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 }

Fun with the Double Bass

28 April 2017

Music is fun.
But it is rare
to see musicians
photographed while

having a good time too

This quintet of unknown musicians,
a violin, cello, kettle drum. double bass,
and female conductress,
pose merrily in an alleyway
that might be in Europe
or some place else.
Who knows?
But they surely knew
how to make music entertaining.

The double bass or contrabass
is an ungainly instrument
but is actually strong enough
to let a small child
climb onto it.

This bass player is dressed
in a summer weight jacket
with white trousers and shoes.
A boy in a sailor suit
about age three
clings to the neck of the bass.
They are somewhere on a beach.
 The postcard has names
and a cryptic message
written on the back.

Efren Duran and & son
Frankie Duran.
Efren died in Central America


Today Aug ___ 1975  I
Louise Brunette rec'd a letter
+ picture from my nephew,
oin which he's shown holding
his 1st grandson. Born ____

Because of its size
a double bass is easily kicked around
and endures far rougher treatment
than its smaller brethren
the violin, viola, and cello ever get.
This man's bass has clearly suffered
some pretty hard knocks. 
He is dressed in a suit but without tie.
His long grey hair and sun-burned complexion
suggest he is used to working outdoors.
He stands in front of a strange building,
almost a shack or trailer,
which has a sign on the wall
made of large stenciled letters.
The word VIOLIN is clear
but the rest is a puzzle.

Yet we know he is having fun
because if you look closely
he has toothpick between his lips.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyday is Wash Day.

Music for Lawn Tennis

21 April 2017

Out among the clover
as the noontime passes over
do we gather for a lark.

With joy each heart is teeming,
every hour with fun is beaming,
And we linger there 'till nearly dark,

Each other gaily chaffing
at the harmless frolic laughing,
Heedless of the hours that steal away,

There is naught such pleasure yields
as hid in clover scented fields,
Playing in the cool of the day.

Lawn Tennis!
Lawn Tennis!
Sweethearts are wont to play at this,
The moments pass so jolly,
'Tis a pleasure, not a folly.
Give me the game,
"Lawn Tennis."


Lads and merry lassies
mingle on the Summer grasses
after lunch is served each day,

When the Sun is gently glowing
and a balmy breeze is blowing,
You will find us eager for the fray,

Lots of fun and sayings witty
from the dimpled cheeks so pretty.
Glances of their winning eyes devine,

Tho' a little bit confusing
makes the game much more amusing,
Then the gents try to them outshine.

Lawn Tennis!
Lawn Tennis!
Sweethearts are wont to play at this,
The moments pass so jolly,
'Tis a pleasure, not a folly.
Give me the game,
Lawn Tennis.”

Lawn Tennis – Song and Dance
as performed by Thatcher, Primrose & West's Minstrels
words and music by Barney Fagan
copyright 1885 by Chas. D. Blake & Co.

Lawn Tennis Song & Dance,
sheet music cover page
1885 by Barney Fagen
Source: Library of Congress

This is one of the strangest photographs in my collection. A small musical ensemble of eight women stand outside on a manicured lawn. In the background is a hammock, and further beyond is what looks like a lumberyard. One woman wields either a very long baton or a broomstick and is presumably the band leader. The other women have three brass instruments, a guitar, a violin, a tambourine, and a small snare drum. It's not quite a band or an orchestra. They all wear long dresses but each is different, so they are not in any formal concert attire. What makes the photo so intriguing is that lying on the lawn just in front of the women are seven tennis rackets. I have a lot of photos of ladies bands and orchestras, but this is the only one that includes sporting equipment.

