly shattering glass and china. At the time a new superintendent had just joined the school. His name was F. P. Fitzgerald, a man who had already earned respect for his work managing the State Industrial School for Boys in Eldora, IA. After the rioters were placed under control, Fitzgerald noticed that the girls had protected the pianos in the buildings from damage by wrapping them in quilts and mattresses. As an educator who was also a trained musician and composer, he recognized this desire for music and cleverly set about developing a music program for his young charges. He arranged to purchase music and instruments, and hire a female music teacher. Within a year, the girls orchestra at the Mitchellville Industrial School, with F. P. Fitzgerald conducting, were performing concerts for the public. The discontent and agitation within the institution diminished and the girls began to appreciate Fitzgerald's management.

The postcard was sent
from Farrar, in Polk County, Iowa
on Aug. 21, 1908 to
Mr. Chas Bailey

Dear Brother, I thought
I would write and let you
know what a great mistake
you made and how far you
are behind the times.
O.S. is of the past not
yet but soon.  if you
have any tears pleas(sic) shed
a few for me as mine
are all gone.
Your Loving Sister

Please send them by
return mail.
Mandie Bailey
8 20 08

I've been unable to determine if Mandie Bailey was an inmate at the school, much less that she was a member of the girls orchestra. But her sad enigmatic note, playing on her brother's sympathy, seems the sort that an unfortunate girl might write.

All correspondence at the school was limited for outgoing mail and subject to censorship. The girls, some of whom were illiterate, had regular classes in basic education and also instruction at trades suitable for women like cooking and sewing. In 1907 there were 241 inmates, of which 17 were African-American. At eighteen a girl was deemed an adult and released, but Superintendent Fitzgerald argued, unsuccessfully, that some girls should be allowed to extend their "stay" in order to complete their education.

His music program proved very popular and no notable protest events occurred after it was begun. The orchestra soon had over 40 musicians and a second lower level orchestra was started. The girls played for school dances (though without boys), and even gave run-out concerts for public events.  F. P. Fitzgerald considered himself a composer, and published critiques in Iowa newspapers on the importance of American music in preference to European music. In May 1905, the girls orchestra and choir performed a cantata, written and composed by F. P. Fitzgerald, entitled "The Frolic of the Fairies". That was followed in 1907 by his opera called "The Sorceress" which had "forty-five solos, choruses, and scenic music."  

Some time around 1908-09, a photographer,
perhaps Mr. Reichard the druggist,
tied a camera to a balloon
and took a picture of the school
from an unusual perspective.

Birdseye View
State Industrial School for Girls
Mitchellville, IA

From the altitude of a pigeon, the school is situated on level prairie farmland with only a scattering of trees. The large buildings set around a center quad look very scholastic, even handsome. The grounds show none of the usual prison accoutrements like walls or fences. It's a real photo postcard that surely was admired as a wonder of photography when it first went on display at the Mitchellville drugstore. My guess is that a camera was fixed onto a simple hydrogen balloon, though a kite might be another possibility, with the shutter set off by a long string.  It was still too early in the 20th century to be attached to an airplane.

The postcard was mailed
on SEP 22, 1909 to
Mrs I  D Beeman
Conrad, Ia.

If we move in closer to the buildings,
could we see where the photo
of the girls orchestra was taken? 

These building are too plain.
More like dormitories or classrooms.

This one looks too ornate,
and the windows are not the same.

Again this one is too plain
and the little house on the left
is made of wooden clapboard not brick.

Let's look at the windows of the building behind the orchestra.

I think they are leaded stained glass windows
placed close together in a group of three. 

That's not a typical fenestration style
for a security institution like this.
So I went on the hunt for more history
on the Mitchellville Industrial School for Girls

I found it on a 1914 Iowa state map.

Detail 1914 Map of Mitchellville, Iowa

The survey map shows the grounds of the State of Iowa Girl's Industrial School in Mitchellville with each building labeled. In order of my cutouts, Dormitory No. 1 and behind the Laundry Hospital Storage; the Office and Supt. Residence; and the Dormitory No. 2. But at the northeast corner, not visible in the aerial photo, is a Chapel, a building probably large enough for 240 young girls and designed to inspire moral virtues with stained glass light. It was also likely a building suitable for an orchestra to give concerts. That's where I think the orchestra posed. On the map I've marked a red dot for that view and a blue arrow for the balloon camera.

In 1909, Superintendent F. P. Fitzgerald was falsely accused of taken liberties with his female charges. In our time it might be characterized as mildly inappropriate touching and the allegations were never proven. Nonetheless Fitzgerald resigned and left Mitchellville to run his son's confectionery shop in Idaho. In July 1909 he was replaced by a woman, Miss Hattie Garrison. She was a decidedly different school administrator. 

