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 Medley of Violins

23 February 2018

It's not just a good photo.
It's a great photograph!
The clarity and definition are superb,
the result of a quality camera lens.
I know that mother and father were pleased
but I'm sure Daniel Y. Andre,
the photographer in Dixon, Illinois
was very proud to produce this quality of image.

This charming young girl is perhaps 10 or maybe 12 years old.
Holding her violin, her left fingers rest on the strings
while the bow in her right hand is ready for music.
Mr. Andre's camera has captured
the beautiful pattern in her gown
as well as the long ringlets of her hair.
But his real skill was balancing the light on her face
to give us a sense of her real character.

Her name was L. A. Garrison
which was written onto the back of her cabinet card.
Sadly this photo was made in the 1890s and
I can find no records for her or her family.

* * *

This second girl is
a couple years older, in her teens I think.
Her long wavy hair has no ringlets
but instead is tied back with two bows.
Her dress is similar to the Dixon girl
with ornate crochet work
and a long satin sash around her waist.
Her violin and bow is set in a proper playing posture,
but there is no weight, no tension in her hands,
so I don't think she is actually making any sound.

The photographer was Fritze Haase of Görlitz, Germany,
a city just on the border of Poland.
The girl stands gracefully just in front
of a sheepskin rug and a theatrical backdrop
that gives a crude illusion of wainscotting and bookshelf.
With her confident gaze into the camera,
she looks like an accomplished musician.
Sadly her musical dreams will soon be disrupted,
as her postcard was mailed on the 5th of June 1914.

* * *

This next violinist is older again by just a few years,
sixteen, maybe eighteen?
She strikes the same playing position
as the girl from
Görlitz, but her head is turned,
her eyes watching a hidden conductor
about to give the downbeat.

She also stands in front of a theatrical flat,
this one of a more artful interior if still crudely painted,
but with no sheepskin.
Her hair is carefully curled but pinned back.
The puffy shoulders of her white blouse
are a fashion of the late 1890s.
The photographer was Mr. Crain, Artist
of the Gem Studio
located at 1322 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, Washington.
The photo mount is small Cabinet Gem size, 3½ x 5¼,
just a bit larger than a cdv, which also dates from the 1890s.

* * *

Now another young lady looks to start her violin concert.
Her arms are a bit more relaxed than the Tacoma girl.
Her gaze is just to the right of the camera,
with just a hint of a sweet smile.
She is also age sixteen or eighteen,
to judge by her dress,from an earlier decade.
Her waist is tightly cinched
and her neck bound with a ribbon and lace collar.

We can not see her feet
because of the length of her dress.
But also the photographer's sheepskin,
or artificial grass, hides them too.
Behind her is another interior backdrop
showing faux wainscoting, coal fire,
and a decorative mantelpiece and mirror.
The photographer was C. M. Tuttle
of Sodus, New York,
a small town on Lake Ontario, just east of Rochester.
The gold scalloped edges on this cabinet card
were a new photo fashion from the mid-1880s.

* * *

My last violinist returns to a pose
not unlike the little girl of Dixon, IL.
However this young woman
displays eyes of a different kind for the camera.
Her fingers may be on the strings,
but her provocative glance seems intent
on playing more than just the violin.

The photographer was J. B. Scholl
of 210 State St., Chicago.
Mr. Scholl's studio had very good lighting
which he used with a simple gauze backdrop
to get a diaphanous effect on the woman's white gown.
The cabinet card's backstamp
claimed his successful specialty was the
Instantaneous Portraits of Children.
His initials J. B. S. were incorporated
into a design that showed he had exhibited in
Wien in 1873, Paris in 1880,
and also Berlin and Philadelphia.
His full name was John B. Scholl
and he was born in Illinois in 1857.

This violinist's name is written on the cabinet card's back.
She was Cora W. Dorman of Arcola, IL
G.F.C.    Apr. 1, 1891

In the 1880 census for Arcola, IL, which is a small town
about 175 miles south of Chicago,
Cora was the youngest daughter
of Solomon and Margaret Dorman.
Born in 1872 she was then the fourth of five children.
Her father was a furniture dealer
and her oldest sister was a teacher. 
In 1891, Cora was nineteen years old. 
Did her violin break a few heart strings too?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where recycling is a time honored tradition.

Bands for All Seasons

16 February 2018


* * *




Flemmings Famous Kid Concert Band
from Sedan, Kansas.
The youngest band in the United States.
A high class entertainment.

Arkansas City KS Daily Traveler
23 December 1912

* * *


 The Famous Boys Band
of Burlingame, Kansas


Addressed to Guy L. Mitchell
of Newton, KS

Dec. 9. 1912.
Dear Guy.
The bread we can
get here and I know of
nothing now that we want
from there.  You  I want
you should get me a brace
for my book case either there
or in K.C.  If you come in
sleep in the room you did
with love.  Naettie.

* * *


* * *

The boys bands for Summer and Spring
are not identified or dated,
so their season is only a guess,
but they likely date from 1910 to 1915.

In 1910 the population of Sedan, KS was 1,211.
It was founded in 1871
and named for the Battle of Sedan,
a decisive conflict of the 1870 Franco-Prussian War
which resulted in the defeat of Emperor Napoleon III
and victory for the new confederation of North German States.
Burlingame, KS was established in 1855
and was a bit larger in 1910 at 1,422 citizens.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is getting wet this weekend.

Mrs. McMullin Took Their Picture

09 February 2018

He strikes a grand pose.
With left hand on hip
and clarinet resting on right shoulder,
he gazes toward some distant snow capped mountain,
depicted in the wintry scene behind him
on the photographer's studio backdrop.

But he will need powerful binoculars to see any of those peaks,
because Marion, Kansas , where his cabinet card photo was taken,
is better known for lowly flatness than for any majestic heights.

Kansas state road 256
east of Marion, KS


We've met this jaunty, bewhiskered clarionet player
before in my story from June 2017

entitled The Well Dressed Clarinetist No. 3

But this story is not about him
but is instead about his photographer,
Mrs. McMullin

Not surprisingly most American photographers in the 19th century were men. But unlike other artisan trades with a long history of male dominance, photography was still a relatively new technology and some women did pursue a career working behind a camera. Mrs. McMullin was one of those rare professional women of the late 1800s.

Her full name was Laura E. McMullin, and she was married to Mr. J. F. McMullin, also known as Josiah F. McMullin. They had one daughter, Goldie, who was age 16 in June 1900 when they were all recorded in the US Census for Marion, Kansas.  Laura McMullin, occupation Photographer, was 40 years old, while her husband, a school teacher, was 42. Both were originally from Ohio, and daughter Goldie was born in Missouri.

1900 US Census Marion, Kansas

Census takers collected many useful details about American citizens, such as here in 1900, everyone's birth month was recorded. But the census records have limitations, notably that they only occurred every decade. A lot can happen in 10 years time. But in this era there is bigger problem. Tragically there are no US census records for 1890, as in 1921 they were destroyed in a fire at the Commerce Building in Washington, D.C.  This disaster created an enormous challenge for family historians and photo detectives which must now blindly negotiate a 20 year gap between the censuses of 1880 and 1900. For those of us who collect antique photographs, these were also the decades when the cabinet card photograph was the ubiquitous image medium for Americans. Following a trail of clues into the 20th century means trying to jump this chasm which usually results in more questions than answers.  As the official numbers were of course published, we do know that between 1880 and 1890 Marion's population exploded by 139% going from 857 to 2,047 residents. But the names recorded in the 1890 census are lost forever.

Fortunately it was also the era when small town newspapers recorded anything and everything about their community. And the Marion County Record, which still publishes a weekly report after nearly 150 years since its establishment in Marion, is one of the newspapers available at

Mrs. J. F. McMullin got her first mention in Marion's paper in August 1889, advertising that she made as good cabinets as anyone in the State for $2.00 per dozen.

Marion KS Record
23 August 1889

{click any image to enlarge it}

Marion KS Record
23 October 1891

In October 1891 she bought out an existing photograph gallery to relocate her business. The photographer who sold the gallery was a man named W. M. Hall who had moved there from Chicago two years earlier,  having purchased the studio from another photographer named J. A. Huston.

Mrs. McMullin advertised that her gallery would have new and elegant scenery and that she was prepared to do first-class work as well as make duplicates from any of Hall's negatives. Cabinet card photographs were relatively easy to produce, but still used a very large camera on a stand that required a trained photographer.

Her competition in Marion came from photographers in Railroad Photo Cars, studios built on a private train car, who traveled the rail lines parking their Photo Car for a week of so in towns along the route. One such itinerant photographer advertised on the same page that they had the new and beautiful celluloid pictures, better than the worthless Aristo pictures which cracked and peeled off.

_ _ _

Over the next few months Mrs. McMullin became embroiled in a trade war with one of these Railroad Photo Cars. It was operated by the St. Louis Art Co. which offered $100 to any photographer in Kansas who will do as fine work as they are doing in the Railroad Photo Car in Marion.  They charged $1.00 for a dozen fine cabinets while denigrating the local photographer's work, that is Mrs. McMullin, as of poor quality and overpriced at $4.00 per dozen.

Mrs. McMullin responded with an advert for 12 fine cabinets for only $1.00 ... as long as the car remains and not an hour after.

Marion KS Record
13 November 1891

Two years later in 1893 she was still in business  and still waging a price war with either the same traveling Railroad Photo Car or one from a different company. Their classifieds took on harsher tone with a call, "Do not be humbugged by cheap john photographers."   Mrs. McMullin countered with a claim that the homeliest man in town can get one dozen cabinet photos for $1 at her gallery on Main Street.  We can only wonder if she took the picture of S. C. Freeland, veterinary surgeon & dentist, demonstrating the proper way to extract a horse's tooth.

Marion KS Record
07 July 1893


Excerpt from 1879 Map of Marion
Source: Kansas

Her husband, Josiah F. McMullin, was one of nine teachers at Marion's public school. In September 1892 the Marion Record reported that the school enrollment was 493 students. Mr. McMullin managed a class of 55 children. It was not clear if he taught a specific subject or grade level, but the school did include high school as well as elementary grades. Considering that the population of Marion was then about 2,100 children were an important part of small town life. The school was also a center for an active musical culture with glee clubs, a chorus, and an orchestra. For 1892 the big event was preparing for the 400th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America.

Certainly the McMullin's daughter was a student at the school, so between her husband's teaching and Laura McMullin's photography business, they likely knew every family in Marion. Nonetheless in
September 1895 the newspaper ran a testimonial about her work in the community.

Marion KS Record
20 September 1895

Now that Mrs. McMullin has the photographic field all to herself in Marion, we hope she will retain it. There is business enough here in that line for one good photographer, but not enough for two. Mrs. McMullin is a good artist and an excellent lady, and deserves the patronage and encouragement of our people. And let us say in advance of the coming of any traveling photographers, who travel around in the busy season and take the cream of the business, don't patronize them. Mr. and Mrs. McMullin are permanent residents here. They pay taxes here.  They spend money here. They are here in the dull as well as in the busy seasons. They do honest work at reasonable rates, and deserve this trade. Let them have it.

Marion KS Record
05 August 1898

In the summer of 1898 the McMullin family entertained friends and family with a picnic down by the Cottonwood River at local farm. The newspaper reported that everyone "had a jolly good time, picnicing, boat riding and fishing. One could hardly hear himself think for the noise. There never was a jollier, more good-natured crowd than they were. Then after dinner, while they were eating watermelon, Mrs. McMullin took their picture."

_ _ _

Marion KS Record
02 December 1898

Mrs. McMullin's gallery was more than just a studio for taking photographs. The business was also about  home decorating and the display of photos. She sold picture frames, drapery, and other novelties suitable for gifts. Perhaps her advantage over male photographers was that her establishment could offer women a respectable social place to gather.  At various times when she and her family would take an extended holiday back east, Mrs. McMullin employed two women to manage her photography gallery during her absence.

Marion was on the Santa Fe Route, or more formally the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. It was one of the largest railroad networks in the United States though it never actually got to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photographers catered to these travelers too and offered photo buttons, chattelaines, hat pins, cuff buttons, watch charms, stick pins, etc. How many traveling business men stopped at her gallery to pick up something for their wife or children?

But the times were changing for studio photographers. There was a new kind of competition placed next to  Mrs. McMullin's adverts.  The  druggist Mr. Porter offered the Eastman Kodaks if you want good pictures. They will be nice holiday presents.

_ _ _

Like most American small towns, Marion had a town band. It was called the Marion Silver Cornet Band. It furnished music for various civic events like the town fair or election rallies. Such bands generally used just brass instruments with drums but clarinets were often included to cover the high parts, so it's possible that Mrs. McMullin's clarinet player was a member of that band. Equally possible is that he was a musician in another town's band that came to Marion for a massed band concert.

The epaulets on the clarinetist's shoulders were a fashion sometimes used if a band fancied itself as a "military band" which meant that woodwinds like flutes and clarinets were added to balance the brass sound. Typically his short-billed cap would have an insignia on the front with the initials of the band's name, but it is missing here. There is a ribbon medallion pinned to his embroidered jacket that suggests he was dressed for some special occasion.

Perhaps his impish smile under his whiskers is because he is proudly wearing a new uniform. The Marion Band held a fair and festival in April 1899 in order to raise funds for new uniforms for the bandsmen. Their director was Prof. E. F. Sheldon who was a recent arrival to Marion. He ran a combination confectionery and jewelry shop.

Marion KS Record
21 April 1899

In July 1900 the Marion Record reported that Mrs. McMullin had sold her photographic gallery to Mr. A. A. Coons of Canton, KS which was in neighboring McPherson County, about 25 miles west of Marion.  From 1889 to 1900, Laura McMullin had provided a service for Marion's residents and visitors that documented weddings, babies, graduations, family gatherings, and even the odd clarinetist. Having operated her business for nearly 12 years, her photo gallery had probably printed up the likenesses of the entire population. And by the dozen too. But it was time to move on.

Marion KS Record
27 July 1900

The same edition ran a private For Sale notice.

Marion KS Record
27 July 1900
For Sale

   A fine Shaw piano, new, no better made. 2 upright folding beds, with large mirrors. 1 extra fine gasoline stove, self generator. 1 Household sewing machine, good as new. 1 large book case, and other household goods too numerous to mention. Rather than ship the above named articles I will sell at a great sacrifice.
   Also a good family horse and phaeton, and a bay gelding, 2 years old, broke to drive, good size.
                 Mrs. McMullin, Photographer

A month later on August 31, 1900
the Marion newspaper printed its farewell.

Marion KS Record
31 August 1900

Mrs. McMullin and Goldia expect to leave today for Washington, where Mr. McMullin has a job in the census department. We regret to see these good people leave Marion.

The following week, A. A. Coons,
Mrs. McMullin's successor, was offering
fine photos at reasonabler prices.
He thought 1,000 sitters would be enough to start.

Marion KS Record
07 September 1900

Mr. and Mrs. McMullin moved to Washington, D.C. where Josiah McMullin was employed in the census office. His name appears in the 1901 official registry of civil servants, listed alphabetically with each person's state where born and their Congressional district whence appointed. His salary was $900 a year.  By the census of 1910 he and Laura McMullin were still living in D.C. but josiah's occupation was Manager, Loan Office. Mrs. McMullian's occupation was None.  Goldie was now married and living in her own home.

Ten years later in the 1920 census, they were back in Ohio living in East Cleveland. Josiah, age 62, worked as a Saleman, Real Estate. Laura, 59, was not employed. Sadly, in 1923 Laura E. McMullian died. She was 63.  Josiah remarried and moved to Florida where he passed away in 1941 at the age of 84.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where it's tea time on the patio.

Song and Dance

02 February 2018

Achtung! Wir grüßen dich!
What admiral could resist returning the salute
of four shapely young women dressed in
sequined bathing costumes and bi-corned hats?
They were the:

Damen Gesang und Verwandlungs Ensemble
directed by M. Witthein
Ladies Singing and Transformation Ensemble
Lightning Girls

Their postcard was sent on an obscured date,
to someone in Berlin by way
of the German Marine Schiffspost.


No doubt the admiral's wife would prefer
the Blitzmädel's more nautical costume
as pictured here with their marlinespike accessory.  

This postcard was sent on the 26 November 1913
from Friedrichshafen, an industrial city
in the German state of Baden-Württemberg.
It is situated on the northern shoreline
of Lake Constance (Bodensee)
which borders both Switzerland and Austria.


Costumes were a specialty of the Blitzmädel,
and it's likely that under those sailor suits
they were wearing stripey bathing costumes.
The quartet of Lightening Maidens
Verwandlungskünstlerin or quick change artists. 

This postcard was posted on 25 January 1916
from Neumünster, a city in the north German state
of Schleswig-Holstein.


The Damen Gesang Werwandlungs Quartett
Lustige Hamburger „4 Blitzmädel”
traveled with a large wardrobe
that allowed them to portray
a wide variety of German fashions.
Their music hall performances
likely combined songs and dance moves
with strategically placed screens on stage
that let them quickly transform
from female to male and back again.

Based on the postmark on this postcard
they had been around since at least 1910.
This was sent from Lüneburg,
a town in Lower Saxony, Germany
not far south from their home city of Hamburg,
to a soldier in Hannover
from a whole platoon of his comrades,
at least two dozen, who no doubt were enjoying
the performance of the enjoying the Blitzmädel.

Unfortunately we can never know
what songs, dances, skits, or humor
the Blitzmädels incorporated into their act.

But there is a modern dance group
that is a kind of cultural descendant.
Check out this performance of four men
from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.
They do not sing, but
I think their cross-dressing
 conveys some of the humor of the Blitzmädels

* * *

* * *

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Click the link to see what's playing on stage.


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