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 }

The Song of the Bell

25 April 2020

You know that moment
when you can't remember a word?
When you can't think what to say
because your mind is stuck
in a mire of dark thoughts?

Then suddenly your head explodes
with a whirlwind of emotions
chasing you like a swarm of angry hornets.
You can't take it any longer!
You just want to escape!

Life can feel that way in stressful times.

„Die Glocke“ von Schiller
The Bell by Schiller

Einen Blick nach den Grabe Seiner Habe
Sendet noch der Mensch zurück.
A look at the grave of his belongings
Still sends a man back.

{ 2.   ist jetzt   =   is now }

 Fest gemauert in der Erden
Steht die Form, aus Lehm gebrannt.

Firmly walled in the earth
Is the shape, burned from clay

{ 3.  Karten   =   cards }

Von der Stirne heiss
 Rinnen muß der Schweiss.
From the forehead hot
The sweat must run.

{ 4.   zu Schicken   =   to send }

O! dass sie ewig grünen bliebe,
Die schöne Zeit der jungen Liebe!
O! that she would stay green forever,
The beautiful time of young love!

{ 5.    Als lumpen    =    As rags }
{ ja! ja!   =   yes! yes! }

Der Mann muss hinaus
Ins feindliche Leben, 
The man must go out
Into hostile life, 

{ 6.  Doch hole ich mein Versprechen
gefallen sind belästige Dich wurt 8 karten

{ But I get my promise
8 cards are bothering you }

Nun kann der Guß beginnen !
Now the casting can begin!

{ 7.  für mich aber ist es ein sehr
auge___(?) Belästigen, darum erlaube
ich mir noch auf der 8ten

{ but for me it is a very
eyes --- bother, therefore allow
I'm still on the 8th }

{ für mich leider nicht!  =  unfortunately not for me! }

Wehe, wenn sie losgelassen. 
Woe, when it is released.

{ 8.  mein herzliche Grüsse zu senden. }

{ to send my warm regards. }

This set of seven Austrian postcards depicts an eccentric gentleman reflecting on several short lines taken from the German poet Friedrich Schiller's poem "Das Lied von der Glocke"–"The Song of the Bell". All the cards were posted on the same day, 30 March 1903, to  Wohlgeborne Frau Anna Ritschl. The postmark was stamped somewhere in the Austrian-Hungarian postal service to judge from the 5 heller Austrian stamp, but the city name is obscured. The "Wellborn" Mrs. Anna Ritschl resided in Serben, Josefie 172, which I think is a place name followed by a street address. But I've been unable to find any place names in Austria or central Europe that match my interpretation of the spelling or any other alternate letter combinations. The word Serben in German means Serbs, but the nation of Serbia is spelled Serbien so I don't think that has any connection. Considering that Austrian/German post card publishers identified the Postkarte media in 17 languages, many of which were common to parts of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, it's a wonder that mail was delivered with such simple addresses and in such flashy cursive handwriting.

The writer numbered the cards in a sequence as a joke to Frau Ritschl, who was possibly his wife. Unfortunately I am missing the first card and maybe others. On the address side there is a publisher's mark, H. S. W. Serie 6, with numbers for each card design, and the writer's No. 2 is printed as Serie No. 10. So there were at least 10 different cards in the publisher's original set, though it is odd that No. 10-(2) quotes the opening lines of this well-known poem.

Here is "Die Glocke" postcard No. 1 which I happened to find this morning on a German eBay dealer's listings. It has a postmark from Berlin in 1904. I hope to get this one and maybe one day No. 9 and 10 to complete the series

It's a charming set that uses multiple cards to express a personal greeting, characteristic of a social fad that was very popular during the first decade of the postcard's introduction to the European postal service. In each image just beneath the man's right arm is a name and date: Triebel—Wien XVIII 1902 printed on the card. I think this is the name of the photographer as in 1900 there was a studio in Wien with the name Triebel. But it could be the name of the comic character actor pictured. Clearly there is something funny about him that is lost in translation.

Speaking of translation, the English translations of the German words in the poem and in the message are my own using Google's translate app to get a literal meaning. I welcome any improvements or corrections.

_ _ _

The poem's full title is "Das Lied von der Glocke" – "The Song of the Bell". It was written in 1798 by Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805) and is considered one of the finest poems in German literature. Despite its length at 430 lines, it became a standard work for study in German and Austrian schools, and during the 19th century many of Schiller's lines would have been easily recognized by most German speakers. Clearly as depicted on these postcards from 1903 it was still a beloved poem that could convey the joy of life just using snippets of lines.

Though I knew of Friedrich Schiller, a contemporary of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), I did not know of this poem or how celebrated it was in German culture until I bought these seven postcards. His poem uses an extended metaphor of a great bell to illustrate human life from birth through death. Schiller, who grew up living next to a bell foundry, was very familiar with how a bell was made and in his poem he describes much of the metal craft used in casting a bronze church bell while interweaving an idea of how the peal of the bell will be associated with baptisms, weddings, alarms for storms, fires, or even war, and then ultimately sound the death knell for a funeral. The words and symbolism connect to German values of hard work, craftsmanship, and respect for rural traditions and people. The poem has a motto in Latin that reads "Vivos voco. Mortuos plango. Fulgura frango", which translates roughly as "I call the living, I mourn the dead, I repel lightning." In earlier times the tremendous clangor of a bell was thought to drive away thunderstorms.

As it was published in 1798, Schiller was partly responding to the horrific excesses of the French revolution (1789–1799) and warning how war might again break the accord between the people of Europe. Which is exactly what happened when Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in 1800. It was also a time when the many German states and principalities were not yet united into one nation. In his poem Schiller ends with the sound of the bell signifying Peace, and I think that is what made the lines so powerful and memorable in the years following Schiller.

Very soon after it was published "The Song of the Bell" was translated into other languages, but each time the rhythm and rhyme of Schiller's German words were adapted to suit the patterns of the new language. In comparing English translations I found a LOT of variation. Some editions may express Schiller's intent but frequently his poem is distorted by the translator's penchant for English poetic styles. Here are three versions of the last lines of "Das Lied von der Glocke" where the bell is first raised from the ground to show what I mean.

To illustrate why Schiller found the bell such an inspiring theme, here is a video taken in 2012 at the Grassmayr Bellfoundry in Innsbruck, Austria. This is the first test ringing of a gigantic bell commissioned for the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Mount Tabor in Israel. I think the bell is suspended over the pit where is was cast. It weighs 15,684 kg / 17.28 US tons, not counting its yoke and clapper. It's principal tone is a d/0.

* * *

* * *

In Schiller's pre-industrial time a great bell was one of the largest objects that could be produced by 18th century metallurgy, which was then more of an art than a science or technology. An artillery cannon was the next largest thing made from cast metal. (Excepting bronze statues which are not made for reasons of utility.)  Both bells and cannon were difficult to manufacture, involving dangerous risk to the makers if done improperly. And in this era both made the loudest man-made noises then known to man—with one important difference. A bell tolls for a peaceful purpose, while a cannon roars for destructive violence. The percussive sound of each can physically rattle the heart and take ones breath away, which is something Schiller surely experienced and recognized how the bell could be used as a powerful metaphor.

This week as I tried to understand how the short excerpted lines of Schiller's poem related to the funny old fellow on the postcards, I was struck by the difference between literature and music. To fully appreciate the humor of the postcards and the wisdom of Schiller demands a thorough understanding of the German language. In literature, language is always a barrier to understanding.

But to play German music, or for that matter music from any national region, a person requires nothing more than a knowledge of music notation. Like mathematics, music is a universal language. And the enjoyment of music needs only a love for rhythm and melody. It is an art form that transcends national borders and connects humanity with a fundamental emotional bond.

There are plenty of great poets in the English language, so I may be excused for not knowing about this famous German poem. But I do know one of Schiller's other works very well, which I believe many people know too without knowing the name of the poet. Do you recognize it?

Bom, Bom, Bom, Bom,
Bom, Bom, Bom, Bom,
Bom, Bom, Bom, Bom,
Bommmmm, - Bi, Bom,  —      [repeat]

It is, of course,  "Ode to Joy" or "An die Freude", written by Friedrich Schiller in 1785 and used by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1824 for the final choral movement of his immortal Symphony No. 9.  Beethoven's march tune is the most hum-able melody in the symphony (which I bet many readers are hearing in their head right now!) that enshrines Schiller's stirring words within the most glorious orchestral music every composed. I don't believe it is ever sung in performance in any language other than the original German. When non-German choruses sing it they must learn the words meaning from reading translations but they still sing Schiller's original words as interpreted by Beethoven's music.

Schiller died in 1805 and I don't think he ever met Beethoven, though I expect Ludwig was very familiar with all of Schiller's poems. But fate and Beethoven's supreme musical artistry led him to choose "An die Freude" as a subject for his final symphony now recognized around the world. In 1972 it was adapted by the European Union as the Anthem of the Europe. We can only imagine what Friedrich and Ludwig would think of the unification of the European people, and the use of their very abridged music and poem.

Would they shake their heads in dismay
that something was lost in translation?

* * *

* * *

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Shhh! Quiet! This is a library weekend.

My Chum

17 April 2020

Dear uncle and aunt: How are you

Is Auntie getting better?  We have
been looking for a letter from you
for a long time;

we are all well
only mama has a cold
and I am awful lonesome

my chum.                                          
                                    chum's sister.

Posted from North Brooksville, Maine
on June 28, 1906
to Mr. Milton C. Williams
Hartland, Maine

This postcard photo shows a small string ensemble of 13 young women ages 10 to 18. Most are holding violins but there is one cellist, a snare drummer, a cornet player (back left), a pianist (seated holding a roll of sheet music),  and curiously in the center a harpist. The sender's name I interpret as Zela because her e,l,a, are consistent with her other words and the first capital written with her looping style looks more Z than L to me. She is holding a violin partly hidden and she looks the oldest, maybe 18 going on 38.

The photo has faded with a lot of silvering so I've corrected the contrast using digital software. All the girls appear in nearly identical dark dresses that resemble the austere fashions of female orchestras/bands from orphanages. But as Zela mentions her mother, I don't think these girls are orphans, despite their gloomy expressions. Instead I think they are from a Catholic school. The youngest girl wears a crucifix, and several other have a medallion that may have Catholic symbolism. In any case, I don't think the photo was taken in North Brooksville because it was too small a community.

North Brooksville, Maine, not to be confused with West Brooksville, South Brooksville, Brooksville Corner, or Harborside is now conveniently known as just Brooksville, in Hancock County, Maine. Located south of Bangor, North Brooksville was and is a small village situated on the peninsula west of Mt Desert Island, the site of beautiful Acadia National Park. In 1910 it contributed to the population of Brooksville community of 1,176 residents. Like much of the Maine coastline, the area has always had many summertime visitors, and I suspect that Zela may have been one of those vacationers or perhaps she and/or her parents found seasonal work there. There was a private boarding school a half mile away in Blue Hill, ME but I think in 1906 it was still only for boys. So I suspect this was a school photo taken somewhere else in Maine, perhaps near Hartland, ME which was about 75 miles northwest of North Brooksville.

When she wrote her note
to her uncle and aunt,
Zela thoughtfully marked herself
thinking they might otherwise
not notice her in the group. 

Little could she imagine
that one hundred fourteen years later
her mark also allows the people of the future
to recognize her and her chum
and her chum's sister too.

She's not so lonesome now.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where flower power is in full force.

The Star Ball Bearing Axle Band

11 April 2020

It only takes an instant.
In a blink of an eye,
or more accurately
1125 th of a second
the camera shutter
captures an image onto the film. 

But as any photographer knows,
to take 
a good group photo
you need much more time.

First choose a good background
to arrange the frame.
Then decide where to place the camera.
Too close risks clipping a head,
but too far loses the details
and increases the shadows.

But the biggest challenge of photographing
a large group of people
is getting their cooperation.

Assemble into an orderly line.
Short folks in front, taller ones at the back.
Everyone look at the camera.
Smile, please.

On one November day in 1908
at the Princeton, Illinois Farmer's Carnival

an unnamed photographer
got it all to work perfectly
and recorded a beautiful photo
of the Ball Bearing Axle Band.

Thirteen bandsmen, most dressed in white military-style hats and long duster coats stand outside on the pavement in front of a barber shop. Around the doorway are starry banners with a decorative sign spelling out the shop name, Abel's Parlor, in little flowery paper disks. In the windows hang two small notices announcing CARNIVAL.

On the right is the stern bandleader holding a cornet. An older man in his 60s with grizzled beard and spectacles, he wears a dark suit with formal white tie and vest. His hat, an older kepi style, is different too, probably worn to distinguish his bandmaster position and previous musical background.

The ensemble is typical of a so-called "cornet band" with mostly brass instruments and a clarinet and piccolo to cover the descant treble parts. But what makes this band especially unique is that there are two men of color among the musicians. Standing in the center is an African-American man with a tenor horn. And on the left is a man with a piccolo in his coat pocket whose dark complexion and high cheekbones suggest, I think, a Native-American ancestry. Finding musicians like this in a music ensemble from 1908 is very rare to see.

It is one of my favorite postcard photos of a small town band. The lighting, the camera's clear focus, and the arrangement of instruments and musicians are all flawless. But it is the way the photographer  chose exactly the right moment to record the eyes, smiles, and expressions onto the film that makes this photo so appealing. I'm certain when the photographer saw the positive image revealed in his darkroom, he thought to himself, "Ooh, this is a good one!"

The postcard was never mailed but was sent in a letter, presumably in 1908,
to Miss Anna Halberg, Princeton, Illinois..

Many thanks
for lovely
birthday card
which was
such a happy
surprise and much
appreciated. Your Friend
Mrs. Scott R. Coppine

The writer was Caroline Coppin, the wife of Scott R. Coppin, one of the co-owners of the Star Ball Bearing Axle Company in Princeton, Illinois, who may even be one of the musicians in his band. It seems odd that Caroline chose to sign with her formal married name, but in 1908 she was age 36, and the recipient of her postcard photo was a much younger woman and of a different class. Anna Halberg, age 17, was one of five children in a Swedish immigrant family. In the 1910 census, she and her older sister were employed as servants in a Private Home, so I suspect Mrs. Coppin is graciously thanking Anna, her young housemaid, for her thoughtful card.

Ada OK Evening News
8 April 1908

Mr. Coppin's company manufactured an improved wheel bearing for horse-drawn carriages and wagons. Marketed around the Midwest for blacksmiths and cartwrights, their agent's advertisements asked, "Why Grease A Buggy? When this Dirty Disagreeable Duty is definitely dispensed with by using the Star Ball Bearing Axle?" These fittings could save draft, drain, drudgery, Grease, Grain, Garments, temper, time and money. Warranted for Three Years and wheels need not be removed bu once a year in ordinary use. Its One of the One-ders of the 20th Century. 

Princeton IL Bureau County Tribune
24 October 1902

When it started in about 1900, the firm was called the Star Ball Bearing Axle Co. but in  1905 it changed its name to the Evans, Coppin, & Starks Company. However its product line retained the Star brand name. I don't believe the company ever developed into a large manufacturer but more likely remained just a modest-sized machine shop.

The town Princeton, Illinois, is located about 100 miles west of Chicago, and in 1910 had just 4,131 citizens. Some of the bandsmen may have been employees at the company but several of their hat badges read: Princeton. So I suspect that the Star Ball Bearing Axle Co, were merely sponsors of the band. It's curious too that the company called its product the Star Ball Bearing Axle, but the bass drum has a 1/4 moon shape on one side labeled Crescent with a five-pointed star on the other side labeled Star. It suggests a kind of masonic connection, but maybe Star was just a reference to one of the firm's partners, Mr. Starks.

In this era rural communities often promoted a local business and vice versa. The local newspaper was a county weekly and on the occasions it referred to the Star Ball Bearing Axle Co. it was for their baseball team. The band was just called the "Princeton Band."

The occasion in 1908 was the Farmer's Carnival, an annual fair held in Princeton, which was the county seat of Bureau County, Illinois. That year it was scheduled for the first week of November and of course there would be the typical circus-type entertainments, carnival fun, agricultural competitions, and music from the local band.

_ _ _

But the amusements at the Princeton Farmer's Carnival of 1908 were marred by a freak tragedy witnessed by over a thousand people. As a lead attraction for the five day fair, the carnival committee hired a "Professor" Peter Kramer from St. Louis to demonstrate balloon ascensions. On Tuesday that week he was forced to abandon his first attempt because the wind was so strong that it threatened to blow the balloon's canvas covering into the flame heater he was using to inflate the hot-air balloon. Infuriated that he missed out on $50 promised for his first ascent, "Prof." Kramer declared he would go up the next day no matter what the wind.

The weather on Wednesday was still too brisk and the Princeton authorities enjoined him from flying at the fairgrounds because there were overhead wires that made it unsafe. They promised to cover his expenses and let him make more ascents on the remaining days of the fair. Still Kramer insisted he would take his balloon up, and that afternoon he found another open field near a church that he claimed was enough protected from wind that it would be suitable for his balloon's ascent.

Dixon IL Evening Telegraph
6 November 1908
The balloon, which included a primitive parachute, was only partly inflated when Kramer abruptly ordered his crew to let go of the tether ropes. Suddenly the wind blew the balloon across the field and over the church, where Kramer struck a tall chimney. Torn loose from the balloon, he fell onto the steep roof and tumbled thirty feet to the ground.

Nearby, a group of school children had assembled to watch the ascent. A seven-year-old boy was struck on the head by a chimney brick and seriously injured. The concussion broke the boy's skull which necessitated emergency surgery, but luckily he recovered.

Prof. Kramer however did not survive and died minutes after being taken to a doctor's office. He was only 26 years old and deemed not the expert balloonist he claimed to be. Instead his foolhardy fatal stunt revealed him as a raw amateur. Further inquiries pointed to Kramer's past work as a helper for another aeronaut, from whom he had picked up an old used balloon in an effort to set himself up as a traveling carnival showman.
_ _ _

Photos of larger groups
require more planning,
but the rules are the same.
First choose a good place
for the people and the camera.
Steps are always useful
to insure that everyone,
and every drum, 
is in the shot.

The good photographer pays attention
to the time of day and the position of the sun.
You don't want squinty eyes or turned faces.

Hats are okay,
but need to be pushed back on the head.,
Eyes front toward the camera.
Everyone ready?

It's another year and another carnival, and the Star Ball Bearing Axle Band of Princeton is back for another photo. This time they are joined by another band from LaSalle, Illinois, a town on the Illinois river about 27 miles east of Princeton, for the Red Men Carnival of 1909. There are 27 bandsmen altogether posed on the steps of the Princeton Apollo Theater. The LaSalle bandsmen are dressed in dark uniforms with kepi style hats, while the Princeton bandsmen wear light color wool suits or coats with white hats. In the front center is the distinctive bass drum of the Star Ball Bearing Axle Band. The photographer left a logo, Dunham Photo, which may be the same that took the photo in 1908. This postcard has a slight imperfection in the print which left a shadow outline distortion.

The Princeton band still number 13 but some faces are new, replacing musicians in the earlier photo. The band leader is the cornet player to the right of the the bass drum and he looks different from the leader in 1908. His LaSalle counterpart is the cornetist on the front right. he 1908 band. I leave it to the readers to see how many players are the same. The obvious one is the black tenorhorn player standing top right.

Princeton IL Bureau County Tribune
15 October 1909

The occasion was not the theatrical production advertised on the posters behind the bands. That show was As You Like It by Shakespeare. It was appearing on Saturday night, 16 October, 1909 with the eminent actor Mr. William Owen as the lead actor. His company was in the middle of a six month national tour playing two tragedies, Othello, and The Merchant of Venice, with the comedy, As You Like It.

That weekend there was a big crowd in Princeton, but few people had come to see a high class Shakespeare farce. Instead most of the county turned out for a convention of The Improved Order of Red Men. The Princeton chapter of this a fraternal organization was hosting a benefit carnival, as several hundred members of the society gathered to conduct official business. One of the quirks of this society was that its members, all white men, put on parades and events dressed as American Indians in imitation of the Sons of Liberty, the group credited with instigating the Boston Tea Party.

_ _ _

Two images from a book of historic photos of Princeton, Illinois record this same Red Men Carnival of 1909. In this picture we can see Princeton's main street set up for the fair with a throng of people. In the background is a temporary bandstand, and if you look carefully you can spot the bass drum of the Star Ball Bearing Axle Band.

The second photo of that carnival day shows a circus aerialist demonstrating a daring stunt. No doubt many in the crowd watching it, remembering the tragic accident of the previous fall, became very anxious as the string of pennants shows that the wind is blowing pretty hard too. Once again the Ball Bearing Axle Band's bass drum is there.

As far as I can tell the Star Ball Bearing Axle Band stopped performing shortly after 1909. Members may have moved away or changed bands. The Red Men Band was supposedly one of the best fraternal order bands in the region, so maybe some bandsmen joined that group. For the next century Princeton continued to be fond of its fairs which continue today. But by the decade of 1910, the days when greasing your squeaky buggy axle was a worry had passed, and the Evans, Coppin & Starks Co. ceased making ball bearing axles. I wonder if the bass drum survived for a bit longer.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where delivery is always free.

Don't Forget to Write!

03 April 2020

There are weekends
when I know that I have the perfect photo
to feature on my blog.

If only I can remember which album it's in.

Then comes the hard part—
writing something original
and still appropriate for the pictures I've chosen.
Should I be witty or factual?
Clever or serious?

Does anyone really care?
It's not like I'm writing a dissertation
with a thousand footnotes.

Lot's of times
I've got nothing
and have to stare at the images
for inspiration or just motivation.
Is there's some little detail I've missed?
Did I get all the dates correct?

Maybe I should skip this weekend.

But if I can get beyond the first few paragraphs
the words fly off my keyboard.
It's really like making music.
Once the tune is moving,
the harmony joins in,
and the rhythm sets the groove.

That's when I know I've found
the joy of sharing
these beautiful images with the world.

This weekend I present four postcards
by the Austrian artist, Hermann Torggler, (1878-1939).
I've featured his etchings of charming young women before
in The Girls of Austrian Postcards,
Up, Up, and Away!,
Ein schönes Mädchen,
and To Your Health!

* * *

The first postcard etching by Herr Torggler
is entitled:
Card collector.

A beautiful young woman
wearing an elegant housedress
stands in her drawing room
at the very moment she is about to open
her postcard album for us.

This postcard was sent from
Leipzig, Germnany
on 25 September 1899
to Fräulein Elly Naumann
of Königsberg.

* * *

The second postcard etching
is captioned:
Schreibe bald wieder!
Write again soon!

A young lady ponders over
what she will write in a letter
as she sits at a table with a quill pen in hand.

This was posted on 1 May 1900
from Rosa of Nuremberg
to Fräulein  Kathche Klein of Vorra, Bavaria.

* * *

The third postcard is entitled
Gendenke mein !
Remember mine !

Another young woman sits in a chair
contemplating a small framed photo or painting
that is on a table before her.
I used another copy of this card
in The Girls of Austrian Postcards,

but this one has been softly tinted with colored pencil
with perhaps a bit too much attention made to the eyebrows.

The postcard was sent
via the Bavarian Postal Service
from Moosburg to Kemnath
on 20 November 1901.

* * *

The last postcard is simply entitled
with the Italian musical term:

The same girl as in the first postcard
is out in a garden
about to serenade us with a springtime song
and accompanying herself on a four string cittern.

Extra points if you can spot the artist's signature.

This card was posted
from Wiesbaden to Charlottenburg
on 12 May 1902.

The charm and delight
of Torrgler's beautiful artwork is timeless.
Looking at them transports me
from the troubled present
back to another time and place
that's seems blissfully calm and serene.
I hope his postcards may bring my readers

some cheer in this time of great anxiety.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where a good book is always your best friend.


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