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 }

Shamrocks, Pigs, and Posthorns!

22 December 2018

If there's anything luckier than
a cheery postman with his posthorn
brandishing a giant four-leaf clover,

it is one astride a galloping pig
who spills his cards and letters
while dropping gold coins.

Prosit Neujahr! 1900
Cheers for the New Year!

This fanciful postman made his frolicking ride
on the 30th of December 1899
from Leoben, a Styrian city in central Austria
to a Frau Oberstleutnant ~ Mrs. Lieutenant Colonel
Fany von Fabriesi(?) of Graz in Austria.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where I wish everyone the best of good luck
and abundant happiness in the new year.

French Polishing the Brass

14 December 2018

A saxophone is a brass instrument.
And in the olden days before acrylic lacquers,
brass instruments had to be regularly polished
if they were to retain a shiny golden luster.

And it you were a musician in an infantry regimental band,
you spent a lot of time keeping your musical equipment in good order.
It was an unusual activity for a soldier yet odd enough
that decades ago an enterprising French publisher

decided that a view of bandsmen
polishing their brass instruments

deserved to be remembered on a postcard.

The scene shows seven French bandsmen
sitting on their barrack room beds

and diligently buffing out the blemishes on their instruments –
tubas, trumpets, a baritone saxophone, and a snare drum.
On the wall behind them is a shelf
with their carefully folded dress uniforms and instrument bags.

As a horn player I know how tedious it is
to polish brass plumbing.

But I have no idea how they managed
to keep the tarnish grease off of their white fatigue uniforms!
Presumably some orderly in the laundry unit
was tasked with cleaning their trousers and jackets.

This postcard was sent on 14 April 1909
to Monsieur and Madame Delmare
of  Arcueil-Cachan, a commune about 5.3 km (3.3 miles)
south of the center of Paris.

Arcueil is a very ancient place name derived
from nearby Roman aqueducts that once carried water
into Lutetia, the city that preceded modern Paris.

Today Arcueil and Cachan are listed as separate communes.

* * *

Unlike the formal groups of British or German military bands,
photos of French bandsmen often exhibit a more lighthearted disposition.
This next postcard shows a group
of French infantry band musicians
smiling and clowning for the camera.

The men's good humor is as much an expression
of the French love of musical playfulness
as it is a sign of their military esprit de corps.

The band belongs to the  120e régiment d'infanterie
as indicated by the number badge fastened to their collar.
Judging by the gleam of sunlight on their instruments
they were very proficient at
polishing brass.
Perhaps there was a service medal for that?

The 21 musicians are posed outdoors in a woodland park.
I think the faint slash of red ink above the cymbal player
is the mark of the man who sent the postcard
as the back is partly marked in red too
with 120 RI for the regiment
and the date of Juni 1913.

The card is postmarked 20/21 June 1913
and was sent by the cymbalist Emil
to Monsieur and Madame Biberon,
who were perhaps his parents,
living at 33 Rue de la République, Verberie.
This small town is in the Oise department
in northern France about 45 miles northeast of Paris.

By September of the following year Verberie
was the site of heavy fighting
as French and British forces
struggled to stop the invading German army.
In 1914 the
120e régiment d'infanterie
was reorganized as part of the 320e régiment d'infanterie.

Two grinning trumpet players lying at the front of the band
hold a chalkboard with a clue where the photograph was taken.

Les Engagés ~ the Engaged (?)

Maisons-Laffitte is a suburb of Paris
about 18.2 km (11.3 mi) northwest from the city center.
In 1913 there was a military base there
which was likely where this photo was taken,
perhaps as a reward for Les Engagés (recruits?)
who had finished their training.
In 1918 during the last year of the war,
Maisons-Laffitte was the location chosen
for an incredible project to fool the German zeppelins
who were targeting Paris with nighttime bombing.
An ambitious scheme was devised
to create a decoy Paris landscape in Maisons-Laffitte
that would lure the German pilots
away from the real Paris
with fake lights, streets, and buildings
Situated on a similar bend of the River Seine

Maisons-Laffitte was less populated then

allowing the project to have very large and elaborate,
almost theatrical, constructions
that imitated the Parisian cityscape visible from the air.
Fortunately the war ended before the project
was ever finished or tested,
but I suspect that the parkland where the band is posed
was destined to be part of this clever hoax.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
 where a room with a view and a bed
is always available.

