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 }

Piccolo and Bass

31 May 2019

They make an unlikely pair of buddies.

One is very short and handles the highest musical pitches.

The other is very long and sounds the lowest of notes.

 And sometimes the musicians who play them
don't match the size of their instruments.

It's what makes a musical bond
between the shrill piccolo
and the deep bass tuba
so comical.

 * * *

The first duo are two U. S. Navy bandsmen,
a diminutive tuba player not much taller than his instrument,
and a tall gangling piccoloist whose hand span
is as wide as his instrument is long.

The were identified on the back of their postcard
as Mutt & Jeff of the Passage Band.

There is no U.S. Navy ship named Passage
so it may refer to a place.
Mutt & Jeff refers to
a popular syndicated comic strip
created by cartoonist Bud Fisher in 1907
with two mismatched characters,
Mutt the tall one and Jeff his short sidekick.
My guess is that the photo dates from 1910 – 1930.

 * * *

The second disparate pair are
two U. S. Army or National Guard bandsmen
standing in front of a military canvas tent.
The taller man has a piccolo
and the much shorter fellow
is wrapped up inside a sousaphone.
Both wear the standard issue Campaign Hat M1911
given to America soldiers in World War One.

This postcard was likely taken 1910 – 1918.
It was signed on the back.

John Matteo + John Rosenberger
12 ft - fill 50 Kuez (?)


 * * *

The next duet is also posed outside a large tent
but they are U. S. Navy bandsmen
apparently on shore duty.
Again the taller sailor has a piccolo,
but the shorter bandsman is standing with a string bass,
an instrument that once was commonly used
by military bands in concerts
where the band performed seated.

This photo is a not a postcard
but a very small 2" x 3" image.
As the sailors are wearing leggings,
I would date them to the 1910 – 1930 era.

 * * *

The last musical pair are two members
of the Washington National Guard
who were featured in my story in February 2019 entitled
The Band at the Old Campground.
The two postcards, a full frontal photo and a comic backside,
date from 1910 when a professional wind band from Seattle
was engaged by the Washington National Guard
for its bi-annual maneuvers at American Lake near Tacoma,WA. 
The tall piccoloist was Sergt. Fred Graef, the drum major.
The short man swallowed by a helicon,
a precursor to the sousaphone,
was actually a clarinettist
named was Frank Avanzo or Aronzo.
Both were pretending to play
the two extremes of musical instruments
for humorous effect.

The long and the short of it is
that these four photos of army/navy bandsmen
show that the 8 octave difference
between a tuba's (or double bass's)
thunderous low notes
and the piercing trills of a piccolo
were never a hindrance
to making real friendships
in a military band.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where smoking is only permitted in the smoking car.

Four Well-dressed Pipers

24 May 2019

The highland bagpipes are not an instrument
for a person of shy temperament
or overly cautious nature.

A piper must be brave, brash, even brazen
because you can not play it softly
and you can not hide the sound.

It requires a strong breath,
nimble fingers,
and a stout heart
to stand alone and make the bagpipes skirl.

So to play a highland bagpipe,
either nicely or badly,
you must expect to always be
the center of attention,
therefore you might as well look the part
with a dress that catches the eye.

* * *

The first highland piper is posed in a studio
with a vaguely plaid linoleum floor
and a cheap theatrical backdrop.
He is dressed in full Scottish kit
with tartan kilt, cloak, sporran,
buckle shoes and flat side cap.

He is definitely Scottish
but his photograph is not from Scotland.
It was taken by:

W. Stringer,
Photographic Artist,
8, hart St.
Off London Road


In the 1881 Kelly's directory of Liverpool,
there were six businesses on Hart Street:
a tool maker, a trunk maker, a painter, two joiners,
and at No. 8, William Stringer - hair dresser.

Thirteen years later in 1894,
more tradesmen had established shops
on the other side of Hart street.
Now there was a plumber, a furniture painter,
an engineer, two tailors, a cabinet maker,
a joiner, a trunk maker, a blacksmith,
a bill poster, a coach builder, a picture frame maker
and at No. 8 Hart St,
William Stringer - hair dresser & photographer.

I would date the style of this cabinet card photo
to around 1885-1890.

* * *

The second piper is also easily recognizable
as from Scotland
with a very similar Scottish uniform
of kilt, cloak, belt, and cap.
But his instrument has been abandoned
on the floor by his feet.
Perhaps its bag has burst
which might account for the young lad's sad expression.
Sepia tone is never trustworthy for color hues
but I'd bet that the boy's hair is bright red.

The photographer of this cabinet card was:

Alexr. Macintyre
Portrait & Landscape

Bonnar St.