Only a few months into managing a difficult bunch of girls, Miss Garrison was confronted with riots and accusations of abuse. In March 1910 Twenty-five girls "escaped" from the school and walked over 16 miles to the big city of Des Moines. After they were returned by police, a near riot ensued. Eight girls were arrested and sent to county jail for a few days. They showed no remorse.

Instead they reported on whippings with a rubber hose that they received from Miss Garrison. They complained of her severe restriction on privileges and activities, one of which was a drastic reduction of the orchestra and an elimination of dancing. Miss Garrison believed that music and dancing led the girls to improper behavior after they were released. She also didn't care for popular music like ragtime and permitted the girls to play only church hymns and songs.

The story made the pages of several Iowa newspapers. A conflict arose between Superintendent Garrison and the chairman of the state control board. The governor became entangled. Words were said, witnesses called, sparks flew, dirt was flung, and lawyers got involved. It was not pretty. 

Miss Garrison was exonerated but by April 1911 she resigned from what was clearly a demanding and thankless job. She was replaced by another woman. The girls orchestra never regained it's potential for reform.

In March 1910, the Des Moines Register printed a letter from an anonymous ex-inmate entitled Mitchellville From the Girls' Side. The writer takes strong exception to Miss Garrison's argument that learning music might lead girls "into the gay life". She concludes by saying she took piano and vocal lessons while at the school and is now married with a baby. "Music never led me astray." 

Des Moines Register
22 March 1910

These were not ordinary children. They were troubled young girls. The victims of poverty and abuse, broken homes, poor neighborhoods, and isolated rural communities. Many had limited or no education. A number of girls undoubtedly came from immigrant families with few resources to help them in mid-west America. These girls knew what a "hard scrabble life" meant. The time they served inside a reform school was difficult and not without heartbreak.

But music made it better.

* * *

Today the Girls Industrial School property in Mitchellville is the site of the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women. It is a minimum/medium security facility with a staff of 190. It can house 510 female inmates. Surrounded by heavy barbed wire fences, from Google Maps satellite view it doesn't resemble the 1909 birds-eye view in any way. As far as I can tell the old buildings including the chapel are long gone. 

I doubt that this 2017 generation of Iowa female inmates
has as lovely an orchestra as the one in 1908. 

Iowa Correctional Institution for Women
Mitchellville, Iowa

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is always on the look out.

The Circus Side Show Trombone

07 January 2017

Some of my favorite musician stories come from simple photo postcards. This is one of them. A bandsman stands with his trombone under his arm, his instrument almost lost in the faded low contrast print. His photo processes two interesting qualities that attract our attention. The first is that the man stands in front of an ornately carved and painted backdrop. The second aspect is that this trombonist is an African-American musician.

The full postcard shows that the backdrop is a wagon decorated with carvings of two angels cavorting over a circular floral medallion. It resembles an old circus wagon, so perhaps this was a musician in a circus band.

The photo also had embossed logo in the lower left corner, Campbell's Photo Art, and a print negative number, 225-B at the bottom. Next to the trombone player is a name in large letters:

H. Langford

It looked like a photographer's hallmark but it did not match the smaller logo. Could it be the name of the bandsman?


On the back of the postcard was the answer.
It was signed
and dated with an address.

yours truly
H. Langford

1155 Aubert
St. Louis, Mo.

To my friend
Happy – 1944

The greeting marked this photo for the 1944 new year's holiday. It was probably taken sometime in 1943 and included with a Christmas card or letter.

But these clues did not reveal a better identification and the story behind this musician remained hidden.

Until I saw this postcard for sale on eBay.

A circus wagon with very distinctive angels.

This circa 1965-66 color postcard was mailed from the Baraboo, WI, the home of the Circus World Museum. The caption describes the Columbia Bandwagon, built in 1897 for the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth.  It remained in service until the early 1950s when it was donated by John M. Kelley, the museum founder.

And with a tax deductible contribution, you too could become an Honorary Member in the Professional Elephant Trainers Association which would entitle you to "shovel privileges with the better elephant herds" in the United States.

A comparison with the carving behind the trombonist shows that he is standing in front of the same Columbia bandwagon. The center medallion is revealed as a music lyre. The only difference is that the angels on the restored museum bandwagon are covered in gold leaf while the figures are painted different colors on the 1944 wagon.    

Baraboo, Wisconsin was chosen as the home of the Circus World museum, because it was the hometown of the Ringling Brothers, who formed the famed Ringling Brothers Circus in 1884. After various mergers it became the largest combined circus company in the world, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

With this new clue, I searched for a connection between the name Langford and the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus. I found it on a fantastic website devoted to circus fans, the Circus Historical Society, which has a fascinating collection of circus route books. These trade publications contain every detail about the touring season of a traveling circus. There are names of every circus employee, from tight rope walkers to roustabouts. There is a list of each city on the circus tour and the number of shows. Most circuses started the year in April and continued with at least one performance every day until mid-November. The route books proudly list statistics from tickets sold to miles traveled.

