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 }

Our House

25 August 2018

Technology is a marvel.
Nowadays we can listen to any kind of music anywhere.
Singers, bands, orchestras, or operas
playing in the parlor, the kitchen, even outside.

Friends and family can enjoy the entertainment too.
And if we want we can share the experience in a photo.
It's simple with modern cameras so cheap
and easy to operate.
Snap and it's done.
A dozen copies to send off to distant kith and kin.

Printed on stiff card paper,
there's even room for a quick written note.
Drop it in with a letter or send it off by itself,
in a day or two the postman will deliver
your own personal photo and message.

How's that for a wonder!
A few years ago we'd never dream such a thing.

Das ist unser Haus.
Du wirst wohl die meisten kennen

This is our house.
You will probably know most of them.

Technology is indeed a marvel in our contemporary life. Today we take it for granted that mobile cell phones smaller than a pack of cards will somehow connect us to distant voices or send text messages too. Photos are no problem either as the same device lets us take selfies and share them instantly with people around the globe. Want some music to get your heart rate up? These tiny computers magically keep a library of thousands upon thousands of tunes. How did we ever get by without these wonderful gadgets?

The answer of course is that a hundred years ago people like this German-American family just had different novel gadgets for entertainment and fast communication. 

The small postcard pictured above is an unusual example of three different early technologies. The first is the postcard itself. In the 1900s for a just a penny, one could send a handwritten message and, at least in your town, expect it was delivered that day. A reply might come in the afternoon mail. And if your brother lived in Milwaukee it still might take only a few days for him to receive it.

The second technology is the photograph. As camera companies developed inexpensive film systems, it allowed anyone to take a photo. No studio was needed. You could set up the family and friends to pose outside your home. That afternoon the local drug store would process the film and print up as many photo postcards as you liked.

The third technology in this photo was the centerpiece, a gramophone proudly displayed by the gentleman with the majestic mustache. Thomas Edison's first phonograph machine, invented in 1877, captured sound on a cylinder. In 1887 Emile Berliner did the same thing on a revolving disc. He called his device a gramophone and it offered a cheaper way to duplicate sound recordings. But he needed a better mechanism to control the speed of the disc. In 1895 the Berliner Gramophone company engaged Eldridge R. Johnson to make a special spring-driven motor that would maintain a constant speed and torque while accounting for the drag of the gramophone needle on the disc's grooves. Not only did Johnson produce a motor at an affordable cost, but he also improved on the sound box and the method for mass producing records. In 1901 Johnson and Berliner incorporated the Victor Talking Machine Co. and then agreed to allow Columbia Records the use of its disc recording patent.

The Victor company's logo, His Master's Voice, became one of the greatest brand trademarks in advertising history. Ironically the original painting of the terrier Nipper looking into a brass acoustic horn was conceived by Francis Barraud, an English artist, as a marketing image for the phonograph with the cylindrical recording mechanism.  When he was unable to sell it to any British phonograph company, it was purchased in 1899 by the Emile Berliner's Gramophone Co. on the condition that it be modified to show their disc machine.

"His Master's Voice" logo with Nipper
used by the Victor Talking Machine Company
Source: Wikipedia

My postcard has no other clues for identification. The back is blank except it is an American photo postcard paper. The house is vaguely American with clapboard siding and a wood shake roof. It has a curious "widow's walk" or "widow's watch" deck on the rooftop which is a typical addition to a house in a coastal community.  The best clue is the gramophone which is very like the models popular in America around 1904-1910. The extra large horn, possibly made of nickle silver, would greatly amplify the sound of any record. A gramophone used a sharp needle to pick up the acoustic ridges and valleys on a disc groove, but there was no control of the vibration's dynamics. A big horn like this would magnify an amazing amount of sound and fill a house with music.  

By 1909 the Victor company had a number of different models of it's gramophone, all with the HMV dog. An advertisement in The Garden Magazine showed the Victor I which is not unlike the machine pictured in my photo postcard. It cost $25 and was described as "the world's greatest musical instrument."

The Garden Magazine
December 1909

Advertisements for the Victor appeared in the Farm Journal and similar publications read by rural Americans. A gramophone was just the thing to enliven a home after the fall harvest, bringing music and voices to soothe the soul. This was same machine President Taft has at the White House, the one that is owned by the King and Queen of England, the Emperor of Germany, the King and Queen of Spain, the King of Italy, the King of Portugal, His Holiness Pope Oius X, and thousands of other distinguished personages.
The Farm Journal
October 1909

At the end of 1909 even The American Poultry Advocate had Victor advertisements of Santa Claus with a sleigh full of gramophones. "Be sure to get this gift." "Get it easy terms."