In the 1896 directory for Dunfermline, of Fife, Scotland
Alexander Macintyre was one of five photographers in the city.
His business was in the 1890 directory
and continued at that address until 1911
when his occupation was listed as "retired."
The building illustrated in his photo's backstamp
is Dunfermline Abbey.
Once a large medieval Benedictine abbey
founded in 1128 by King David I of Scotland,
it is now a Church of Scotland parish church.
Alexander Macintyre's studio is only a short walk from the abbey.

* * *

My third piper was a member of the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland. Back in 2013 I posted a story on the Bandsmen of the Black Watch which featured a collection of colorized postcards of the celebrated Royal Highlanders Regiment. This postcard is from the same time period before the First World War, but is just a sepia photo print so we can't see the brilliant colors of the piper's tartan kilt and cloak.

What is particularly unusual is that he is a left handed piper. The modern technique for all woodwind instruments puts the left hand in the upper position on the finger holes or keys with the right hand below. This is because the lower tone holes are used more often, so the right dominant hand is usually in control. And for bagpipes that also places the bag under the left elbow. But here this man has everything reversed. Initially I thought the printer had flipped the image negative, but the piper's shoulder belt passes over his right shoulder just like the other pipers' uniforms. Likewise his cap is tilted to the right like theirs and the button seam of his jacket shows the buttons in the correct place for a man's garment.

It's a peculiar playing position that I can't recall seeing in a modern bagpiper. With drones over his right shoulder he would stand out rather awkwardly in a parade march where all the other pipers had drones over their left side. Conveniently this postcard was mailed from Scotland in 1903.

Black Watch Piper
Oban Scotland              Sept 25, 1903
Dear Friends. We are with you in mind quite
often this wk.  We are both well & enjoying ourselves
immensley   We are half way between Oben & Fort
Williams with mountains all around us. Most
beautiful  sceinery    Mrs T  A  Smith

The back of the card is postmarked September 25 1903 sent from Fort William
and then received 10 days later in Beloit, Wisconsin on October 5, 1903.
It was addressed to Mrs Prof Pearson of Beloit, WS.

I was curious who Mrs Prof Pearson was
and wondered if Mrs. T. A. Smith might be the wife of a "Professor" too.
A quick search on the internet found
Beloit College, a small private liberal arts college.
In its 1903 college bulletin, the faculty list had:

Thomas A. Smith, Ph. D.
Hale Professor of Mathematics and Physics

and three names down:

Calvin W. Pearson, Ph. D.
Harwood Professor of German Language and Literature.

Professor Smith's wife was named Martha Jane Smith
and Professor Pearson's wife was Marthanna T. Pearson.
They lived just three short blocks from each other in Beloit.

1903 Beloit College bulletin

* * *

My last piper is dressed in a mostly khaki uniform of the British army which I believe dates from 1814-1918. His sporran matches the five tassels of the Black Watch piper so I  think he is a piper in the Black Watch Regiment too. His belt has the same broad buckle but his gaiters are olive drab color and not white. This photo postcard was never posted and has the look of a private printing, perhaps by a photographer taking pictures of individual soldiers before they shipped out.

* * *

The sepia tone of these portraits of pipers
of course can not show
the true splendor of the patterns in Scotch plaid.
Nonetheless they were still considered collectable images.
The success of Scottish tourism is partly due
to the attraction of the highland bagpipes.
Yet photos of these musicians
fail to demonstrate the thrilling sound of the instrument.
Fortunately in the 21st century we have YouTube for that.
Here is a talented young lad named Brogan Townsley
busking with his bagpipes in Perth, Perthshire, Scotland.


And for good measure here is one more,
a piper leading a wedding procession
through Kenmore Highland in Perthshire, Scotland.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you never know where Wallace is hiding.
Can you find him?

The Ship's Orchestra

18 May 2019

Once upon a time a man's mustache
was evidence of maturity
and a mark of a gentleman.
Cultivating lip hair to an impressive length
was a requirement to be part of the masculine community.
A fine mustache required hours minutes
of shaving, trimming, and grooming,

(Unless one had the misfortune to be a smooth-faced clarinettist.)

Society took notice of those who did not conform.
If your mates had mustaches
then fashion rules dictated
that you should sport one too.
And if your nation had a traditional style
then common practice required that your mustachio
should be twisted, waxed, and curled to the imperial standard.

It made a striking effect
for a group of musicians
dressed in the livery of a ship's orchestra.