The Big Man's Band

08 December 2018

Music has always been a traditional way to greet guests.
In ancient times a European city would employ
musicians to welcome visitors from afar with a hearty fanfare.
And to make the best impression it was
played outdoorsloud and brassy by a wind band.
No doubt this big man's jovial smile and trumpet salute
was part of his city's famous hospitality.
He is Dicke Fritz ~ Fat Fritz.

Der „Dicke Fritz mit Capelle“
Gruss aus der Messe Frankurt a. M.

The Fat Fritz and Band
Greetings from the Fair Frankfurt on Main

What make's this postcard special is that it is one of the oldest in my collection with a postmark of 12/14 April 1898. It was sent from Frankfurt am Main, Germany to someone in Druten, Holland, a town in the Netherlands, east of Rotterdam.

The Messe is a celebrated trade fair of Frankfurt am Main that had been a feature of this city since medieval times. Now considered the world's largest event center, the Frankfurt Messe is owned by the City of Frankfurt and the German State of Hesse. It has 367,000 m² of exhibition hall area and more than 96,000 m² of free space and annually brings in about €661 million in business sales.

But in 1898 the center of the Messe was still held in Frankfurt's old city hall, the Römer, located in the Altstade. This three-story building complex offered 10,000 m² of exhibition space in nine connected houses that encircle six courtyards. I think Dicke Fritz and his band are standing at the Römer's main entrance.

* * *

Six years later Dicke Fritz and his band
were still welcoming visitors to Frankfurt.
He seems to have lost some weight
as his uniform hangs a bit looser.

Zur Feier der hundertsten Messe vom dicken Fritz
To celebrate the hundredth fair
from the fat Fritz

I'm not entirely sure if the caption means
Fritz is celebrating his 100th fair
or that he is celebrating the fair's 100th anniversary,
which seems strange as the fair had been around
since the 11th century.

In any case his postcard was postmarked
on 27/28 March 1904 to someone in Bern, Switzerland.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where sometimes life is a balancing act.

The American Woodmen Band of Louisville

01 December 2018

A drum major plays no instrument
yet still performs a special role in any band.
They lead the music and direct the marching
and command the attention of both bandsmen and audience.

With his tall bearskin hat in white fur,
elaborate military style dress coat,
and long signal baton,
this African-American man
strikes a conspicuous position
in the center of his band's photo.

The band's uniforms are more modest
but in a military style popular in the early 20th century.
On the far right is the music director
holding a conductor's baton
and over his shoulder
a satchel for sheet music.

The instrumentation follows  a typical American town band setup
with mostly brass instruments and two clarinets.
One sousaphone covers the bass voice.
Six trombones handle the tenor line,
and likely occupied the band's front rank when marching.
Two mellophones and a euphonium played the alto parts.
and five cornets and trumpets, along with the two clarinets,
covered the treble melodies.

The bass drum tells us who they are
and where they were from.

First Battalion Band 

Louisville, KY

Twenty-one African-American bandsmen stand on the steps
of what looks like a public building.
It's a much faded and cracked photo
in large 8" x 10" format.

Just below the drum major's feet
the photographer has left a embossed logo.

Louisville, KY.

The photographer's location was easy to confirm as a Neighbors' Studio, 1113 West Walnut St. was listed in Louisville's business directories beginning in 1900 . It belonged to Jesse Robert Neighbors, an African-American professional photographer who was a native of Louisville born in 1876. The earliest listing in the city directory was as Neighbors Bros. presumably because Jesse first worked with a brother. But by 1910 it was just Neighbors' Studio.

Jesse R. Neighbors was married to Susie Neighbors and together they had five children, two sons and three daughters. As a black businessman he advertised in Louisville's newspaper for the colored community, The Louisville Leader, and operated his studio for about 30 years until around 1935. It must have provided him some success as he lived in a working class community that was a mix of both black and white families. Jesse Roberts Neighbors died in Louisville on April 4, 1940 at age 63.

