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 Gang at the Sleepy Hollow Ranch

10 March 2017

 It doesn't make a sound.
It takes no real skill to master.
It doesn't need tuning
because it can play in any key.

And yet it's a musical instrument
with such dynamic power
that it changed music forever.
It is a radio microphone.

In this particular case it's an image
of the microphone on the sound stage
of Radio CKLW
broadcasting from Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

 Standing around it are Elmer, Andy, and Pat
on violin, accordion, and bass fiddle.

On the other side are Mike, Pancake Pete, and Happy
playing accordion, guitar, and another bass fiddle.

In the center closest to the microphone
are Julie Murray and Sophie Murray
on mandolin and guitar
backed up by Red and Ken
on violin and guitar.

And let's not forget
Hiram Hillsberry and Uncle Hal
sitting down front on the floor.

Wearing the best in Western fashion
with ten gallon hats, neckerchiefs, and fancy shirts,
they all send

Season's Greetings
from the
Sleepy Hollow Cowboys
and Cowgirls
and the Vagabond Cowboys. 

In 1938 you could hear them on the radio Wednesdays at 3:30 PM in the Detroit, MI and Windsor, ON area. This photo was likely sent out so listeners to radio CKLW could put faces to voices. My guess is that Uncle Hal did the introductions as the show's emcee and Hiram Hillsberry provided colorful commentary with a joke or two. Julie and Sophie Murray were the featured vocal stars while  Elmer and Pancake Pete added the solo instrumentals. I suspect the Vagabond Cowboys are the four musicians on the back row. Two accordions might seem excessive but then this was the land of polkas which are not far removed from western swing music.

Detroit Free Press
9 February 1938

In 1938 the Sleepy Hollow Ranch was just one of hundreds of entertainment choices available to radio listeners in the Great Lake Region of Michigan, Ontario, and Ohio. The radio microphone brought all kinds of music to a new audience over the radio airwaves. For the first time symphonies and operas could be heard in rural homes far from big city concert halls. And likewise small bands performing blues, jazz, and country western music introduced America's urban population to new styles and rhythms. At the center of this new medium and entertainment industry was the microphone. The sound it captured was monophonic, low fidelity and broadcast over an AM signal but people couldn't get enough. Radio shifted the concert experience from an audience watching live musicians on a stage to a network where thousands of individuals listened to music coming from an electronic speaker on a radio cabinet.  Imagination supplied the visuals, and sometimes the postcards at least helped fans visualize the right shade of cowboy hat.

There is no date on this photo which was printed larger than a postcard and in newspaper halftones, so we can't know the precise Christmas season. But the earliest mention of the Sleepy Hollow Ranch on radio schedules was October 1937 and the last was October 1939. But they did not drop off the air, they only changed stations.

Pottstown PA Mercury
29 June 1940

The band had two leaders, Elmer and "Pancake Pete" Newman. In the late 1930s they each married one of the two Murray sisters, whose real name was Bogdonovich. Pete with Sophie were wed in 1936, and Elmer and Julie the following year. 

After some success in the Great Lake market, in 1940 they moved to the Philadelphia area and together opened an amusement park called the Sleepy Hollow Ranch located on Route 663, between Pennsburg and Quakertown. Visitors were entertained by farm animals, pony rides, merry-go-round, picnic food, square dancing, and country western music. The big Sleepy Hollow Barn Dance was broadcast on Philadelphia's WFIL and WEEU radio. 

Much of this information I found on a website devoted to Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia. A second website on Philly Regional news had a 2013 article on the story of this popular park from the perspective of two younger Newman brothers who grew up in the family's Sleepy Hollow Ranch. The radio broadcasts made the park an important venue for country and western artists to include on a concert tour. Patsy Cline, Roy Acuff, Roy Rogers, Minnie Pearl, Merle Travis, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Eddie Arnold were among the many notable singers who played the Sleepy Hollow Stage.

* * *

The Sleepy Hollow Ranch was not the only cowboy music venue in the region. In 1940 the entertainment listings for the Labor Day weekend in the Pottstown, PA Mercury included Carolina Slim and his Mountaineers, with Ray Meyers the Armless Wonder, who plays the electric guitar with his feet, at Hickory Park. Over at Quakertown's Circle J Ranch the Nationally Known Group, The Carter Family performed with the Westward Hoo Cowboys, the Calgary Kid of WCAU, and Acrobatic Dancer Dorrie Dale. The Bar C—C Ranch in Elverson had Gene Autry's sidekick Smiley "Frog" Burnette & His Rhythm Wranglers along with the Georgia Crackers, the 3 Cortellis trapeze performers, Wally Walters Jr. and his 3 dummies, and the Cowboy Caravan.  

For Philadelphians the Wild East seemed to have
just as many cowboys and cowgirls as the Wild West.

Pottstown PA Mercury
31 August 1940

Courtesy of the magic of YouTube
we can hear what
the gang at the Sleepy Hollow Ranch
sounded like.
Here is their version of Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.

* * *

* * *

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where every story sounds better in Sepia Stereo.


Wendy said...

"Pancake Pete"-- now there's a name! The outfits remind me of how Roy Rogers and Dale Evans dressed.

Kristin said...

I cannot imagine my Detroit family listening to this program. However my Canadian Uncle Winslow over in Windsor may have been listening along. He introduced me to County Music when I worked in the pharmacy with him at North Detroit General Hospital during the summer of 1965.

Little Nell said...

Sleepy Hollow Ranch! What a quaint name, that immediately conjures up something comfortable and folksy, like the music I guess.

ScotSue said...

A different kind of music making from you this week, Mike. I enjoyed your link to the microphone if the prompt photograph and seeing the images of Sleepy Hollow Ranch.

Jofeath said...

Hiram Hillsberry just has to have made his name up to suit his country and western style of music. Not my favorite I must admit but I enjoyed your post as ever. Love that an added attraction at a show was the giving away of 10 bags of groceries!

Barbara Rogers said...

Well I remember other programs my family insisted on listening to of music...but it wasn't country or western for some reason. We were in Texas, and then transplanted to St. Louis and our entertainment was either pop music, classical or opera, or operettas and the movie music that was singable...though nobody was a real singer. There was a Texaco radio hour which we had to hear in the car on Sunday drives at one point. Those microphones sure did hear a lot didn't they!

La Nightingail said...

Nice post! (as usual) My husband played with a bluegrass group for several years though they were never on the radio - just played concerts here and there. The duet sisters reminded me of the times my two sisters and I would sing in trio - they the alto parts, me the soprano. Fun times!

Unknown said...

Very nice post, thank you. Elmer Newman and Julie Murray Newman were my parents. Sleepy Hollow Ranch opened in 1940 and the "Sleepy Hollow Cowboys and Cowgirls" became the "Sleepy Hollow Ranch Gang". The "Ranch" continued to operate until 1963 when the main buildings, the open stage and the auditorium, were destroyed by fire.

Unknown said...

This is kenny newman 1938son of Pancake Pete and Sophie Murray , Sleepy Hollow Ranch Gang the post above is my double wirst kuzzin Danny newman 1938. We have been friends with some of the most family oriented peoples in the bidness. stay tuned~ obliged kenxqed♫

Unknown said...

May i ask if you are mary eva s brother

Unknown said...

So that means you know mary eva Newman im searching for her for a friend of mine who knew her well.can u reply please thank you

ladygadget said...

Pete and Elmer were my grandmother Alta Belle Newman's brothers, and my great uncles.


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