One day long ago
ten musicians arranged themselves for the camera,
five strings – double bass, viola, and 3 violins
with two cornets, flute, clarinet, and trombone.
The leader sits center
holding a cornet and a conductor's baton.
They are outdoors on the deck of a ship
which we know because there is
a bearded sailor just behind them.

It's a large photo that is without any marks
as to where or when it was taken.
However the men's mustaches give us an era
of roughly 1890 to 1915.

But there is one tiny useful clue.

mbroidered on the hat band
of the sailor's cap is the ship's name


If the sailor would only turn his head
we might see the first letters,
but as he is unlikely to cooperate
we must use the clues we have.

His uniform with its flat cap, dark tunic and tied collar
is not the dress of a sailor in the navy
but of a seaman in the merchant marine.
The orchestra musicians and the seaman
are on board some kind of passenger ship,
one that has a double name
spelt _  _ NS Castle.

It was part of the fleet
of the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Line
for travel between Great Britain
and South and East Africa and Mauritius.

The African Monthly
December 1908

A Union-Castle ship left Southampton every Saturday
for South Africa with calls at Teneriffe and Las Palmas
in the Canaray Islands and sometimes stopping
at St Helena and Ascension Islands in the South Atlantic.
The outward bound voyage took about 18 days to Cape Town,
and the return from Durban was about 22 days.

Of the 37 ships in the Union-Castle fleet
22 are named   * * * - Castle.
But only one has a first name
ending with the letters NS,
the R. M. S. “Kinfauns Castle”

Union Castle Liner, R. M. S. "Kinfauns Castle"
Source: the internet
The Royal Mail Ship Kinfauns Castle was 515 feet in length and 59 in breadth. Built in Glasgow in 1899, she was powered by two coal fired quadruple expansion steam engines that turned twin four bladed manganese bronze propellers. The Kinfauns Castle and her sister ship the Kildonan Castle displaced nearly 10,000 tons and provided accommodations for 300 first class, 160 second class, and 200 third class passengers. The ship was fitted with 100 electric lights and 23 blowing and exhausting fans to ventilate its saloons, corridors, and cabins. In October 1899 a reporter for the Dundee Courier traveled on the Kinfauns Castle from London down to Southampton on its maiden voyage. He wrote:

Space will not permit of a detailed description of the rich mahogany and satin wood paneling and the exquisite carved work of the first class saloon, splendidly lighted by large square windows with hinged brass frames and by a handsome central dome, which is a special feature both in its size and from. Then there is the drawing-room, a lofty and spacious apartment designed in the modern English Renaissance style, paneled in sating wood, inlaid with tulipwood, and furnished with a Broadwood grand piano and with sofas and lounges of dark mahogany sumptuously upholstered in silk. The devotees of My Lady Nicotine were loud in their praise of a smoking-room which is designed after the manner of an old Dutch interior. The second saloon, situated on the upper deck, is framed in oak, and, like the first class saloon, it possesses a piano and is luxuriantly fitted up. Separate up-to-date libraries are provided for first, second, and third class passengers, and in the main saloon a large beautiful painting of the port of London by Colin Hunter, A.R.A., is shown.

(I include that last bit because Colin Hunter (1841–1904) was a Scottish artist who lived in London on Melbury Road right next to the Sylvester family featured in my story from February 2014 entitled Miss Sylvester's Violin. Hunter painted a striking portrait of Winifred Sylvester's father, army surgeon John Henry Sylvester dressed in his Indian army uniform, which I included in the story.)

There was a terrible storm brewing in late September 1899 when the Kinfauns Castle started on its first voyage. It was heading directly into the eye of the Boer War. This conflict between the British Empire and the two Boer states: the Republic of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, would last from October 1899 to May 1902.

So when the Kinfauns Castle arrived in Southampton in September 1899 it was immediately requisitioned by the Royal Navy for use as a troop ship to the conflict in South Africa. Most of the passengers were officers, but there were also units of army engineers, medical corps, and service corps assigned to the steerage cabins. The engineers brought on equipment for gas balloons. The soldiers and officers must have been thrilled at their good fortune to embark on this wartime journey on such a new luxury liner. The scene was recreated by the maritime artist Charles John de Lacy (1856–1929) with a crowd of people at the dockside waving farewell as the gallant lads cheer from the aft deck of the Kinfauns Castle.

The 'Kinfauns Castle' as a troopship
by Charles John De Lacy
Source: Wikimedia
Over the next several months hundreds of steamships would be appropriated for the war effort in  South Africa. Ships like the Kinfauns Castle would transport thousands of soldiers, horses, guns, munitions, equipment, and supplies 8,100 miles from Southampton to Cape Town. Little did they know the great price this foolhardy war would cost. The British forces took almost 100,000 casualties and saw 22,092 men killed in the two years of war.  The Boers suffered 6,189 men killed in action and 26,370 Boer women and children who perished in concentration camps. The financial debt incurred by the British government was estimated at £211,156,000, equivalent to about £202 trillion in 2014 monetary value.  