In the CHS archives was a transcription of the roster from the 1946 route book of the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus. One page listed the members of the Big Show Band, which had 29 musicians with Merle Evans, conductor, but no one named Langford. Below that came the performers in the circus Side Show, which had a band too. There were 14 musicians in Arthur A. Wright's Band and Minstrels.

One of them was Harvey Lankford, 1st Trombone.

1946 Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey
Circus Route Book

In the 1940s, black Americans, South and North, lived within a society divided by segregated color lines. It forced people to follow strict rules of public and private behavior. For traveling circus entertainers, this meant that white musicians in the big top did not share a bandstand with black musicians. The place for black musicians was in the Side Show with the Armless and Legless Girl, the Giant and Giantess, the Tattooed Strong Man, the Comedy Juggler, the Champion Sword Swallower, and the Fire Proof Man. Most black entertainers probably considered it a good job, but the opportunity for advancement was still restricted to only those with an acceptable complexion. 

I felt certain that I had found the right name, and after more research I determined that H. Langford and Harvey Lankford were likely the same man, a musician from St. Louis with a very musical background.

St Louis, MO Argus
19 February 1915

According to his 1918 draft card, Harvey McKinley Lankford was born in 1900 and came from St. Louis, MO. In fact according to the 1900 Census his birthday was a year earlier in 1899.  He was the son of Philip Benjamin Lankford who listed his occupation as Musician in 1900 and Music Teacher Brass Band in 1910. He would pass on musical skills to Harvey and two older sons. By 1915 he  was director of the St Louis Odd Fellows Band, which gave a concert where 16 year old Master Harvey Lankford played a solo on trombone, "Why did you make me care." by Alfred Solman.

The music on that concert, with various Germanic overtures, waltzes, and polkas, was similar to the program of most American brass bands of the era. But this was the decade when the popular ragtime style began to evolve into snappier rhythms and tunes. Harvey Lankford was one of the African-American musicians who helped transform the stuffy staid forms of European centered music into a fresh vibrant style called American Jazz.

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Baton Rouge Advocate
03 October 1931

By 1931, Harvey Lankford was a bandleader whose ensemble, the Synco-High Hatters played on one of the excursion steamboats running  up and down the Mississippi River. On one trip they even had the dubious pleasure of entertaining the Daughter of the Confederacy. It was also the age of radio, and in 1933, people could tune into radio station KMOX, broadcasting from St. Louis, to hear Harvey Lankford's Orchestra. Lankford played trombone in other bands too and appeared on a few early recordings. As I began to piece together his career as a professional musician, it became clear that he was one of the unsung pioneers of American jazz culture. Maybe not so much an innovator, but instead a working musician following the rapidly changing fashions in American popular music.

A lot of Langford/Lankford's personal history that I uncovered from various archives was confirmed by a great website devoted to early American jazz, . The site has compiled a large number of notable jazz musicians' WW1 draft cards and presents them with short biographies. Harvey Lankford's name along with his 1918 draft card is listed as one of the bandleaders. The bio says he worked with the "Barnum & Bailey" circus. But in the years 1946-48, not for 1944.

My trombone player's connection with this particular circus was an important detail because if  H. Langford/Lankford was indeed working with the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1944, he might have been present at the great Hartford circus fire. This horrible tragedy occurred during an afternoon performance of the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus. The gigantic canvas tent, which could seat 9,000, caught fire just as the Great Wallendas High Wire act was beginning. Supposedly it was spotted by Merle Evans, the leader of the Big Show Band, who quickly responded by directing the band to play "The Stars and Stripes Forever", the traditional signal of distress for circus folk. However within seconds the flames, fueled by the canvas's paraffin waterproofing, rushed up the canvas sidewalls into the big top. The people below had only about 8 minutes to flee before the tent collapsed in a terrible conflagration. At least 167 people perished and over 700 were injured in the fire.

Was Harvey a witness to this terrible event? My detective instinct said something was missing. I needed to dig some more.

The Billboard
24 April 1954

A search for the Columbia Bandwagon brought a different perspective. Who would expect that a horse drawn wooden wagon from the 1890s would be preserved as a cherished relic of circus life. But in April 1954, The Billboard, the news magazine of the entertainment world, reported that the Columbia Bandwagon had been moved to Baraboo, Wis. by John M. Kelly, its new owner, and the same man who had plans to establish a circus museum. Though originally built for the Ringling Bros. Circus the  bandwagon had formerly been a part of the Cole Bros. Circus.

