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 Kräusel Family Virtuosi

24 June 2011

The Virtuosen-Familie Th. Kräusel are an example of a popular European tradition of the late 19th and early 20th century - the family band. Music was like any other family-run craft or trade, and a musician's children were expected to excel at music and participate in the family business. So naturally, a prolific family would offer public concerts of their household orchestra.

Most photographs like this one emphasize the variety of instruments, or the number of children,  or both. String instruments are just as varied as brass band instruments, and suggest a more refined musical repertoire. The formal white tie and tails suggest a professional class too. And as always, the youngest child is the star attraction.

This photo postcard is nicely dated Sunday Oct.31, 1909 and provides a printed name of Th. Kräusel, likely Theodor Kräusel.

On the back are the names Edward, Kalle, Ernst, & self.  Could it be the mother's or the father's writing? Who else but parents would not bother with a spouse's name? Presumably Edward is the older boy in the back with a cello, next to sister Kalle on cittern, and Ernst in front holding a violin.

The advent of the picture postcard proved a useful new convenience for marketing a musical group like this. There are hundreds of similar musical bands in German and Austrian postcards of this period. This one might even be a first printing saved by Herr Kräusel.

Unfortunately the name Kräusel with its ümlaut offers too many German spelling variants, so I have been unable to find any records on this family. Without knowing their precise background, they may have come from almost anywhere in central Europe.

But I have found more of their photos.

This larger cabinet card size photograph shows two more brothers, but no sister. Along the bottom is printed the same Virtuosen-Familie Th. Kräusel and penciled on the back is:
Zur Freundlicher Erinnerung von Nan Kräusel
For Friendly Remembrance from Nan Kräusel. 
A younger family is here with wonderful costumes that have lost their colors to the sepia-tone. If the first date is correct, this photo is perhaps 1902-4, but mother Nan certainly ages. No doubt from the trials of managing such a large band.

The photographer is Alfred B. Nilson, Helsingborg which is in Sweden so perhaps there is a Swedish connection. Many Germanic names cross over the complicated boundaries of 19th Century Europe, which makes finding good identity matches very challenging. Or maybe this was taken on tour.

And finally an even older image from the Historische Bildpostkarten Collection from the University of Osnabrück. This was one family band that worked hard on music promotion. And haircuts too.

Imagine traveling in 1900 with steamer trunks full of of instruments, music, costumes and of course the children. Maybe the slower pace balanced out the challenges of railway timetables, bad hotels, and poor roads. Did they perform at hotels or beer gardens? Were they playing for strictly German-speaking audiences or was their music tailored for Danish, Swedish, or even Hungarian tastes?

The string instruments include violins, a violincello, mandolins, a cittern, and the Harp Guitar which was a favorite instrument of German folk ensembles of this era. It has a fretted neck for playing complex chords and an unfretted neck for bass strings played separately in the manner of a harp. There are many kinds of Harp Guitars using different arrangements for strings, necks, and sound box, but it was probably used to accompany the voice. Did the children sing too?

There are also some woodwind instruments, some herald trumpets, and a few percussion too, including a kind of xylophone.

But the reason that this is a unique musical group is found in the first photo. The arrangement on the floor has two unusual instruments crossed on top of two wooden xylophones: an oboe (L) and a Heckelphone (R) with its characteristic side holes in the bell. The oboe is exceptional enough in photographs but the Heckelphone is beyond rare. An obscure member of the oboe family, it was invented by the Wilhelm Heckel GmbH  in the 1880s after a suggestion by Richard Wagner for a stronger bass oboe for his operas. Wagner had already "invented" the Wagner Tuba to cope with the special demands for a bass horn in his immense opera productions. This was a similar concept of reinforcing the bass timbre in the double reed instruments: the oboe and the bassoon. Few orchestra musicians today have ever seen or heard a Heckelphone, and usually its part is played by a contra-bassoon bassoon. (see comments of Robert Howe below)

Here you can see the full consort of the oboe family from small Musette (bottom) to largest Heckelphone (top), which is an octave lower than the standard oboe ( 2nd from bottom). A modern orchestra typically has two oboes and and English horn. The Heckel company, famous for its bassoons, never completed the design of the Heckelphone in Wagner's lifetime, and the first instrument was only finished in 1905. Richard Strauss used it first for his opera Salome and later Elektra, and An Alpine Symphony.  Gustav Holst scored for one a bass oboe (2nd from top) in The Planets. (see comments of Robert Howe below)

Because it is such a very uncommon instrument, there is a Heckelphone List of every single instrument that has been made and that reaches to only 148. In the first decade of the 20th century only 29 were produced, and Herr Kräusel has one at his feet! Could he be an oboist in an opera orchestra who premiered this odd bass instrument in one of Strauss's operas?

Arthur Grossman
Univ. of Washington

In January, 2001, Music Professor Arthur Grossman of the University of Washington presented a special Heckelphone Concert. His photo from the university magazine shows what an ungainly instrument it is. Click the link for the story of how he acquired his Heckelphone.

But how did the Virtuosen Familie Kräusel get their instrument? Certainly only a professional oboe player would know of such a thing. Theodor Kräusel probably put in a special order to the Heckel factory. At this time there were hundreds of opera houses around the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, but only a few of them could stage the grand operas of Strauss. Herr Kräusel surely must have played in one of them.

I can not imagine the Heckelphone providing an accompaniment to a medley of German children's songs, but I can imagine that great mustache wrapped around the little double reed. His children must have laughed.

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Summer Music at Rye Beach, NH

17 June 2011

The sounds of summer are always musical, but once upon a time they were shared by everyone. A holiday at the beach in 1900 was never complete without music from the bandstand. Every resort and hotel offered extra attractions like a band or orchestra. Groups with a theme were popular favorites like Herr Blome's Berlin Meisters in Blackpool, England which I posted last year.

These five musicians stand behind a bandstand on the other side of the Atlantic in Rye Beach, New Hampshire in the summer of 1897. The large format photo has the double bass player marked as Paul Whiteman, along with two violins, a clarinet, and cornet. Their uniforms have fancy but discrete embroidery and they wear jaunty white nautical caps with a letter N badge. There is no music leader here, and the rest of the orchestra is probably out for supper.

Rye Beach is part of  Rockingham County   that small part of New Hampshire's Atlantic coastline  that separates Massachusetts from Maine. Tourism started in the 1840's with the Ocean House,  shown here in a stereoscopic card from the New York Public Library collection. Note the bandstand on the front lawn. Another large hotel was the named the Farragut House, capitalizing on a visit of the famous Admiral Farragut. Perhaps this connection and the nearby Portsmouth Navy Yard  explain the musicians' yachting hats. But unfortunately fire was a common hazard, and these grand buildings didn't survive into the 1900's. 

Neighboring Hampton Beach  was developed in 1907 when the New Hampshire beaches really became a popular destination for visitors from all over New England. This postcard is from 1914 and shows the band stand and the boardwalk. It was sent to Miss Irene Blessing of Leominster, MA.
We are having a great time Wish you were here with us.
We have three concerts a day here and oh such dancing. Minnie

I failed to find any records on the double bassist Paul Whiteman or his N orchestra. I do know he could not be Paul Whiteman (1890 - 1967) the famous jazz band leader of the 1920's. He and his comrades were no doubt seasonal musicians, perhaps a traveling ensemble that played the New England resort circuits.

One check was to go through the census of Rye, which was done on June 26, 1900. After several pages of the usual farmers, shop keepers, fishermen, etc. - all born in New Hampshire or Massachusetts, abruptly there are two whole pages of men with wonderfully melodious names like Giovanni Crestello, Franncesco Pappatoro,  Leonardo Belatriccio - all born in Italy. Over 200 men imported from Italy and employed to build the the Electric Railroad, the trolley car line that is pictured in the postcard. I would bet that several of them went on to become musicians in the hotel bands too.

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The New York Orphan Boys' Band

11 June 2011

As American cities made the turn into the 20th century, they struggled with a major social problem - the care of widows. orphans, and the elderly. The rapid growth in industry and business, as well as immigration, saw rising populations in all classes of society, but especially in the numbers of abandoned and orphaned children living on the streets. In 1902, New York City had over 60  Homes for Children devoted to the care of foundlings, orphans, half-orphans, and destitute children. This circa 1905 postcard shows the band from one such institution,
the New York Orphan Boy's Band.

The band's military style uniforms, complete with leggings, are different than those of most other boys bands of this time. A few of the older "boys" sport broad-brimmed boyscout hats. Presumably the band furnished  parade music too, as the little drum major stands next to a fancy bearskin hat. On the bass drum the printing company has added the image of the manager, J. De Forest.

But  this card is more an advertisement than a postcard, because on the back is Roy De Forest, the youngest LEADER in the WORLD imitating SOUSA. Wearing a smart embroidered coat, he strikes a confident pose with a heavy bandmaster's baton.

But what is the back-story to this promotional ephemera from 1900 New York? My research took an unexpected direction that led to an exploration of the early sporting history of boxing.
The name "De Forest" presented problems because of alternative spellings, and "Roy" and the initial J were insufficient for a good confirmation. But then I found another copy of this same card on a website for boxing memorabilia. It was the only band photo amid thousands of boxing photos, and it seemed an odd entry for such a specialized subject. But the answer came when I found another photo with the name Jimmy DeForest posing with the celebrated boxer, Jack Dempsey. 

This photo comes from , and shows James "Jimmy" DeForest, the trainer who helped Dempsey win his famous championship fight against Jess Willard on July 4, 1919.

Willard was the 6'6" heavyweight who had defeated Jack Johnson in Havana in 1915, and this bout was no less controversial. Dempsey knocked Willard down 7 times in the first round, leading to a claim that he had used weighted gloves on the larger man. Willard sustained a broken jaw, cheekbone, and ribs, and threw in the towel after the third round. The charge of fixed gloves has since been proven baseless but it still inspires heated debate.

