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 }

Full Steam Ahead on the USS Georgia

28 July 2018

Shoveling coal is not a task
we associate with a seafaring life.
For thousands of years, ships sailed the oceans

zigzagging on the force of wind.
Then beginning in the 1830s,
ships gained an ability to move in straighter lines
under the power of massive steam engines.

No longer did sailors have to climb tall masts,
hang on a swaying yard and unfurl a canvas sail.
Instead, deep down inside the ship,
seamen toiled in a sweltering hold,
feeding a firebox that boiled the steam.
It was very hard work.

And oddly enough,
sometimes musicians joined in too.

Navy sailors wore
their distinctive white uniforms

with a special pride.

But inevitably that whiteness
got soiled,

coated with a sooty griminess
that was probably the normal tint
for a sailor's work clothes.

_ _

We wouldn't expect
that a ship's band
would take part
in such grubby chores.

But they did.

These twelve begrimed musicians
belong to the band of the battleship USS Georgia.

It was August 1919
and they were performing an important duty:

Coaling Ship.

_ _

Two of the men were good buddies,
Swaboda on tenor sax
and Hudson on trombone.

They were used to the coaling ship duty
as they did it three
months before
in May 1919.


_ _

There was just one difference
between the work in August and May.

In May the sailors were in the North Atlantic
but in August they were in the Pacific,
heading on to San Francisco's Mare Island Navy Yard.

USS Georgia (BB-15)

The USS Georgia  (BB-15) was a battleship of the United States Navy. Commissioned on September 24, 1906, she was the third of five Virginia Class battleships. Each one of these so called pre-dreadnought battleships was built in a different shipyard, their keels laid from 1901 to 1902. The USS Georgia and its sister ships became part of the Great White Fleet ordered by President Theodore Roosevelt to embark on a global tour in December 1907 that would showcase America's new naval power to the world. In this era a battleship's steam engines were powered by coal, and the fleet of 38 ships would need 125,000 tons of coal just to cruise from Hampton Roads, Virginia, to San Francisco. Remember the Panama canal was not completed until 1914. The complex logistics of moving a naval fleet, then and now, required setting up numerous ports to refuel the ships called coaling stations. For this purpose America made good use of its new colonies of Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines, recently acquired in 1898.

USS Georgia 1907-08

By 1917 as the United States joined the allied efforts in WW1, the USS Georgia had long been outclassed by bigger, faster, and more deadly battleships in the US Navy. More importantly they were no longer powered by coal. The US Navy was now following Britain's lead and converting all its new ships from coal to oil powered engines.

Just as it the Georgia was about to be decommissioned the war department brought the Georgia back to fleet but relegated it to gunnery training in Virginia.

In September 1918 it was assigned to an escort convoy taking troops and war material to France. On this its first war service the ship was overburdened by an extra 525 long tons of coal added to its normal stocks which forced it to struggle through heavy seas. As a consequence the crew was confined to close quarters which created conditions ideal for the spread of disease. The ship's medical officer recorded 120 cases of influenza and 14 cases of pneumonia. Seven men died from disease. And despite the extra coal, the USS Georgia ran out of fuel on the crossing and being unable to complete the voyage, returned to its home port.

_ _

Before the USS Georgia could be reassigned, in November 1918 the Germans signed the armistice ending the war. The following month the battleship joined hundreds of other ships to serve as a troop transport, and from December 1918 to June 1919, the Georgia made five trips bringing over 6,000 soldiers back from France. The crowd of soldiers and sailors now on the ship introduced another vector for the virulent influenza pandemic that would soon kill millions more people than died in the Great War. 

USS Georgia 1919

It's difficult to find photos of how engine rooms of steam ships once operated. Perhaps the dim light was too challenging for photographic film of the time. Maybe photographers didn't want to get coal dust on the camera lens. But in 1906 one British photographer tried, captioning his postcard: In the Stokehole of a Battleship. The dark image shows two men called stokers, or sometimes coal passers, standing on the black rubble floor of a battleship's engine deck ready to throw coal into the inferno that was a steam engine's firebox.

The card was addressed to A. Lucas, Mess 22, Boscawen III, Harwich and posted January 2, 1906 from Portsmouth, England.

Dr. Bert
I hope you
spent a happy
Xmas. I went to
Forest Gate for
my leave   hope you
are well  just drop
a line
Fred Lucas

HMS Agincourt (1865)
Source: Wikipedia

My guess is that Fred and Albert Lucas were brothers serving in Britain's Royal Navy and assigned to different ships. Bert's Boscawen III was a converted Minotaur-class armored frigate, originally named the HMS Agincourt. It was commissioned in 1868 and over its career served as the flagship for 15 admirals. But like many navy ships it eventually became too outmoded for active service. So from 1893 to 1909 it was renamed the Boscawen III and used in Portsmouth and then Harwich as a depot ship for boys entering navy service. Essentially a floating barracks.

By a strange coincidence for my story, this old ship was moved to Sheerness in 1909 and converted into a coal hulk known simply as C.109. For five more decades it retained this useful purpose, surviving until 1960 when it was finally broken up for scrap. As a coal hulk it may have resembled the barge these American sailors are standing on in 1919.

Dozens of seamen armed with broad shovels and large sacks swarm atop the flat deck of a coal barge. The photo was taken atop the radio mast of the USS Georgia in 1919. It's quite possible that Swaboda and Hudson, the tenor saxophonist and trombonist of the battleship's band, are in this picture. If they aren't, they may be performing on another deck to give the other sailors some rousing march to speed up the task. Music was not just for officers' parties.

USS Georgia 1919 coaling ship
The USS Georgia had a top speed of 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph) propelled by two screw propellers powered by triple-expansion steam engines. The steam was generated in twenty-four coal-fired boilers which could take the battleship up to 4,860 nautical miles (9,000 km; 5,590 mi) on the coal stored on the ship. This amount was roughly 1,700 tons.

And every lump of coal in the ship's bunkers
was loaded sack by sack
by shovels manned by sailors
and sometimes musicians too.

Postcard circa 1910-20
Source: The Steel Navy

I think the two postcards of the USS Georgia Band in 1919 were preserved by one of the bandsmen for a special reason. The battleship's destination in August 1919 was to be its final port of call. The ship was decommissioned in July 1920 and sold for scrap in November 1923. The buddies who served together during America's contribution to the Great War shared a bond that only sailors fully understand. It was a friendship sustained by coal dust.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more stories of the sea.

Ladies of Brass with Hats

21 July 2018

Not so long ago
the sight of a woman who was
without a hat on her head
was an unusual,
if not unseemly, occurrence.

A woman's hat might be of any shape or size
as fashion might decree,
but if she was to be in the public eye
she must wear a head covering.
At least according to the conventional rules
of European society in the 1900s.

Men also needed hats
to be properly dressed 
 but generally only when outdoors.

Upon entering a building
a man could check his hat at a cloakroom.
But a woman on the other hand,
retained her hat
no matter the activity or situation.

There were pill box hats.

Flat berets. 

 Military or police style caps with brims.

 And sailor caps sized extra-large.

How did the unwritten regulations on apparel
apply to these female musicians
in German brass bands?

The first drummer girl with the sombrero type hat was a member or the Damen Blas-Orchester „Ariele“, directed by Aug. Bornschein. This ladies wind wind orchestra is made up of six young women and four men, all with brass instruments except for the drummer who has her snare tilted up on a chair with the bass drum and cymbals beside it. The women are dressed in matching frocks that have a kind of layered effect that includes contrasting banded edge and a few dangling pom-poms. Their hats are quite large and have a dark sash on the front brim. The drummer also flaunts a long pearl necklace.

The men are mostly hidden from view at the back. My guess is that the older man playing tuba is Herr August Bornschein. It's likely that some of the women, and maybe younger men too, are related. In front of the one woman who is standing center, is a set of four natural trumpets with flags attached. The flags display an emblem AB for Ariele Blas or Ariele Wind.

Their postcard was sent from Gelsenkirchen, a city in the North Rhine-Westphalia state of Germany, on 11 February 1912.

* * *

The next image came from another postcard of the Ariele Damen Blas Orchester which had one more woman to make an ensemble of seven women and four men. The caption says their director is P. Jentzen früher i.e. formerly Bornschein. Their brass instruments are precariously stacked into a large pile.

In this picture the women are turned out in identical dark dresses with nautical bonnets, sailor collars, and flotation sashes. Notice the anchor patches sewn onto their shoulder sleeves.

This card was posted on the 29 July 1911. The bearded green man on the stamp, is Luitpold, Prince Regent of Bavaria. The stamp commemorates the 25th anniversary of his reign as regent of Bayern or Bavaria. He assumed this responsibility as head of state in 1886 when first his nephew, King Ludwig II and then nephew King Otto proved too mentally unstable to rule. Prince Luitpold died in December 1912 at age 91.

* * *

The third image comes from a very similar band called the Österreichisches Damen Trompeter Corps „Bohème“. The director is A. Lohmann who I believe is the man standing right of center. This Austrian brass band of ten musicians also has six women and four men. All with brass instruments except for another woman on drums. The women all wear matching outfits, a vaguely folk style dress with a tight collar. Their hats are slightly smaller than the Ariele's big hats and with a large pom on the upturned brim. They also have a broad hip sash which was a popular style with female musicians in German/Austrian Damen Orchester.

Like the Ariele ensemble, the Bohème band also has a woman with a trumpet standing center. She is the lead soloist as all the other brass are in the lower sound spectrum of alto, tenor, and bass instruments. In the foreground are two pairs of natural herald trumpets, again with embroidered flags attached.

The Bohème brass band is a long way from Vienna as their postcard was sent from the port city of Hamburg, Germany on the 7th of March 1912.

* * *

The enormous pancake hats in the fourth image were worn by the women of the Damen Blas-Orchester „Teutonia“, directed by Franz Britting, the man with the trumpet seated center. It is another 10 piece brass band with six women and four men. The women wear white blouses, or shirt waists, with dark colored skirts and folk-like embroidered vests. The large hats hovering above their massive coiffures, are held on presumably with long hairpins. As with the other groups, a tripod of natural trumpets occupies the centerpiece of instruments.

Unfortunately the stamp and its postmark was removed from this postcard, so the date and location is not known. However its printing style resembles several other cards from the 1900-1914 era.

* * *

The ladies in pillbox hats on the fifth image came from another postcard of the Damen Blas-Orchester „Teutonia“. This time their name has the prefix Schwäbisches or Swabian which refers to the southwest region of Germany called Swabia. Now divided between the modern states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, the natives speak a dialect of high German.

This postcard was never mailed but has an incomplete address to a Georg Förtner of Nürnberg.

* * *

The flat berets of the sixth image were worn women of the Alt Heildelberg Damen Blas Orchester. Their name is written on a banner draped on the bass drum. The director was C. Oppermann. This brass band has eleven musicians with six women and five men. This time the men wear caps which I believe are a style worn by college students. Founded in 1386, Heidelberg University is Germany's most celebrated educational institution. Both the men and women also have narrow striped sashes across their chests which I believe is another academic tradition. Like the other groups, there is one high trumpet played by a woman seated left center. The other rotary valve brass instruments are below its timbre. And again a stack of four natural trumpets are in the center foreground.

This postcard was mailed from Saarbrücken on the 8th of September 1912.

* * *

The military style caps in the seventh image were worn by the women of the Damen Trompeter-Corps „Elbust“, directed by Fritz Thiele who is seated center. The women have white shirtwaists with dark fringed skirts. They also combine the narrow striped chest sash with the wide hip sash. Two pairs of natural trumpets lean on the knees of the seated women. On the floor by the director's feet are a tambourine and a small box with a metal xylophone.The woman seated center right has the only high trumpet.

This postcard was sent on 2 January 1910 from Hagen, Germany in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

* * *

The last excerpted image was part of this group of nine musicians captioned on their postcard as the Damen Blas-Orchester „Gut Heil“ or "Good Luck". The director was Felten, Kapellmeister, seated right center holding a paper roll, the symbol of a pianist. This brass band has five women and four men. The women are decked out in white sailor type suits with contrasting broad square tied collars and flat caps similar to those worn by the German navy. Once again a pyramid of natural trumpets is arranged in the center. For more postcards of German lady trumpeter corps playing these natural trumpets follow my stories: More Ladies of Brass; and Even More Ladies with Brass.

This postcard was never posted so there is no date, but I think it is like the other Germanic ladies bands and belongs to the same 1910-1914 era before the start of the Great War.

* * *

I've posted the images of these eight postcards of six different bands because I think they exhibit an intriguing number of similarities in both fashion sense and musical ensemble. And as my regular readers know, I have a fascination with hats and how frequently they appear in antique photographs.

These ensembles represent a time in the 1900s when live music was the principal attraction at taverns, cafes, restaurants, and music halls. The entertainment industry, i.e. Show Biz, in central Europe became so ubiquitous that it sustained a bewildering variety of traveling musical troupes. And as many of these groups employed female musicians they represent a striking contrast with how women from this era are usually portrayed in social history.

Not all of the Damen Blas Orchester wore hats. In the hundreds of postcards in my collection, most have no hair covering, while some wore just kerchiefs or ribbon bows. As we can see in the Ariele and Teutonia groups, the women changed costumes, probably to suit the region and the venue where they performed. Sailor suits for port cities, folk vests for southern alpine towns. Undoubtedly the success of a female musical group hinged on a strong fashion style that attracted audiences and  maintained a freshness that kept people returning to hear more.

Because brass instruments are inherently loud, these brass bands likely played on outdoor stages, which may also partly explain the hats. The more refined music of the Damen Konzert or Salon Orchester which had women playing primarily string instruments, mainly performed indoors, so in their postcards women are generally shown without head covering. I imagine that most female groups imitated the trends in theater and society circles and adapted accordingly. And I readily acknowledge there are probably many subtle clues in dress styles from the 1900s that have evaded my limited masculine sensibilities. Can you picture the rhythmic movement made by their hats as they marched onto stage? That made a class act.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where summer hats are de rigueur.

Sibling Rivalry

13 July 2018

Children are natural competitors.
The toys, games, and other playthings
of childhood are not just
youthful diversions.
Sometimes they are exercises
in learning the necessary skills of life.

And as every parent knows
restraining the fierce contest
between brothers and sisters
is a constant challenge.

Teaching young kids a musical instrument
redirects their boundless energy
into an engaging pursuit
that encourages mental discipline,
emotional self-control,
and physical skills,
as well as being fun.

This set of cabinet card photographs
illustrate how some families in the 1890s
used music in the home
to tame sibling rivalry.

The first trio of children are from Paw Paw, Illinois where the photographer at Parke's Studio arranged them in a classic artist's triangle. The youngest is perhaps age four or five and holds a cornet. The next oldest, age six or seven, holds a cello. Though both wear dresses, judging by their haircuts I suspect that that they may be boys. The oldest is definitely a boy and sits on a chair with a violin in his hand. His feet are still a couple of inches off the floor but I'd estimate his age at seven or eight.

* * *

The next trio is a brother with two younger sisters, maybe ten , eight, and six years old respectively. All three hold violins under their chins. The smallest girl looks a bit uneasy as she sits perched atop a faux boulder in the Star Gallery of photographer W. C. Heneks of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Mr. Heneks wrote a caption onto the negative that is difficult to read against the white floor. Using digital processing I reversed the colors to reveal a single name, Colburn, which I presume is the name of the family. That would be an unusual effect for a private photo but not uncommon for a souvenir photo for professional entertainers. Somehow this set of children with their big ears and long noses don't display much of the self-confidence of a real vaudeville family band.

* * *

The last group of four boys is actually a quintet with their father. The youngest is a cellist though as his instrument is taller than he is, he must stand to play it. He might be five or six years old. His next older brother plays a piccolo and appears about age seven. The two oldest boys are at such similar height that I think they are twins albeit fraternal ones. They are around eight or nine and each has a violin at their chin. Father looks on from the side with his clarinet. Such an ensemble would make some interesting music. Most likely the father is their music teacher.

They were photographed by the Wendt studio of Boonton, New Jersey, just west of Newark and New York City. Frank Wendt (1859-1930) was well known for his promotional photos of circus and theatrical people. In 1898 he took over the work of New York City's Bowery district photographer Charles Eisenmann (1855-1927) who had photographed many of the freaks and performers presented by the celebrated impresario P.T. Barnum. Wendt moved his studio to Boonton and this family orchestra may be from there, or could be another family orchestra trying to make it big in show business.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where all the children are way above average.


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP