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 }

Violins in School

28 September 2018

Monday’s child is fair of face

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

Wednesday’s child is full of woe


 Thursday’s child has far to go


Friday’s child is loving and giving

Saturday’s child works hard for his living

And the child that is born on the Sabbath day

Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

These 26 boys and girls are all violinists with some unknown school orchestra in Great Britain. Probably they are in England, but as the large photo,  8 ¼" x 5 ½", is unmarked and without photographer's name or date they may just as well be from Scotland, Wales, or Ireland. The gentleman teacher's suit and the children's clothing looks similar to fashions for the late 1890s to 1915. The children, 10 girls and 16 boys, are roughly the same age, perhaps 9 to 11 years old. I think they have a quality about them that is more middle class than working class. My guess is the photo was taken about 1905.

On the lower left, placed in front of the knelling girl in a dark dress, is a chalk slate which has a ghostly imprint of handwritten words. Alas the letters, even with digital pixel adjustments,.are too faded to us to read.

The variety of faces in this school orchestra, some more innocent,  others more worldly, reveal personalities that I think are often formed at this preadolescent age, so that is why I chose to highlight a few of the children. What happened to them? Did they marry? Have children? Serve in the Great War? Survive the Great Influenza Epidemic?

We can never know any answers to those kinds of questions. But there is one thing I feel certain of. For the rest of their lives all 26 children valued their shared musical instruction and remained proud of their skills on the violin. It's a prediction that holds true for every day of the week.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where every photo always has class.

Driving to the Beat of a Different Drummer

22 September 2018

Jumping on the bandwagon makes perfect sense.
What musician would march if they could ride?
And how else would you keep up anyway?

But hopping onto a band automobile?
That doesn't sound very safe at all.
Especially if the only seat available
for the tuba player
is astraddle the car's radiator.

But once upon a time
one band decided that two automobiles
were better than any old old horse cart.
They were the Melrose Band
of Melrose, Wisconsin.

This postcard image was produced
using a half-tone newspaper pressing.
It likely commemorates some patriotic parade,
but unfortunately there is no date.
There is a proper photo version
in the internet's image archives
with a suggested year of 1918,
but I think it dates a few years earlier.

The car on the left
has the manufacturer's brand badge on the radiator.

It was made by the REO Motor Car Company
out of Lansing, Michigan.

In 1909 the REO was a popular model
sold by dealers around the country
whose advertisements
were illustrated with automobiles
very like the two in the Melrose Band's postcard.

Brownsville TX Herald
07 January 1909
The Reo Motor Car was just one of many new brands competing for the public's attention in the 1900s. In March 1907 the Pittsburgh Auto Show had 60 makes and 150 models on exhibit. Most of the car company names are now long forgotten, but at the time the Reo was very well known. It was started in 1905 by Ransom E. Olds after he left his first company the Olds Motor Vehicle Company which he had founded in 1897. The Oldsmobile company, also based in Lansing, became part of General Motors Co. in 1908 and lasted until 2004 when GM closed down production on what had been the oldest American automotive marque.

Pittsburgh PA Press
31 March 1907

The Reo company manufactured a number of automobiles and truck models and was one of the more successful brands in the early years of the 20th century. But competition was tough in the automotive industry and the Reo Brand struggled to beat Ford and GM production lines. The Reo company ceased making passenger cars in 1936. It continued to produce commercial trucks until 1975 as the Diamond-Reo truck brand. 

In 1911 the REO Foredoor Touring Car was promoted in newspaper advertisements. It had a 30 horsepower gasoline engine and cost $1,350, including the wind shield. The price would be roughly equivalent to about $34,000 today, though wind shields are no longer optional.

I think both cars that the Melrose Band are sitting in are Reo touring cars from about 1911. The earlier and later versions have features that I don't see on these cars. The postcard was published early in the century and I don't think it dates much after 1918, more like 1915-16.

Today Melrose, WI is a small town of around 400 citizens which is about what the population was in 1910. The bandsmen squeezed into the two cars seems a quaint old-fashioned image to our 21st century eyes, but in 1911 there were likely more horse drawn wagons and buggies in Melrose than automobiles. Most of these men probably had never ridden, much less owned, a gas powered vehicle, and it must have been an exhilarating thrill for the bass drummer and the tuba player when the Reo reached its top speed of 35 mph. So this photo is not about jolly antiquated vehicles. It's about modern technology and the future of speed and power.  As the Reo motto says, "You Can do it with a REO."

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where there is always time for a Sunday drive.

A Band in the Sun

15 September 2018

A very short fiction
wrangled out of the haze of an old photograph.

The voice came from a dream. "Miss Emma.. Miss Emma.. you got a package in the post. Mr. Bridges just brung it."  The old woman blinked, her eyes slowly focusing on Sarah the house maid who held a small package wrapped in brown paper. She placed it on Emma's lap.

"What's this," she rasped, her throat dry from sleep. 

"It's a package. Mr. Bridges says it's from Nebraska," said Sarah. "You want I should open it?"

Emma nodded and the girl took a paring knife from out of her apron pocket. She carefully cut the string and folded paper to reveal a a photo, yellow and cracked. "It looks like some old band," exclaimed Sarah. 

The old woman smiled as she took in the picture. "I know these men," she murmured. "I was there when they played." She pointed at the short man in the bowler hat. "That's Professor James. He was the best cornet player in the county. He could play violin and flute too." She pointed again. "That's my cousin Fremont on bass drum and my sister's first beau." She paused. "B..Bud? Burton? Bolton! That's it."

"How come you know them, Miss Emma?" asked the girl as she folded up the paper and string.

"Why I used to live here. That's my daddy's livery stable."

"That man is Doc Gleason. He ran our town drugstore. Oh, how he could make his clarionet sing." Emma chuckled, "And funny too. If folks were talking too much at a concert, he'd make it squawk and scold everyone to hush up."   

Her fingers gently traced the line of faces. "There's the Benson twins, Mark and Matthew with their paw and big brother Paul. They lived way out along the old Burlington line. The four of them used to march into town playing their horns as they kept step along the track. One time they nearly got run over 'cause they was blowing so loud they couldn't hear the train whistle."

The old woman paused again, finger poised over the last bandsman. "And there he is," she whispered. "That's George. The one with the tuba." Decades of time collapsed as she touched the man's face, his hand. "We got married the next spring. I remember how handsome he was in that straw hat." She sighed as Sarah tried to quietly back out of the sun room.

"Wait," said Emma. "Where did this package come from? Let me see the wrapper." Sarah pulled out the paper from her apron and showed her the postmark. Arcadia, Nebraska. "That's where George's niece Helen lives." She turned over the paper. Written in soft pencil was a short message. 'Clearing out daddy's old things. He would want you to have this. Hope all is well. Love, Helen.'

Emma smiled as a tear slid down her cheek. Looking at the band's photo it seemed like she was just there yesterday. Though she was now in Oregon, a thousand some miles away from Nebraska, she could still smell the dirt road, feel the warm summer sun, taste the dust, and hear the brash sound of George's brass band.

How is it that married 40 years, separated by death now nearly 20 more, the image of that lovely man and his tuba would trigger a memory of that happy day in the sun? She reached for a pencil and turning the photo over, she signed her name. Mrs. Geo. Fromong. 

She always loved the sound of the tuba. 

* * *

This faded cabinet card photograph probably dates from the 1890s or late 1880s. There is no photographer's name and no location marked on the photo. Only a penciled name: Mrs. Geo. Fromong

Though it is an uncommon name, there were enough men named George Fromong distributed throughout the census records to make identification impossible without more clues. But as some names were in Nebraska and others in Oregon, I was inspired to make up a simple story. 

I often ponder how old photos survive to end up in my collection. Who saved them? A relative? An old friend? And why? What did this photo commemorate? 

I think many old photos are talismans to someone's memory. This was once a token or souvenir of a musical occasion in a small American town. Even though no one can truly touch or feel it again, the image was considered important enough to preserve someone's emotions and thoughts of a frozen moment in time. And even an unknown band of musicians from an unknown place and date deserve a recognition of some kind. Even fictional.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more plays of the day.

A Little Song and Dance

07 September 2018

How do we measure cuteness in a child?
Is it by height?
By size of their smile?
The graceful gambol of little feet?

These three young girls definitely have it,
but in different proportions I think.

They are

The Moore Sisters
The Little Song & Dance

The three girls, ages 6, 8, and 10, I think, wear costumes that are short dresses hardly appropriate for school clothes or even Sunday best.  The dresses of the older two have embroidered flowers, while the youngest girl's dress is tiered ruffles with lace. All have ribbons tied to their shoulders and fancy jewelry, pearl chokers, rings, and coin bracelets. Crossing their ankles the girls strike a balletic theatrical line that gives us a sense of their terpsichorean act. Oddly the painted backdrop is a dirt road receding toward a distant lake or river.

The photographer was J. A. Boston of Durango, Colorado. He was active in Durango and Silverton, CO from 1885 through the 1890s.

My research on the Moore sisters surprisingly turned up several possibilities. From 1879 to 1885 a variety show act called the Moore Sisters performed at theatres in Hartford, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Grand Rapids, San Fransisco, and Denver. But they were advertised as a vocal duo, Eunice and Laura Moore, and tragically Eunice died in April 1885 after arriving in Denver with pneumonia. A report said her body was taken east by her mother and sister. Another group called the Moore Sisters played Boston and other east coast theaters from 1899 to 1904, but they were promoted as two soubrettes who performed flirtatious skits and cabaret songs.

My photo however is clearly three youthful sisters, and Mr. Boston, the photographer, produced a cabinet card more like those of the 1890s than the 1880s or 1900s. So I think they are the Moore Sisters who played the vaudeville theatres of 1891.

Little Rock AR Daily Arkansan Gazette
02 January 1891

In the last week of December 1890, Mortimer's Comique of Little Rock, Arkansas advertised a Special Engagement of the Talented Moore Sisters, The Little Lord Fauntleroys of America with their brilliant company of Star Artists 15–Fifteen in Number–15. 

By February 1891, the Moore Sisters appeared at the Dime Musee in Lincoln, Nebraska along with the Hanley Comedy Co. in the funniest of all Musical Comedies, "A Wild Goose Chase," You Laugh You Roar, You Scream; A.J. Grush, the Iowa Shadow, age 44 years, height 5 feet 10 inches, weight 45 pounds; Mdme Moran, the Great Unfolder of the Hidden, the only true and thorough transmitter of hidden thought; and Little Eddie, the Phenomenal Child Artist. Admission was 10¢, chairs 5¢ and 10¢.

Lincoln NE Journal Star
28 February 1891

In the following week the Lincoln newspaper ran a short review that said it was a good show for the money. The living skeleton was a rare specimen of manhood, and the work of the Moore sisters, two little girls, in clog dancing and song, was A. 1.  The boy vocalist attracted all, and his winning ways on the stage and fine make-up, and singing was equal to that of the old stage celebrities, while the balance of the stage above and below afforded amusement to all.

The next week would bring Mlle. Schiller, the ossified woman, the Holtes Pantomine company, and the McComber Sisters Vaudeville company.

Lincoln NE Journal Star
08 March 1891

In March 1891, the Moore Sisters shared the bill at the Wonderland theater in Salt Lake City with Ella Ewing, Missouri's Big Girl, 8-Eight-8 Feet Tall. Admission was 10¢. Friday was Ladies' Souvenir Day. Saturday was Children's Day.  No objectionable characters admitted.

Salt Lake City Tribune
25 March 1891

The Moore Sisters returned to the Wonderland later that year in December and the Salt Lake City Herald posted a brief review.

Salt Lake City Herald
01 December 1891
There are but two days more of the present engagement at Wonderland, and as there are many things of interest and genuine merit, those who have not been fortunate enough to enjoy seeing them should accept the opportunity at once. Herr Orloff, for instance, the greatest of all studies for scientists, the so-called transparent man, is a deep, interesting, absorbing study, and his lecture on himself is full of many intelligent points. In the theatorium the Moore sisters, little things, bright and full of music, good sweet, clear tones. The coming bill, commencing Thursday, is one replete with the brightest talent in the profession. The famous snake charmer, and the wonderful iron-jawed woman will also positively appear.

It seems that in 1891 there may have been only two Moore sisters on the vaudeville stage but by 1893 there were three. The great amusement park Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio advertised in August 1893

The Moore Sisters, 
Rosa, Babe, Emma
in their celebrated and original creation, entitled
The Dance of the Seraphs!
Introducing Songs, Dances, Changes,
Wing and Skirt Dancing.

Sandusky OH Daily Register
30 August 1893

How long the Moore sisters continued touring the theater circuits of America is difficult to say. They stopped showing up in newspaper reviews or advertisements after 1893. As expected, the stage light career of child entertainers is usually very time limited. Cuteness fades in the taciturn teenage years and it seems these three charming girls, Rosa, Babe, and Emma moved on to other activities unknown.But for a short time they were very fetchingly cute.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everything is back to normal.


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