Though he is older in this photo, the resemblance to the man on the bass drum is striking. With this better search term, the 1910 Census found James DeForest age 41, living in Ocean township, New Jersey with his wife Catherine age 29, and son James R. age 10.  His occupation then and in the 1920 Census was physical instructor. His work with Dempsey seems to have ended shortly after the championship match, but DeForest trained other boxers and was a promoter of prizefighters and  matches at the Polo Grounds. In the mid-1920's he also offered a boxing correspondence course, advertised in magazines like this issue of Popular Mechanics June 1927.

But how does a boxing trainer  connect to a boy's brass band?
More research provided an answer in a book titled The Luckiest Orphans a history of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York By Hyman Bogen. In 1900 a new superintendent, David Adler, added physical training to the curriculum of the orphanage, and engaged an ex-circus trapeze aerialist, James DeForest to teach the boys.
Hebrew Orphan Asylum, NYC. Digital ID: 805109. New York Public Library

Evidently he was a popular teacher who befriended the boys and made a lasting impression beyond the gym. These postcard views of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum give a view of a hard institutional life, but one that was probably better than many other orphanages in the city. The main building on Amsterdam Ave. listed a capacity for 850 children and provided support, education, and industrial training. 

But thanks to the snippet view of this book, I found the confirming detail that Jimmy DeForest's duties at the HOA also included rehearsing a boys' band once a week. Perhaps music was a talent he learned in his early life in the circus. The band only lasted about two years, as Jimmy moved on in 1907.  And Roy, no doubt grew out of his expensive uniforms.

This obituary clipped from the Plattsburgh NY Daily Press of Oct. 13, 1932  gives extra details on DeForest's life, including a rare story of running away from the circus, when his trapeze artist parents chose to dress him as a girl. And his entrepreneur's story in the New York boxing world of the 1900's when there were opportunities to win big, reads like a novel, and no doubt typical of  most sporting men, contains much that was embellished for better effect.

But the part about the New York Orphan Boy's Band wasn't told so often and probably had more influence than Jimmy would ever know. Many of those boys that Jimmy trained would serve in the trenches of World War I. Perhaps some of the band members marched with the army bands in the victory parades, or at least ended up in Broadway theater orchestras. And how many of those boys would brag that their gym teacher had trained Jack Dempsey, heavy weight champion of the world?

But it was heartening to learn that the little boy imitating Sousa was in fact not an orphan, or even a half-orphan. Did he save the baton?

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Click this link to read another story
about little Roy DeForest
The Youngest Band Leader

Uncle Ed Rister and his Cornet

04 June 2011

The best photos are not always the best photographs. Blurred focus, poor lighting, or even  cutoff framing will not detract from a picture that has a good story. And photo postcards like this one often have the best mystery tales.

The imagination looks into the photo and sees a story, but it is very short, often minimalist with only a few characters. And though the main protagonist is there, the time and the place are not always clear, since the clues, like breadcrumbs in a fairytale, are scattered and may not lead anywhere. Any action is only suggested, and never explained. The ending can be as unsatisfying as a foreign language movie, but still we re-read the image over and over, trying to complete a hidden story.

The card back gives us our character's name - Uncle Ed in his band uniformstanding at attention with his cornet and music stand. His uniform lacks the fancy embroidery of most town bands, but it does have a fine trouser leg stripe, and on his collar a musical lyre with the initials U.S.  I believe this is a U.S. Army bandsman from about the same time as Jesse Romig who served in the 11th Cavalry Band in Iowa.  The epaulets and coat match army uniforms, but there is insufficient detail to say which unit. My guess is an infantry band. 

His full name is Edward Rister from Oliver County, North Dakota and I found him in the 1910 census, living there on his father's farm. Born in Germany, June 1883, his family came to America in 1891, and even found the ship manifest listing him with his father Abbrlow Rister and mother Margaretta. Uncle Ed's sister could be either Mary, Lilly, Ida, Bertha, Freda, or Emma. His brother Otto Rister shows up at No. 24 on the 1917 North Dakota plat map, which helps convey the amazing flatness of the great plains.  The population of the county in 1900 was only 990, but a major wave of immigration in the next decade took it to a remarkable 3,577 by 1910. Now one hundred years later. the population has declined to 1,846. Perhaps smaller families account for that.

Miss Bertha Bertsch was born in 1902 and her father and grandfather, Christian Bertsch Jr. & Sr., ran a blacksmith shop in Bismark, ND. If we suppose that she was 8 or 9 when she received this, the photo is about 1911-12.

Fortunately a thoughtful descendant wrote down Uncle Ed's last name as searching for Bister would not have brought as many good hits. The message and handwriting suggest Edward had limited skill in English, but probably his music was better. As his trail in history disappears before the next decade's census, the annotation would seem correct, and he dies in 1912.

Was he an army bandsman? Just across the Missouri River from Bismark, the capital of North Dakota, is Fort Lincoln. It was established in 1895, to replace an earlier fort of the Indian Wars period, and was the only likely place to have a regimental army band. A German farmer's son who had a talent for music and wanted to see the world, would certainly look to military life as a way out. And if he had just joined up, he'd pay a dollar to a photographer for a few photos to send off to family and firnds.

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