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
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Ole Bull, Adventures in America, part 2

30 January 2021

It's a small photograph
of a violinist dressed in formal tailcoat.
He stands with his instrument at his shoulder,
bow arm pulling down
almost as if he were
testing the tuning of the strings.
His gaze is direct but relaxed,
presenting an unaffected image
of a confident musician.
When it was taken,
unless you had met him,
or heard him in person,
you would not know
that he was
the greatest Norwegian violinist ever.

His name was Ole Bull,
an artist who was worth remembering.

This is part two of a series on Ole Bull.
Click here for part one.

It was Monday, January 6th, the start of the second week of 1868. Despite Chicago's bitter cold, over 3,000 people had turned out to hear Ole Bull play his violin at the new Farwell Hall in the Young Men's Christian Association building. It was his first performance in America after his last concert tour in 1857. The celebrated Norwegian violinist enjoyed a very appreciative audience for his performance that evening, and no doubt invited them back for his second show on Tuesday night. 

Unfortunately Ole's Tuesday concert would have to be canceled.
There was a problem with the Farwell Hall's stage.
It was no longer there.

Lawrence KS Tribune
8 January 1868

The fire began Tuesday morning around 9:00 AM. It was first noticed when workers at a printer's shop located on an upper floor of the Y.M.C.A. building saw smoke coming out of a trapdoor. It covered a large gaslight fixture which hung on the ceiling of the hall below. The top floor, not easily seen from the street, comprised a set of 35 lodging rooms rented out to about 60-70 men. At that hour, men were finishing their breakfast, and housemaids were cleaning rooms. Suddenly the cry went out, FIRE! Everyone fled the building trying to escape the smoke. One poor man suffering from smallpox was carried out on a stretcher. They did not have a moment to lose.

The fire spread very rapidly. Shortly after the fire company arrived with their "steamers", water pumps powered by steam engines, the upper floors collapsed into the hall. A few minutes later the fire dropped into the basement floor where a merchant stored flour, pork, and lard. The firemen could do no more than protect the adjacent buildings. The temperature was so cold that the water from their fire hoses froze into ice on the structure. Within hours the fire reduced the Farwell Hall into smoldering rubble. Amazingly, the only casualty was one fireman who injured, but not severly, while fighting the blaze.
The next day Chicago newspapers gave accounts which included detailed summaries of the fire and the financial losses. Between the value of the Y.M.C.A. hall and the other businesses located in the building, the fire cost roughly $300,000 in damages, but not all were insured. Though Ole Bull's troupe were fortunate to not be in the hall at the time, the fire destroyed the Steinway piano hired for his concert and valued at $1,500. Also reduced to ashes were a number of musical instruments valued at $600, which were left at the hall by the Great Western Light Guard Band that had accompanied the concert. Ole Bull promised to help recover their losses. Steinway offered a free replacement piano. It was good publicity for a new company.
Obviously his second concert would not go on as scheduled. What could he to do?
Maybe move to another theater?

Chicago Evening Post
8 January 1868

With less than 24 hours notice, Ole Bull's business manager. Mr. F. Widdows, hired the hall at the Young Men’s Association Library, called the Library Hall, formerly the Metropolitan Hall, for a replacement venue. It was advertised as Ole Bull's Third Grand Concert. Patrons who had purchased tickets to the cancelled second concert at Farwell Hall were allowed to exchange them for the Library Hall performance. Ole Bull knew this place well as it was on this stage that he had performed on his 1857 tour. It was ostensibly a library, but it had a large lecture hall that could seat about 1,200.

Chicago, Young Men’s Association Library
aka: Metropolitan Hall or Library Hall

The program was not the same as the first concert. The two vocalists, Madame Charlotte Varian and Signor Ignatz Pollak sang different opera arias. Madam Varian's husband, the pianist Edward Hoffman, would perform (but not "sing" as erroneously stated in the advert) a piece by the American composer, Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Ole Bull gave three selections. An "Adagio Expression" and "Bell Rondo" by Niccolò  Paganini, and two of his own compositions, "The Nightingale Fantasie" (by request) and "Siciliano Tarantille," both accompanied by the orchestra, presumably on a few borrowed instruments.
The reviewer in the Chicago Evening Post praised the performance in an effusive, embellished style, typical of newspaper writing of the time. 

"The grand, fascinating element of Ole Bull's playing is his identification of his own personality, in all its varied wealth of resource, with his instrument. The instrument is but his longer arm, his more supple fingers, his all-assimilating imagination, and lively charming fancy, his depth of human feeling and inspired reach of human thought—all made vocal as if by a more than human tongue, voice full with airs of Paradise.

"With all previous violinists—even Vieuxtemps— the phrase, "the violin speaks," seems farfetched and empty. There is a deep gulf between the reality and it. But in Ole Bull's hands the violin does literally speak,—not, of course in articulate words, but no less potently and intelligibly and inspiringly, in the inarticulate language of passion and sentiment and cunning art, which voices our heart's profoundest thoughts, and repeats to us with something more than an echo of sound of nature and song of bird. This is what he does. How he does it would lead us too far, and quite uselessly, into the trite realm of the technical..."

Farwell Hall was a new building, opened just a few months before in September 1867. There was a lot of speculation about the cause of the fire. Perhaps the gaslight. Maybe a dropped cigar. Nothing was ever determined. But the building's catastrophic collapse revealed hidden design flaws that raised concern for public safety. The reporters pointed out that had the fire started during the previous evening's performance, many lives would have been lost. The building would be rebuilt, stonger and with better fire protection.
It was a testimony to Ole Bull's willpower and musical skill that he was able to play the following day. After the Wednesday concert, his tour would take him to Davenport, Iowa to open a new opera house, and then to Wisconsin. He would return to Chicago in a few weeks. 
Excerpt from 1871 Map of Chicago

The photographer of Ole Bull's carte de visite, the second of two in my collection, was William Shaw. His establishment, Shaw's Mammoth Photograph Rooms, was located at 186 South Clark St. Chicago, Illinois, a short walk from Ole's hotel, the Tremont House. I featured his first cdv in Ole Bull, Adventures in America, part 1. The back of this one has an ornate cartouche around the photographer's logo with two cherubs working a camera and holding a small picture.

The 1860s and early 1870s were the golden age for carte de visite photographs, especially those of celebrities like Ole Bull. The cdv was the first type of photograph that could be easily reproduced. Thousands of images of royalty, politicians, generals, authors, and entertainers of all kinds were mass produced with this method. It created a new business opportunity for many men, and a few women, who took up photography as an occupation in this era. Mr. Shaw advertised that $12 would buy a hundred photos. No doubt Ole Bull thought it a good investment.

Before Ole Bull's return to Chicago, Mr. Widdows had concert notices printed in the papers. It was the same lineup of artists, accompanied again by Mr. A. J. Vaas leading the Great Western Light Guard Band. This time the venue was not the Library Hall but Crosby's Opera House, around the corner from the Tremont House where Ole Bull stayed. They would be his "Grand Farewell", "positively Ole Bull's last concerts in Chicago." This marketing phrase was frequently used by concert promoters to draw attention to a show. It's a gimmick still used today. 
Chicago Tribune
29 January 1868

Crosby's Opera House was part of a five story building decorated in the Italian style. It opened on the 20th of April 1865, just a week after the assassination of President Lincoln. On the ground floor was a first-class restaurant with expensive plate glass windows running along the 140' front. Inside was a "magnificent marble soda fountain, with pure silver trimmings and attachments, the whole costing not less than $1,500. This is the only fountain in the country from which soda is drawn from porcelain cups. On the opposite side is a marble counter, with show-cases, devoted to the sale of cigars and bouquets." Below the building were, "Wine cellars, store-rooms, ovens, confectioneries, and pastry rooms, steam boilers, ranges, boilers, and labor saving contrivances, the latter operated by a steam engine."  People lined up to indulge themselves in gastronomic delights. 
Exterior of Crosby’s Opera House
Harper’s Weekly, June 6, 1868

The following day, 21 April 1865, Crosby's Opera House, which was placed at the back of the building, put on a performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Il Trovatore. In December 1867 when Ole Bull arrived in Chicago, the opera house was occupied by a producion of Undine, an opera by the German composer, Albert Lortzing (1801–1851). Either before or after the opera, the "Grand Viennoise Ballet" performed a separate program. Tickets were $1.00, no extra for reserved seats. The hall had seating for 3,000 people.

The website  provided an illustration of the interior of Crosby's Opera House showing the stage and orchestra pit as Ole Bull would have seen it. It appears to be a vocal recital. Next to the singer is a pianist accompanying her on a so-called "square piano" (actually rectangular) which was then the design for concert grand pianos, and is very like the Steinway piano destroyed in the Farwell Hall fire. It's curious that later this year, Ole Bull would pursue getting a patent for his invention of an improved piano soundboard based on his knowledge of violin construction.
Auditorium of Crosby Opera House

Chicago Tribune
29 January 1868
Ole Bull's first concert at Crosby's Opera House was set for Friday, January 31. He probably expected that it would an ordinary performance without too much excitement. But on Wednesday evening, 28 January 1868, only a couple of blocks away on Lake and Wabash, two separate fires destroyed three business blocks. Smoke was spotted at one business establishment at about 7:00 PM. It quickly spread to adjacent buildings. Than at 8:40 another fire started on the next block. Firemen were severely hindered by the winter temperature, as water froze in the fire hoses causing them to burst. Despite the cold, thousands of people turned up to watch the conflagration consume over 500 feet of storefronts. Twenty-two businesses were destroyed. Hundreds of employees were put out of work. Estimates put the total loss at over $3,000,000.
_ _ _

Ole's final farewell concerts in Chicago went on without mishap,
but his proximity to these fires surely tested his fearless disposition. 

Ole Bull was now 58 years old, the same age as the great Paganini when he died in 1840. For over 30 years Ole had toured as a concert violinist. In 1837 on his first successful concert tour in Britain he performed 274 concerts. This success brought invitations to play in Germany and Russia which prevented him from returning to Norway. Tragically his father died that year without ever once hearing Ole in concert.
In 1836 at the start of his career he married Alexandrine Félicité Villeminot in Paris. Over the next few years they had six children, but three did not survive infancy. His fourth child, Ernst Bornemann, was born in 1844 while Ole was on his first American tour, and died at four months of age. Ole did not learn of his death until six months later. His constant touring put great stress on his marriage. Alexandrine, called Félicité, suffered from a "nervous condition" and sadly died in February 1862 at age 43.
On this concert tour in 1868, Ole had a serendipitous meeting with a young woman who would change his life. She was Sara Chapman Thorp (1850–1911), the daughter of a wealthy lumber dealer from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. At the time Sara was only 18 but the two lit a spark that soon became a flame.
After numerous final farewell concerts, Ole Bull left New York for Bremen, Germany on 12 June 1868. By strange coincidence, as he had arrived in 1867 on the SS. Russia, this time he left on the steamship America, a paddle wheel ship. By returning to Norway, he was able to celebrate the wedding in August of his youngest daughter, Lucie Edvardine Bull, to Peter Jacob Homon, a prominent lawyer in Norway.
It was a brief stay as in October he was back in the United States for another tour, this time beginning in Boston. No sooner had he arrived than he learned of the tragic suicide of his new son-in-law. Newspapers reported the cause as "temporary insanity."
His concert tour kept to a tight schedule. By the end of November, Ole was playing in St. Louis. The next concert was on December 3 in Louisville, Kentucky. To get there he and his troupe traveled via a steamboat that went down the Mississippi River and then up the Ohio River. 
On the next day following that concert in Louisville,
Ole Bull's company continued on to Cincinnati.
Unfortunately he would be delayed.
There was an accident
on the river trip.

And a fire.


Cincinnati Daily Gazette
7 December 1868

It happened on a cold night, Sunday, December 4th, 1868. Ole and company were aboard the steamboat America cruising upriver to Cincinnati. It was a 315' long, wooden hull side-wheel packet steamer with two main decks. It was part of the U. S. Mail Line, a large inland shipping company that provided a service connecting America's major river ports to the railway lines.  The America's companion steamboat in the line was the United States, a bit shorter at 294 feet, but just as richly outfitted as a first-class vessel. It was heading downriver to Louisville. Both steamboats had experienced captains, crews, and pilots. They routinely passed each other on the Ohio River following a protocol of steam whistle signals. But for some reason that night the signals were misheard. The two boats, which were traveling in opposite directions near Warsaw, Kentucky, suddenly found themselves on a collision course. It was too late. Neither steamboat could turn or stop.
Ohio River Steamboat Accident
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
26 December 1868

It was about 11:15 PM. Many people on board the two river craft had retired for the night. Others, like a bridal party were still awake, enjoying a late supper. Instantly there was chaos. The United States had a large number of oil barrels stowed in the bow, and both boats carried cargo of cotton and whiskey. The collision tossed the barrels into the river where sparks from the steam engines set the oil ablaze. As the crew and passengers jumped overboard into the freezing water, they now had to contend with a deadly fire too.
On board the America, Ole and his troupe rushed to escape. Fortunately Ole had not undressed. He  jumped into the water and managed to get to the riverbank without much difficulty. His company's assistants saved his two violin cases, but he professed to be not worried. "I can play on some other fiddle if I do lose these two," he remarked. Miss S. W. Barton, the soprano with his troupe this season, was asleep in her stateroom, unaware of the danger. She had to be physically carried off the boat. The rest of the ensemble made it to safety, but their baggage and costumes were lost.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
8 December 1868

Just like the reports on the Chicago fires, the newspaper accounts of this calamity on the Ohio River were amazingly detailed and thorough. There were long lists of passenger names with their occupations and hometowns. Precise tallies of costs and insurance values. The first estimates of casualties from the collision of the steamboats America and United States were above a hundred dead, sometimes as many as 150. But many names on the manifests were incorrect as some people had either left  at the previous landing or not  yet boarded. Historians now put the number at 74 lives lost.
Ohio River Steamboat Accident
Harper's Weekly
26 December 1868

Not surprisingly, Ole Bull would not let a near-death accident stop his show. Even though the accident had canceled his first concert, when he and his troupe reached Cincinnati, they went straight to the theater. Apologies were made for their missing costumes and concert attire, but his concert went on. His first encore was his rendition of "Home, Sweet Home", the second encore was his composition, "The Mother's Prayer". He later added "The Last Rose of Summer" and the "Arkansas Traveler." The audience loved it.
Cincinnati Daily Gazette
8 December 1868

After Cincinnati, the troupe played Wheeling, West Virginia. Then on to Pittsburgh and New York where Ole stayed, playing more concerts over several weeks. In June 1869 he returned to Norway. By one account, during his lifetime Ole made nine trips across the Atlantic between 1843 to 1879. Sadly in that spring of 1869 he received the harsh news that his youngest daughter Lucie, who had married the previous August only to lose her husband to suicide, had died in March. 
The next year, 1870, brought a happier promise as Ole married Sara Chapman Thorp, (1850–1911). She was 19, he was 60. Their wedding vows were first exchanged in Norway and then a second time in September in Madison, Wisconsin. In March 1871, Sarah gave birth to their daughter, Sara Olea.
In the summer of 1871 Ole Bull and his wife were staying in a house in West Lebanon, Maine. In the long digests of news from around the nation and the world, newspapers ran short reports that Ole was seriously ill. He "fell in a fit in the door yard of his residence". Friends were alarmed, the cause was thought to be "congestion of the brain." His condition was critical. Doctors advised that he stop performing.
By October he was thought to be recovering. There were rumors he might start a new tour. Maybe in a month or two.
Perhaps it was better that Ole
postponed his concerts that autumn.
Had he been in Chicago in October 1871,
his good luck might have run out.
The Tremont House,
Ole Bull's favorite hotel,
was having a small problem
booking reservations.

Chicago in Flames
Scene in Dearborn St.,
Burning of the Tremont House
9 October 1871


 Stayed tuned next week
for one more photo
and the Final episode
of my series
Ole Bull,
Adventures in America.


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Click the link to see more wonderful waterfalls.



Ole Bull, Adventures in America, part 1

23 January 2021


He was a long way from home.
Far from the fjords of Norway,
across the Atlantic ocean and beyond,
his violin had brought him
into the continent of America
to pose for this photograph.

His name was Ole Bull,
the greatest Norwegian violinist of the 19th century.

Royal Mail Steamship Russia of the Cunard Line
The Illustrated London News
9 September 1867

It was the start of Ole Bull's new concert tour of America, returning after an absence of ten years. He arrived in New York City on December 11, 1867 aboard the steamship S.S. Russia. This hybrid sail and steam ship was the newest addition to the Cunard line, the first with a steam powered screw propeller. It was 358 ft long and 43 ft wide, capable of reaching 14 knots. The three masts of sails offered assurance that in the event of engine failure the ship could still reach port. That summer it had just started service as a Royal Mail ship operating on a regular route from Liverpool to New York. It was a fast ship. A voyage usually took only 10 days including one stop in Queenstown, Ireland. The Cunard line designed it for first-class passengers, initially limited to 235 berths, and the ship was very well appointed. The typical fare was $150, payable in gold.

S.S. Russia, Cunard Line, c. 1867-70
Source: Hoboken Historical Museum

Ole Bull was then age 57 and very accustomed to traveling. It must have amused him to be sailing onboard the S.S. Russia having just played in Moscow and St. Petersburg earlier that year. After 30+ years on the stage, his virtuosity on the violin had taken him to Rome, Paris, Berlin, London, and countless concert halls big and small throughout Europe. Now he was returning to the new world of America, a place he knew well from previous tours.
When he was 18 he left home in Bergen, Norway to pursue his dream of a musical life. After a short period in Oslo, and then Copenhagen, he moved on to Paris where he first heard the great Italian violin virtuoso, Niccolò Paganini (1782 – 1840). This encounter with Paganini inspired Ole Bull towards a higher ambition to become a solo violin artist. Through hard work and a natural talent, he soon made a mark in Italy and then London. By age 25 he was celebrated as Norway's best known virtuoso.
Niccolò Paganini (1819),
by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
Source: Wikipedia

Ole Bull's first concerts tours around Europe were at a time of relative peace following the turbulent age of Napoleon. Musicians, writers, and artists were enjoying a new freedom to travel between nations. It was one of the important factors that drove the Romantic movement in all the arts. Ole Bull's contemporaries: Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847), Frédéric Chopin (1810–1849), Robert Schumann (1810–1856), Franz Liszt (1811–1886) were all making their mark as concert pianists and composers.
It was also a revolutionary time for politics and civil rights as well. Since 1387 the three nations of Scandinavia: Denmark, Sweden, and Norway had struggled with a complicated relationship of different monarchs and unions. In earlier centuries, Norway and Denmark were joined together, but in the 19th century following the Napoleonic era, Norway and Sweden became two states united under one monarch, yet with separate governments and laws. Real independence for Norway would not happen until 1905 when the union with Sweden was finally dissolved. For Ole Bull this complicated "personal union" between the two countries aroused a lifelong patriotic passion for Norwegian culture and a devotion to ideals of freedom.

Statue of Ole Bull in Bergen, Norway
Source: Wikipedia

After his first success in the great cities of Europe, Ole Bull chose a daring westward direction that his contemporaries must have thought foolhardy if not mad. In November 1843, he embarked on a visit to the United States not returning to Europe until 1845. Seven years later in 1852 he came back and stayed even longer. He was so impressed with the country that he even applied for U.S. citizenship. (But never completed it.)
It was early in that visit that he came up with a grandiose idea to develop land in western Pennsylvania for Norwegian immigrants. For $10,000 he bought 125,000 acres where he established four settlements: New Bergen (now known as Carter Camp), Oleona, New Norway, and Valhalla. It was an ambitious project, yet soon hundreds of Norwegian families came to join his colony. Their first year was very difficult, in part because the settlers were unfamiliar with building farms on this kind of rugged terrain with its thick forests. Ole Bull had also been swindled by the land agent who never held legal title to the better parts of the land. The venture failed as the Norwegian immigrants abandoned the communities for more favorable regions in the Midwest. It took years for Ole Bull to resolve the lawsuits, repay his debts, and regain his reputation. He went back to Norway in 1857. Today all that is left of his dream is 132-acres in Ole Bull State Park in Potter County, Pennsylvania.

Springfield IL Daily State Journal
27 December 1867

When the S. S. Russia tied up at the New York dock in December 1867, Ole Bull was arriving to a new re-United States, devastated by 4 years of terrible civil war. Parts of the nation were now rebounding with enthusiasm for a modern industrial future, but other parts were still wrestling with the monumental problems of race, division, and injustice. Only two years before, the country had recoiled in horror at the assassination of President Lincoln. Now the accidental President, Andrew Johnson, was leading a damaged nation on a different regressive path. In the next year he would be humiliated by a bill of impeachment from Congress. 
In 1865 the passage of the 13th amendment abolishing slavery transformed America's repressive social structure. But changes to its constitutional foundation dealing with citizenship rights and equal protection under the law would not happen until the passage of the 14th amendment in 1868. A democratic idealist from Norway would have noticed these changes.

For some reason Ole Bull was determined to start his concerts in Chicago. He had first played there in 1853, and then again every season until 1857. Over this last decade the Windy City had nearly tripled its population and now boasted of 300,000 citizens. It was in competition to become the hub for America's westward expansion. It was America's new center for commerce, industry, and innovation. It was also a center for music and theater.
In 1867, on a cold December day just after Christmas, Ole Bull would hardly have recognized the city when he checked into the Tremont House, the finest hotel in Chicago. He was with his business manager, Mr. F. Widdows, and his son, Alexander Bull, then 28 years old.

_ _ _

Tremont House
Chicago Illustrated, January 1866

The Tremont House was one of the first inns for travelers in Chicago, built when the city's streets were first laid out. It's possible Ole Bull may have stayed there before in the 1850s, but in 1867 he must have been astonished to see what they had done to the place. 
In Chicago's first decades, city blocks and streets were constructed without regard to the underlying geology or the close proximity of Lake Michigan. By the 1860s the infrastructure problems of drainage, sewage, and water needed a major fix. For Chicago's grand masonry buildings this was accomplished by literally lifting the entire structure with thousands of jack screws up to the new street grade. In 1861, the Tremont House, six stories tall with a footprint taking up over 1 acre, was raised 6 feet higher by 500 workmen who slowly and simultaneously turned 5,000 jackscrews. The hotel's business continued right through the construction and not a single pane of glass was broken. (Wooden buildings, however, were merely moved by being placed on rollers and drug/pushed to a new location in another district. )

The Briggs House being raised, 1866

* * *

Excerpt from 1871 Map of Chicago

The Tremont House was located on the corner of Lake and Dearborn Streets, two blocks from the courthouse and close to all the big theatres. As a seasoned entertainer, Ole Bull had already discovered the value of photographs for publicity. But in 1867, particularly in America, the new technique of carte de visite albumen prints, which could be reproduced in any number, had become the latest media fashion. There were dozens of photographers very close to his hotel. Shortly after his arrival in December he chose to have his picture taken at the studio of William Shaw on South Clark St.,  a short walk from the Tremont.

On the back of Ole Bull's carte de visite photo
is the imprint of the photographer.

Shaw's Mammoth
Photograph Rooms,

186 South Clark St.,
Chicago, Ill.

Pictures taken in Cloudy Weather
at these Photograph Rooms
to those taken elsewhere in town on a
fair day.

William Shaw was about 33 years old in 1867 and had been at this location since about 1865. In April of that year he advertised "One Hundred Thousand Photographs of Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. Cards, $12.00 a hundred; Medallions, $6.00 a hundred."

Chicago Tribune
24 April 1865

Two weeks later on 5 May 1865, it was "150,000 PHOTOGRAPHS!" of not just Lincoln and Johnson, but Mrs. Lincoln; William Henry Seward (who survived an assassination attempt); and John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's assassin, too. Mr. Shaw was not exaggerating about his "mammoth" gallery. The images were, of course, not taken by Shaw's camera, but by other photographers who sold him a license to reproduce their negatives. As Lincoln was a native of Springfield, Illinois, a photo of the beloved president became a popular keepsake to sell in Chicago.

Chicago Tribune
5 May 1865

Ole Bull traveled with a business agent, Mr. F. Widdows, who handled the bookings, newspaper notices, tickets, and theater arrangements. I don't know if he was American or Norwegian. It may have been Widdows who set up Shaw as Ole's photographer. It's not impossible that he brought negatives for Shaw to reproduce, either from New York City or Europe, but the style of the photo looks characteristically American to me. So I think Ole was posing in Shaw's studio in December 1867 or maybe later in January/February 1868.
Ole's son Alexander, an accomplished violinist, visited the US once before in 1856. I suspect this concert tour was also a special trip for father and son, as Ole's wife, Alexandrine Félicie Villeminot, had tragically died in 1862 at age 43. Of their six children only Alexander and his two sisters, Eleonore and Lucie, were still living in 1867. As this concert tour progressed, Alexander's name appeared on advertisements as Ole's business manager. It seems likely that he came on this trip to gain experience in the American practice of show business.

hicago Republican
30 December 1867

The theatre hired for Ole Bull's first concerts in Chicago was the new Farwell Hall at the Young Mens' Christian Association Building. It had just opened in September 1867 and measured 121 feet by 81 feet. with a ceiling 45 feet from the floor. With two galleries surrounding lower floor, it could seat 3,500 people. The hall's arrangement allowed good views of the platform stage and excellent acoustics. It was lit from large windows and double reflectors. Mr. Widdow's put advance notices in the Chicago papers to announce Ole Bull's concerts on 30 December 1867.

Young Men’s Christian Association Building (Farwell Hall)

On the Sunday morning before his first concert on January 6th, the Norwegian Society of Chicago paid a call on Ole Bull at the Tremont House. He was given a cordial welcome, and a serenade from a "quintette" of Norwegian singers, accompanied by the Great Western Band which played several national pieces, some of them composed by Ole Bull himself. In thanking his fellow countrymen for the reception, it was reported that Ole spoke in Norwegian. He "hoped that they retained the same inspiration  for liberty, freedom and equality that they had always had in the old country, and that they would always be good citizens of (this) great country. He again thanked them, and concluded by proposing nine cheers for the government, which were heartily given. He also afterwards spoke in the warmest terms of Chicago, which was to be the future metropolitan city of the world—which was to make the next President, and thus to control the destinies of America, which was in its turn to control the world."


Chicago Republican
3 January 1868

Ole Bull's music programs followed a formula that he had used in his previous tours. It was a kind of refined variety show which offered more than just his violin playing, though he was still the headliner. He usually traveled with a vocalist or two, and a pianist, who would accompany the singers and Ole, and sometimes perform solo too. On this tour he had two opera vocalists, Signor Ignatz Pollak, a baritone, and Madame Varian, a "prima donna" soprano. Madame's full name was Charlotte Varian Hoffman and she was the wife of the pianist on this program, Edward Hoffman. I believe these artists were American, as their honorifics were a convention of opera's Italian origins.

There was a usually an orchestra, as big cities like Chicago employed hundreds of talented musicians in bands and theatre orchestras. For this first concert notice the orchestra would open with an overture to Hamlet by E. Bach, an unknown composer who, as far as I can determine, was no relation to old Johann Sebastian Bach. Signor Pollak would follow with an aria from a Donizetti opera. Then Ole Bull would play one of his own compositions, Cantabile Doloroso e Rondo Giocoso. Madame Varian was next in a song from Charles Gounod's new opera, Romeo e Guiletta, which had recently premiered at Crosby's Opera House in Chicago. Mr. Hoffman then came out to play two Fantasias on the piano, pieces that were a kind of variations on a another composer's theme. Then Ole returned to close the first half with his Nightingale Fantasia upon a Russian Legend.
The second half started with another orchestral favorite, selections from Gounod's Faust. Madame Varian then performed Auber's "French Laughing Song", and Sig. Pollak sang a Baracola by Campana. Ole Bull was officially listed to play only one number on the second half, a Polacco Guerriera, but he likely had other solo encores. Especially popular were his fiery variations on Yankee Doodle or Arkansas Traveler. Varian and Pollack would then return for a duet, L'Estai by Mabellini. The evening finished with a finale, Grand March of the Priests from the 1843 oratorio Athalia by Mendelssohn. Admission was $1.00, reserved seats, fifty cents extra. 

"I Love Thee Still", as sung by
Mme. Charlotte Varian Hoffman, 1866
Source: Historic American Sheet Music, Duke University

The weather was abominable. Just above the concert's review in the Chicago Republican on 7 January 1868, was a short report. "The weather of yesterday, if judiciously distributed, would knock the sunshine out of an entire season in many localities, or give the blues to an extensive community. Rain, hail, snow—just enough to be miserable—mud in any quantity, frost, and the most leaden-colored of skies, all contributed to the general wretchedness of our people."
Despite this, Ole Bull played to a packed house at Farwell Hall on Monday evening. The reviewer in the Chicago Republican wrote: 
"Comets of astounding brilliance are but rare visitors, and their visits should be marked with abundant admiration. The genius of the violinist who made his appearance last night in Chicago is one of these rare visitors to earth, and the popular enthusiasm over it is therefore abundantly excusable." [When Ole Bull came on stage,] "the noisy applause [relapsed] to a quiet as still as the night when the first tones of his noble instrument floated through the house. In rapt attention the same stillness was held throughout his whole performance, until the last flourish was swallowed up in deafening applause. A profusion of bows availed nothing to subdue the audience, only the ravishing tones of that violin held the ample power.

Such was the picture at each of the three appearances of the great violinist in the concert. To one who heard him for the first time, the impressions left are of a tall, straight, impressive-looking man, with an intelligent head, whose gray locks indicated the ripened talent, and in whose artistic effort there was nothing short of perfection in execution, and strong impassioned feeling. Every possible resource of the instrument is exhausted in the playing, and it seems no violin had ever held so much music as does this one. In his hands it comes very near to a thing of life. In all these words of praise to the player, it should be said deservedly that the violin which was used last night is one of the most superb instruments in the world. Some of its tones are almost amazing in their purity and strength.

The following morning,
as newsboys were hawking
the Tuesday edition of the papers,
a fearful noise rang out.

It happened while
Ole and company were
having their breakfast.
It was an alarm sound familiar
to the people of Chicago,
but maybe not to visitors from Norway. 


Chicago Tribune
8 January 1868

It was an all too common catastrophe
in the great cities of America.
Theaters were particularly at great risk to fire
with gas and oil lamps near stage sets
made of wood, paint, and canvas.

Chicago Republican
8 January 1868

The fire was first noticed at the Y.M.C.A. building at 9:00 AM, Tuesday morning. By the time firemen reached the scene, the blaze had reached the roof. It collapsed into Farwell Hall at about 9:30. Within hours the fire had destroyed the entire structure. The report on Wednesday noted that "the Great Western Band lost a number of their instruments which they left in the hall over night expecting to use them again in assisting at Ole Bull's concert. Their loss amounts to about $600. 

"A Steinway grand piano used on the occasion, and belonging to Smith & Nixon, was destroyed. None of Ole Bull's effects, or of his troupe were lost. The piano in question was an elegant new scale grand; just perfected by Steinway & Sons, and was the first instrument of the kind ever sent to Chicago. It was valued at $1,500.

"As yet, the full amount of the loss cannot be correctly estimated, but it is computed in round numbers at $600,000."

There would be no second concert that evening for Ole Bull.

It was only the 7th day of January, 1868.
The year had only just started
and yet more adventures awaited Ole Bull.
There were more photographs too.

Part Two
of Ole Bull, Adventures in America
will follow next week.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where violins is never the answer.

Please note that
this Sepia Saturday theme image
is of Alexander Bull
playing the violin
of his father, Ole Bull.

Children at Play

16 January 2021

 Charm, humor, beauty, joy.
Those are the sentimental qualities
often found in the art of portraiture.
For centuries artists used
the technique of engraving
to reproduce their work
for a wider number of patrons.
But it wasn't until the introduction of
the first picture postcards in the late 1890s
that artists finally had a medium for their art
that could reach the general public.
This example of postcard art
shows two children indulging
in an innocent display of affection.
Another boy, wearing an 18th century tricorne hat,
steals a peek through a hole in their umbrella.
The caption reads:
Belauscht ~ Overheard

It is the work of Hermann Torggler, (1878-1939),
an Austrian artist whose work I admire for his clever imagery.
This postcard was sent from Amberg, Bavaria
on 2 February 1900.
The writer's florid cursive style
is beautiful but too difficult for me
to be sure it is
even in German.

* * *


 Torggler often gave his characters musical instruments
which was how I first discovered his artwork.
This postcard shows another group of three children
with two young boys serenading a girl
on a violin and a cittern, a lute type folk instrument
still popular in Germany.
The caption reads:
Ständchen ~ Serenade
This postcard was never posted
but a message on the front
dates it 20.V. 1901 from Zurich, Switzerland



Another trio of children
are caught in a rainshower
and two boys protect a girl
from rain and puddles.
The title reads:
Immer ritterlich! ~ Always chivalrous!

This postcard has a postmark
from Stuttgart, Germany on 21 July 1909.
The publisher was F. A. Ackermann's Kunstverlag, München.
Hermann Torggler kept a long business relationship
with this company as they printed all of his postcards.



* * *

My last example of Torggler's postcard series of playful children
switches the trio idea to have two girls dancing with one boy.
Caught in the center is a doll
who seems a bit alarmed at the activity.
The title reads:
Kinderlust ~ Childhood

This postcard was mailed to Fräulein Lenchen Bister
of Elsen, Germany near Düsseldorf .


My fascination with Herman Torggler's postcards
is partly because they represent the beginning of a new social media.
Most of his early work comes from around 1898 to 1910,
a period when a person in Germany, or in many other countries,
could send a brief "postal" message in the morning
and expect the postman to bring a reply in the afternoon.
Torggler's simple sentimental illustrations
appealed to people who wanted to share a joyful gift
of his charming, humorous, and beautiful children
with their family and friends.
It's the same human desire that powers
the internet social media in our time.
But I don't think
that a 10 second video clip
of some kid's amusing antics
will be preserved for 120 years
for the people of the future to enjoy.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is hunting for their lost umbrella.

It happens that this Saturday is my son's birthday!
Once upon a time Sam was pretty cute,
but sadly time stops for no one
and he is no longer a kid.

But years and years ago,
he did make a tryout
as a circus clown.

For a brief day,
th a little help
from his grandmother's tailoring skills
and his mother's
cosmetics know-how,
Sam took on the disguise of a very funny fellow.

It didn't last,
but in my book
he will always be
my favorite wise guy.

Happy Birthday, old man!

(Will the internet save this for 120 years?)

A Tuba Player from Valdosta, Georgia

09 January 2021

Look at this photo.
What do you see?
A man with a big brass instrument.
Look again. Anything else?
A black man in a suit,
holding a large tuba.
Look closer.
An African-American man, age 20ish, maybe 30,
dressed in a bandsman's uniform,
posed with a silver E-flat tuba
on an antique cabinet card photograph
from Ricks' Studio,
Valdosta, Georgia.


It's a handsome, clear portrait, mounted on large 6" x 8" card stock typical of photos from after 1900. As is the case with many of the photographs of individual musicians in my collection, it has no date and the man's name is unknown. What we see are the only clues to his identity. 

Yet it is a remarkable photo, even rare, for three reasons. The subject is a black musician. It was taken around 1900-15. And the photographer was located in Valdosta, a small city in south central Georgia. If you know American history, those three facts should not go together. In the early 20th century, it was not that uncommon for African-American folk, even musicians, to pose for a formal studio photograph. Lots of them did so in Chicago, Philadelphia, or New York. But in Valdosta, Georgia? Not so many, I think. Certainly very few tuba players.

In my experience as a collector of vintage photos, the vast majority of cabinet card photographs were produced in the northern states. As an example, a search today on eBay for pre-1940 cabinet photos from Pennsylvania produced 5,288. For Georgia, only 98. 

The population of Valdosta in 2020 is around 57,000. But in 1910 Valdosta had only 7,656 citizens, which was a little less than a third of its county population of 24,436. It was a farming town on the Gulf Coastal Plain where the principal agricultural crop was cotton. Since the early 19th century most of Georgia's population were scattered across rural communities, with a smaller portion living in a few urban centers like Atlanta, Savannah, Columbus, and Valdosta. Those were the cities where photographers could find a steady market. In 1904 there were two in Valdosta, both located on the same city block on North Patterson St. across from the Lowndes County courthouse. W. L. Ricks advertised his studio in the 1904 city directory. He was also a dealer in Eastman Kodak cameras and supplies.

1904 Valdosta, GA city directory

Born in 1876, his full name was William Luther Ricks, and his father, D. L. Ricks, was a dentist and surgeon in Valdosta. Ricks' Studio operated in Valdosta for over 40 years, beginning around 1900 and going at least past World War II. According to one brief history on his studio,  W. L. Ricks also worked as a printer and "bill poster" out of his shop, sometimes assisted by his wife Margaret, his sister Ethel Ricks, and son Charles Ricks. From 1911 to 1912 he leased a theater space on the second floor of the Valdosta city hall. It probably had good window lighting. William L. Ricks died in 1962.


Hagerstown MD Morning Herald
01 February 1929




Despite his long career, there are hardly any photographs from W. L. Ricks Studio preserved online. This is not  to say he was not prolific, only that Ricks' (or Rick's) Studio does not produce many hits on Google. In 1929 his byline appeared under a head shot advertising a Valdosta woman's testimonial endorsing Dr. Pierce's Anuric Tablets for her kidney problems.

_ _ 




The style of the tuba player's band uniform is similar to the restrained "cadet" fashion popular with many bands from 1905 to 1925. Somewhere off camera is his hat which might have a cap badge to offer a clue to his band's name. In any case he wears a simple dress jacket with striped trousers. My guess is a dark red maroon color.

His tuba matches the design of a C. G. Conn Co. Wonder model, E-flat tuba with three piston valves. It's made of brass with nickle or silver plate. There is enough clarity in the image to see fancy engraving on the bell. In 1910 it might have cost as much as $150 or $200.

1890 C. G. Conn Co.
E-flat tuba, Wonder model


For 13 years I lived in Savannah, Georgia, about 170 northeast from Valdosta. During that time I may have passed through the city once or twice but it left only a small impression of a quiet farming town. But while researching this photo and its connection to Valdosta, I learned of a grim history that placed this man's portrait into a very different frame. It was an account of a ghastly event that was unexpectedly tragic and cruel. It is such a dark story that I find it very difficult to write, but because it is true, I feel compelled to include it. 

It was May 1918. America had been at war with Germany for a year, but our troops were only just beginning to reach the front lines in France. The scourge of the influenza pandemic was still another few months in the future. 

The following passage is taken from
the Wikipedia page for Valdosta, Georgia.
The news clippings speak for themselves.

Tampa FL Times
18 May 1918

Lynch Negroes Near Valdosta
Indignant Farmers Secured Confession
to Plot Against Smiths

On May 16, 1918, a white planter named Hampton Smith was shot and killed at his house near Morven, Georgia, by a black farm worker named Sidney Johnson who was routinely mistreated by Smith. Johnson also shot Smith's wife but she later recovered. Johnson hid for several days in Valdosta without discovery. Lynch mobs formed in Valdosta ransacking Lowndes and Brooks counties for a week looking for Johnson and his alleged accomplices. These mobs lynched at least 13 African Americans, among them Mary Turner and her unborn eight-month-old baby who was cut from her body and murdered. Mary Turner's husband Hazel Turner was also lynched the day before.

Vicksburg MS Evening Post
20 May 1918

5 Negroes Lynched 
for Single Murder

Shreveport LA Times
21 May 1918

Race Riots Laid at Door of Spies
Negroes Say Germans
Caused Lynching After
Georgia Murder

Sidney Johnson was turned in by an acquaintance, and on May 22 Police Chief Calvin Dampier led a shootout at the Valdosta house where he was hiding. Following his death, a crowd of more than 700 castrated Johnson's body, then dragged it behind a vehicle down Patterson Street and all the way to Morven, Georgia, near the site of Smith's murder. There the body of Johnson was hanged and burned on a tree. That afternoon, Governor Hugh Dorsey ordered the state militia to be dispatched to Valdosta to halt the lynch mobs, but they arrived too late for many victims. Dorsey later denounced the lynchings, but none of the participants were ever prosecuted.

Paterson NJ Morning Call
23 May 1918

Negro Shot Dead In
Fight With Police

State Guard Had Been Called
Out to Prevent His Lynching

Following the violence, more than 500 African Americans fled from Lowndes and Brooks counties to escape such oppressive conditions and violence. From 1880 to 1930, Brooks County had the highest number of lynchings in the state of Georgia. By 1922 local chapters of the Ku Klux Klan, which had been revived starting in 1915, were holding rallies openly in Valdosta.

Montgomery AL Emancipator
06 July 1918

For about two weeks the horrible events from Valdosta ran in short reports across the nation. Most of these clippings on the lynchings came from the inside columns of newspapers as their front pages were reserved for news on the war. The full story was not discovered until later by Walter F. White, an investigator for the NAACP. It is believed that 13 black people were executed during the two weeks after the murder on May 16. White also learned that the bodies of the first two men, Will Head and Will Thompson, were supposedly riddled with more than 700 bullets. The Wikipedia page for the May 18 Lynchings provides more information and details on this. 

For African-Americans living in the South, The Emancipator, a weekly national newspaper published in Montgomery, Alabama, was their most trusted source of news on race issues. On May 25, The Emancipator, with pictures of Abraham Lincoln and Booker T. Washington on its masthead, ran a front page report with the headline: Four Lynchings in Georgia; One in Tennessee!; Negro Victim Burned to Death by Tennessee Mob; Two Negroes Lynched At Valdosta, GA; Two More Negro Victims Lynched by Valdosta Mob. 

Two weeks later on June 8, the headline was: Six Negroes Victims of Mob Rope, Six Negroes Lynched Near Huntsville, Tex. On June 22, 1918 the headline with the largest point font was: Negro Labor Leader Klu-Klux Victim.

On July 2, 1918 Dr. Robert R. Moton of the Tuskegee Institute reported on the increase in lynchings in the country over the previous six months. During this period there were 35 lynchings, 21 more than the number, 14, for the first six months of 1917, and 10 more than the the number, 25, for the first six months of 1916.

Of those lynched, 34 were Negroes and one was white. Of the 34 black victims, eight were charged with the crime of rape, three were women. The lynchings by state were as follows: Alabama, 1; Arkansas, 1; Florida, 1; Georgia, 8; Mississippi, 2; Illinois, 1; Louisiana, 8; North Carolina, 1; South Carolina, 1; Tennessee, 4; Texas, 7.

The next year, 1919, would be bring even more horrific deaths caused by racial hatred. It became the Red Summer with 76 people killed by mobs or vigilantes, 11 of them veterans of the war. In cities across America so-called "race riots" erupted that pitted white supremist groups against African-American communities. Hundreds were killed. It is a cold and gruesome history that is difficult to read one hundred year later. But sadly not difficult to understand.

* * *

This is not the story I expected to write for the new year of 2021. I wanted to find a photo or postcard of something cheery, lighthearted, even hopeful. I don't think I exaggerate to say that the sadness of the past year of 2020 will remain in our collective memory forever. It's been a year of incredible global stress unlike anything the world has experienced in centuries. What does it mean? What will the future bring? No one really knows. 

But this week on Wednesday January 6, 2021, America witnessed a madness that drove hundreds, maybe thousands, of ordinary citizens to attack the very institution of our democracy, the U. S. Capitol Building. Inside, our representatives were following protocols defined by our Constitution to affirm the election of President Joe Biden. Outside, a huge crowd was gathered for a political rally in support of President Trump's delusional notion that actually he had won, despite countless recounts and judgements that proved he was completely wrong. It didn't matter. The endless lies and grotesque distortions were just too intoxicating. 

The enraged mob walked to the Capitol seeking some kind of response to what they considered an injustice. There was no plan. No manifestos. No lists of political demands. No squads of para-military soldiers in brown shirts. Just an absurd assortment of angry people dressed in clown costumes shouting incoherently. But like a virus, hysteria is contagious. Within minutes, with the whole world watching, the mayhem became violent chaos. Tragically five people lost their lives, including one police officer. Thankfully the disorder was soon under control and our Congress returned to its business. But it was a frightening event to witness. We saw furious people driven by a tyrant's monomania lose any restraint of common sense. The crowd suddenly became a mob, and the result was vandalism, theft, and violence. Yet one mistake, one moment of misjudgment, and the day might have ended much differently with executions or mass murder.

In May 1918 a similar madness infected the people of Valdosta. It was a society that thought itself civilized, though within its own strict rules of racial segregation. Such bigotry poisons the mind. Corrupts a man's soul and allows hatred and vengeance to debase good judgment. Within a moment an ordinary sensible person becomes capable of savage slaughter. This is the power of terror. 

The unspeakable evil that happened in Valdosta in 1918 is not at all the same as the outrageous desecration we saw unleashed upon our Capitol this week. But as 2020 has shown us, that wickedness of racial hatred is still with us, still testing our American dream. And as 2021 has just demonstrated, people who seem perfectly rational can quickly be misguided into participating in an American nightmare. 

I don't know any more than what we see on this photograph. I don't know the tuba player's name or his age. I don't know if he had any relationship that directly connects him to the tragic events in Valdosta. But as a black man in circa 1910 America, it's certain he knew about discrimination and abuse. Knew about the evil of lynching. Knew what it felt like to be in fear for your life because of the color of your skin.

Surely if this musician was still alive in 1918 and learned of the lynchings in Valdosta he must have thought about the time he had his photograph taken in Mr. Ricks' studio. He understood the inhuman conditions that aroused people to commit this barbaric tragedy. He knew about the danger of mob rule.  And so did Mr. Ricks. That's the story and lesson hidden in this beautiful portrait.

Look once more. What do you see?
Courage, dignity, respect.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where time waits for no one.



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