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 Lucky Band on the USS Minnesota

28 August 2021


We live in a world of instantaneous communication.
Press '
SEND' and your twitter comment is whisked away to France.
Tap '
SHARE' and your video of a bear in the garden is transported to California.
Click '
JOIN' and you enter a virtual meeting
of a dozen people separated by thousands of miles.
Faster than the blink of an eyelash, digital telecommunication
connects us to hidden networks letting us exchange messages 
without ever needing to know exactly how it is done.


 Yet not so many years ago
people corresponded by way
of a much simpler self-propelled technology
that anyone could understand.
Using nothing more than
a sheet of paper, a pencil or pen,
and maybe a camera for an extra sepia tone dimension,
a message could be sent for just the cost of a two-cent stamp.

The connection between sender and receiver 
was unpredictable and required patience.
Sometimes a message sent in the morning might be delivered by that afternoon.
At other times it might take weeks or even months to reach the recipient.
This was especially true when nations were at war,
and the fragile network of postal services was disrupted by the conflict.
For a soldier or sailor even the simplest of notes might get lost,
delayed by the system of hand-carried mail,
until finally arriving with the message,
"I'm okay."



USS Minnesota Band

Luck gang 11 days after the torpedo hit us, 9/31/1918

Arranged on the deck of the USS Minnesota are 25 navy bandsmen with their bandleader. The clarinets and cornets sit cross-legged on the wooden deck, with saxophones, tubas, euphoniums, a horn, and the  drums standing in a second row. A few more sailors look on from behind and above. The band is dressed in dark work fatigues with wool stocking caps suitable for cold weather. A second message is written on the back of the photo postcard.
Sept 31st 1918
Just after the wreck
of the USS Minnesota

The USS Minnesota (BB-22) was a Connecticut-class battleship, the first ship of the United States Navy named for the 32nd state, Minnesota. This warship was a so-called pre-dreadnought design that was built to replace the ironclad battleships of the 1870s and 1880s. Its keel was laid down in Virginia's  Newport News Shipyard in 1903 but by the time of its commission in 1907 it was already considered obsolete. This was due to the launch a few months earlier in 1906 of the HMS Dreadnought, a British battleship equipped with more 12 inch guns and more powerful steam engines than any other battleship then afloat. The Dreadnought's larger firepower and faster speed outclassed ships like the Minnesota and over the next few years, nations around the world scrambled to build bigger battleships to match this new design.

USS Minnesota (BB-22)
photographed in Hampton Roads, VA in 1911
Source: Naval History and Heritage Command

The USS Minnesota was 456 ft 4 in (139.09 m) long from stem to stern, and 76 ft 10 in (23.42 m) across at the beam. It was propelled by two triple-expansion steam engines and capable of 18 knots (21 mph; 33 km/h). The ship original complement was 827 officers and men, but this later increased to 896. The armament consisted of four 12 inch main guns, along with 56 smaller guns and four torpedo tubes. And since it was a battleship in the US Navy, it also required a band.

After its launch in March 1907 the USS Minnesota made a shakedown cruise to the coast of New England before returning to Hampton Roads to participate in the Jamestown Exposition, the commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the Jamestown colony, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. 

In December, the Minnesota joined the Great White Fleet, the nickname for a group of 16 US Navy battleships which were ordered President Theodore Roosevelt to undertake a voyage that would circumnavigate the globe and demonstrate American military power. The fleet was divided into two squadrons of battleships and assorted auxiliary ships and between December 1907 and February 1909  traveled over 43,000 nautical miles (80,000 km) making twenty port calls on six continents. This grand parade of naval power was intended to establish the United States as a new major player in international affairs, particularly since the US had acquired a vast colonial empire as an outcome of the Spanish-American War of 1898. Because the fleet had to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean by going around Cape Horn, it also demonstrated the strategic importance of the Panama Canal which was an American project begun in 1904 but not completed until 1914.

After her return from this round-the-world tour, the USS Minnesota was assigned to the Atlantic fleet with patrols around Cuba and Mexico. But by the time the US entered World War One in April 1917, the Minnesota had already been placed in the reserve fleet. Since the navy was suddenly hit with thousands of new sailors recruited for the war effort, the Minnesota was quickly recalled to act as a training ship and stationed in the Chesapeake Bay where it trained gunners and engine room personnel. 

Philadelphia Inquirer 
30 September 1918

On 29 September 1918, while cruising with the destroyer USS Israel in the waters south of the Delaware Bay and just off Ocean City, MD, the USS Minnesota struck a submerged naval mine which  had been laid by the German submarine U-117 earlier in the year. The explosion tore open a gaping hole in the Minnesota's forward hull below the armor belt and flooded the bow. Though the damage was serious fortunately it caused no casualties as the ship had recently been refitted with reinforced bulkheads which strengthened the hull and prevented the flooding from spreading. 

Because it was close to the Philadelphia Navy Yard the battleship was able to make its way there at a reduced speed where it could be repaired. This overhaul work took five months to complete, but during this time Germany agreed to an Armistice and the war ended on 11 November 1918. 

_ _ _

damaged bow of USS Minnesota (BB-22)
in drydock at Philadelphia Navy Yard, PA on 1 October 1918
Source: Naval History and Heritage Command

In March 1919, the Minnesota returned to service joining the transport force assembled to bring the American troops home from Europe. The battleship made three trips to France returning over 3,000 soldiers to the US before its duty ended in July 1919. Over the next few years the Minnesota acted as a training ship for midshipmen from the US Naval Academy, before being decommissioned on 1 December 1921. She was sold for scrap the Philadelphia Navy Yard in January 1924. 

The state's name was used again in 2013 for the USS Minnesota (SSN-783), a Virginia-class attack submarine, also built in the Newport News Shipyard.

Part of "Rainbow" 42nd Division US Army
returning to New York on board
USS Minnesota (BB-22)
Source: Naval History and Heritage Command

Band of the USS Minnesota (BB-22)
November 1, 1918
Source: Naval History and Heritage Command

The "Lucky gang" bandsmen of USS Minnesota posed for one more photo on the deck in November 1918. No doubt they proudly remembered their service from this second gigantic photo of the full complement of officers and crew, but I suspect most of the sailors preferred the little postcard of their band and their shipmates best. I wonder what music they played when they brought their wounded ship into Philadelphia? 

Click the image below. Can you spot the 12 inch guns?

Officers and Crew of the USS Minnesota (BB-22)
Philadelphia Navy Yard, 1 November 1918
Source: Naval History and Heritage Command

Postcard photos of navy bands are some of my favorite stories to write about as the service history of a battleship is already thoroughly documented and there are always dozens of useful photos of the ships and crews to be found at the Naval History and Heritage Command or the NavSource Online: Battleship Photo Archive.  I can't resist noting that the current namesake of the USS Minnesota, the submarine (SSN-783) is just 79 feet shorter than the battleship but operates with a complement of only 134 sailors. But it doesn't have a band.

For more postcards of US Navy Bands in my collection
I recommend my stories
The Navy Band of the USS Minneapolis,
Full Steam Ahead on the USS Georgia
and Going Home .

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where damage control is never a problem.

Music for a Sideshow

21 August 2021


 A tiny micro story
teased out of a photo postcard.

  "Can you see anything, TJ? What's goin' on?" said Archie as he knelt down.
   "Shush up! Keep quiet." hissed Tom. "You'll get yer turn." He fiddled with the canvas to pull a bit more away from the tent's seam. "Wish I had my paw's Barlow. You gotta knife on ya, Arch?"
   Archie rolled over and reached into a pocket of his overalls. "Just this old pen blade. I just use it to pick  my teeth so it ain't very sharp." He handed it to Tom.

   "Maybe it'll do to cut these stitches." Tom sawed at the threads and opened up more of the torn canvas. He wriggled closer to the tent wall and peeped through the gap.  


   "Looks like they're gonna take a photo," Tom whispered. "I can see Mr. Wachtel from the drugstore setting up his camera. Here you take a look." 
   Archie shifted his bulk over to the rip in the tent wall. "I can't get my specs close enough to see thru." 

   "Then take 'em off!"

    "But then I won't see nothing," whined Archie. He put just one eye up to the hole. "I think I can see some lady in dark stockings moving around. I sure wish we could get a peek at them hootee-kootee dancers."   


 "Hoochee-coochee, ya dummy," grumbled Tom. "You wouldn't wanta meet the kootee kind." He shoved the other boy aside and looked through the canvas. "Psst! I think what you saw was a trombone. There's a brass band setting up an' Mr. Wachtel is pointing at 'em to get onta stand outside the show tent. That bass drummer looks like the same fella we saw wrangling everybody over at the ring toss game. He seemed like an awful sharp cheat." 

    "What's a oh-ree-intal dancer anyway," asked Archie. "Those pictures on the tent don't look like any lady I ever seen. And that one laying down sipping from a jug looked real odd."
   Tom sighed. "That's cause they're not from America but from far off Araby. They dress different there cause it's so hot, I suppose. And that woman wasn't drinkin' , she was smokin' Turkish tobbacky in a pipe." He gave his friend a poke. "Hush now. There's girls stepping up to a table on the other side." 


    "I bet they're something else," chirped Archie. "I wish we had a couple of quarters to go in, but all I got is a dime and six pennies."
   Tom gave a snort. "They're something else all right. The most skin I can see is an elbow, an' one gal looks older than my Aunt Lou. I don't think none of 'em ever danced for no Sultan of Bagdad." 

   Suddenly the two boys were jerked up by their braces and spun around to face a huge man dressed in a tight blue leotard. Clenching a shoulder in each hand he hoisted them up so they were standing on their toes. 

   The giant thrust his enormous head so close to their ashen faces that they could feel the bristle of his mustache and smell the sour odor of his breath. "Yous in mine tent. Whys you in Klaus' tent?" he growled. "I tink yous like the pretty ladies, yah?" He tightened his grip. "Maybe yous wanna join the circus. Yous got any tricks?" The boys shook their heads vigorously. "No? Maybe yous wanna try win prize inna ring rassling with big Klaus. Tink yous mens strong nuff to beat Klaus?" The boys' eyes widened. His grin did not seem very friendly. 

   With a laugh he dropped them to the ground. "Yah, dass what I tink. Yous boys git now. Run home to mama." As Archie and Tom scrambled out of the tent, the giant called after them. "Maybe next time Klaus shows yous how to dance the cootchee  goot!" 
 * * *
This postcard photo of a small brass band and three "Oriental" dancers posing outside the entrance to a carnival or circus sideshow tent is unmarked and without date. The "Interesting and Amuseing (sic) Dancing Girls" are dressed in vaguely exotic costumes that suggest, but actually don't reveal much uncovered skin. We can recognize the dancer's hook because it's the same seductive lure used since ancient times when the idea of paid entertainment was first invented. Despite the tent show's claim of "The Dance of Art", this was not a performance of sophisticated ballet, but was instead a cheap burlesque act to skim the pockets of country rubes. 
My guess is that the photo was taken around 1905-1915, an era when traveling tent shows like this were America's most common form of entertainment. The nation was then more rural than urban, and distance was measured by train timetables. Every day hundreds of circuses, carnivals, minstrel shows, wild west companies, and dramatic troupes were constantly on the move, dismantling their tents in one town to reassemble in the next place on the rail line. Every show, even one with exotic oriental dancers, needed a band. It didn't necessarily require a big band, or even one with talent, but at the very least it had to be a noisy one to grab the patrons' attention.  

The Streets of Cairo
or the Poor Little Country Maid,

song written and composed by James Thornton, 1895
Source: Wikipedia

The hoochie-coochie, or hootchy-kootchy as it is sometimes spelled, was an early burlesque dance that borrowed the sexually provocative belly dance style of Middle-Eastern or Eastern European Gypsy women. The music associated with this dance is a minor key jingle called "the snake charmer song" or Arabian riff, and was also known as "The Streets of Cairo" by James Thorton, published in 1895.
In 1893 the city of Chicago hosted the Columbian Exposition to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World. One of the attractions at this enormous World's Fair was a so-called Egyptian Theater at the fair's Midway which included dancers performing traditional Arabic belly dancing. The show was titled "The Algerian Dancers of Morocco" at the attraction called "A Street in Cairo". One of the dancers was a woman named Farida Mazar Spyropoulos who went by the stage name of Fatima, though she was neither Egyptian nor Algerian, but actually Syrian and married to a Chicago restaurateur who was a native of Greece. Because of the theater's name and Fatima's size, she earned a nickname at the fair as "Little Egypt".  
During the short run of the fair from May 1 to October 30, 1893, "Little Egypt's" exotic dance became a popular attraction and was often referred to as the "Hoochee-Coochee", or a "shimmy and shake" dance, as the word "bellydance" had not yet become part of American vocabulary. The music used to accompany her dance became a worldwide cliche tune known as the Snake Charmer song. I can attest that children in 2021 still regularly request oboe players to play this melody.

Three years later, James H. White, a Canadian-American filmmaker and one of the pioneers of early cinema, made a moving picture short for the Edison Manufacturing Company of "Little Egypt" recreating her dance from the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Despite being only 30 seconds long and without sound, the short became incredibly popular at amusement parks and boardwalk arcades around the world. In later years it was subject to censorship and bars were painted on the film to obscure the supposedly naughty bits. YouTube provides a double feature to see both the original and the censored version of Fatima's Coochee Coochee Dance (1896)

After Fatima, aka "Little Egypt", achieved some notoriety with her exotic dance, other women stepped forward with their own "Oriental dance".  In 1904 a woman named "Princess Rajah" earned a name for herself with a dance that she performed in the "Mysterious Asia" concession at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. She got her start as a "cooch" dancer at Coney Island in the 1890s. This next short film of Princess Rajah's unusual belly dance style was shot on location at the St. Louis Exposition in May 1904 for the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company. She uses a prop in a surprising way that authentic Egyptian dancers would probably consider as absurdly dangerous. In later years she added a snake to her performance.

Sideshow exotic dancers were once a very common part of carnival entertainment, familiar to that part of the American public who understood the salacious hook. Nudge, nudge. Know what I mean?

But the thing about entertainment cliches, or memes in modern parlance, is that eventually even children learn about them. In 1929 Walt Disney made a short cartoon animation called The Karnival Kid. It was the ninth cartoon to feature Mickey Mouse, and the first one which let him speak. The story is set in a carnival where Minnie Mouse appears as a "Shimmy Dancer." 


It's important to note that the voice of Mickey (and the cats too), came from Carl W. Stalling (1891–1972), the composer of the cartoon's music. (Walt Disney voiced Minnie) Stalling came to Hollywood by way of his friendship with Walt, but his tenure at the Disney Studios was short. He is more closely associated with the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons produced by Warner Bros. Under his IMDB entry, Carl Stalling earned 774 credits as a composer during his long career. 

The previous short films are, of course, parodies of a traditional Middle-Eastern dance form. Here is an example of the real thing, with celebrated Egyptian dancer Nabaweya Moustafa (1919–2001) performing in a scene from the 1948 Egyptian film "Narges". The word Narges or Narjis is a female Arabic name that translates in English as the flower "Narcissus". Here the band and music have an authentic Arabic sound, and as far as I know, no chairs or hot dogs were harmed during Nabaweya's dance.  

The first belly dancers were exploiting a universal male desire to see scantily clad women perform a salacious bump and grind. Ignoring for the moment its obvious sexual nature, at its essence the "hoochie coochie dance" was, and still is, a bad imitation of misunderstood foreign culture. It shares the same kind of 19th century pigheaded insensitivity to the Arab and Middle-Eastern world just as the black-face minstrel shows did with African-American culture. It may seem like a harmless terpsichorean display but a century ago there was an underlying racist overtone to the "Oriental" dance that demeaned a number of national and ethnic cultures. Just the very word "Oriental" implies a myriad of offensive notions of imperialism, colonialism and white superiority over the rest of the world's people that does not resonate well in the 21st century.

Yet it's strange that somehow,
whenever you hear the first five notes
of the snake charmer song,
you can't help but think of dancers like these.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
a picture show that's always showing reruns.

Music by the River

14 August 2021


On a map, the two great rivers,
the Danube and the Nile
are unconnected.
Flowing through separate continents,
one river runs west to east,
and the other south to north.

Yet once upon a time
they shared a connection
through the sound of music.



The story starts with a colorful postcard showing a small orchestra
posed outdoors on a river wharf or a boat deck. The caption reads:

The celebread (sic) Austrian (Bohemia) Lady Band.
Propr.: Anton Klecar, Chef d'Orchestre, Cairo (Egypte).

The ensemble has 8 men and 10 women. Despite the location in sunny Egypt, the women are all dressed for Prague's climate in identical long black skirts and white shirts, while the men wear woolen three-piece suits. The image of the river behind them is likely a photographer's studio backdrop, but it gives the colorized photo a very realistic quality.
Most of the women are string players except for a woodwind player in the center row, maybe a flutist, and two drummers on the right. Presumably the bearded violinist standing center is the leader, Herr Klecar. Placed in front is a sign with the name of the group above a line of musical notation. Orchestre A. Klecar, Le Caire. At the top of the card is a handwritten note: V..z..(?) in Alexandrie, 16/12  1907

The back has a postmark of 16-12-07, 5:30 PM from Alexandria, Egypt over a brilliant red 4 milliemes stamp picturing the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Cheops. It was addressed to Wohlg(eboren) Fräulein Rosa Popelinsky of 18 Stiegergasse, Wien, Austria. The message on the back is a Christmas/New Year greeting from Mitzi Polok(?). I suspect the writer is a member of this orchestra sending her best wishes to a friend, perhaps another musician. 


It's a typical vacation souvenir, not unlike a postcard from a British seaside resort or a German spa. But the postcard's German message and confused English and French caption spelling, seems out of place with its Egyptian postmark. These Bohemian musicians on the Nile are a very long way from the Danube. Yet this insignificant ephemera speaks to a time when the world was divided into vast colonial empires and Egypt was the crossroads where all the compass points met.
In 1907 Egypt was ruled by Abbas II Helmy Bey (1874–1944) the Khedive, or viceroy, of the Khedivate of Egypt an autonomous tributary state of the Ottoman Empire, which included control of Sudan and other parts of Africa and the Middle East. However as a result of the Anglo-Egyptian War of 1882, the British occupied Egypt under a so-called Veiled Protectorate. 
The French had briefly occupied Egypt during Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign in Egypt and Syria, until he was defeated by the British in 1801.  However France remained a major colonial power in Africa and the Middle East. In 1854 a French diplomat,  Ferdinand de Lesseps, was granted a concession from Sa'id Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt and Sudan, to form a French British company that would construct a canal between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. This is where the connection to Austria comes in.  

Opening of the Suez Canal, 17 November 1869
Source: The Illustrated London News
18 December 1869

In November 1869, Franz Joseph I (1830–1916), the Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia, and monarch of all the states of the Austro-Hungarian empire, traveled to Egypt on his royal steamship Elisabeth to help inaugurate the Suez Canal. He was perhaps the most highest ranking royal personage at the event which included the French Empress Eugenie on her Imperial yacht L'Aigle, the Crown Prince of Prussia, and Prince Louis of Hesse. 

Excavating the Suez Canal had employed an estimated 1.5 million people during the 10 years it took to complete. Its geographic benefits of shortening the travel time between Asia and Europe was not initially considered worth the huge financial cost, or the thousands of laborers' lives lost during its construction. Similar complaints were made about another marvel of modern engineering just finished on the other side of the world.

One of the American representatives invited to Egypt for the Suez Canal's inauguration was a Californian mycologist and naturalist Harvey Willson "H. W." Harkness (1821–1901). Earlier in May 1869 he was  a participant in the grand ceremonies opening the first Transcontinental Railroad. Harkness was in charge of holding the celebrated golden spike that symbolized linking the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic. Now six months later he would witness another wonder, the canal that would link the world of the Orient with the Occident.
Opening of the Suez Canal, 17 November 1869

On 17 November 1869, Franz Joseph and the other dignitaries set off on their ships to cruise 193.3 km (120.1 miles) from Port Said to the canal's southern end. However the canal's depth was not a consistent measurement and on the first day, a French ship ran aground blocking most of the convoy for a while until it was pulled off the next day. When everyone finally reached Ismailia, the midpoint of the canal, the organizers arranged celebrations with a military review, illuminations, fireworks, and a ball at the Governor's Palace. The next day the convoy continued to Suez to finish the grand opening before returning to Cairo for more events and tours. Emperor Franz Joseph even visited the Great Pyramid of Cheops, though it's unlikely he climbed to the top as the violinist Ole Bull did a few years later in 1876.

The musical connection between the Danube and the Nile is because of an Austrian composer, Johann Strauss Jr. (1825–1899) who was arguably a bigger international celebrity than any royalty. 
Egyptischer Marsch (Egyptian March), Op. 335
by by Johann Strauss II

Johann Strauss composed over 500 waltzes, polkas, and quadrilles and other music, but his most famous work is his opus 314, "An der schönen, blauen Donau", better known by its English title, "The Blue Danube". This waltz was written in 1866 and performed to great acclaim at the 1867 Paris World's Fair. That success led to a commission in 1869 from the organizers of the Suez Canal grand opening for a new piece, appropriate for Egypt. The music's title is Egyptischer Marsch (Egyptian March), op. 335. 

I think it is a safe bet that Anton Klecar's Austrian-Bohemian ladies orchestra included "The Blue Danube Waltz" in the group's repertoire. (Though without a horn player, it wouldn't have sounded as good on trombone.)  But I also feel sure that 38 years after Emperor Franz Joseph first heard it played, Strauss's "Egyptian March" was a standard for Herr Klecar's ensemble.
Here is a nice performance of Strauss's "Egyptian March"
with Jose Franch-Ballester, conductor on 28 December 2018
at the Teatro Banda Primitiva de Lliria, in Valencia, Spain.
This is not Johann's original orchestration,
but an arrangement for a clarinet festival band.

There's a couple of tubas for additional bass support,
but this is about as many clarinets as anyone would ever want to see.
The little E-flats are on the first desks by the conductor's podium,
the giant contrabass clarinets are at the back.
No piccolos, flutes, oboes, or bassoons.
Just clarinets all the way up and down.
At one point Strauss stipulates that the musicians sing
the melody to the syllable "La".



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where sometimes everything tastes like Turkey.

Classic Rock in Kansas

07 August 2021

What makes a good vintage photograph?
Is it the clarity? The tonal contrast?
The artful pose and framing?

Sometimes it's a good photo for what we don't see.

A superior image might let us feel the warmth of sunshine and
a cool breeze through the shade of cottonwood trees.
It conjures up the aroma of freshly mown hay
mixed with the scent of crisply starched linen.

A good snapshot can resonate
with the music of laughter
and friendly conversation.
It can sparkle with animation,
letting us see the flicker of movement.

The good photo invites us to travel to a distant place
and experience a moment frozen in time.
It stimulates our imagination
to enjoy a sense of life and vitality
that the camera could not record.

It makes us feel as if we were there that day too.
And every so often a great photo can speak to us.

My first example of a great photo is a postcard of five young musicians, three men and two women sitting on top a rock wall with their string instruments. The quintet has two standard mandolins on the left and two larger mandolas on the right, with a guitar in the center. 

The group looks dressed as if for a summer Sunday. The women wear white frocks, and the men are in crisp white shirts and ties. All are wearing freshly shined shoes. They appear to be in their late teens or early twenties. 

The postcard was sent to Miss J. Ainsworth
of Marion, Kansas on 24 August 1908.

Dear Jim - I have the
goods. I found it.
I will send it
sometime this week
just as soon as I get
it cut off. How are
you getting along?
It's pretty rainy isn't
it?  We have got the 
cutest little pup. –  Emma 

Florence is a small town in Marion county, Kansas, established in 1870 along the proposed route of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, at the point where the railroad would cross the Cottonwood River. Today the population of Florence, Kansas is only about 435. But in 1908 it was nearly 3 times that number with 1,168 citizens. This meant it was large enough to have a music store.

Florence KS Bulletin
27 February 1902

The Emporia Music & Book Co. advertised in the Florence Bulletin, "Music!  Muisc! (sic) We carry everything in the musical line from the (c)heapest that's good to the best that's made."  The price of a piano in 1902 cost from $150 and up, but mandolins started at $5.00 and guitars at just $3.00 since they had two fewer strings. This was also the price of a Kodak No. 2 Brownie camera which took photos 2½ x 4¼ inches.

Florence KS Bulletin
4 June 1908

The Florence Bulletin, might have benefitted from a better spell checker, but it still provided a wonderful variety of social news about this little town in east central Kansas. Every week the people of Florence could learn about their neighbors' activities and other local events. The newspaper's regular edition printed 8 pages, and though it included state and national news, its reports were primarily about its local readership.

Florence KS Bulletin
10 May 1906

In May 1906 the paper noted that "A guitar and mandolin club, composed of Misses Addie Bender and Mause McCollum and John Stamp, furnished music for the supper given by the ladies of the Christian church last Friday evening."  

The mandolin is an instrument that can be played with the same fingerings and level of virtuosity as a violin. It can also be strummed using simple chords just like a guitar or banjo. Its popularity in America is tied with Italian immigrants to the United States in the late 19th century, and somehow it became a favorite instrument for the young people of Kansas. Using an admittedly unscientific method, the word "mandolin" did not appear in a search of American newspapers in until about 1885 when it got just over 1,000 hits. By 1897 the references peaked at 57,616, declined to 32,200 hits in 1908, and plateaued to a ±20,000 level over the next two decades. Presently our 21st century, "mandolin" gets a mention about 3,000 times annually in newspapers. 

My second example of a great photo is another postcard. It's a picture captioned Main Street, Florence, Kans. and shows an impressive row of two story mercantile shops facing a wide dirt street with a dozen horse-drawn wagons parked in front. A barber's pole is on the far right of the street. In the foreground is a small white donkey pulling a cart driven by two children, a girl and younger boy.  

Street scene postcards like this were once very popular in America during the early 20th century. Florence's town plan was typical of many towns in the Midwest which followed a simple grid layout  of streets and avenues. This postcard was posted from Florence, Kansas on 8 September 1909.  Like the other postcard it was addressed to Miss Jimmy Ainsworth in Marion, Kansas, which was the namesake and largest city in Marion county, with a population of 1,841, though in 1910 this was only 800 or so more people than in Florence. 

Dear Jim:
Billie and I both
like the small or first
one the best but then
you go ahead and have
the one finished that
suits you.  Remember the
donkey in this picture.
Dont study too hard.    Goodbye
                                         from Emma.

One of the wonders of our internet age, is Google Maps street view. The engineers who dreamed up this  amazing concept were probably intending it to used by people navigating in the 21st century. But for amateur historians like myself, it lets me travel time and space to compare the Before image with the After.

* * *

* * *

Here are three more historic street views of Florence found at
They let us better appreciate that bucolic nature of Florence
was sometimes disturbed by the fierce natural forces of America's Great Prairie.

People in flood waters in front of the gallery
in Florence, Kansas June 7, 1906

Flood in Florence, KS 1906

Notice that sign on the porch of the small building
behind the men in the boat:
BULLETIN – Florence's local weekly newspaper.

Flood in Florence, KS
Horner Block, 1906 or 1905

I think my two postcards are both great photos because they each attract our attention in different ways. The 1909 picture of Florence's Main Street tells more about Kansas life than a thousand words could.  And the 1908 photo of the guitar & mandolin club is a beautiful portrait of American youth at the start of the new century.  

Of course the best part is that both postcards bring us the voice of a young woman named Emma writing to someone oddly named Miss Jimmy Ainsworth. Was Emma a friend, cousin, or sister? Once I added the surname it wasn't hard to find Emma Ainsworth. In the 1900 census for Marion, Kansas, Emma Ainsworth, born August 1886, age 13, lived with her mother, Elizabeth, age 51; four sisters Villa, 22; Myrtle, 16; Inez, 11; Clara, 8; and brother Roy, 20. 

However in the Kansas state census of 1895, the family included her father, William, a farmer born in Vermont, and four other siblings, all female.  Unfortunately only initials are listed and not always correctly. It would seem that Emma had an older sister born in 1880 with the initials J. L. Ainsworth. In the 1905 Kansas state census for Marion, mother Elizabeth Ainsworth is listed as the head of household with four daughters, Myrtle, Emma, Inez, and Clara. By 1910 only one daughter, Clara, is still at home with her mother.

In these postcards the person to whom Emma is writing seems to be a younger school age girl. I think the name Jimmy or Jim is Clara's family nickname. There may be other complicated reasons for this relationship, and I've considered cousins, nieces, nephews, etc. but between 1900 and 1910 there were only six Ainsworths living in Marion and none of them had a J in their name.

However in Florence there were only a few people connected to either a mandolin or a guitar.

Florence KS Bulletin
16 April 1908

In April 1908, the Florence Bulletin reported that John Stamp and Will Hudson spent an evening at a family party and "entertained with mandolin and guitar music." Since is was in that order, I believe Stamp was on mandolin and Hudson on guitar. 

Just two month's later, J.W. Hudson's name made the front page of the Bulletin, alongside Miss Emma Ainsworth.

Marion KS Review 
11 June 1908

In June 1908, the Marion Review ran an announcement that "J. W. Hudson of Florence and Miss Emma Ainsworth of this city were married at Emporia on Wednesday June 3rd. Mr. and Mrs. Hudson will make their home in Florence.

"Emma Ainsworth is one of the finest girls Marion has produced and that is saying a good deal. she was for several years in the telephone office here and was one of the best operators and most accommodating employees the company has ever had. Mr. Hudson is the wire chief of the Missouri and Kansas Telephone Co and an expert electrician. He helped install the present telephone plant in this city."

In both postcards, Emma was writing as the newly married Mrs. Hudson. In other reports I learned that she visited Marion to stay with her mother Elizabeth Ainsworth, and that Clara Ainsworth visited her sister Emma in Florence. Emma's husband's full name was John William Hudson. By the 1925 state census John and Emma were living in Marion and had four children, three boys and one girl.  

Was Emma one of the young women on the rock wall with a mandolin? I can't really say for sure that she was. The two women may be the two mentioned in the 1906 report on the guitar and mandolin club. But I think a better bet is that the handsome guitar player is John William Hudson. It would be a very good reason for Emma to have the photo and send it to Clara. And also a reason why she felt no need to identify him either. Sometimes it's what hidden in a photo that makes it really interesting.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is rocking and rolling this weekend.

Monument to the Fallen, Königsbrück 1918

01 August 2021


This is an artist, a sculptor
who happens to be French.
He leans against his latest work,
a stone figure of a wounded soldier
lying prone on a battlefield.
However his sculpture is not
of a French combatant
but instead is a Serbian fighter.

The soldier's statue lays atop a stone plinth
with a text carved onto the front in Cyrillic letters.


More curious is that its installation
is located in the heart of eastern Germany,
very far from France and Serbia.
It is in a cemetery for prisoners of the Great War of 1914-18.

The monument was placed before long lines
of dozens of freshly made graves,
each marked with a cross.
On the postcard is a caption written in French:

Cimetiere Serbe
Le Monument
par Delphaut Adgt 153-
Serbian cemetery
The Monument
by Delphaut, Adjutant 153-


This card, like the previous two, was sent to Madame Gigout of Meurthe-et-Moselle in eastern France, a large city named after the Meurthe and Moselle rivers in the Grand Est region. It was posted by her husband Alfred Gigout, a French soldier captured by the German army during World War 1.

Alfred was a sergeant in the 153rd infantry regiment of France when early in the war his unit was overwhelmed by the German advance in the Battle of Lorraine. On 20 August 1914 the German army listed him as a prisoner of war and sent him to a camp in Königsbrück, Germany, a town in the Free State of Saxony, about 27 km (17 mi) northeast of Dresden, the Saxon capital. Though he signs the card with just the simplest wish to his wife, Baisers ~ Kisses, Alfred, his Kriegsgefangenensendung, or prisoner of war postcard, provides more information. It has a rubber stamp that shows it came from the Königsbrück Sachesen Neues Lager, or new camp. Alfred's identification number was #5348 and he lived in barracks no. 7.

Map of Prisoner of War camps in Germany during World War I
Source: Wikipedia
I have written two other stories about this POW camp, The Prisoners of Königsbrück, and Art in a Time of War. For some unknown reason the camp at Königsbrück produced a larger variety of photo postcards during the war than any other POW camp, and my collection now has so many that they have their own album separate from the photos of other camps. Most of the postcards depict the everyday life of a military prison camp and were published as propaganda to demonstrate the supposedly humane treatment that enemy soldiers were accorded by their German captors. There are pictures of soldiers at meal times, in the barracks, getting their mail, working at gardens. 

But many photo cards reveal that the Königsbrück prisoners enjoyed an extraordinary variety of cultural activities. There are images of individual musicians, camp orchestras, theater productions in both French and Russian, and even examples of fine artwork made by the prisoners. Though these pursuits were permitted at other POW camps, in Königsbrück these pastimes were documented at a higher level. 

This is a very challenging history to research and describe. And not helped by my poor language skills reading French, German, and even Russian.  My previous blog stories were only a kind of prequel to the real story I wish to tell about the Königsbrück POW camp. So today I present a set of photos that first sparked my curiosity to collect more ephemera from this camp. Who was this artist? Why would a Frenchman create a monument to a Serb soldier? How did he manage to acquire such a large stone, much less the masonry tools, to make it? What did it cost and who paid for it? I do not have many answers yet, but I think I have enough to begin the story.  

This POW camp was one of the first to be established by the German military command in 1914. As the war progressed, many more would be built in Germany and Austria to confine hundreds of thousands of Russian, French, Belgian, British, Italian and Serbian soldiers captured between August 1914 and November 1918. At the end of 1915 the German authorities recorded over 1.4 million prisoners, both military and civilian, and when the war ended in 1918 it was estimated 2.4 million soldiers from thirteen nations were interned in German camps.
The Königsbrück POW camp was built near a training base for the German XII Army Corps (Dresden).  It was described in a gazetteer produced during the last stage of the war for families of British POWs as "situated on sandy soil amidst pine-woods a short distance from the town. Capacity, 15,000." Most of the prisoners were Russian, French, Belgian, and Serbian. All were enlisted men, as officers were confined separately at the Königstein Fortress 30 miles south on the Elbe River below Dresden.

Last year I acquired a number of postcards of this Serbian prisoner of war monument which were all posted from Königsbrück by Sergeant Alfred Gigout to his wife in Meurthe-et-Moselle. Evidently he was a devoted husband who regularly wrote to his family, and fortunately for me, Madame Gigout dutifully saved Alfred's postcards which recount his years in captivity. In this photo of the monument, Sergeant Gigout adds a note and date. Inauguration du Monument Serbe (4 Septmbre 18) Exécute par Delphaut, Adjt au 153e
Surrounding the base are several large floral wreaths, presumably given by different persons or groups. It's an unexpected extravagance to see in a prison camp, and it implies that this was an important occasion. Moments after I spotted this card on a postcard dealer's listings, I came across the next postcard, also sent by Sergeant Gigout. It was then that I realized Alfred must have a personal connection to this memorial. By the end of the day, I had bought dozens of his postcards.

 In this photo the sculptor Delphaut stands in front of his Serbian monument
with six other men, all wearing a mix of civilian and military garments.

The plinth has additional text below the upper words.


The names of the other men are not recorded, but Alfred Gigout has left a caption, Monument Serbe –, so that his wife will understand what it is. There is a wooden beam across the plinth which is part of a scaffold, so this photo was taken before any wreath laying, probably on the day when Delphaut made his final finishing touches. I think these men are his assistants who help him fabricate this sculpture. In this era woodcarving and decorative masonry were familiar craft trades and a professional artist would likely recruit men with the right skills to do the rough stone work. Because I have five postcards of this Serb monument which Alfred Gigout sent home, I also believe that he is one of these six men. 
In the ICRC historical archives for Prisoners of the First World War, I was able to find records for Alfred Gigout which directly place him in the Königsbrück camp and with the 153rd infantry regiment. His date of birth is listed as 26 March 1881, so in 1918 he would be age 37. Though this age fits several of the men, my hunch is that he is the man standing just next to Delphaut, third from the right, because somehow that man looks like an Alfred to me.

In this next photo postcard Alfred writes a caption along the top. Bénédiction du Monument Serbe par le Pope Russe ~ Blessing of the Serbian Monument by the Russian Pope. The statue is covered with a sheet, awaiting its official unveiling. Nearby is a small altar set up with liturgical candles and icons for the Russian Eastern Orthodox priest. All around are a great number of soldiers, including several German officers in Pickelhaube helmets. The tall one looking at the camera is, I think, the camp commandant.

Alfred had witnessed this kind of solemn ceremony before. Another postcard which he sent to his wife shows a French monument next to fresh graves covered with wreaths. It is a short obelisk about 12 feet tall, with a year 1914 over a large palm frond and the Latin words PRO PATRIA ~ FOR COUNTRY.  On the obelisk's plinth is an inscription: 

Les Prisonniers de Guerre
de Königsbrück
a leurs Fréres d'Armes
The Prisoners of War of Königsbrück
to their Brothers in Arms

A second card shows three French officers in full dress uniforms with medals, standing next to the monument. One holds a large wreath made of flowers and palm fronds. Their serious expressions impart the solemnity of the occasion. 

One of the difficulties with Sergeant Gigout's postcards is that he rarely dated them and the military postal service did not apply a postmark. In the center of this card is a circular embossed franking mark, visible on the back, but it only identifies the place, Königsbrück, and the type of correspondence, i.e. Kriegsgefangenensendung. 

During the war, hundreds of thousands of letters and packages were conveyed between the belligerent nations. I don't know exactly how this was done, but I think the postal exchange likely went through neutral countries like Switzerland and Sweden which must have added a longer delay before a card or package was delivered. Postcards were likely more expeditious since their bulk weight was less than with letters and parcels. Since the obelisk's year 1914 commemorates the start of the war, and not the middle or end, I believe it safe to date these photos to the fall or winter of 1914/15.

The German military command segregated captured soldiers into various types of POW camps with one type of prison for officers, who were exempt from being impressed for any war work, and another for enlisted men, who could be drafted for heavy labor details. Generally each nationality was also segregated, so in Königsbrück the French, Belgians, Russians, Italians, and Serbs were each confined to different compounds. With 15,000+ men this required rigorous management to guard so many soldiers until whenever the war might end. Many captured soldiers arrived wounded and needed hospital care for their injuries. Illness and disease were also constant problems, so consequently many of the soldiers died in the camps. By one estimate I found the Königsbrück cemetery had around 600 graves.

This postcard sent by Alfred Gigout shows a funeral cortege in the Königsbrück camp of Russian soldiers following a horse-drawn wagon draped in black. The men are bareheaded except for the German guards. An Eastern Orthodox priest walks in front of the horse. The camp photographer applied a caption instead of Alfred, but its mournful meaning is clear. This was no.279 and copies of the photo were sold to both the prisoners and to the German soldiers guarding them. Alfred probably bought it at the camp canteen and sent it to Madame Gigout to fulfill his regular postal allowance and let her know, "I'm still okay."

This next photo shows another somber event at the cemetery.
Again captioned by the camp photographer followed by a date: 22.3.1916. 

Gefangenenlager Königsbrück
Russen Friedhof Denksteinweihe

Prison camp Königsbrück
Russian's Cemetery memorial stone consecration

Alfred added no notation here, perhaps because he did not participate in this Russian ceremony. Early in the war after the German army defeated the Russian forces in several enormous battles on the Eastern Front thousands of Russians soldiers were captured. That German victory meant that a POW camp like Königsbrück contained a much larger population of Russians than either French, Belgian, or British soldiers. The idea of a memorial was a common sentiment and somehow the Russian POWs commissioned a monument for their dead comrades. I don't have a postcard of it yet, but it appears similar to the French obelisk, perhaps a bit taller. Notice that there is an altar to the left of the monument, and just in the center. There was also a smaller monument built for the Italian prisoners of war, but I have not found a postcard of it.

This next photograph has a printed back that indicates it came from the Königsbrück POW camp, but it was never posted so I don't know if it was one of Sergeant Gigout's. It shows a soldier's burial service conducted by an Eastern Orthodox priest. It is winter with several inches of snow on the ground. I think the soldiers gathered around the grave are dressed in Serbian army uniforms rather than Russian, so I've labeled this as a burial in the Serbian side of the cemetery. But I could be mistaken and they may be actually Russian as the Eastern Orthodox church was the state religion in both Serbia and Russia. A few soldiers hold large floral wreaths which must have been both expensive and difficult to obtain in Germany during wartime.


Finally I return to my first image at the top of this story with the photo of the artist and his work. In the corner of the full postcard Alfred Gigout adds a note, Monument funéraire des Serbes, Königsbrück ~ Serbian funerary monument. The sculptor Delphaut sits on the wooden scaffolding dressed in a white suit more in the style of Paris rather than a POW camp. In his right hand he clasps a stone mason's hammer. On the right is a box of steel tools including a masonry chisel and iron feather wedges to split stone. I think his expression and posture conveys the pride of an artist, not a soldier. 

Because of Alfred Gigout's notations on the other postcards, we know that his surname was Delphaut and that his rank was an adjutant, a non-commissioned officer similar to a staff sergeant or warrant officer. His army unit was the 153rd infantry regiment, the same as Sergeant Gigout. 

With these useful clues I was able to find several records of him in the ICRC historical archives. His full name was Edmond Henri Delphaut, assigned to a machinegun company in the 153rd infantry regiment. He was reported missing in action on 17 April 1916 which would be when the 153rd took part in the Battle of Verdun. Later I found a copy of his full military service record which notes that Edmond H. Delphaut was born in Paris on 11 November 1891, and first joined the army in October of 1912. 

By good fortune, Edmond Delphaut survived the war and according to his military records even returned to army service in 1919 joining the 1st regiment of French Zouaves. During the years between the wars, he became a professional artist and sculptor. There are at least five war monuments in communes around France that are attributed to him. Delphaut married, raised a family, and died on 7 August 1957 in Ploërmel, a commune in Brittany in north-western France. He was age 65.  

There is much more I want to tell about this artist, but today I decided to present the man that Alfred Gigout knew. Did they have a close friendship? Did Alfred help Edmond in the crafting of this impressive statue? I don't know. The answers to those questions, and many more, may never be be found. But this is the first of a series of stories I plan to write about the artistic life of the Königsbrück POW camp.

* * *

How do we preserve history? Retain a memory? Each of these postcards represents a simple communication between a husband and wife isolated from each other by the calamity of war. In the summer of 1914, neither Sergeant Gigout or Madame Gigout could predict the outcome of this terrible conflict which engulfed Europe. Like many people that year, they thought Alfred's imprisonment would be over in just a few weeks. Instead it became an ordeal of 4 ¼ years sustained by a wish that they both might survive the war to embrace each other again. These postcards are a very personal record of their memories of a grim time.

Yet in this set of photos, Sergeant Gigout was preserving another memory, a soldier's remembrance of his friends and comrades. Men who have endured the trials of combat and suffered the debilitation of prison share an intense experience that creates an unbreakable bond of brotherhood. The graves at Königsbrück marked a common sacrifice between these men who spoke different languages and worshipped different faiths. Yet all of the men, whether French, Russian, Serbian, or German, understood a soldier's need for a tangible memorial to their fallen comrades. That is ultimately the purpose of a cemetery, to preserve memory.

Unlike the hundreds of cemeteries erected near the battlefields of the Great War, the graves of its prisoners of war are not well known. As I wrote in my 2018 story to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1, The Faceless Statistics of War, the millions of soldiers taken captive between 1914 and 1918 is just too enormous a statistic to fathom. Its scale is only exceeded by the number of deaths. How can we comprehend the human cost of this horrific war? Perhaps when there is a face with a name. 

When Alfred wrote his captions identifying his comrade/artist, Edmond Henri Delphaut, he was just sharing with his wife a memory of his friend. He could never have imagined that a century later someone would buy his postcards because they preserved a name and face that might otherwise have vanished into the dark fog of history. I believe that Gigout's postcards of the Königsbrück POW camp, and the many other cards that I have found, represent an important record of a time and place that deserves to be remembered. If names and faces are not saved, then the history will vanish. 

Serbian Monument at Königsbrück, Germany, 2020

Shortly after I acquired this collection of postcards last year, I found a website which had modern photos of Delphaut's Serbian Monument. The cemetery is still in Königsbrück, now under the protection of the German government with the support of an organization called the Volksbund. This is a quote from their website that describes their mission.

The Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge is a humanitarian organization charged by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany with recording, maintaining and caring for the graves of German war casualties abroad. The Volksbund is Germany's war graves commission and provides information to relatives on all matters related to war graves. It also advises public and private institutions and promotes a culture of remembrance as well as international cooperation in the area of war grave maintenance, and encourages young people to come together to learn at the last resting places of war casualties.
Last year in August 2020, a local volunteer group from Germany's armed forces undertook the task to clean the cemetery's monuments after a century of neglect. By a wonderful coincidence they posed for a photo next to the Serbian Prisoner's Monument in nearly the same position as Delphaut and his assistants. 

Serbian Monument at Königsbrück, Germany, 2020

On 11 November 2020, the Volksbund arranged a rededication of the Serbian Monument to honor the Königsbrück prisoners who died there during the war. I think Edmond and Alfred would be very pleased to see that their memory of the camp has been respectfully preserved for future generations to understand its history.

Serbian Monument at Königsbrück, Germany, 2020

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where every photo has a story.


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