The Kinfauns Castle survived the Boer War and after 1902 returned to normal passenger ship work between England and South Africa. In 1914 the ship was again appropriated for another war, one that lasted much longer than the Boer War, and one that put all shipping at tremendous risk for attacks by German submarines. Yet by 1919 the Kinfauns Castle survived the Great War too and continued as a passenger liner until being sold for scrap in 1927.

Though its possible that there were musicians hired for that first maiden voyage of the Kinfauns Castle in 1899, I suspect the war removed any space available for musical instruments. So it seems more likely that this photo of the ship's orchestra dates from the inter-war period of peace that followed and probably is closer to 1902 that 1914. The mustache styles suggest several Germans are in the ensemble with some English and Scottish too, so the photo was not taken after July 1914.

Of the 37 steamships in the Union-Castle fleet, I suspect all had at least a small piano trio to play music at mealtimes if not a ten-piece orchestra like the one in my photo. The larger ships like the Kinfauns Castle needed to entertain a very large number of people, many with families, for several weeks at sea. Music provided one way to calm the spirits of people on troubled waters, so an orchestra was required for any dancing and theatrical entertainments. As many string musicians of this era could double on wind instruments, and visa versa, the musicians also likely played band music on deck to accompany the ship's daily events and activities. It was demanding work that would challenge any musician to maintain his musicianship in all kinds of weather, not to mention a wife and family back home. I doubt musicians were given luxury berths and the pay was probably not as good as theater work. But it was a steady job and you got to see the world, or at least whenever the ship was in port.

So here's my question.
Is mustache wax resistant to salt-water?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where every ship has its day.

The Happy Couple

11 May 2019

Husband and wife,
 side by side.
It's a classic pose
in art and photography.
However in this small carte de visite photo
one half of the happy couple sits
while the other stands.

In the 1860s-1870s when this type photo was popular
usually it was the woman who stood
in order to show off her fine dress.
But here the husband is on display
in a sharp military-style bandsman's uniform

A horsehair plume and star-shaped badge adorns his shako.
Eight shiny buttons and a twisted belt buckle fasten his coat.
The photographer has carefully painted
the collar, sleeve braid, and coat piping red,
and added some gentle rouge to the man's lips and cheeks.
His face, framed by a ribbon of fuzzy beard under his throat,
shows a hint of a smile and a twinkle in his eye
as he looks into the camera,.

It's a fine photograph
but regrettably the bandsman, his wife,
the photographer, and the location is unknown.
Since it was purchased from a dealer in Britain
it is reasonable to assume he is English
but he could easily be Scottish or French too.
In any case this is an early CdV from about 1860-1868.

There is a third subject in the photo to balance the couple's pose.
The bandsman's left hand holds tight to a large brass instrument.
It looks a bit like a saxophone
but is in fact an Ophicleide,
an obsolete instrument that is
no longer played in modern wind bands and orchestras.
It is uncommon to see
an Ophicleide
pictured in early photos of bands,
and even more rare to find a portrait of a musician with one.

In October 1834, the city of Birmingham, England put on a music festival to showcase its new town hall. The interior concert hall space was reported as 145 feet long, 65 feet high, and 65 feet wide. At one end was placed a pipe organ that was said to rival the organ in York Cathedral in magnificence and power. The musical highlight of the festival was an oratorio entitled David by the now forgotten Austrian composer, Sigismond von Neukomm (1778–1858). This mammoth production had almost a dozen vocal soloists, a choir of 200 from the Birmingham Choral Society, and an orchestra of 400 with 50 violins, 24 viola, 16 violoncellos, and 10 double-basses; "with wind-instruments, etc. in proportion." This instrumental band included a new brass instrument, "hitherto unknown in England, the contra-bass OphiclĂ©ide, or keyed serpent." This musical novelty even crossed the Atlantic to appear in the pages of the Pittsburgh Gazette in November 1834.

Pittsburgh PA Gazette
18 November 1834
In the early 19th century, the rapid advances in industrial metalworking and machine tool technology allowed enterprising craftsmen to improve the manufacture of musical instruments. Though brass instruments like trumpets, horns, and trombones had established a place in the bands and orchestra of the early 1800s, there was still one deficiency. There was no horn-type instrument that could sound true bass tones. So in order to add that particular low sonority to the brass family, in 1817 a French instrument maker named Jean Hilaire Asté invented the Ophicléide.

