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 }

Portrait of a Young Violinist

23 October 2021


It was a special day for a photograph.
The young girl is dressed in
black hose, buckled shoes,
and a beautiful white lace frock.
Her wavy hair has been carefully combed back
and tied with a large white bow.
She directs her gaze downward
with tiny hint of a smile,
while holding a violin and bow
that rest on an elaborate rattan chair.

It's one the finest portraits in my collection
as the print condition is near perfect,
requiring no digital correction.
The camera's lens was of superior quality
as it picked up the detail of her frock's stitchwork
and even the chain links on her heart shape locket. 

It could easily be the high class work
of a photographer from Chicago or Philadelphia.

So it's surprising that it came from
a small town in Texas.


The photographer's name is unclear as the embossed logo was pressed onto buff cardstock without ink. The left side has an Aladdin lamp with sparkling rays from the spout, but next to it are just a few letters in a broad italic font, perhaps Fuss or other initials. But the photographer's location is clear — Sealy. Tex., a small town west of Houston, Texas that was built in 1879 on the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad. When this photo was taken there were less than 1,000 residents in Sealy, yet its history is interesting because of a public health issue that we are dealing with in our time. 
Sealy, Texas was named after George Sealy (1835–1901) of Galveston, a business tycoon who developed this railroad as a way of avoiding the Galveston, Houston & Henderson Railroad (GH&H) which was then the only rail link between the two cities. During the 19th century the port city of Galveston was regularly subjected to strict quarantines imposed by the city of Houston when Galveston had outbreaks of yellow fever and other epidemics. So the businessmen of Galveston decided to bypass Houston by building their own railway line that would cross Texas to reach Santa Fe, New Mexico. However it did not succeed and in 1886 the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad was bought out by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. 
Sealy, Texas is also known by a famous brand name. In 1881, Daniel Haynes, a cotton gin maker in Sealy began filling orders in town for a cotton-filled mattress of his own invention. It proved so popular that he registered a patent and formed a company which he named the Sealy Mattress Company after his hometown.

What makes this lovely portrait extra special is a note on the back.
In a large cursive hand the girl is identified as:
Helene Rossler
age 11 years
Fort Worth, Tex

It did not take long to find her in the 1900 US Census for Fort Worth.
1900 US Census - Fort Worth, Texas
Helene or Helen Rossler was the second child of Conrad and Helen Rossler, both immigrants from Germany. Helen, then age 6, was born in Texas, as were her other siblings, an older sister, Kate Rossler, born in 1890, and a younger brother, William Rossler, born in 1896. The 1900 census usefully includes birth months and Helen's was June which dates her photo sometime between June 1904 and May 1905.

1913 Austin, TX city directory

In the 1900 census, Conrad or Konrad Rossler listed his occupation as salesman, but in 1913 the Rossler family was living in Austin, Texas where Konrad Rossler ran a barbers' supply business dealing in cutlery and grinding, i.e. sharpening. Miss Helen E. Rossler, now age 20, was listed separately, as was her brother William, a grinder, though both still lived at home.


On the 30 May 1917, Helen Rossler and Alfred Dieckert took out a marriage license in Houston. Helen was age 23 and Alfred 28. Like Helen, his parents were also from Germany. He worked for the Houston gas company, and in 1923 the couple moved to St. Petersburg, Florida where Alfred took a foreman position with the city gas department and also worked in real estate.

Tampa Bay Times
11 December 1927

I don't think Helen was ever a professional musician, but a search for her name and instrument did bring up one social event where she performed for a bridge party in Tampa/St. Petersburg.  
Helen's father suffered a heart attack in January 1932 and died at age 62. His wife, Helene Rossler had moved to St. Petersburg and passed away there in June 1953 at age 80. In December 1960, Alfred Dieckert, by now retired at age 72, died in a St. Petersburg hospital. And finally on 27 October 1974, Mrs. Alfred Dieckert, née Helen Rossler, a retired beautician and resident of St. Petersburg for 52 years, died at age 81. As far as I can determine, she and Alfred never had children.

Tampa Bay Times
29 October 1974
It was indeed a special day.
We may admire the photograph by its own merits,
but learning the background of young Helen Rossler
gives us a better portrait of the child and her family.
Her violin is displayed not only as evidence
of her parent's pride in Helen's musical talent
but is also a reflection of how the old world culture
came over from Germany and contributed to American music.
Since it's likely that Helen's brother and sister
also learned to play a musical instrument,
the Rossler family home must have resounded with constant music.
 But discovering that her father's trade was in barber supplies,
that is what really makes Helen's hair shine.


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where every child is as pretty as a picture.


La Nightingail said...

As always, when you put together a post, it's full of information about all the participants which makes them so interesting. You bring the artists to life. As to Helen's household being full of music - maybe. My three kiddos played trombone, alto sax, and flute, but for some reason, never played together - only the three of them. Don't know why? An impromptu trio concert might have been fun, but - oh well. :)

La Nightingail said...

P.S. Maybe they didn't play together at home because they knew I'd try to sing along? My daughter, who still plays her alto sax, complains when I try to do that even now. :[]

Barbara Rogers said...

Good for her, and growing up in a difficult time, with many moving to St. Petersburg FL. That's a great center for retirement, which had a bit of a downturn but is back on the upswing again, according to my relations who live there.

DawnTreader said...

How I wish more people had thought of adding names and dates on the back of photos (or in their albums)... :)


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP