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 }

Up, Up, and Away!

30 August 2019

 Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?
Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?
We could float among the stars together, you and I

For we can fly, we can fly
Up, up and away
My beautiful, my beautiful balloon

The world's a nicer place in my beautiful balloon
It wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon
We can sing a song and sail along the silver sky
For we can fly, we can fly
Up, up and away
My beautiful, my beautiful balloon

Suspended under a twilight canopy
We'll search the clouds for a star to guide us
If by some chance you find yourself loving me
We'll find a cloud to hide us,
We'll keep the moon beside us.

Love is waiting there in my beautiful balloon
Way up in the air in my beautiful balloon
If you'll hold my hand we'll chase your dream across the sky

For we can fly, we can fly
Up, up and away
My beautiful, my beautiful balloon.

"Up, Up and Away" song written by Jimmy Webb
and recorded by the 5th Dimension in 1967

* * *

Earlier this year in my post entitled: The Girls of Austrian Postcards, I introduced the beautiful artwork of  Hermann Torggler, (1878-1939).  A native of Graz, Austria, Toggler studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, and in 1908 moved to Vienna where he established a studio specializing in portraits of the nobility, military officers, and upper classes of Vienna. Three of these postcards date from his earlier career and were published by Fr. A. Ackermann, Kunstverlag, München.

These two lovely ladies seem very breezy in their balloon basket as they float among the clouds. The caption reads:
Behüt' Euch Gott!

God protect you!

The postcards was sent from Karlsruhe in the state of Baden-Württemberg, Germany on 29 July 1901. What intrigues me about these two carefree balloonists, is that this was how human flight was depicted 118 years ago. In 1901 Orville and Wilbur Wright were at Kitty Hawk, NC working on a glider that was still a long way from any true controlled flight, and Europeans would have to wait until 1908 to see the first exhibitions of the Wright airplane. But in 1901 it was the lighter-than-air dirigibles of Ferdinand von Zeppelin that inspired the imagination of the world.  And Zeppelin was a native of Württemberg and his airships were sponsored in part by the King of Württemberg. 

* * *

The second portrait of a young woman has a title:

 Schau!  Schau!
Look! Look!

This postcard was posted from
Frankfurt am Main in Germany to Wien, Austria
and received on the 28 November 1899.

* * *

The third card shows a joyful maiden holding aloft
a steaming tureen of soup?
Hot punch seems more likely as
it is 1900 and time to party!
The caption reads:

Hip, hip, hurrah!

The postmark was stamped at the Burgdorf train station in Switzerland
on the 1st of January 1900.

* * *

The last image of a red cross nurse lighting the cigarette
 of a wounded Austrian soldier comes from the war years.
Hermann Torggler painted several portraits
of German and Austrian generals,
and of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
This was a special postcard to sell as a benefit
in aid of the thousands of wounded veterans.
It has a caption in all capitals.

Raucher, gedenket durch eine Spende
der Verwundeten Soldaten!

Smoker, commemorated by a donation
to the wounded soldiers!
The postcard was never used
but obviously dates from 1914-1918.
On the back is another caption.

Offizielle Karte
zugunsten der Kriegsfürsorge
Official card
in favor of the war welfare

Torggler's postcards were clearly very popular as ways to convey simple messages like 'Good Luck!', 'Thanks for the letter!', or 'I wish you were here.' Considering that the publishing firm in Munich probably produced thousands of printings for each card it is not surprising that some of his postcards were preserved. Yet I think the charm of Torggler's etchings worked much like how good music does. Irving Berlin said it best in his 1919 song of the same name.
A pretty girl is like a melody
That haunts you night and day,
Just like the strain of a haunting refrain,
She'll start up-on a marathon
And run around your brain.
You can't escape she's in your memory.
By morning night and noon.
She will leave you and then come back again,
A pretty girl is just like a pretty tune.

Wouldn't you like to ride
in their beautiful balloon?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link to see what's in other bloggers' baskets.

Portraits of Four Bandsmen

24 August 2019

Once upon a time, a man in uniform
was not a soldier or policeman
but a bandsman.

The fabric colors, the gold braid,
  the fancy embroidery
dazzled the eye before the band
even played a note of music.

Such a fine band uniform
commanded attention,
bestowing a prestige
that highlighted the special occasion
of a concert or parade.

But no uniform was complete
without a fancy hat.
And in the case of these four bandsmen,
it was a French style Kepi cap
with a wreath badge and the initials:


These four anonymous  musicians in matching uniforms were members of the same band. They posed for an unknown photographer who produced three cabinet card photographs which were later cut and pasted into an album. The first two bandsmen posed perched on the arms of a wooden chair that cradled a tuba and cornet. The young man on the right with his cap pushed back to reveal his curly locks, is the tubist, I think, because he leans on the tuba's mouthpipe in a familiar way that only the instrument's player would do. Both men gaze into the camera lens with confidence and a certain bravura.

The second bandsman plays a B-flat tenor horn which he has upturned onto the seat of a different  wooden chair. A narrow braid, perhaps in gold thread, goes down one trouser leg, a mark of a full dress uniform. 

The third portrait is of the E-flat clarinetist, the solo descant woodwind voice of a brass band. He stands next to the same chair with decorative twisted legs and back as did the tenor horn player. Both have the same direct aspect to the camera that coveys assurance and pride. 

Dressed in expensive uniforms, did these four musicians belong to a professional band? A circus band or traveling concert band? Without a photographer's name there was no location. The only clue was the cap badge, LOUHI, which was not typical of most bands which usually had insignia using just three initials, the last two ending in C.B. for Cornet Band or Citizens Band. Was there a LOUHI Band?

Indeed there was and its musicians were Finnish-Americans who lived in Monessen, Pennsylvania

Monessen PA Daily Independent
24 June 1911
In 1911 the Louhi Band celebrated its 11th year of concerts in Monessen, a small city in western Pennsylvania just south of Pittsburgh on the Monongahela River. In 1910 its population was 11,775, a 436.0% increase from 1900 when just 2,197 people lived there. The growth was the result of America's steel industry boom, when in the first decades of the 20th century, many immigrants from Finland, which has a heritage of steel making, came to work in Monessen's mills.

The Monessen Daily Independent featured a photo of the Louhi Band and a short history of how it was established in February 1900 with fourteen Finnish-American musicians. By 1911 it had 30 bandsmen and was led by Prof. J. B. Limatainen, who received his musical education in the Finnish Military Music School at Wieber, Finland. The photo is very grainy but I think the band wears the same uniforms as the bandsmen, so I believe it helps date their cabinet photos to that first decade 1900 to 1910.

In this era the Finnish people were not a free people. Finland has a long history of subjection under one of their larger neighboring countries, and since 1809 it was known as the Grand Duchy of Finland, a autonomous principality of the Russian Empire. Before that it was part of Sweden for hundreds of years beginning in the 12th century. Yet the Finnish language is unlike any of the Scandinavian languages of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, and is very different from Russian. It actually has more similarities with Hungarian.

So in 1900-1910, Finnish immigrants, like Poles, Czechs, Ukrainians, and many other European folk, brought their rich culture to America from a place that was not a true independent nation. The band's name LOUHI comes from a female character in the great Finnish saga, The Kalevala. In this long epic poem, Louhi is the powerful queen of the northern realm of Pohjola, with the ability to change shape and weave mighty enchantments. She is described as wicked, which seems an odd choice for a band's name. But The Kalevala's many characters and myths are so important to Finland's language and national culture that many of its legendary figures were added to place and business names.

Monessen PA Daily Independent
16 June 1915
By the summer of 1915 the Louhi Band had a new band director, George E. Wahlström and 40 musicians, including one woman on cornet, Miss Ksenna Tanttari. The Monessen newspaper promoted one of their concerts with a photo, program, and roster of all the musicians and their instruments. This photo is also too dark to see much detail, but their uniforms look less ornate. A simple cadet style jacket would certainly have been more affordable for a larger band.

The summer before, just two months prior to the onset of the Great War in 1914, the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius visited America to conduct his new tone poem, The Oceanides, at the Norfolk Music Festival in Connecticut. Already a famous figure in music, his arrival inspired many Finnish-Americans to celebrate Finnish music. In 1915 Sibelius granted some Finns in Monessen permission to use his name to establish a Sibelius Society to promote the musical heritage of the Finnish people.

When the war ended in 1918, Finland finally became an independent nation. In 1920 the Louhi Band and member of the Monessen Sibelius Society took the band and 400 Finnish-Americans back to their homeland for a concert tour. In attendance at the Louhi Bnd's first performance in Helsinki was Jean Sibelius.

Monessen's population reached its peak in 1930 with 20,268 residents. In addition to the Finnish-American Louhi Band, the Monessen community boasted of Italian, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Slovak, and Croatian bands too, all made up of immigrants. Sadly in the 1930s the Great Depression changed the steel industry forcing Monessen's mills to close. The older immigrant neighborhoods began to lose their ethnic homogeneity as younger people moved away. Also new Federal laws established quotas on immigration and the numbers of Finnish immigrants drastically declined. By the start of WW2, the Louhi Band no longer had enough bandsmen, and according to a short history of the band, it stopped performing in 1942.

The population of Monessen today (2017) is estimated at about 7,339. 

 * * *

In 1901, the Lyon & Healy Musical Instrument Company of Chicago released a mail order catalog of band instruments, musician's supplies, and band uniforms. They supplied over 30 styles of uniforms, price on request, in various combinations of fabrics, colors, braids, epaulets, plumes and hats. . In the first image, No. 784 is not unlike the Louhi Bandsmen's uniforms.  

1901 Lyon & Healy's Catalog of
Band Instruments, Drums, and Uniforms,

1901 Lyon & Healy's Catalog of
Band Instruments, Drums, and Uniforms,

1901 Lyon & Healy's Catalog of
Band Instruments, Drums, and Uniforms,

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where Finns are fun.

The Not-So-Shy Cornetist

16 August 2019

Sometime the smile tells all.
In an instant it says, "Very pleased to meet you."
and you know you have a friend for life.

Very often it's the proud posture,

or the confident carriage,

or just the clear eyes of someone
so self-assured that they have no fear.

A camera captures more than light,
it can record a brave spirit,
someone with the courage
to make a bold, brassy noise.

These four young cornet players
are not shy little children
hiding behind mother.
They are plucky youths
ready to showoff their musical talent.

* * *

The first little girl
with the bobbed blonde hair,
big cornet, and bigger smile
is anonymous
and maybe age 7 or 8, I think.
Her postcard was made by
Hoffman Studio in Hanover, PA
some time in the 1920s.

* * *

The second cornetist is a boy
dressed in a fine band uniform
with the initials  L.B.B. on his collar badge.
He appears about 10 to 12 years old
but his name is unknown.
His extra large cabinet photograph,

suitable for a grandmother's mantle,

was taken by the DeLon Studio,
1109 Broadway in Brooklyn, New York.
The photo's style was popular from 1900 to 1910.

* * *

The third cornet player is a fearless girl
whose age, big hair bow, and floral print frock 
suggest she comes from the same era 1905-1910.
Her photo is an unmarked postcard
but the camera has picked up
very ornate engraving on her cornet.
The way she holds her instrument
and the ribbons on her shoes
makes me think she is a professional entertainer,
perhaps a child artist on the vaudeville circuit.

* * *

The last young boy plays his cornet
from a precarious position
atop a fancy wood table.
His shiny kid-leather shoes also have ribbons.

His name is Herman Brinkhaus
as signed on the back of the cabinet photo.
The photographer was Feinberg
of 16 W. 14th St., New York City.
Portraits in Crayon
and Pastel
a Specialty.
children's pictures
a great success.

This photo is definitely from the 1890s
when searsucker sailor suits
were the latest fashion for small boys.
Herman Brinkhaus looks about age 9 or 10.
And again because he has the positive air
of an accomplished musician
and has ribbons on his shoes,
I believe he may be another child artist
of the music hall stage.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where this weekend it's a tisket, a tasket,
a green and yellow basket.

An Atlantic City Love Story, part 3

10 August 2019

Pittsburg Press
23 September 1907

In September 1907, six years after first arriving in America in 1901, Oreste Vessella, the Italian Bandmaster received a salute from the Pittsburg  Press. (Pittsburgh as it was then spelled)

Oreste Vessela Placed in Class with Creatore. 
Leader of the Roman Band Complimented By the Critics.

A tempestuous temperament like that which carries Oreste Vessella, the conductor of the Roman Band, to that sublime musical eminence which ignores environment and the presence of others, is rarely found in one who has not the warm blood of the Latin in his veins. Under the sunny skies of Italy Vessella first looked upon Mother Earth. As a child he was placed under the most careful instructors. He outgrew the teacher, professor after professor, until the best masters of Italy took him up and were glad to have the honor of claiming such a pupil.

The boy grew to be a man of moods, emotional and temperamentally turbulent. He struggled on and up, however, ever reaching out for that which seemed unattainable. In such a crucible the nature of the man was refined. He emerged from an erratic boyhood into a maturity seasoned and sensible, but so delicately strung upon tense nerves that his work at once was recognized as something different from that of the average musician. Perhaps it was that intangible thing which we know as genius, perhaps—well what's the good of speculating until we have seen the man at short range, have listened to his interpretations of the masterpieces of music and beheld the manner and method by which he holds his 40 artists as a unit in the renditions of every number in his varied programs. Comparisons do not please Vessella, but the critic by the seashore, where he has played for five consecutive years, have, by some strange and inexplicable process or reasoning, unanimously referred to him in the same paragraph with Creatore.

Like a sticky glazed pastry
the honeyed words of this flattery
require a moment to cleanse our fingers thoughts.

So let's pause and just listen.

_ _ _

Here is a 1911 recording of Vessella's Italian Band
playing a selection of music from Gaetano Donizetti's comic opera
Figlia del Reggimento ~ The Daughter of the Regiment.
The recording was made for Victor Records
on March 31, 1911 in Camden, NJ
and comes from the Library of Congress archives.


Adobe Flash required to play this file.
If the box is grey or fails to load
it may be because the LOC website is down.


This short bit of flummery probably sounded better in Italian when dictated by its subject, Oreste. He, or perhaps an ingratiating music critic, attempted to place Vessella as the equal of Guiseppe Creatore, another Italian bandmaster we met in last week's post, who by 1907 had climbed further up the ladder of public fame.

In this first decade of the 20th century, America loved band music. All across the nation countless American, German, Bohemian, and Italian wind ensembles performed in music halls, amusement parks, and seaside piers. People knew the names of cornet players; criticized the musicianship of trombone virtuosi; recognized their favorite tuba solos. And each band was identified by its charismatic leader. The ambition and ego of Oreste Vessella was not unique in this era. But it was unusual that he got so much press coverage of a personal nature. The public liked band music, but they enjoyed a love story even more.

This is the third in a series on the romance
of Oreste Vessella, the Italian Bandmaster
and Edna Egan, the millionaire's daughter.

To catch up, click these links:

For An Atlantic City Love Story, part 1
An Atlantic City Love Story, part 2

Cincinnati Enquirer
16 December 1904

In December 1904, Vessella was worried sick about a lawsuit brought against him by a former lover in Italy who suited him for breach of promise. The young woman, Gaetanina Lombari, sought $25,000 in damages. But incalculable damage had already injured Vessella's marriage.

His bride Edna, married just five months when news of this scandal broke in October 1904, was the daughter of wealthy Cincinnati businessman, Thomas P. Egan. Needless to say, Mr. Egan was not pleased and publicly refused to be drawn into paying for in son-in-law's shameful misfortune.

When the breach of promise case finally reached a judgement in April 1905, it went against Vessella and he was ordered to pay $10,000 to Signorina Lombari. Mr. Egan still objected to defraying any of Vessella's debt.

For some marriages this might have been the end, but somehow Oreste and Edna revived their love and a kind of harmony was restored in Atlantic City. 

_ _ _

"Musicians make ideal husbands," said Mrs. Vessella in an interview for the Cincinnati Post in May 1906. "My husband is very well pleased with the reception given him by his audience at the Zoo. (in Cincinnati) I am just as enthusiastic over his work as he is himself. He's so absorbed in it. Although he has not had the advantage of travel in this country, I feel sure that he will yet make a bit hit. He is quite a young man."

She went on. "As an artist, I think very highly of Signor Vessella, and musicians make ideal husbands," she laughingly said, when asked her opinion of her husband's ability. "I am very much infatuated with both him and his work."

Cincinnati Post
22 May 1906

Despite her loving words, 
this year would test Edna and Oreste even more.

That summer of 1906 Oreste went to Chicago as guest conductor of another Italian band, the Banda Roma, which was on the bill for the Sans Souci amusement park. On opening day 32,000 people came to the park to ride the scenic railway, see the alligator farm, take a turn in the dance pavilion, and hear the band.

Nearby at the Chutes water park, King Humbolt's Royal Italian Band under Pozzi played. At the Riverview park, in between its  ostrich farm and crocodile ranch, Bohumir Kryl, the great Bohemian cornetist, led his band in daily concerts. The Coliseum booked Ellery's Italian Band under Francesco Ferullo. Carl Bunge and his band were still an attraction at the Bismark gardens, followed by Chevalier Gargiulo and his celebrated Italian Band. The White City park engaged the cornet virtuoso, Alessandro Liberati and his military band of fifty pieces.

Chicago was America's new cultural mecca, the turbulent hub of America's theatrical circuits that attracted an endless parade of actors, singers, instrumentalists, bands, symphony orchestras, and vaudeville acts of every description. Competition for bookings was intense. When the Banda Roma's director was taken ill, Vessella was hired as a substitute. He and the bandsmen had some artistic differences. In July a dispute arose with the Chicago musicians union which found fault with Vessella's contract and fined him $500 and each of his musicians $50. Then in August he expressed some abusive words towards a musician during a concert and a fracas ensued between him and the players, frightening the audience, and only stopped when police intervened.

Cincinnati Post
29 October 1906

In late August Vessela returned to Atlantic City to finish the summer season with his regular band at the Steel Pier. Down the beach, Young's Million Dollar Pier, extended its season into the end of October and booked Elenda Tasca's Royal Italian Artillery Band. Originally Vessella was tentatively booked to substitute for Elenda but shortly before the engagement was to start, Tasca returned and Vessella was dismissed. The cancellation may have saved his life.

On Sunday afternoon, October 28, 1906,  a West Jersey and Seashore Railroad electric train left Camden, NJ for Atlantic City with 80 to 100 passengers. On board were 20 members of Tasca's Royal Italian Artillery Band traveling to fulfill their engagement at Young's Pier that evening.

They missed the concert.

_ _ _

Before reaching Atlantic City, the railway line crossed a wooden trestle drawbridge over an narrow estuary creek. Just prior to the Camden train, the drawbridge was opened to allow boats to pass. After they were through it failed to close completely and when the train approached its three cars jumped the track and plunged into the water. Two cars were totally submerged and the last car remained hooked on the trestle partially under water. The bridge was less than ¼ mile from the Atlantic City station. Within minutes thousands of people rushed to the scene. There was little they could do.

Mt. Carmel PA Daily News
29 October 1906

The Wikipedia entry for the Atlantic City train wreck of 1906 records that the train accident claimed 53 lives. Contemporary accounts in newspapers around the nation reported much higher numbers. Many papers carried very detailed lists of the victims, killed and injured, with ages, residences, and occupations. Certainly at least three bandsmen from Tasco's Italian Band perished in the accident, musicians that Vessella surely knew and who may even have been members of his own band at one time.

Brooklyn Times- Union
29 October 1906

The Atlantic City train wreck was not the only tragic rail incident to occur in 1906. In June that year the express train to Atlantic City derailed causing one death and injuring 50 passengers. In fact the October accident was only number 5 of 7 major rail calamities that year. In November forty-three people died in an accident in Indiana, and in December fifty-three were killed in Washington D. C.

Considering that the country was still in mourning for the victims of the San Francisco earthquake on April 18th, the year 1906 would be remembered for a great many tragedies.

Cincinnati Post
24 April 1907

Over the winter things were relatively quiet until April 1907 when Vessella was arrested on a charge of threatening a musician with a pistol. The bandsman, Francesca Certaglia, contended that he and Vessella got into an argument over money. Vessella claimed it was over a mistake in the playing of the musician. After a hearing in magistrate court, Oreste was acquitted and released.

_ _ _

Camden NJ Courier-Post
10 October 1907

After Oreste lost the lawsuit over his breach of promise to Gaetanina Lombari in October 1905, the matter disappeared from public attention. Then two years later, it popped up again. Following his father-in-law's advice, Oreste had declared personal bankruptcy. Now the trustee appointed to follow the maestro's financial affairs, claimed he had been unable to find any assets to pay the $10,000 award and believed Oreste Vessella had no more cash than what was exempted by law. That included a wardrobe of two band uniforms, one tuxedo suit, one frock coat, one sack suit, one watch, one pair of cuff buttons, and two trunks of sheet music. Valued in aggregate at $150.

The trustee asked the judge to relieve him of further duty in this case, which the judge obliged. Oreste was once again solvent as much as a musician married to the daughter of a millionaire could be.

I attempted to research how personal bankruptcy worked in this era which operated under a reform law from 1898 and must admit it is beyond my understanding. Given that Vessella was still a foreign alien in 1905 but connected by marriage to Mr. Thomas P. Egan, a very successful businessman, it seems likely that a very sharp law firm was involved. A musician in Vessella's band might earn $45-60 a week, and the bandleader perhaps $400-500, but this would hardly support Edna in the grand hotel lifestyle she expected. Undoubtedly MR. Egan made other arrangements so that the couple had separate incomes and property.

_ _ _

Surprisingly I found only three newspaper reports about the Vessella's for 1908. In February, Oreste's younger brother, Marco Vessella, was engaged to play the summer season at Atlantic City at Young's Pier. Somewhere along that beach there must have been a spot that allowed a bather to hear Marco's band in one ear and Oreste's band in the other.

At the end of August, Mr. and Mrs. Egan hosted a dinner at an Atlantic City grill for Edna and Oreste along with the rest of the Egan family. Then two days later, Vincenso Callimo, a clarinetist in the Royal Italian Band, drowned while attempting to swim around the 1,500 ft long Steel Pier. The tragic news was published in the San Francisco newspaper L'Italia in Italian.

Then in February 1909, bandmaster Oreste Vessella was arrested again.
This time for threatening personal injury to a skating instructor.
A man who wore a diamond ring given him
by Vessella's wife Edna.

Washington DC Evening Star
15 February 1909

Reports said Vessella angrily challenged George Matthews, the rollerskating instructor, to a duel.  A day later Vessella denied it. "When I fight I intend to fight like an American," he declared. "I intended to thrash him for circulating stories about my wife."  He was upset that Edna had returned to Cincinnati. "I don't believe she ever gave him a ring," he said defiantly. "She would never do such a thing."

A month later in March, once again Vessella appeared in legal news charged in a civil case for failing to pay a female private detective the balance of her fee. She claimed he paid $600 but still owed $150. No other information was provided as who she was hired to investigate.

Over the spring and summer of 1909 these charges were eventually settled. Vessella continued to lead his band and Edna returned to Atlantic City. But it was an indication that marital relations between Oreste and Edna were not well.

Finally in October newspapers from Cincinnati to Boston to Los Angeles published the story of the Vessellas separation with photo montages and a short history of their boardwalk romance. "It is terrible. I loved her. She loved me. But there can be no reconciliation. It must be that we shall live apart," Oreste announced tearfully at the Steel Pier.

Edna filed for divorce. Her lawsuit charged her husband with desertion and admiring other women. Oresete denied these allegations.

Cincinnati Post
18 October 1909

Over the winter of 1909-1910, Oreste traveled several times to Cincinnati. He stayed in Hotels and his visits to the Egan home were short. In December his band played in Washington D.C. for the first time. He brought the band to the Cincinnati zoo for winter concerts. There were reports in January 1910, some with more artful portraits, that Edna and Oreste had reconciled their differences. Mr. Egan tersely said he knew nothing about it. "Vessella and my daughter will  have to settle their own affairs," he said.

Covington KY Kentucky Post
21 April 1910

The discord was too loud, too overpowering to repair the wounds. Whatever Mr. and Mrs. Egan did privately to help their daughter and son-in-law it failed to last and by April the divorce suit was advanced.

"An accident" is all Mr. Egan would say as he inspected the rose bushes in his garden. He refused to discuss his daughter's side of the case and had nothing to say about his son-in-law.

_ _ _

Their divorce proceeding were to begin on Thursday, 2 June 1910. If Oreste failed to answer the suit, the divorce case would become uncontested. His lawyers asked for a delay, he would oppose, but this required his appearance in court. There were more delays. The judge was not pleased.

Oreste's counter petition charged Edna with neglect and public intoxication. He claimed she once was seen in Atlantic City drinking with another Italian musician. He claimed he gave her all his earnings as a bandmaster, $100 to $500 a week. Perhaps most hurtful, she objected to starting a family.

Edna's attorneys amended her petition with a charge of extreme cruelty, violent temper, and abusive language. One time he struck her across the nose with a cane, and on another occasion hit her with a roll of music. The judge immediately called everyone to his Cincinnati courtroom to hear testimony from both Edna and Oreste. Newspaper reporters were already waiting with photographers. The next day Edna appeared on the front page looking very sad while wearing an enormous turban-like hat.

Millionaire's Daughter
on the Witness Stand
Vessella in Hurry
After Losing Suit

Covington KY Kentucky Post
09 June 1910

Edna denied Vessella's counter charges, saying her father bought all her clothes and that Vessella spent all his money on himself. Her father, Thomas P. Egan, took the stand to testify that he loaned his son-in-law $5,300 to finance a band tour, but Oreste spent it on other debts and grave markers for relatives in Italy. He denied that he engaged detectives to follow Vessella and a "rich widow of Philadelphia", but claimed another detective offered evidence of Vessella's relations with other women but he refused to pay. In his defense Vessela said his wife had full knowledge of his financial condition when she married him. His tales of her insobriety and neglect weakened under cross examination.

It did not take long for the judge long to make his decision. He granted the divorce on grounds of neglect and cruelty.

Covington KY Kentucky Post
09 June 1910
In his summation Judge Cushing said, "The testimony of the defendant (Oreste) does not carry much weight. Young people, young women especially, at times do foolish things. Sometimes they make mistakes. But we must not forget that in America the home is the basis of our society as well as of our government.

"I do not know about the women of other countries, but I do know that the American women are accustomed to better treatment than this young woman has received. I feel sorry for her. She may take a decree on both grounds."

It was the final chapter of the Atlantic City Love Story. After six years the charming romance of two unlikely lovers had dissolved into a messy account of unhappiness. Oreste's scandalous revelations of a secret entanglement and his hotheaded temper generated the sensational rhythm to the newspaper reports, while Edna's fashion style as a young socialite provided high class notes and Oreste's Royal Italian Band added foreign color. But in the end it was always Mr. Egan's millions that sold the stories.

Like music, love is a strange emotion always changing over time. Slow adagios suddenly transform to fast allegros which evolve into tender andantes that waltz into tempestuous prestos. It was a modern fairy tale. Edna captivated by a handsome exotic man. Oreste beguiled by a glamorous and wealthy beauty. But their ambitions and desires hid the real challenges of keeping true to their bonds of marriage. Mr. Egan was right. It was an accident. 

 * * *


In 1910 Edna Egan was 25 years old and Oreste was age 33. Both still young and open to a new future.

A few months after his divorce Oreste sued an express company for $10,000 claiming it had lost a parcel sent to Europe. The package supposedly contained the only score to a grand opera he had composed. The court awarded him just $10 in damages.

His former sweetheart from the old country, Gaetanina Lombari, cut her losses and in November 1910 married an Italian-American man from New York, who hopefully proved to be faithful and true.

Philadelphia Inquirer
30 June 1911

In January 1911 Oreste was hospitalized   for appendicitis, an often fatal condition in earlier times. He recovered and that summer was back on the bandstand conducting his Italian Band. In June he directed his fiery temper at a trombone player in the band, and when the musician refused to take orders, Vessella promptly "canned" him on the spot. The trombonist then came after the bandleader, but fortunately other musicians intervened preventing the man from smashing his instrument over Vessella's head.

Of course the brief report had to include his failed marriage to the millionaire's daughter.

 _ _ _

For the summer of 1911 the Egan family moved their seaside holiday from Atlantic City to the beach at Narragansett, Rhode Island. A newspaper photographer spotted Edna and her younger sister Virginia Egan cavorting in the surf wearing the latest trend in bathing suits. Despite regaining her maiden name, the paper felt duty-bound to report that Edna was divorced from Orete Vessella.

Cincinnati Post
16 August 1911

Less than two years later a cropped part of that same photo would return to illustrate another tale of matrimonial misery for the Egan family. The grinning disembodied head of Mrs. Virginia Egan Campbell wearing a bathing cap was next to a headline that read:

Second Egan Divorce
Laid to ‘Mistake’

Daughter Made Mistake
When She Married
Campbell, Says Father
of Wife, Who Sues.

Cincinnati Post
15 April 1913

The wife was Virginia Egan Campbell, the 23 year-old daughter of Thomas. P. Egan, multi-millionaire head of the J. A. Fay & Egan Co. The husband was Valentine B. Campbell, a graduate of West Point, now employed as a cashier at the First National Bank of McLeansboro, IL as well as a manager of several flour mills. His father was a former army general and congressman.

"My daughter only made a mistake when she married Campbell," said Mr. Egan. "We are all human and make mistakes." Egan would not go into details of the divorce suit.

* * *


My first story about Oreste Vessella's Italian Band in May 2018 was inspired by a couple of Atlantic City postcards. The images conjured up a kaleidoscope of the sights and sounds of the famous Boardwalk as seen from the perspective of the Italian musicians who performed at the Steel Pier. With great virtuosic skill they played a crazy mixture of classical and popular music. It was glittery and noisy and I wish I could have heard it back in the day. Since I couldn't really do that, instead I decided to write a short history of the golden age of concert bands. But as immersed myself in the newspaper archives I discovered the love story of Oreste and Edna that seemed worthy of  more than a cursory citation.

I never expected that I would find enough material to recreate a musician's complete career and personal life. But after undertaking this research I realized that Oreste Vessella and his fellow Italian bandmasters of this time contributed a very important musical spice to the great melting pot of American culture.

Wilkes-Barre PA Record
19 September 1919

Over the next decade and into the 1930s, Oreste composed numerous musicals modeled after the operettas of Victor Herbert. They had corny stories with tuneful songs, but were written in the best Italian style which by 1925 was old-fashioned. Vessella knew what his audiences liked, and might have programed a ragtime march once in a while, but it was not enough to compete with the new postwar age of movies and radio.

Vessella's Italian Band made its real mark in America by producing over 135 recordings the Victor Record Co. of  Camden, NJ.  Many of these 78 disks have been digitized and are preserved at the Library of Congress.   

As the thick platters would only hold about 4 minutes per side the music is of short duration. And because it is an Italian band the music is predominantly by Italian composers, but music of Beethoven, Chopin, Dvorak, and Wagner are there too.

These were almost all transcriptions for wind band of orchestral music, a concept promoted by Oreste's uncle, Alessandro Vessella. The sounds of orchestral strings and winds were difficult to capture for the early recording technology. In contrast the brass and reed instruments of wind bands were loud and brash and easily vibrated the recording needle. Today we call them warhorses, an antiquated descriptive word, but between 1911 and 1919 when these records were sold, the music was already a part of the Italian bands' repertoire, but now it could introduce even more Americans to the best of European music. Vessella's band helped inspire the next generation of American musicians and composers, and educated American audiences about great classical music.

_ _ _

West Palm Beach FL Post
19 June 1924

The postwar years brought gigantic changes to America. Railway lines became longer, cheaper and more people had more free time for leisure. Atlantic City was no longer the first choice holiday destination and it was still only open in the summer. For winter time holidays Florida was the place to go. In the winter of 1923-24 Vessella secured 12 weeks for his band at West Palm Beach. The audiences were older and enjoyed his programs and that season he brought along a young contralto vocalist, Miss Marguerite Keever.

By June they were married. People around the nation could hear them in radio broadcasts of Vessella's band live from the Wanamaker or Gimbel store stations.  

Marguerite was 22 years old. Oreste was age 47.

_ _ _

Baltimore Sun
04 August 1929

Marguerite was likely a stage name she used with Vessella's Italian band. Her real name was Margaret Anna Keever of Macksburg, OH. She was a graduate of Baltimore's Peabody Music Conservatory.

For a few seasons Marguerite Vessella appeared as  a soloist on her husband's concerts and in recital on the new medium of radio. A contralto sings with a deeper range for a female operatic voice that favors dramatic music accompanied by lots of loud instruments. It also carries well on an outdoor stage.

For a few years they kept a home in Atlantic City, near the Steel Pier and only an hour away from the Philadelphia radio stations. Vessella's band was now reduced to 25 to 30 musicians compared to the 50 and more he had once used twenty years earlier. The band was now often on the road playing shorter  engagements in the Midwest and South. Band music now had strong competition from smaller dance bands that played jazz and pop music.

_ _ _

Cincinnati Enquirer
08 November 1931

Yet again cupid's arrow only wounded two hearts. In November 1931, a divorce decree was granted to Mrs. Margaret Keever Vessella, radio singer and second wife of Oreste Vessella, nationally known band leader.  They had one child, Margaret Vessella.

After the hearing Vessella said he would not contest the decree, and blamed "too much temperament on the part of both of us" as the cause of his wife's action.

Both Edna Egan, the millionaire's daughter and Gaetanina Lombari, (once again misspelled) the jilted Italian girl with the $25,000 breach of promise lawsuit, were added for extra embarrassment.

On the day after Christmas in 1938 Margaret Keever, age 37, married Rodney Fitzsimons, age 34. He was a radio vocalist too, a baritone.

_ _ _

Over the next two decades, Italian bands lost favor in America in part because there was now too many musical styles to chose from. Vessella's was now retired and still a resident of Atlantic City. Newspapers were too distracted by the Depression, the New Deal, and the War to have much interest in old Italian bandmasters.  

Vineland NJ Daily Journal
19 November 1948

Then in November 1948 the residents of Vineland, New Jersey learned of a special performance at their high school auditorium for Sunday December 5. It was entitled "Vessella and his Concert Band," and sponsored by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union. The program would celebrate a long tradition of concert band music linked to the great band directors, John Philip Sous, Franko Goldman, Victor Herbert, Arthur Pryor, and Guiseppe Creatore, who according to Maestro Vessella "was all the rage at the Steel Pier in 1901 when I arrived from Italy."

The article recounted some of Vessella's musical  history and included his photo showing Oreste still with raven hair but his magnificent mustache brush now trimmed to a thin pencil width.

The 45 musicians of the band included many of his former colleagues in his Royal Italian Band. A good number of them now retired to communities along the New Jersey coast. The concert began with a march – "On Landis Avenue" composed specially for this concert by Maestro Vessella and dedicated to the residents of Vineland. It was followed by selections of opera music by Bellini, Donizetti, Victor Herbert, Bizet, Verdi, and Mascagni and finished with two movements of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony. 

Yet another concert I must book for my time machine holiday.

Oreste Vessella, composer and concert band conductor
died in Atlantic City on June 21, 1963.
He was 86.

Philadelphia Inquirer 22 June 1963

For Your Alone
Song, © 1909
words by Arthur Penn
music by Oreste Vessella
Source: Duke University Library

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where it's Ladies Day all weekend.


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