A metal cupped mouthpiece, into which the player buzzes their lips, is inserted in a very long twisted conical tube. Rather than changing the length of the instrument with valves that add more tubing, the ophicleide uses an older method of tone holes covered by key operated pads. Similar to the key pads of a saxophone, the ophicleide keys are different in that they are normally closed and open only when the keys are pressed. Hence the meaning of its name which comes from the Greek for "serpent with keys."  In 2010 I posted a story called The Serpent and the Ophicleide which shows the older version of the serpent without keys. And in 2014 I wrote a story called Mr. Kellogg's Keyed Bugle about a CdV from the same era with a gentleman playing a keyed bugle, another member of the same brass family as the ophicleide.

An Ophicléide consort
Source: Wikipedia
The ophicleide has a full chromatic scale and its keys facilitate rapid note changes that were not possible on other early brass instruments. The tone is broad with good dynamics from soft to very loud. By the 1860s it was a common for them to be featured in orchestra and bands. Felix Mendelssohn and Hector Berlioz were two noted composers who added the bass sound of the ophicleide to their symphonic music. Today those parts are typically played on valved tubas instead.

From roughly 1820 to 1880 the ophicleide's bass sound enhanced the brass section of bands and orchestras. But by the 1880s it's dynamic texture did not match the big sound that the new rotary and piston valve instruments were capable of. The peculiar keyed fingering system of the ophicleide was also a problem as it required special skill that was unlike the other brass or even woodwind instruments. The tuba was just more versatile and easier to play. So by the 1890s the ophicleide became obsolete to composers, ensembles, and brass players.

Like saxophones, clarinets, and other wind instruments, the ophicleide was produced in several different sizes. In this image of an ophicleide consort, I believe my unknown bandsman's instrument is like the one second from left, which was a kind of alto or quinticlave ophicleide.

The bandsman's wife also stares direct into the camera lens.
The photographer tried to cheer up her sour countenance
with a smudge of rouge on her cheeks and lips,
and a dab of gold for her broach and watch.
But as the bandsman's hand presses down on her shoulder
she appears just about ready to scream
and bolt out of the photographer's studio.

If you look closely, her right hand holds the music lyre
that attaches to her husband's ophicleide to hold his sheet music.
A sign of marital fidelity? 
Or just a long suffering resignation
that she will always
take second place in her husband's heart? 

Back in July 2013 I posted a story
on a series of humorous French postcards entitled
Monsieur le Curé and his Ophicleide
To illustrate that story I used a short video
by Everson Moraes, a Brazilian Ophicleide player.
Here he is again with a demonstration of
 his alto or quinticlave Ophicleide,
which I believe is the same instrument
in my photo of the happy couple.



By a curious twist of musical history
the ophicleide never really disappeared in Brazil
but continued as the bass voice in Brazilian choro music.

Here is Everson Moraes's Group
in a terrific performance
a popular Brazilian choro dance tune
with rhythms that even a dour faced wife
could not resist tapping her foot to.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link to find more testimonials
on the joys of married life.

A Musical Habit

04 May 2019

A very tiny story
teased out of a cabinet card photo.

It was a warm afternoon, but not unpleasantly so. Really a perfect April day thought Justina. The plane trees outside her classroom window shimmered with the bright green leaves of springtime. Her girls were gone for the day, released early to prepare for their performance later this evening. She knew they would do well. They just needed to pay attention to each other.

She finished resetting the chairs and neatly placed the music folders in a stack for young Katie to collect before the concert. Satisfied that harmony was restored Justina headed down the stairs. She couldn't remember when she had last been outside alone. January? Late November? She should try and get out more often. She began to softly whistle as she set a brisk walking pace down Fourth Street. 

As she passed the teacher's house and then St. Marien's church, she crossed herself and said a quick prayer. At Marshall street the sound of children reached her ears. It was after lunch so the orphans at St. Joseph's would be at play in the yard. They certainly needed the fresh air after a winter of so much croup and ague. Praise God that none had been taken.

When she reached Broad St. she paused to marvel at so many people, horses, carts and wagons moving every which way like a swarm of busy ants. From the corner she imagined she could still see the tall spire where once the Grace Street Baptist Church had stood. It was such a handsome building, not unlike the churches of her homeland, though those were not Baptist of course, and now it was gone. She grimaced recalling the day of the terrible fire. Startled by the clang of a bell, she stepped back as an electric trolley car stopped at the curb to let passengers off. She wished she had reason to ride it but her destination was too close. She turned west and in a few steps was at No. 320, the door of Campbell's Photograph Studio. As she entered a bell above the doorway announced her arrival. 