We can't know where they are, as the albumen cabinet photo does not have a photographer's mark. It's likely the work of an amateur. But the back does have a penciled note that looks reasonably contemporary with the photo:

No. 10


* *

I think the women's apparel matches the 1890 date. However two of the brass instruments do not fit with that decade and that is the musical oddity in the photo. One woman has a standard piston valve cornet, but the other two have over-the-shoulder saxhorns of the style used in military bands of the 1860s. The middle instrument looks like a B-flat soprano saxhorn, and the right one is a longer bass saxhorn. During the first years of the Civil War, soldiers marched behind regimental brass bands which used this unusual style instrument because the sound would be projected backwards towards the troops that followed. The usual brass band concert formation, in camp or on the battlefield, was to arrange the bandsmen into a circle around the bandleader so that the sound projected outwards. These over-the-shoulder brass instruments came in an assortment of sizes from high treble to contrabass, and typically they used rotary valves.

In the post-war years, piston valve instruments became the new standard for brass bands because they were cheaper to make and easier to care for. They also sounded better. By the mid 1870s the over-the-shoulder instruments were outmoded and rare to find in photographs of male brass bands. I've never seen female brass musicians holding this kind of instrument in a photo as late as the 1890s.

Why this group of ladies has two OTS saxhorns is a mystery. All the women look capable of playing their respective instruments, especially the two string instrumentalists. Were they professional or amateur musicians? It's impossible to know without more clues.  

But the tennis rackets have a better explanation.

San Francisco Morning Call
23 May 1890

It turns out that 1890 was a peak year for Lawn Tennis which was first played on croquet courts around 1859-1865 in Birmingham, England. In the 1870s it became a popular game in America and by 1890 it was all the rage. This was partly because lawn tennis was played by both men and women, usually in mixed doubles. And like any other public activity of the 19th century, tennis required women to wear the proper fashion – a tennis gown. In 1890 American newspapers were filled with illustrations of the latest lawn tennis styles.

South End Lawn Tennis Club,
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, c.1900
Source: Wikimedia

Nashville Tennessean
25 May 1890

The iconic female figure of 1890 was sadly not much different  from the distorted proportions of Barbie® dolls from the 1960s. Women are pictured with incredible wasp waists, long necklines, and tiny feet. They hold a tennis racket but their forearms are covered to the wrist, and shoulders are  filled out with puffed fabric.

Apparently perspiration was not much of an issue in 1890 as collars appear very high and  tight. And tennis hats provided no protection from sun. Presumably long hat pins kept the hats securely fastened during long volleys.

* *

Helena MT Independent Record
1 June 1890

Lawn tennis was an 1890 trend from New York to San Francisco. Even the newspaper in Helena, Montana reported on the current tennis fashions.

"The average young woman wants a tennis gown. If she is only moderately athletic she may get on with one dress for and occasional afternoon with the racquet or on the water. Such a dress is suitable for either tennis or yachting, or any informal out-of-door occasion, may have an underskirt of a delicate green wool with a tiny figure in cream and a blouse waist of cream with sleeves puffed at the shoulders. If she is an indefatigable player or spends much time boating and wants exercise dresses for downright service, they may be more carefully differentiated." 

* *

Lawn Tennis 1887
Print by Prang (L.) & Co.
Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

In April 1888 the Pittsburgh Daily Post ran a report on women's fashions for tennis.  

Pittsburgh Daily Post
28 April 1888

Special Correspondence to the Post
New York, April 27 —
"How ought a woman to dress to play tennis well?" was the question asked this morning of a member of the large New York Tennis Club which carries off the palm from all feminine tennis players in and about the city.

"These are the six essential points," was the reply: "Sleeves loose enough no to cut the elbow, a waist broad enough in the back to give freedom to the arms in running, a silk petticoat, light skirts with little drapery or none at all, low shoes and courage to appear in daylight wihout corsets. Given these hald dozen items and in addition a quick eye, quick motions, quick thought and patience and almost any woman can play tennis well."

Tennis has been played in this country for 14 years. It has been the fashion for at least eight. It will be more the fashion than ever this summer.

"Yes, papa is going to have her in commission by the middle of May, and we shall be afloat pretty much all summer. We may get as far as the Mediterranean; who knows?"

"You lucky girl! What a jolly time you will have; but–you won't get much tennis, will you?"