The American Poultry Advocate
December 1909

There are a lot of gramophone enthusiasts on YouTube who produce videos of their collections of old 78 recordings and antique gramophone machines. Even though there is not much action, this one gives a good acoustic impression of how these mechanical record players sound. This is Enrico Caruso singing "Questa o quella"  from the opera Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi. It is played on a Victrola V-1 Gramophone.



Technology is always changing, usually improving (though not always), and the windup gramophone became obsolete in the 1920s with the introduction of electric motor driven record players. When radio brought live music and voices into the home there was another wave of consumer gadgets, followed by television, and then the internet. 78rpm discs were superseded by 45s, then 33 and 1/3s, and then compact discs, and now streaming digital. So it goes. Time marches on at its inevitable pace. Left behind is a long trail of countless old fashioned objects that have lost the gleam of marvel that they once had. If only we could hear the music that once played at that German-American household. That would be a wonder.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone want to be a DJ.

Music in the Air

17 August 2018

Music can send you up
or bring you down.
Rock you to sleep
or set your feet in motion.

Romantic Nocturnes for moonlit nights,
or sprightly songs for sunny days,
there is always a tune
for any sentiment.

Herzlichen Glückwunsch
zum Geburtstag!

Hearty Congratulations
on your Birthday!

This postcard of a musical airship was sent from Rostock, Germany on the 22nd of July, 1910 to Walter Hasselfeldt. Rostock is a port city in the north German state Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, situated at the mouth of the Warnow river on the Baltic Sea coast. 

Though the postcard artist took some imaginative license to suspend a small orchestra in a gondola beneath an airship, his design was actually very close to the real design of the LZ4, an experimental airship constructed under the direction of Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838-1917). Count von Zeppelin was a scion of a noble family that came from Zepelin, a municipality of Rostock where this postcard was mailed.,

Zeppelin LZ4,
preparing for departure on 04 August 1908
The first flight of the LZ4 was on the 20th June 1908. The airship was the fourth model of Count von Zeppelin's lighter-than-air designs. It was 136 m (446 ft) long and 12.95 m (42 ft 6 in) in diameter. Lift was provided by hydrogen gas and it was powered by two Daimler piston engines, each generating 105 hp. It successfully made a round trip flight across Switzerland and back to Lake Constance reaching an altitude of 795 m (2,600 ft).

During it next major test flight on 4 August 1908, the LZ4 was tragically destroyed in a fire when it came down for emergency engine repairs at Echterdingen, south of Stuttgart. The airship was docked, but the mooring tethers broke due to strong winds. It crashed into some trees and a static spark ignited the hydrogen. An estimated 40 to 50 thousand spectators witnessed the accident, but the public was so enthralled by the wonder of lighter-than-air flight that within 24 hours of the crash, Zepplin had received enough money in unsolicited donation to rebuild a new airship.

wreckage of Zeppelin LZ4,
near  Echterdingen, Germany  05 August 1908.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more flights of fancy.

Everything In Focus

11 August 2018

The young soldier aims carefully,
checks the sight line one last time,
adjusts the tripod,

smiles at his target,
and clicks the shutter.

It's a friendly grin
that I wouldn't meet until two years later,

but one I grew to know all too well
as I became his favorite quarry
to practice his camera marksmanship.

This is my father,
Lt. Russell E. Brubaker,
communication officer, Company L,
3rd Battalion,
38th Infantry Regiment,
2nd Infantry Division, United States Army.

It's 1952 and he is in Korea.

He was 23 years old,
just a year into his army commission,
and newly married.
 Last weekend would have been
he and my mother's 67th wedding anniversary.

Here he looks into the camera while sitting in the driver's seat of his company's jeep. He's stepped up a uniform level from his field dress and wears a tie neatly tucked military fashion into his shirt. The wheel well of his jeep is marked Rock of the Marne, the official nickname of the 38th Infantry Regt., earned during the regiment's service in 1918 during World War 1.

But this war was different. It began at the end of June 1950 with the invasion of South Korea by the forces of communist North Korea. That summer my father was just finishing ROTC at the University of Maryland where he and my mother were students. By the summer of 1951, the war had escalated into a global power struggle far beyond the Korean peninsula, and American troops were fighting Chinese soldiers as well as those of North Korea. My father was sent over in February 1952 and returned to the US in December, but the conflict did not end until the armistice of July 1953. By then my parents were happily living in Williamsburg, Virginia while my dad transferred to the US Army's transportation corps. His army career continued for another 23 years with postings in France, Washington, Korea again, Kansas, Germany, Virginia, Vietnam, Georgia, and finally Virginia once more where he retired at the rank of Lt. Colonel.

Obviously I wasn't around yet during his first time in Korea, and it wasn't until a couple of years later in France that we were first introduced to each other. Later when he went to Vietnam in 1969, I was a self-absorbed teenager and paid little attention to his service in that conflict. When he died in 2014 at the age of 85, my biggest regret was never taking the time to ask him about the stories behind these photos and what his war experience was really like.

Later that year, as my mom and I cleared up the countless boxes of ephemera acquired during their life together, I discovered dozens of small notebooks on which my dad recorded hundreds of lists and recollections about his life. I had seen some before in his car or around his desk and recliner, but I'd never bothered to look at what he wrote in them. It seems that whenever he was my mom's chauffeur for her many visits to doctor's offices, he would stay in the car with the dog and write down in these pads whatever reminiscence came to mind.

Written in no particular order on steno pads and school notebooks are lists of every place he called home including the dates (1952 Korea was number 14 of 42 homes in total); every car he owned (this army jeep isn't on that list since it was government issue, but it ought to be number 2 of 23 cars and trucks, and that's not counting the black and gold 1925 Harley Davidson motorcycle with a rusted out gas tank and bald tires that he purchased for $95 in Westminster, MD); and numerous lists of every camera he owned (and there were a lot of cameras!!). 

In this second photo of Lt. Brubaker standing up in his company's jeep, there is a narrow leather strap across his chest which I believe is attached to a camera case holding the same camera he stands behind in the first photo. It's his prize Swiss made Alpa 35mm SLR, which he bought in Tokyo when he was on leave in 1952. It was his fourth camera in a long list that eventually numbered over 300. Fortunately this list was put into a sortable spreadsheet format. There's a second list for camera lens that's even longer! 

The Alpa was my dad's first professional camera after getting hooked on photography in college when he used various Kodak Brownie cameras. One page in his notebook memoirs is devoted to these first cameras and how he developed the film in a closet at his home and at night printed photos in the attic. When he received orders for Korea he bought a Universal 16mm "spy camera" in Washington, D.C. which he carried in his first aid pack. It produced very small 2"x3" photos which are grainy with fuzzy focus.

All these photos are in a large album devoted to his Korean War photos which he put together a year later. It's the old fashioned kind made with black kraft paper and the photos are held on the pages by little gummed corners. Written in white ink are captions my dad added. Just so I can claim a musical photo for this week too, here is one of those 16mm snapshots taken in 1952 of a US Army Band during a parade drill in Korea. My father writes: 2d Div Band marches in review. Notice that the leader is out of step – Ha –.   (The leader is stepping left-right while the bandsmen are all right-left. My dad took pride in his marching style from ROTC training.)

Over several years my dad filled these mixed up notebooks with a number of short accounts, funny tales, and long lists of trivia and personal history. It's a treasure trove of detail about his life and our family history, but especially on both his army career and his later volunteer work teaching civilians safe boating operation in Virginia Beach with the US Coast Guard Auxiliary. Combining these notes with the myriad printed photos, color slides, negatives, and digital images I have inherited is like an archeologist puzzling over ancient wax tablets and broken pottery. He remembered the names of fellow officers, the men in his platoon, and some of the Korean people who worked around his bivouac. The war turned out to be just the first chapter in a very long narrative for him, illustrated with thousands of pictures. I'm very fortunate that he left me this gift of his memories to give some context to his photos.

This last photo of Lt. Brubaker holding a camera is also from Korea in 1952, but it was glued into a different album. Like the Alpa SLR this is also a high quality camera but to use a military comparison, where the Alpa was a pistol, this is a cannon. It's called a Speed Graphic made for the military by the Graflex Company of Rochester, NY. It's the iconic commercial camera used by magazine and newspaper photographers. The camera design requires single 4"x5" plates slipped into the back of the camera to take each photo. My dad may have used this in his duties as a communication officer in Korea, but I think he just exchanged cameras one day with the battalion's photographer so that each soldier could get a snap of the other.

Many years later he would acquire one of these same heavy duty cameras, complete with stout case and flash accessory. Even though it was Navy issue he was very fond of it and it was a feature in his collection. In 2015, for better or worse, my mom and I decided we could not manage the disposal of my dad's numerous cameras and lens, and we sold the lot of them to a dealer.

Fortunately I've kept a few for nostalgia's sake, but I think the real value was never in the cameras anyway. For him it was discovering a creative pursuit that lasted a lifetime and produced thousands of photos. And each and every one was first reflected in his eye before the camera shutter clicked. For me, his son, it was how he introduced me to a fascinating connection between words, photographs, and history. It's what inspires my own eccentric collecting and this blog. When I read his handwriting in those notebooks, a style that is both conversational and military efficient, I can still hear his voice. If a camera can sustain a smile across time, handwritten words can preserve a sound of love.


For this weekend's Sepia Saturday theme I want to include one other small photograph from one of my dad's family albums put together before he even went to college. It's taken about 1946-48, I think, on a family gathering in Reisterstown, Maryland on the lawn of my Uncle Lawrence's home.  Two women and a man are taking photos of the same subject which is off frame. Each one has a different kind of camera that perfectly shows how the format of old photos was determined by the type of camera and how it was held.

Standing on the left is Cecile with a simple box camera. It used a tiny reflective prism or mirror set into one corner of the box in order to crudely aim the camera. I beleive this is one of the cameras I still have. It was quite challenging to frame photos with a box camera as the little thumbnail image in the viewfinder was reversed left to right. Generally they were held at waist height for a rectangular "portrait mode' oriented photo, but some could be tipped over for a "landscape mode" too. The shutter was activated by a simple side spring switch which could accidentally produce multiple exposure photos.

The man on the right, who I think is Lawrence Brubaker, looks down on a twin-lens reflex camera which uses wide format film that takes a square image. This camera has two lens on the front, one for the film and the other for the viewfinder. Both lens are controlled with a single geared knob which adjusts the image into focus so that what the photographer sees is what the film will see. However, like the box camera, the viewer is a mirror reversed image left to right. Again the photographer holds the camera at various positions from chest to waist height as they look down at the prism image. These cameras often had great lens and were so finely crafted that they are still popular today with film photographers.

It's not exactly clear what the third camera is that's held by the kneeling woman. But the position of the viewfinder held to her eye means that her camera will produce an image from head height, albeit in this instance at waist height as she is kneeling.The camera's shape looks like it has film moving from side to side which creates a rectangular format photo. But it's the arrangement of a viewfinder which shows not a mirror image but a true-to-life image which give this camera an ability to "point and shoot". It was a novel technology that was improved upon over the next few decades.

Perhaps one day I'll figure out what the subject of their cameras was. Someone smiling?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Check the F-stop.
Advance the film,
and Click the shutter
for more cameras.

Here Be Giants

03 August 2018

There are some people we look up to in admiration.
Persons of distinction who are marked by greatness.
Perhaps a man in military uniform,
or a fellow that stands out in a crowd. 

Then there are people who look down on us.
With their nose in the air
they go around belittling average folk.
as beneath them.

Though we might think that these
are two different personality types,
there is actually one word
that describes both.


If it weren't for the smaller man beside him, it would be difficult to see that the gentleman in the center of this photo is not of normal height. In fact his stature was very abnormal. He was known as the Kentucky Giant and earned his military uniform as s soldier in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War.

On the back of the carte de visite photo
produced by W. L. Germon's Temple of Art,
914 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA.
was his name written in pencil:

Capt. M. V. Bates
Age 32 years
Height – 7 ft 11 inches
Weight  478 lbs.

His full name was Martin Van Buren Bates and he was born on November 9, 1837 in Letcher County, Kentucky, the same year that in March 1837, the more renowned Martin Van Buren was sworn in as the 8th President of the United States. And at 5 ft 6 inches, also the 2nd shortest President. By the age of 12-13, Martin Bates stood 6 feet tall and weighed almost 300 lbs. During the War between the States, Bates chose to serve on the Confederate side with the 5th Kentucky Infantry Regiment. Enlisting as a private, he was quickly promoted to the rank of captain. His fame spread to the Union Army where he was known as the "Confederate giant who's as big as five men and fights like fifty." Wounded in battle near the Cumberland Gap, he was then captured, though he later managed to escape.

After the war, discouraged by the violence of local politics, Bates left Kentucky and moved to Ohio. There he joined a circus and was exhibited as being 7 feet 11 inches tall. The Guinness Book of World Records lists him as 7 feet 9 inches, but the website pegs him at just 7 feet 3.5 inches.

In about 1870 when the circus he was with traveled to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Martin Bates met someone with whom he could finally see eye to eye. Her name was Anna. It was love at first sight.

Just as in Martin Bates's photo, a man stands next to a very tall woman who rests her right hand on his shoulder. Her cdv photo was made by the Yosemite Art Gallery of I. W. Taber and T. H. Boyd, 26 Montgomery St., San Francisco, CA. And like Bate's photo the back has a penciled note written in the same handwriting.

  Mrs. Anna H. Bates
7 Feet 11½ inches high
age  29 years

Her maiden name was Anna Haining Swan. She was born on August 6, 1846 in Mill Brook, Nova Scotia. At the age of four, Anna measured 4 feet 6 inches tall. At age ten, 6 feet 1 inch. When she reached maturity as the "Canadian Giantess" her height was advertised as 7 feet 11 inches, but the website calculates that it was really 7 feet  5 inches. Her weight varied from 350 lbs to 394 lbs. In July 1865 Anna was one of  'freaks of nature' exhibited by P. T. Barnum  at his American Museum in New York City when the building caught fire. As she was too large to fit through a window, workers resorted to breaking through an exterior wall on the third floor and using a block and tackle fixed to a derrick to lower her safely to the street outside. It was a narrow escape as the fire destroyed Barnum's museum.

Anna was considered an accomplished performer on piano and voice, and even did some acting. In 1869 while on a tour of Britain a newspaper report described her as "Towers above all men when stood up, and most women when sat down. She has an oval face, and is softly spoken, with a gentle voice".

In 1870, Anna Swan returned to Halifax, Nova Scotia for a visit. There she was introduced to Martin Van Buren Bates who was appearing in a traveling circus. The show's promoter instantly recognized their doubled potential and hired her on the spot. But evidently money was not Anna's only reason to join the troupe. She and Martin felt a mutual attraction, and on June 17, 1871 Martin and Anna were married in St Martin-in-the-Fields in London. The Anglican officiant was Rev. Rupert Cochrane, a friend of Anna's family who was preaching in London at the time. His 6 foot 3 inch frame was dwarfed by the giant bride and groom.

The marriage of Martin van Buren Bates to Anna Swan, 1871
Source: Wikipedia
On their return to America in 1872, the Bates settled in Seville, Ohio. They continued off and on with circus tours in Europe and America, but clearly both desired a normal life. In Seville, Martin bought a small farm and had a special house designed for them with 14 foot ceilings and 8 ft. 6 in. doorways. Tragically in 1872 and again in 1879 Anna lost two infants due to complications during labor. The Bates retired from circus life in the spring of 1880 after their last circus tour.

Anna Haining Bates died unexpectedly in her home on August 5, 1888 just one day before her 42nd birthday. Her funeral was delayed when the casket company, believing the box dimensions ordered were incorrect, at first sent a standard size casket but then had to replace it.

Capt. Martin Van Buren Bates remarried in 1897 to Annette LaVonne Weatherby, a woman of normal stature. He lived a quiet life in Seville, Ohio until his death in January 1919.

Anna Haining Swan Bates
and Martin Van Buren Bates


Even though photos of GIANTS are not my typical genre to collect, it was the handwritten notes on the backs of these photographs.that really compelled me to add them to my collection. The unsophisticated cursive letters have a naive quality that suggest a child's handwriting. It seems likely that the young writer saw Martin and Anna at some circus show and bought the two cards as souvenirs. As the note on Anna's photo reads Mrs.Anna H. Bates, it dates the photo to after their marriage and return to America in 1872. Their ages on the notes were of course a showbiz adjustment to add youth and vitality to the performers, and their heights.were a typical exaggeration for awe inspiring embellishment.

In the 1840s and 1850s the first technology of early photography – the daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes were unique images. Each one captured light directly onto the medium so they could not be reproduced or duplicated. But twenty years later in the 1860s the advent of the carte de visite photograph, which was both inexpensive and easily duplicated, opened up a great age of popular photographs. It did not take long for entertainers and showbiz impresarios to take advantage of this new process by promoting a lucrative fad for the collectible image. Heretofore wondrous people were notable people that ordinary folk could only hear or read about. Now the new cdv photo let anyone with a dime own a picture worth a thousand words. It might be the portrait of a celebrated politician, a member of royalty, a beautiful opera singer,    or even two giants.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where no topic is too big, no photo too small.


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