The shop was empty, so Justina waited at the counter and inspected the collection of photographs displayed along the walls and in glass fronted cabinets. There were several large images of Richmond's impressive factory warehouses, grand hotels and giant emporiums some with the proprietor and his employees standing proudly on the front steps. Arranged in long rows on one wall were portraits of bright-eyed babies, handsome children, elegant ladies, and dozens of couples, young and old, posed for a wedding or an anniversary. Reminded of the things she would never have, she gave a quick shake of her head to chase those selfish  thoughts away.

Over on the other wall hung numerous landscapes, scenes of Richmond's many battlefields and fortifications. They were for the many tourists who visited Richmond to see the remains of the great war between the states. Wandering over the sites of so much suffering and destruction seemed a curious recreation. It was not something people ever did in the old country. Where would one begin? 300 years back? A century? Even just a few decades ago? So sad.

Just then a short balding man with a carefully groomed mustache emerged from behind a curtain that concealed a back room door. "I beg your pardon for my delay," he said as he removed an apron and took a coat from a stand in the corner. "I've been working at my darkroom and needed a moment more to develop a plate." As he adjusted his collar he turned to face her. "Oh my, Sister. I do apologize. I hope you've not waited long?" 

"Not at all Mr. Campbell. I have been admiring your artistic photographieren. They are quite marvelous." She nodded toward the shop's front window. "The picture of the horse is most beautiful. Mein Vater would like to see such a bay horse."

"He must appreciate good breeding. That is my King William, a superb racing trotter. Now that it is spring I plan to drive  him into town for some exercise. My livery is on Seventh Street so you may see him some time."
She pointed to a photo of a small band in the front case. "That is Herr Thilow's orchester, is it not? His daughter goes to our school."

"Yes, it is. That was taken last summer. Gustave is a good friend of mine and a fine musician. Have you heard him play?"  

"Yes, a few times I have listened to him when his orchester has made concerts at the park. He was so kind to help repair mein trompete when it would not work."

"That's just like Gus. He was very helpful when I lost my old studio to fire three years ago. His connections allowed me to move here, which being on the ground floor, is actually more convenient for my customers." Mr. Campbell glanced around her side. "I see you have not brought your cornet today. I presume you've come to pick up your portrait."

"That is correct. It is finished, yes?" Justina asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Of course," he replied.  "I have it here in my file box. He stepped behind the counter and opened a wide drawer. "I think you will be pleased with the effect." He handed her a card wrapped in tissue.

 As Justina unfolded the paper her face beamed. "Ah yes, it is perfect! You are a talented artist, Mr Campbell."

 "Thank you, Sister. I am very glad you like it." He waggled a finger.  "But you know you could have more copies made. It is very easy and costs only another 30 cents"

 "No, thank you. One is enough," she said as she put several coins on the counter. "This is correct, yes?"

 "Indeed exactly right, thank you very much." He dropped the money into a small cash box. "Sister, if you wouldn't mind my asking, is this intended as a gift? A present for your parents in Bavaria perhaps? Over the years I've made a number of cabinet photos of the Benedictine sisters, but yours is, shall we say, a bit unusual. Most choose to hold a prayer book or a rosary. But this is the first time I've made a picture of a nun with a cornet."

"No, mein Eltern have other pictures. But this is a special gift for a girl here at my school." Justina hesitated as she wrapped the tissue around the photo. "You see our Mother Vogel is to leave for a new convent school to the north. She has asked me to follow her in a month or two. However at the institute there is a young musician, a trompeter, who is my favorite student. Her name is Agnes Sitterding. I will miss her very much, but I'm afraid she will miss me even more." She tucked the packet into her habit's sleeve. "I hope that this photo will inspire her and help her find her way when she feels lost."

"Toward music," suggested Mr. Campbell, "or toward God?"

"Both!" laughed Justina. "The two are always found on the same pathway if you know where to look."

* * *

It would seem self-evident that any 19th century cabinet photograph of a Catholic nun holding a cornet would be a rare thing. But in the context of its local Richmond, Virginia history, it's not all together an unexpected thing. Since there is unfortunately no note on the back identifying the woman, and the fashion for nun habits has remained fairly unchanging, there are no clues to establish a date except to use the general timeline for the cabinet photo style which was roughly from 1875 to 1900. However there is one good clue imprinted in gold letters on the front of the card.

Campbell's studio,
320 E. Broad St., Richmond, VA.