"No; that's the one distressing thing about the situation. I shan't get a dozen games, it's an awful fact. I shall have to hang up my racket and put black ribbons on it. However, my arms will stay both the same size, there's a crumb of comfort in that. Last fall my right fore-arm was fully an inch bigger round than my left, and no matter how my sleeves were cut, they wouldn't match at all. I've just seen those muscles shrinking all winter, and now I am about even again. But I'd rahter have one arm twice as ig as the other, than not play tennis for a whole season."

* *

Are the members of the Ladies Lawn Tennis Orchestra
dressed in an appropriate garb for a game? 
Sadly their long dresses hide their feet
so we can't see if they are outfitted
with A. J. Cammeyers latest
Ladies Canvas Lawn Tennis Rubber Sole Lace Shoes.
Only $1.50 a pair.

New York Times
20 July 1890

and Match?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the game is always afoot.

Brother and Sisters

14 April 2017




All together now.

Four siblings gaze into the camera lens, two older sisters with a mandolin each, younger brother with a violin, and youngest sister with nothing but the charm of a three-year old. The sisters, at around ages 15, 13, and 3, wear nearly matching dresses in a gingham fabric. Brother wears a sailor suit with short pants. Though their names are unknown, they are children of a German family as their postcard photo was never posted but has a message in German on the back.

The writer provides a date, 24.1.1915 and a place – Pries, a town in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It is near the eastern entrance of the great Kiel Canal which is the waterway built in 1895 to connect the North Sea with the Baltic Sea. In 1915 Kiel was the home port for the Imperial German Navy so the boy's sailor suit was likely a common outfit for young boys in Pries.

And in January 1915 the world had been at war for nearly 6 months.


By coincidence the date 24 January 1915 was the Battle of Dogger Bank, a rare naval encounter of the First World War between squadrons of the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet. On January 23rd the British Admiralty intercepted and decoded a German radio message about a sortie of battleships heading to the North Sea shallow waters of the Dogger Bank with orders to raid Britain's northeast coast. Four British squadrons with 12 cruisers and 35 destroyers were sent out to engage two smaller German squadrons of 8 cruisers and 18 torpedo boats. The German force also included seaplanes and a Zeppelin airship to provide aerial reconnaissance.

Unaware that the British could decipher their codes, the Kaiser's fleet was caught by surprise. Rather than confront a superior force, the German squadrons turned back and a stern chase ensued with ship speeds sometimes reaching 27 knots. This was the first modern naval battle between battleships moving at speed while firing their massive artillery. Early on some German shells struck the British flagship HMS Lion putting it out of action. Meanwhile the British guns managed to strike the cruiser SMS Blücher, the rearmost German ship, causing it to reduce speed and lose contact with its squadron.

SMS Blücher underway
Source: Wikipedia

In 1915, wireless radio was a new technology that was unsophisticated and unreliable, so communication between naval ships were still made with traditional signal flags just as battleships had done in the days of sail. During the chase a false sighting of a German U-boat submarine caused the British commander to abruptly change course in an attempt to avoid an unseen enemy. Then a misunderstanding in signal messages caused the British battlecruisers to break off their pursuit of the remaining German fleet and instead concentrate all fire on the disabled Blücher.

Like most naval ships of this era, the Blücher was powered by steam engines burning coal. When a shell hit one of the ship's coal bunkers it set off a devastating explosion in the engine rooms. The Blücher continued to return fire at the attacking British ships but could not escape their torpedoes. As the Blücher began to sink, British destroyers moved in to rescue the German crew, but the German Zeppelin L5 mistook the overturned ship as a British battlecruiser and attacked the destroyers with bombs, driving them off.

SMS Blücher sinking 24 January 1915
Source: Wikipedia
Just five hours from the start of the battle, after being hit by 70-100 large caliber shells and several torpedoes, the Blücher capsized and sank to a depth of 60m in the Dogger Banks. A photographer on a British ship recorded the moment. Over 747 men perished, perhaps as many as 950, as documents are not consistent between German and British sources. Of the Blücher's estimated complement of around 1000 to 1,200 men, only 234 sailors survived including the commanding officer, though he would later die in a British POW camp along with twenty of his men.