The Circus Historical Society now has a subsidiary website devoted to the colorful wagons that were once part of every circus parade. There is a page devoted the Columbia Bandwagon which has wonderful photos of the vehicle throughout its service life. Originally used in the 1900s by the Adam Forepaugh and Sells Bros. Circus, in the 1920s it was sold to the Christy Bros. Circus and then in the 30's to the Cole Bros. Circus where it was converted into a ticket wagon. (There are an inordinate number of brothers in circus history!) In 1939 it was no longer used in the parades and was retired to the Cole Bors. winter quarters. But in 1941 the Columbia bandwagon was given a new coat of paint and brought back for the Cole Bros. Circus tour. Photos on the website exactly match the color scheme of the carvings displayed behind my trombonist. In 1943-44 Harvey Lankford was not playing in the side show of the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus. He was in the Cole Bros. Circus Side Show.
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The Circus Historical Society has a copy of the 1942 Cole Bros Circus Route Book. On the page devoted to the Side Show performers is a roster of the P. G. Lowery Band with Harvey Lankford as one of the twelve musicians.

1942 Cole Bros Circus Route Book

Though the connection with the Hartford circus fire might make a more dramatic story, this relationship with P. G. Lowery was more significant for music history. Perry George Lowery (1869-1942) was a celebrated African-American cornet player, composer, and band director. He started playing music in the age of traveling minstrel shows. Through talent and dedicated hard work, Lowery developed a distinctive style that made him one of the few successful African-American showmen at the turn of the 19th century. He was admired by many musicians, white and black, including the great cornetist and so-called father of the blues, W. C. Handy (1873-1958). Adapting his music to ragtime, blues and then jazz, Lowery helped change popular culture while at the same time providing opportunities for hundreds of black musicians like Harvey Lankford.

During his career P. G. Lowery played for most of the great circus productions including both the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey show and the Cole Bros. Circus. The 1942 tour was to be his last as he succumbed to health problems, dying at his home in Cleveland on December 15, 1942. For more history on this great musician, I highly recommend a terrific biography: Showman: The Life and Music of Perry George Lowery by Clifford Edward Watkins, Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2003. Unfortunately Wikipedia has no entry for P. G. Lowery, who deserves more recognition for his contributions to American culture. 

Harvey Lankford's name appears in Watkins book. On that last circus tour when Lowery was forced to be absent due to illness, Lankford was the assistant band leader. It seems very likely that he continued as leader of the side show band in the 1943 season when he was photographed in front of the Cole Bros. Columbia band/ticket wagon. The photographer's inclusion of his name, even misspelled, would be very appropriate for a souvenir postcard. 

The Billboard
24 April 1954

When Lankford moved over to the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1946 he played with another alumni of P. G. Lowery's band, Arthur A. Wright who was also a great cornet soloist and band leader. Lankford's name is listed in the  1946, 1947, and 1948 season route books. In 1950 he was reported in Billboard magazine as playing in the side show band of the Biller Bros. Circus.

By a strange coincidence in the same 1954 edition of The Billboard that reported on the movement of the Columbia Bandwagon, there was a long list of the performers and personnel on the King Bros. Circus tour. One of the musicians in Teddy Parker's minstrel band was Howard Langford, trombone. I feel certain that this must be Harvey Lankford, who surely endured a life of misspelled names. 

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In 1944 the Cole Bros. Circus traveled 14,271 miles from April 20 to November 12 playing nearly 400 shows in over 150 cities and towns in 27 states. During that same wartime season the Dailey Bros. Circus logged 13,919 miles; the Baily Bros.Circus made 10,262; the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Baily did 8,846; and the Clyde Beatty Circus managed 7,184 miles. Each circus employed thousands of clowns, acrobats, cooks, trapeze artists, animal wranglers, canvas men, wagon drivers, and musicians. Every day began with setting up the big top tent in a new field. Every night ended with folding it all up and loading it onto a train.  

Evidently Lankford was getting tired of a life on the road with the circus. In the mid-1950s he moved to New York City and settled down, limiting his performances to playing in small club bands. I suspect he had a lot of friends. He died in Manhattan on January 14, 1969.


In 1925 Lankford was a member of
Bennie Washington's Six Aces,
which recorded "Compton Avenue Blues"
in St. Louis for Okeh Records.
YouTube let's us
hear Harvey Lankford in his prime
when he takes a solo at 1:25.



The side show performers
may never have enjoyed
the spotlight in the main ring,
but it was always a very popular part
of the circus spectacle.
Another YouTube video
gives us a glimpse of the 1948
Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus Side Show.
The minstrel band appears briefly at the start about 0:06.
Was Harvey Lankford there too?



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where every pcture tells a story.


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