The photographer's full name was Charles O. Campbell and he was a native of Maryland, born there in 1840, as was his wife Mollie, who was 4 years younger. Campbell had generously long career in Richmond, operating his own photography studio there beginning with a listing in the city directory in 1869 and continuing until 1912. In November 1901 he advertised that his studio at No. 320 East Broad was "the only one in the city situated on the ground floor." He  offered "fine pictures" for ninety-eight cents per dozen.

Richmond VA Times
24 November 1901

Following the Civil War there was a great demand for photographs. New methods for capturing images with a camera made photos cheaper and reproducible. As most photographers advertised a price per dozen, it's possible Mr. Campbell did persuade Sister Justina to order more, so there's a chance her  photo is not that rare.

Campbell & Co.'s Photograph Studio, 1893
Source: City on the James. Richmond, Virginia
But Campbell's studio at No. 320 was not his first location, as in the 1890s his studio had been at No. 429 east Broad where he had a very sophisticated gallery called Campbell & Co. and employed several assistant photographers and artists. Charles O. Campbell traveled with his camera and equipment, and was proud of being the official photographer of state politicians in Georgia, and both South and North Carolina. Evidently his business was successful enough to fund his interest in horses too, as his name was mentioned several times in newspaper accounts on sales of race horses. King William was a noted bay gelding of his.

A book entitled City on the James published in 1893 included an image of the interior of Campbell's studio. Notice the back room is very well lit, probably not from gas lights but from skylights and side windows which was essential then for making good photographs.

So why would a successful photographer move to another address just a block away? Problems with the landlord? Better rent? No, there was a more compelling reason for Campbell's relocation.


Richmond VA Times
25 March 1897

On March 25, 1897, shortly after midnight, a fire started at No. 429 East Broad where Campbell's business occupied the top two floors of a three story building. Five hose companies of firemen were called out. They did all they could, one fireman breaking a leg, but the building was destroyed. Campbell lost everything, estimated to be about $7,000 in value. And likewise Mr. Greentree, the owner of the clothing store on the ground floor, lost nearly everything from water damage. It was front page news filling an entire column. 

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Richmond VA Dispatch
14 November 1897

By a strange coincidence a report in the adjacent newspaper column gave lengthy details of Richmond's hosting of the national convention of the Photographer's Association. Perhaps next day Campbell's fellow photographers learned of his misfortune and provided some assistance. In any case only eight months later in November 1897, Charles O. Campbell announced the opening of his new studio at 320 east Broad.

All of Campbell's plates and negatives were lost in the fire. He also needed new card stock with his new address. So Sister Justina could not have had her photo taken before November 1897.

The Grace Street Baptist Church that Justina liked was a very handsome Romanesque church that in 1896 was destroyed in a fire. Gustave Thilow was the name of a bandleader found in the 1897 Richmond city directory.

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Richmond is the capital of Virginia and in 1900 it was the state's largest city with 85,000 citizens, which was 45,000 more than Norfolk, the next largest. Positioned as a kind of crossroads to the ports along the James River and Chesapeake Bay as well as the major road and rail networks to the south, north and west, Richmond attracted many immigrants. One of the largest were people from the German states, particularly the south Germans who were predominantly Roman Catholic. In Richmond they established their own church which were listed in city directories as a German Catholic church. In the 1850s a convent was added to the Richmond Catholic diocese facilities. This order changed after the war when in 1875 the Benedictine Nuns from St. Mary's in Elk County, Pennsylvania, just east of Pittsburgh took over the running of the Catholic girls school, St. Mary's Benedictine Institute. The location on Fourth Street was surprisingly close to Mr. Campbell's photograph studio.

St. Mary's Benedictine Institute advertisement, 1889
Source: Three Great Events in the History of the Catholic Church in the United States

The Benedictine girls school was one block up from the main Catholic church buildings where there was also a boys parochial school. Across the street from the Institute for girls was the St. James Episcopal home for widows. In this time before government-run social welfare, Richmond, like most American cities, had numerous "homes" run by religious denominations and fraternal societies that provided care for poor children and the elderly. The Catholics managed St. Joseph's Orphan Asylum which was on the next block opposite the St. Mary's church.

St. Mary's Benedictine Church, Priory, and School, 1893
Source: City on the James. Richmond, Virginia

Though by 1900 Richmond was a cosmopolitan city that had rebuilt and to a degree prospered from the Confederate States defeat in 1865, it was still very much a Southern town that tolerated racial, ethnic, and religious prejudices that are difficult to understand from our 21st century perspective. Suffice it to say that in the 19th century a Catholic nun would have been viewed with great suspicion in the mostly Protestant rural parts of Virginia.