The irony of the postcard's date matching the action of the Battle of Dogger Bank is just a coincidence. History and life itself is filled with an infinite number of similar flukes. But in a time of war, mankind sets up a series of catastrophic events that are unlike the random calamities of the natural world. During the years of World War One, 1914-1918, the rational order of life was disrupted by the collision of great military powers. What was once stable, normal, and expected became precarious, perverse, and accidental.

History forces us to look into the faces of these beautiful children and recognize that they lived in extraordinary times. The force of war produced incredibly stark contrasts between tragedy and joy; between sublime beauty and repulsive horror; between the promise of the past and the alienation of the future.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Click the link for more stories of beautiful children.

A Band of Brothers

07 April 2017

We love you, Alma Mater,
We always will be true,
With Mary ever guarding
Your doors with mantle blue.

We’re thankful for your light so bright
That helps us on our way.

Your spirit leads us onward
With banners red and gray.

We’ll cherish you forever
And love you Central High.

All praise to you, our Mother,
We love you, Central High.

The school song of
Central Catholic High School
Toledo, Ohio.

This is a postcard photograph of an unknown Catholic school band standing in the doorway of their school. It was probably taken to appear in the school yearbook. The only marking is the year 1910 penciled below the bass drum. The back is plain, without publisher or stamp box, so the boys in the band might just as well be from Canada as the United States. We can't even rule out France or Britain, though I think the young gentlemen's wool suits look more North American to me.

It's an impressive band with 36 musicians, all young men from ages 14 to 18 years old. Part of the reason I don't believe they are in the U.S. is that the band  has four single F horns, three with French/British style piston valves and one with German rotary valves. Horns, especially the piston valve kind, were not common in American schools in this era so I suspect this may be a school in Canada, possibly Quebec. However there are two mellophones, middle row right, which were once very common in American brass bands but never in British bands.

The band has three piston valve trombones, two tubas, a bass helicon, and a euphonium, as well as two saxophones and a generous number of clarinets, with two players holding small E-flat clarinets, front row left. There is also a bassoon, its wooden tubular bell visible at the back left, which is an instrument associated with British/Canadian military bands. There are also a pair of tympani perched on tripods typical of German school bands of this period. For a school band of 1910 this is a large ensemble that suggests the school as a whole is large too.

The reason we can say this is a Catholic school is that the band director wears a Roman Catholic habit and clerical collar. He stands in the center next to the bass drum holding a baton. But he is not the only priest in the group. There are a few more and I challenge my readers to find them all.  [HINT: There's more than three.]

Just above the band on the arched window above the door are painted letters that might identify the school's name, but most of the lettering  is obscured. Only an abbreviation V.I.O.C.D. is clearly visible. I suspect that refers to a Roman Catholic tradition, possibly a shortened Latin phrase, but I've been unable to discover what it means.

It's a band of musical brothers,
and fathers too, in a way.
In 1910 it was
just a keepsake from old school days.
But by 1914-1918
this photo of a Catholic school boys band
likely took on a different context
that turned it into a cherished memento.

  UPDATE: 9 April 2017 

Special thanks to a reader who sent me an email
explaining the meaning of the letters above the doorway.

<<<   >>>
"Ut in ómnibus glorificetur Deus" 
Latin: "so that in all things God may be glorified"
a Benedictine motto. The letter U was carved/engraved with a V in classical Latin.
I also make out the letters above "VIOGD" as "OR..." on the left and "...ORA".
Likely portions of "ORA ET LABORA, (Pray and Labor)
the main Benedictine motto.
As for the five religious men I spotted,
I suspect they are " Teaching Brother Monks" rather than Priests,
(as the Benedictines prided themselves in being mostly neither "clerical or lay"
and that this is a school connected to one of their abbeys.
<<<  >>>

I seems my choice of title was closer to the mark than I expected.
Thanks, WJ for your help solving this riddle.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where we always try to read from the same book.


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