Louisville KY Leader
17 March 1923

The UR AW name of the band presented more of a challenge to identify their organization. They obviously belonged to a fraternal type society with the symbols of an axe and maul behind the initials. I recognized them as the emblematic signs of the Woodmen society, but what did the UR and First Battalion stand for?

The answer was found in the Louisville Leader.

Lexington KY Leader
06 October 1928

In the first week of October 1928 the Leader column named Colored Notes announced that Lexington, KY was hosting a convention of the American Woodmen. The opening session would be held at the Pleasant Green Baptist church. Prof. C. C. Trimble, district manager of the American Woodmen of Memphis, TN was in charge if the convention. Mrs. D. L. Clark, captain of the Green Cross Nurses of Lexington was secretary.

 On the Friday evening Dr. T. T. Wendell would deliver an address on "How Can the American Woodmen as a Society Help to Lower the Death Rate in This City and Community?" Sunday afternoon would be a special memorial hour. There was also a street parade starting from Second  and Deweese street, led by a 21 piece American Woodmen band and ladies uniform rank from Louisville.

_ _ _

The original Woodmen society was organized in 1883 in Lyons, IA as the Modern Woodmen of America ostensibly as a non-religious society accepting "Jew and Gentile, the  Catholic and Protestant, the agnostic and the atheist" yet it was only open for white men. Factional disputes in 1890 resulted in the formation of a rival society called the Woodmen of the World, ironically led by Joseph Root, the same man who established the Modern Woodmen, but it too prohibited black membership. Though both Woodmen organizations followed quasi-masonic rituals of fraternal orders like using a tree stump as an altar, carrying axes in parades, and promoting four cardinal virtues - hospitality, service, loyalty and protection, the two versions of Woodmen developed as a way of providing affordable insurance benefits for its members.

The first Modern Woodmen group began with quite restrictive rules for membership despite having no religious affiliation. Only white males between the ages of 18-45 who resided in the 12 "healthiest" states – Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas were accepted. Residents of large cities were excluded, as well as men employed in certain professions such as railway workers, underground miners, gunpowder factory workers, liquor manufacturers, saloon keepers, sailors, and professional baseball players.

In 1901 another rival group was formed in Denver called the American Woodmen that initially started as an imitation of the other white Woodman groups. But early on it was somehow taken over by black members who wanted to create a benevolent society that could provide various life insurance, annuity, and investment products to African-American communities who were then denied coverage by most of the nation's underwriters.

At the beginning of the 20th century black Americans all around the country, not just in the South, faced discrimination and segregation at every level of American society. Organizations like the American Woodmen developed as a way of building a structure for mutual aid that could support and protect black families from financial hardship. But unlike the white Woodmen societies, membership in the AW was open to both men and women. By the 1920s the AW claimed it was the largest fraternal benevolent organization for African-Americans.

Camp Nicholas Biddle 4th District Encampment of
American Woodmen Uniform Ranks
Major General Jno. L. Jones Commanding
July 28 - Aug. 2, 1924
Source: University of Kentucky Library
The initials UR on the drum head stand for Uniform Ranks which was a special sub-set chapter of the American Woodmen. The same term was used by other fraternal societies to describe lodges that dressed in pseudo-military uniforms and enjoyed marching in formation. For example the Knights of Pythias, which had parallel chapters for African-Americans, wore elaborate uniforms with feathered hats, shoulder boards, braids, and swords — lots and lots of swords. In the 19th and early 20th century there was big money to be made selling ceremonial swords and fraternal society regalia.

In the summer of 1924 Louisville hosted the district encampment of the American Woodmen Uniform Ranks. For this convention hundreds of black men and women from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio traveled to Louisville for this event. A panoramic photograph was taken, possibly by Jesse Neighbors, of the assembled American Woodmen Uniform Ranks. I've enlarged two sections of it and improved the contrast.

Seated on the ground in the front center are young boys wearing a kind of scout uniform. Behind them are some female members, maybe they referred to themselves as Woodwomen, but they are proudly wearing a soldier or policeman style dress coat with a sword belted at their side. Behind them is a row of nurses that I believe were called Green Cross nurses. This was an public health service that originated in Europe during the Great War, where women trained in practical nursing to assist wounded soldiers with eating, bathing, and wound dressings in order to free regular nurses for more urgent medical tasks. The Green Cross idea came back to America and was adapted by the American Woodmen as another way to improve health care for the African-American community.

Many fraternal societies called their annual conventions an "encampment", a military term held over from the Civil War. In 1924 the location of this event in Louisville, KY was called the Camp Nicholas Biddle. I can't believe this place was named after Nicholas Biddle (1786 – 1844), a Philadelphia financier who was president of the Second Bank of the United States during the administrations of Presidents Monroe, Quincy Adams, and Jackson. I think it commemorates a former slave named Nicholas Biddle who was credited as being "the first man wounded in the Great American Rebellion, Baltimore, April 18,1861." Born a slave in 1796 Biddle escaped to freedom in Pennsylvania via the Underground Railroad. He may possibly have worked as a servant for the banker Nicholas Biddle, but more likely only adopted the famous man's name. In 1861 Biddle was an orderly for a Union army officer in the Washington Artillery of Pottsville, PA. This unit was part of the first Pennsylvania volunteers who answered the call to defend the nation's capital in 1861. As they traveled to Washington, D.C. they were assaulted in Baltimore by Confederate sympathizers and Nicholas Biddle, who was dressed in a Union uniform, sustained serious wounds. After reaching Washington they were met by President Lincoln who met Biddle and was impressed by his courage. When Biddle died in 1876 he was penniless but veterans of the Washington Artillery and the National Light Infantry raised money for his funeral and burial in a Pottsville cemetery. It's a history very deserving and appropriate for the American Woodmen to honor.

The URAW was led by Major General John L. Jones, who was instrumental in the 1920s in recruiting many Uniform Rank lodges for the American Woodmen. Of course his major general rank was a pseudo-military title of leadership used within the society, though it's possible he may have served in the US Army during WW1 or even in the brief Spanish-American War, but certainly not as a general officer.


On the far left of the photo is another band. This one is identified on the bass drum as the Chattanooga American Woodman No.3 Band. It's smaller than the Louisville band with only 13 musicians. Don't ask me how the snare drummer plays with his drum attached so high on his chest.

{click any photo to enlarge}

4th District Encampment of
American Woodmen Uniform Ranks
July 28 - Aug. 2, 1924
Source: University of Kentucky Library
The full photo shows the American Woodmen posed on bleachers at a Louisville sports field, all dressed in uniforms. There are a great number of swords but no axes, which were a special bit of Woodmen accoutrement. All the Woodmen fraternal societies, black and white, conducted field events in precision drill marching. Google Books offers a manual from 1907 entitled Official Drill and Equipment Regulations: Uniform Rank, Woodmen of the World  which illustrates suitable exercises with axes, all following standard infantry training but without rifles. (If you look very closely in the photo at the insignia on some uniform collars you will see the crossed axe and maul symbols of the Woodmen.)

1907 Official Drill and Equipment Regulations:
Uniform Rank, Woodmen of the World
Source: Google Books

The few reports on this American Woodman event in 1924 don't mention any band from the Louisville Woodmen, so I suspect my photo is from later, perhaps 1928 when the URAW encampment was held in Lexington, KY.

Trying to work out this forgotten history of an obscure group, I wondered if the address of the American Woodmen lodge in Louisville might offer a clue as to where the photo of the band was taken. Sadly time has turned that location into a parking lot for a commercial building. But it sparked a search for other public places mentioned in Louisville's negro press. Perhaps a church? A school? Maybe the YMCA?

It was while doing a virtual stroll in Google maps around Louisville's Chestnut St. Family YMCA that I stumbled on some steps, figuratively speaking, after noticing the globe shaped light posts at the Western Branch Free Public Library on S. 10th and W. Chestnut. The two fixtures are a little different, but the placement on either side of the door is the same. More importantly the doorway, windows and brick work is identical. I'm convinced that this was where the URAW band's photo was taken, and the proof I believe lies in the history of the library.

The building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Louisville, KY, and was once called the Western Colored Branch Library. The first library opened in 1905 using rooms at a nearby private home, but in 1908 a new building was constructed with funds donated by the Scottish businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. His vision for public education created 2,509 Carnegie libraries around the world, with 1,689 built in the United States. In 1908 the Western Colored Branch became the first free public library for African-Americans in the South. It was recently restored in 2012 and remains an important and valuable part of Louisville's African-American community. I suspect that the black musicians of the American Woodmen band took a special interest in this library and that the decision to stand on its steps was a point of pride.

And if we look closely at the sign on the door,
and with a little digital enhancement,
I think the fuzzy letters read

The American Woodmen Uniform Rank peaked in membership in the late 1920s. Tragically it was also a time when the Klu Klux Klan marched enmasse on the streets of Washington and the evil of lynching was still prevalent in many parts of America. In the 1930s the Great Depression put financial burdens on many fraternal benevolent organizations. and in the 1940s another Great War added more anxiety. Then in the 1950s and 60s the Civil Rights movement brought more stress to African-American communities. The nation changed and mutual aid insurance did too. The American Woodmen are no longer active, though some of its resources were taken over by another insurance company.

But what impresses me about this 1920s photo of the URAW band and the history hidden behind it, is learning the importance African-Americans placed on community organizing and mutual aid. The American Woodmen represented an aspiration of a people who valued education and took pride in professionalism. And live music always accompanied their community activities. Even precision marching with an axe.

According to the Wikipedia page on the Assured Life Association, formerly Woodmen of the World, the American Woodmen referred to its members as "neighbors."  It's a very egalitarian term and surely it is no coincidence that Jesse R. Neighbors of Neighbors' Studio in Louisville took the photo. I think it very likely he was wearing his American Woodman uniform when he looked into the camera viewer and snapped the shutter.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
ssshh!  This is a library!

The Music of Bricks and Mortar

23 November 2018

Bricks and mortar.
It's still a common phrase
for a physical building,
even though the construction industry
now relies on many more engineered materials
than just bricks, blocks, and stone to build structures.

But a hundred years ago
one of the principal skilled trades
that helped build modern America
was that of the bricklayer.
It was work that required
specialist knowledge of construction methods,
mathematical calculations, and stamina.
Lots of stamina.

In fact the ancient tools of a mason,
the compass and the square,
became the symbols of Freemasonry,
a fraternal society which originated
in part from the medieval craft guilds of stonemasons.

However those first masons did not use any musical tools
like the tuba, clarinet, or cornet in their guilds order.
But these brickies from
Pennsylvania certainly did.

They are the
Bricklayers Band
of the Bethlehems PA. Union No. 8.

This large photo about 4" by 10"
shows 26 men dressed in a simple uniform
of white duck trousers, white shirt and broad cap
standing on a brick sidewalk and portico
and holding various wind band instruments.
The plural Bethlehems on the bass drum head
refers to the collective townships
of Bethlehem, South Bethlehem, and West Bethlehem,
which are divided by the Lehigh River and Monocacy Creek.
In 1917 they merged into the singular community of Bethlehem, PA.
This wonderful birds-eye view map of Bethlehems
from the Library of Congress archives was made in 1878
and shows off dozens of major structures -
churches, banks, factories, and homes,
all made of brick and stone.

1878 Birds-eye view of Bethlehems, PA

Except for the bass drum, the photo is unmarked. But the name and place of the band was enough to quickly find it in the October 1912 edition of The Bricklayer Mason and Plasterer, the aptly named official journal of  the Bricklayers, Masons, and Plasterers International Union of America.  This trade union was formed in 1865 and is the oldest labor organization in North America as it also represents Canadian workers hence the "international union" label. In 1912 its journal included sections written in French, Italian, and German, the later printed in the old Fraktur typeface.

October 1912 The Bricklayer, Mason, and Plasterer
Source: Google Books

Subtitled "An Illustrated Monthly" the Bricklayer, Mason, and Plasterer was filled with dense reports on union affairs; lengthy lists of building contracts; numerous ads for levels and trowels; admonishments to Smoke Union Made Cigars and Tobacco; and a surprising number of photos.

_ _ _

August 1912 The Bricklayer, Mason, and Plasterer
Source: Google Books

In 1912 bricklayers were evidently suspicious of concrete construction, as this "new" engineering was considered inferior to fireproof brick and susceptible to catastrophic failure. Every month the journal reported on building collapses with photos of cracked or disintegrating concrete. Interestingly in 1912 the journal also reported on the finishing work on the Woolworth Building in New York City. With 57 floors and a height of 792 feet it was the tallest building in the world from 1913 to 1930. It required an enormous number of bricks.

_ _ _

But my real reason for reading through an old trade union journal was found on page 248 in the journal's "mail bag" section. It is a copy of the identical photo, captioned Bricklayers' Band, Union No. 8 Pa.  A letter accompanies the image:

October 1912 The Bricklayer, Mason, and Plasterer
Source: Google Books

No. 8 Pa. Takes Part in Labor Day Parade.

The Bricklayer, Mason and Plasterer:
     Under another cover we are sending you a photograph of the Bricklayers' Band of Union No. 8 Pa., which made its first public appearance on Labor Day, accompanied by about 130 members of the union. We proceeded to Bangor,  Pa., on two special cars to take part in the Four Cities Labor Day parade.
    Our Bricklayers' Band was organized May 8, 1911, and under the leadership of our worthy vice-president, Brither Steyers, it has become a grand success.
    With best wishes to one and all, I remain,   
    Yours fraternally,
      Emery Haney,
      Secretary No. 8 Pa.
      Bethlehem, Pa., Septermber 29, 1912

* * *

The Bricklayers' Union Band of Bethlehems had a short life to judge by the absence of any reports of the band in Pennsylvania newspapers after 1917. As the war years disrupted so much of American manufacturing and industry, employment for bricklayers probably became too challenging for the union to keep up its musical subsection.

Laying long repetitive courses of brick is hard methodical work. The sound of tapping bricks and slapping mortar into place is actually quite a rhythmic skill that trains the ear for a steady tempo. So did bricklayers whistle while they worked?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone needs another brick in the wall.

Charming the Snook

16 November 2018

Cocking a Snook.
Five pretty fingers times four.
Is it a tease? Is it a taunt?
Even with four smiles
we can't be sure.
Is it flirtatious sport or something worse?

Voila ce que vous me faites.
Cela vous Sera rendu
mais pas par moi.

je Souffre


That's what you do to me.
It will be returned
to you but not by me.

I am suffering


_ _ _

From left to right:
Miss Mac Sprit    Miss Haslam   Miss Cairns   Miss Wood

photo by Walery  - Paris

Wriggling the fingers with thumb to the nose is a gesture not seen much anymore, certainly not on my side of the Atlantic. For extra emphasis two hands may be used. It's called Cocking a Snook and is not intended as a nice thing. Traditionally it's associated with English customs as a signal of derision, usually made by annoying children. The internet has little to report on the origin of the phrase or the sign language. Perhaps the smiles of the four young women making this rude salute should temper our interpretation as being more on the coquettish side of expressions. Certainly the sender of this postcard has his or her own meaning for cocking a snook.

Their postcard was sent from Geneva, Switzerland
on 12 October 1902
To Mademoiselle Louise Berlhalch(?).
But the card did not originate in Geneva but in Paris.
Hidden in the upper right cornet of the postcard is a small logo:
Alcazar d'Été

The Alcazar d'Été was a café-concert, a French version of the music hall and similar to a cabaret. It was located on the Champs-Élysées in Paris behind the Élysée Palace. It was a popular Parisian venue for many 19th century and early 20th century entertainers, mainly vocalists. It closed in 1914.

Miss Haslam at the Alcazar d'Été
Presumably these four ladies were British singers and dancers on its stage in 1902  Miss Haslam posed for a solo portrait which I suspect was taken on the same occasion by the Walery studio. Here she chooses a more discrete pose, though still showing off an ankle. Did she and her companions sing in French or English? What exactly did they mean by cocking a snook?

Joseph Stalin - Cocking a Snook
Source: Wikipedia

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone has a thing to fling.


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