The German community in Richmond was divided into roughly three groups, Lutherans from northern Germany, Catholics from southern Germany, and Jews from both Germany and Austria. Many were second or third generation immigrants from northern states like Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Some were new arrivals from the various Germanic regions of central Europe. And yet they all established their places of worship within a short walk in Richomond's relatively small downtown area. Here is a map from 1877 with a thin red line to show Sister Justina's walk.

1877 Map of Richmond, Virginia
Source: Historic Map Works

In 1893 St. Mary's Benedictine Institute taught somewhere between 120 to 150 girls. As a private school its tuition was not free and though I don't know the cost, I expect it was set to attract children of the middle to upper classes of Virginia society. The class ages are not described but based on census records, I suspect it was a mixture of ages from 7 to 17. Some girls whose families lived a long distance from Richmond did board there during the school term.
In 1895 St. Mary's Benedictine Institute advertised in the local newspapers. The curriculum was quite ambitious for female education in this era and for the first time it included something musical that had not been listed in earlier advertisements for the school –  two wind instruments. There were courses in English and the Sciences. German is optional; Latin is compulsory in the senior circle—both free of charge. A thorough course in Piano, Harp, Violin, Guitar, Mandolin, Banjo, Cornet, and Flute, Vocal, both in private and in class. Special attention is paid to Stenography, Typewriting, Drawing, Painting, and Fancy Work, the later without charge.

Richmond VA Times
25 August 1895
The subject of this photo was not that unusual. The proximity of St. Mary's Benedictine Institute to Campbell's new photograph studio makes it very easy to understand how it was that a Catholic nun had her picture taken. The fire that forced Mr. Campbell to set up new premises narrows the time frame for this photo to 1897 and later. But because cabinets were going out of favor, I don't think its much past 1900.

Sister Justina's instrument, a piston valve cornet with an extended leadpipe that lowers its pitch from B-flat to A, was also not unusual for a young woman to play, as I have lots of cabinet photos of female cornetists and ladies brass bands from this era. But none of them are dressed in a nun's habit. Why would a Catholic nun in Richmond, Virginia be posed with a cornet?

I think the best answer is because she was a music teacher, and the proof is in the advertisements for the Benedictine Institute. Music was am important part of a young ladies education, but an ad from 1893 only listed Piano, Harp, Violin, Guitar, Mandolin, and Banjo. These were all instruments then considered genteel enough for female musical instruction. But from 1895 to 1897 this Catholic girls school added Cornet and Flute to advertisements of its music curriculum. They would not have done that without a teacher. A female teacher.

This was a German Catholic church so it's understandable that instruction on cornet and flute was  desired. In my blog I have featured many German and Austrian postcards of female brass bands and orchestras that demonstrate how open German culture was to female brass and wind musicians.

I know that this is not a complete explanation of why a nun is holding a cornet in an old photo. But I think the evidence shows there might be a very good reason for this photo to be made, and even better, that there were enough interesting historical facts to narrate a simple story that filled in the guesswork. Hence my invention of Sister Justina.

St. Mary's Benedictine Institute advertisement
1895 Richmond city directory

Nuns did not get much attention in Richmond's newspapers. There were reports on events happening at the Catholic church and schools. There were a few reports of girls taking their vows to become novices or nuns. And school commencement exercises listed lots of student names and honors. The name I used for Sister Justina's favorite student was a real girl who played a cornet solo at a commencement in 1897. Mother Superior Vogel was also a real person. Rev. Edith Vogel, age 54 in the 1900 census, was born in Germany in 1845. Her older sister, Clara Vogel, age 58 was also a Benedictine nun. Sometime around 1901, Sister Edith Vogel the Mother Superioress (as it was spelled in the city directory) transferred to a new Benedictine school in northern Virginia, southwest of Washington D. C. She died in 1903 but her death notice appeared in newspapers from Baltimore to Norfolk, VA.

Here are two pages from the 1900 U.S. Census for Richmond, VA that record the Benedictine sisters who lived at the institute school. There were 29 women. The oldest was age 60 and the youngest age 18. Nine were born in Germany, seven in Pennsylvania, five in New Jersey, three in Virginia, two in Maryland, two in New York, and one in North Carolina. I may never know the real name of the nun in my photo, but I'm convinced these 29 sisters knew her well and enjoyed hearing her play the cornet.

1900 US Census, Richmond, Virginia
St. Mary's Benedictine Institute

Sister Justina's name is borrowed
from one of the younger sisters
listed on this 1900 census record.
Justina Spangler, age 23,
born in Germany November 1876, single,
occupation: Teacher.

1900 US Census, Richmond, Virginia
St. Mary's Benedictine Institute

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where good habits are the best thing to learn in school.


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