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 Band Mascot

29 August 2020

The trumpet sings the soprano voice,
a sound so clear and light.

The trombone adds a tenor line
that makes the tune more bright.

The tuba and the alto horns
bring harmony so sweet. 

But nothing beats the bass drum
to make you tap your feet.

* * * *

This brass band with its infant mascot
are pictured on an unmarked postcard.
The eight men are dressed
in a vaguely North American fashion
suitable for some time around 1910,
but their rotary valve instruments
are a design distinctive to Central Europe.
he two men wearing caps look like twin brothers.

The musicians stand outside a building on a small stoop
where the entryway has narrow double doors similar to
what small churches or schools used to have.
The building's construction is curious
because the weathered wood siding is unpainted,
and there are 
multiple thin wire bars affixed
to the
lower window sashes like washroom towel rails.
It is a fine photo that offers more questions than answers.

But at least the baby,
perched precariously on its grandfather's bass drum,
does wear a sensible hat.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where we can debate the merits of cattle all day.

The Band on the Bus

22 August 2020

                              Aug. 22, 1908
Dear Sis,

   Rec'd your postal last week. Everyone is well here. The corn's now higher than me and Pop says it'll be a good season if it stays dry. Decided to type you a letter rather than stuff it all onto the back of this postcard of our band. Need the practice before I go off to Valparaiso next month. 

   I guess you know most everyone except a few of the fellas riding up front. The big man is Congressman Crumpacker. He gave a speech at the park about tariffs and the Philippines and a lot more. Behind him is his son who also made a speech. Didn't say much of nothing, but sure used a lot of big words to do it. Mr. Bowman loaned us the motor bus from his new automobile shop and had Jake drive us. He sends his regards.

   I suppose you think the boys in the band look kind of worried. We'd just played down at the station when Congressman Crumpacker arrived on the train, and we expected everyone would just march up to the park. But I guess the Con'man don't walk much and Mr. Bowman wanted to show off his new motor bus, so we hitched a ride with him. Seems Prof. Clay had an idea we could play some tunes as we went along, but when Albert started on his cornet fanfare, the Con'man put a stop to that.

   The new uniforms are swell but as you can see I'm not wearing one. When Prof. Clay opened up the box from the Chicago music store, there was only three suits in the large size. We drew straws and I lost. I sat at the back with Walter and his piccolo. There wasn't much room for my bass drum so I had to stand. When Jake fired up the motor the wagon took a jolt and I lost hold of the cymbals. You should have seen everyone jump! The Con'man's son lost his hat too.

  In a few weeks Mama and Pop will ship me off. I don't know yet if I can get in the band at college, but I thought I'd try out for the b'ball team. I suppose we'll see you and Charlie at Thanksgiving. Give little Ella a kiss for me. Tell her the tooth fairy teaches a course at my dental school.

   Your brother, (uncle) — Tom

This invented letter is inspired by a wonderful photo postcard that has no clues for names, place, or time. The ten boys in the band, along with their bandleader and five men, posed for the camera seated on an unusual early omnibus which has  five open benches for 15 passengers. On the radiator is a badge for The Overland Automobile Company, which manufactured automobiles in Indianapolis from 1903 to 1912, when it was acquired by John North Willys who renamed the company Willys-Overland. That automotive brand folded in 1926.

The Overland Automobile Co. logo, 1909

I've been unable to find any history on when the Overland Automobile Co. produced this kind of tourist auto. But in January 2014 I featured another postcard of The Mason City Band riding a smaller 12 passenger model made by Overland. This band would have enjoyed having an extra bench.

The postmark date on that postcard was October 1910, so I can presume my unknown boys band comes from roughly 1908-1912. Since the motor bus was built in Indianapolis, I chose the name of a real Indiana congressman from this era to use in my fictional letter. Congressman Edgar Dean Crumpacker (1851 – 1920), Republican, represented Indiana's 10th congressional district for seven terms from 1897 to 1913.  Surprisingly he resembles the big man riding in the motor bus, though that is surely just a coincidence. 

Edgar Dean Crumpacker
(May 27, 1851 – May 19, 1920)

But the real mystery
is a ghostly image
on the pavement beside the bus.
It this the notorious missing limb
when people say
a politician doesn't have a leg to stand on?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is getting tired
waiting for the No. 53.

Heavy Metal — The Helicon

15 August 2020


It's all about the bass.
A primal tone that sends the beat to your feet,
and puts the Oom in Oompah.

 It's the fundamental of all sound
because the bass is the basis for all pitch,
the root of all harmonics.

In ancient times the physics of bass sound,
that is a longer vibration equals a lower pitch,
was understood but rarely experienced in all its musical power.
It wasn't until the invention of the tuba in the 1830s
that composers and musicians came to appreciate
the awesome depths of low vibrations.

Once the principles of bass acoustics
were adopted by brass instrument makers
the tuba's plumbing became longer and longer.
So long that its weight and size became too unwieldy
for most normal-sized players to carry
when their band marched in a parade.
A practical solution was required.

By the 1860s brass instrument manufacturers
came up with a design for tubas that could be worn.
By coiling the tubing serpent-like around the player
and resting the instrument's weight on their shoulder,
the bass tuba was now comfortably portable.

They called this ultimate brass vibe
the Helicon.

It required a lot of heavy metal.

* * *

My first musician has inserted himself
into the Central European version of a helicon.
It is about 18 feet in length with
four rotary valves to add
an additional 4 feet of tubing.
It is a design that originated
in the same Bohemia region of Austria
where many brass instrument makers
developed the first tubas and other low brass instruments.
My post from May 2016 entitled Austrian Plumbing
features two early photos of helicons from about 1865.

This helicon player wears a simple uniform
with short jacket, riding trousers, and high boots.
Since he has no military insignia, I think he is a civilian bandsman.
His postcard has a written date of 27 XI 1946
and I suspect he is Austrian or German. 

* * *

The next grizzled old helicon player
looks German or Austrian
but was photographed in America
by The Empire Studio of Canton, Ohio,
probably around 1895.
On the back of the card he is identified as "Grandpa."
He is sitting outside in the shade of a pergola,
wearing an American style helicon
pitched higher than the first one, and therefor smaller,
perhaps a tenor helicon in B-flat
which is about the same 9 foot length as a trombone.

Helicons were built in different sizes with different pitch centers so that the instrument family together could encompass a larger range of notes. The saxophone family is another instrument group that is still produced in different sizes. Here are two pages from a 1904 catalog of the music instrument collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York that illustrate the seven sizes then available for the American helicon.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art digital collection
1904 Catalogue of the Crosby Brown collection
of musical instruments of all nations : Europe vol. 1
Helicons and tubas, along with French horns belong to the conical brass sub-group. The plumbing of these instruments has a longer conical flare which gives them a stronger dynamic contrast. Trumpets and trombones have mostly cylindrical tubing which respond differently to the player's lip vibrations.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art digital collection
1904 Catalogue of the Crosby Brown collection
of musical instruments of all nations : Europe vol. 1

* * *

The next helicon player wears a stylish uniform
with plumed hat and fringed epaulets.
He is unknown, as is his photographer, Callahan,
whose imprint has no location.
The three valves on his helicon, possibly a baritone size,
are smaller and less robust than the Austrian instruments.
This musician may belong to the band of a State National Guard.

* * *

My next helicon bandsman is Canadian
as the photographer is Maitland of Stradford, Ontario.
This young bandsman wears a plumed shako
similar to the musician in the previous photo,
but I think this man is likely a member of a town band.
He "wears" a bass helicon which has numerous dents and dings.
Like the other cabinet card photo, it dates from the 1890s,
the golden era of marching bands.

* * *

My last helicon player holds a monstrous contrabass helicon
with a bell nearly 36 inches in diameter.
He is dressed in a uniform with colorful embroidery
and a military style cap.
This large photo is mounted on extra large cardstock
but there is no photographer or location marked.
However the back does have a date and name:
Taken in July 1909
Uncle Oscar

Helicons, tubas, and other members of the low brass group, like euphoniums, tenorhorns, etc. come in such a bewildering variety of sizes and pitches, that even for a horn player like myself it is often too confusing to make a proper identification. But I think I know big brass when I see it, and this hefty helicon is definitely in a super-heavyweight class. In my attempt to research "giant tuba" I came across one of its so-called inventors. Surprisingly it was not John Philip Sousa, whose eponymous sousaphone was derived from the helicon and is the marching tuba most familiar to the public today. Sousa's first sousaphone was made for him in 1893 by James Welsh Pepper, a music publisher and instrument maker in Philadelphia. But he was not the only bandmaster to dream up the idea of an improved great bass helicon.

Another giant tuba was made in 1897 by the C. G.Conn Company, at one time the largest manufacturer of musical instruments, for the British-American bandmaster, Frederick Neil Innes (1854–1926). Innes began his  career playing trombone with the band of the Royal Life Guards. In 1880 his talent brought him to America to take the position of solo trombone in Patrick Gilmore's band. By 1887 he was directing his own band which proved to be one of greatest concert bands to  tour the nation. But despite the number of fine musicians that he employed, his band still lacked something. It needed more bass.

Nashville Tennessean
18 July 1897

_ _

An article appeared in the 18 July 1897 edition of the Nashville Tennessean, where Innes was  performing a series of concerts. The headline read:

Largest Horn Ever Made
and the Famous Leader Invented It.
_____________Takes Place of Four Basses
Grett was the First Man to Blow
the Big Instrument, and the
Only One Who Can Make
Music With It.

Nashville Tennessean
18 July 1897

Frederick Innes had previously made improvements to trombone design by conceiving of a valve to assist the slide action. This would not be unexpected of someone who was a virtuoso of the trombone. But as a band leader like Sousa, he felt there was a deficiency in a band's collected instrumental sound that  needed some new kind of bass horn. It was while recuperating from an illness that he devoted his energy to design a extra long BBB-flat helicon. He persuaded Charles G. Conn to make one at his band instrument  factory in Elkhart, Indiana. 

It was finished in time for the summer season of 1897. Innes' principal tuba Mr. Grett was supposedly the only musician capable of mastering it. The Nashville newspaper published a picture of it. It may be even larger than the one encircling Uncle Oscar, but it is definitely in the heavyweight class,

_ _ _

The Nashville paper also included a picture of Frederick Innes's Concert Band with 43 bandsmen. Mr. Grett and his monster tuba stand at the back center.

Nashville Tennessean
18 July 1897

Uncle Oscar's splendid uniform is much too elaborate for a local town band. Few bands in 1909 would have a musician who could afford such a large instrument anyway, so I'm convinced he was a member of a professional band. Looking closely at his cap reveals a badge with an eagle and two America flags. Above are letters that are not entirely legible, but I think they read:
BBB Show or B&B Show?

If the later, then Uncle Oscar might be the star tuba player
of the Barnum & Baily Circus Band,
which did not merge with the Ringling Bros. Circus until 1919.
More research is needed before I have a sure answer,
but a circus would definitely be the place
to hear the mighty bass blast of a giant helicon.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where some heavy lifting may be required.

Postcards from the Great War

08 August 2020

Marching down the boulevard 
drummers and buglers take a rest 
as a military band behind them plays a tune.
Keeping in step a column of soldiers follows,
led by an officer on horseback.

In the town square there are
more soldiers with rifles at their shoulders
standing in tight formation.
while other people come and go.

One hundred years ago
a parade like this was a common sight
in many parts of the world,
as illustrated in last week's post,

But a closer look at these two images 
reveals a contradiction.
The signs on the buildings are in French.
Yet the distinctive spiked helmets
of the soldiers mark them as German.

The explanation is that 
it is wartime, 1914-1918.
And the town is Lille in northeast France.
about 48 miles southeast of Dunkirk
and 65 miles west of Waterloo, Belgium.

On 13 October 1914, after a terrible 10-day siege,
the advancing Imperial Germany Army captured Lille.
It remained under strict military occupation until October 1918 
when the city was liberated by British troops.

The full postcard of the first image is captioned:
Wachtparade in Lille
or Guard Parade in Lille.
This ceremonial changing of the guard
would have been a daily event under the German occupation.
The card was posted by a German soldier
to Württemberg on 30 May 1916.

Google Streetview provides a photo taken in 2016
from nearly the same camera position in Lille, France.
where it is now called the Place de Charles de Gaulle. 
Just left of center is the Hotel Bellevue
which was on the left of the column of soldiers in the postcard.


The second image comes from another postcard
with the same caption, Wachtparade in Lille.
It shows German soldiers assembled into two long lines.
Around them are various officers and a number of civilians.
The card was also sent by a German soldier dated 2 November 1916.

The French, British, and Belgium forces 
stopped the German advance into France in the fall of 1914.
But the armies quickly dug in to create a line of trenches
running roughly 440 miles from the North Sea to Switzerland.
The town of Lille was positioned only 5-6 miles from the battle line,
so it became a headquarters for the German army.

This next Google Streetview shows the same plaza in Lille
from a vantage point similar to the second postcard
that faces the building that in the postcard
has an OXO sign on its roof.
This image was clipped from a panorama view of the square 
which included some ghostly people floating on the pavement. 

The "Column of the Goddess" commemorates a war from an earlier century.
Is was erected in 1845  to mark the 9-day siege of Lille by the Austrians
in September 1792 during the French Revolutionary Wars. 
The monument honors the bravery of Lille's mayor and people
in successfully defending the city from the Austrian bombardment. 

In October 1914, Lille endured very heavy shelling from the Germans
which destroyed many apartments, office blocks, and houses 
around the city center and railway station.
After the city's surrender, German artists depicted
the hand to hand combat between French and German soldiers.

This scene of a violent fight between German and French soldiers
is entitled Schlacht bei Lille ~ Battle of Lille.
It was painted by a popular German postcard artist,
Arthur Thiele (1860–1936)
whose work I have begun to collect.

The postmark is from the German army Feldpost
and the soldier has dated his message 18.7.1915.
Because of its location so close to the front lines,
Lille became important to the German army
as a command headquarters, military supply station,
and center for hospital and medical services.
It was also the German soldier's place for rest and recreation.
So a lot of postcards from Lille were sent back home to Germany.

But besides guns, bombs, and tubas
the Kaiser's army brought cameras too.
Photographs of Lille during wartime
were turned into postcards.

They were not picturesque. 




The caption of this postcard reads:
Lille nach dem Straßenkampf.
Getallene Araberpferde
Lille after the street fight.
Fallen Arabian horses.

It is a grim scene of a street
littered with dead horses and rubble.
In the distance are German soldiers.
To one side is a shopkeeper with a broom.

The postmark from Cologne, Germany 
is dated 17 June 1915.
By coincidence, Cologne or Köln,
which is 200 miles east of Lille on the other side of Belgium,
was occupied by the French from 1794 to 1814
until it was retaken by Prussian and Russian troops,
allied to defeat the army of Napoleon.


This postcard of a destroyed city building
with several groups of French civilians and German soldiers
strolling around it was captioned in French.
Lille   Le café Jean avant l'écroulement.
Lille   Café Jean before the collapse.

The publisher was Edition Maurice Dupriez of Lille.
The photo was approved by the German military censor on 12 February 1916.
It was sent by German Feldpost on 22 May 1916.


The next postcard shows a whole city block
collapsed into broken walls and rubble.
It has a caption:
Lille   Rue du Vieux Marché aux Moutons,
Lille   The street of the old sheep market.

The publisher was the same Edition Maurice Dupriez of Lille.
The postmark dates from 7 February 1918.
Because of the Russian Revolution in 1917, 
many more German soldiers were now being transferred 
from the Eastern Front to the Western Front.
It was only a month later in March 1918
that the Germans would make their last major offensive drive
to break the stalemate with the British and French forces
before the arrival of American troops.


Evidently the destruction of the city of Lille
was recorded by both French and German photographers.
While postal communication between Lille and France
was halted during the occupation,
the new demand by German troops for postcards to send home
offered a small business for enterprising Lille publishers.
Clearly these wartime postcards, 
produced during a time when photo journalism was very restricted, 
were intended as propaganda for the German public.
But these views of Lille's devastation 
must been unsettling for many German people
who were far removed from any direct harm of the war.

And at the conclusion of the war,
in a curious flip of purpose,
these photos of Lille from 1914-1918
continued to be published as a kind of peacetime propaganda
directed at the citizens of France.





This postcard shows a view of Lille's cathedral
and a block of destroyed buildings.
It is captioned
Ruines de la Grande Guerre 1914-1918
Lille – Rue de Paris - E. C. 

It has a French military postmark, I believe,
from 9 July 1919


The next postcard showing similar destruction
was captioned in both French and English.
Lille – Ensemble des Ruines, Rue de Béthune
View of the ruins in Béthune Steet. 

The message with just scrawled initials
was sent to Paris on 20 April 1919.


The next postcard is of the same Rue de Béthune in Lille,
perhaps from a reverse angle, showing a line of workers
digging in the rubble of a block of destroyed buildings.

There is no postmark but the message
is dated 1 June 1921.


The last postcard image takes back to another view
of the Rue du Vieux Marché aux Moutons in Lille.
A few men pull handcarts opposite large heaps of  rubble.
The caption explains that the ruins were caused
 by the German bombardment in 1914.

There is no postmark,
but the long message in French
ends with an obscured date
that I think reads 1924. 


The Great War of 1914-1918 
was a colossal tragedy for all of humanity.
Beyond the destruction and German occupation of their city,
the people of Lille suffered terrible brutalities and privations
that I can not begin to describe in this post.
Instead I wanted to focus on how the wartime images of Lille
were preserved in both German and French postcards.
We can imagine the emotions stirred by these images of havoc.
Triumph, pride, sadness, anxiety, anger, even hatred.
But clearly if the purpose of these postcards
was to remind people, "Never Again",
it did not work.
On 31 May 1940
after another violent siege,
a German army occupied Lille once more.
I have not found any postcards
of marching bands in Lille from this war.

In our time we are inundated daily
by countless ghastly images and horrific videos
that seem to overwhelm our senses
and suppress our ability to empathize
with the victims of war and conflict.
When we see the destruction
recorded on these faded postcards from a century ago,
we can't help but remember the atrocities that will follow.
The bombings of London, Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Then Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq,
and many other places too numerous to count. 
The arc of history does not begin in 1914 nor end in 2020.
Instead it is a kind of spiral
that lets us see distant reflections of ourselves 
as we go past, round and around again.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link for more restful photos.


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