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 }

Weihnachtsgrüße! Christmas Greetings from the Front!

20 December 2013

Wir wünschen Ihnen allen
We wish you all

ein frohes Weihnachtsfest 
a happy Christmas

und ein herzhaftes Neujahr!
and a hearty New Year!


This small postcard photo of an Imperial German Army Band was undoubtedly sent in a letter as it has no postmark or address on the back.  But the writer, presumably one of the 10 musicians, does add a message (which is unfortunately beyond my ability to translate) and a date:  24.12.16Christmas Eve, 24th December 1916 - the third Christmas of the First World War 1914-1918.

The band appears to be indoors in a classroom, perhaps their rehearsal room, but there are no clues to identify their location or to show which regiment they belong to. On the chalkboard are some French words that could be from a language lesson. If you look closely, four of the German bandsmen have ribbons tucked into their tunic. The white/black/white matches the pattern of the Iron Cross award. A typical regimental band would normally have over twice this number of bandsmen, but 1916 was a particularly harrowing year for casualties.

Now nearly 100 years on, it is difficult for us in the future to fully grasp the feelings these young soldiers must have felt to have a place to trim their Christmas tree. Little could they know that they were only halfway though this horrific war, and they would need to endure even more unimaginable adversity and hardship.

Yet even in the hardest of times, the human heart always seeks hope and solace. We must imagine that the sound of their instruments crossed over the empty wasteland between the lines and that German, French, and English voices joined together in singing the musical refrains of O Tannenbaum and for a brief moment shared thoughts of peace.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where I wish everyone a most
joyful and peaceful holiday.

A Puzzling Parade

14 December 2013

This is a photo puzzle, and here is the first corner piece. We can see a figure of a boy, or maybe a young man, wearing a white shirt, coat, and the common soft cap of the early 20th century. He is also African-American. He is on the edge of a street and as we shall see, he is leading a parade.

This is an edge piece that connects to the first one. We see more children running along side a group of men who are walking more than marching, and are in a double line. They wear a mixture of caps and hats, and some have a ribbon or tag on their coat lapel. They look young and clean shaven.

A middle piece shows us that there are people watching this procession on the sidewalk. A sign reads John H. Lyons and underneath Hanover Rye. One man wears a straw boater so the season is not likely to be fall or winter.

Another middle piece from further up the street. There is another sign with vertical letters that reads New York Store. Hanging from some upper windows are American flags.

Another small middle piece makes this a challenging puzzle. If this was a parade of celebration, why do the men in the foreground have serious expressions? They seem oddly somber. They might be a fraternal society, but then they would be dressed in similar suits. And if it was a holiday parade, they should be looking around and smiling. Perhaps instead they are part of a funeral cortege. But would caps and straw hats be suitable for such an occasion?

To add to the confusion we have another corner piece that shows two musicians, a drummer and a cymbal player. Both are black and wear fancy embroidered uniforms with tasseled shakos.

It's a puzzle, alright. Put the pieces together and the complete picture is revealed on this small sepia tone postcard.  {click to enlarge}

Who are they? Why are they in a parade? Can we know where they are, or even venture a guess on which decade?

On the back of the postcard is one more clue. A rubber stamp in blue ink reads Photo by W. M. Adsit. There is no postmark. The AZO stamp box pattern suggests the years from 1910 to 1930. The penciled 1148 is a dealer's mark.

The name of Adsit comes up on an internet search for a photographer from Catskill, New York. In this small town on the Hudson river, halfway between Kingston and Albany, there once lived a Wallace M. Adsit (born 1862) who is listed in the census as a merchant of a candy store in 1910 and a photographer in the 1925 NY census. He lived on West Bridge St.

The other name on the small sign, John H. Lyons, also turns up as a resident of Catskill, NY. Mr. Lyons lived on West Bridge St. and ran a hotel or rooming house.

And the New York Store? It was at 46-48 Bridge St., Catskill, NY.

Catskill NY Recorder
April 1918

  Three hits makes a strong case for this to be a parade in Catskill, NY.  Could we date it?

Catskill NY Recorder
July 19, 1918
The Great War of 1914-1918 had already entered its third year when the United States reached a tipping point with the revelations in the infamous Zimmerman Telegram. President Wilson then declared war with Germany on April 6, 1917. But the US military was seriously underpowered compared to the millions of soldiers mobilized in the previous three years by its allies, Britain and France, and those of the central powers, Germany and Austria. In 1917 the US regular army had a force of only 121,00 men, so in May, Congress authorized the Selective Service Act. The first draft of young men between the ages of 21 and 31 was set for June 5, 1917. The second round came in June of 1918.

On July 19, 1918 the Catskill newspaper The Recorder appealed to its citizens to join in the big sendoff for the local boys joining up. The event was planned for July 24 when a special train would collect the new inductees to take them to Camp Dix for training.

Do not stand on the street or stay at home in bed — get in the parade! Join the ranks! Be one with the boys! March with them! Shout your loudest for victory and America! Show your appreciation of the fact that they are willing to give their lives for our country and for humanity the world over. Let their memory of Catskill's "send off" be one that will stick with them pleasantly all through their army life, to inspire them to battle and console them in their hours off duty.
"Send them away with a smile," as Gunner Depew writes in his story. "The very best thing you can give your son or husband or brother is a smile." Get in the ranks and march in the parade, people of Catskill.

Downstream in Kingston, NY the newpaper ran a headline on July 25, 1918 - The 360 Left For Camp Dix With Epochal Send-Off.  The inside pages have not only the names and vocations of every draftee, but the names of all the recent causalities suffered by the US troops in France.

Kingston NY Daily Freeman
July 25, 1918

Americans were not unaware of the horrors of the Western Front. The public debate leading up to the declaration had been strenuous and contentious. There were many groups opposed to war, and from pacifists and unions to isolationists and German-Americans, there were many strong opinions against the United States joining the conflict. But by the spring of 1918 when the first US soldiers had reached the battle lines, the pendulum of public interest had swung to the side of patriotism.

I believe this small postcard shows men of Catskill, NY taking their first steps toward serving in the U.S. Army in World War One. There is a kind of celebration going on that one can maybe see in the children and adults on the sidewalks, and clearly there is music. The men however appear to have less joy and more grim determination in their stride. Soon they will experience war in a way that no American men have seen in a generation.

The two black musicians remain an enigma. The reports all describe bands participating in these events, but these two drummers are not dressed like typical town bandsmen. Their uniforms are more like those of circus musicians, and I suspect that is who they are. They could be members of a traveling circus or minstrel band who happened to be near Catskill in July 1918 and joined in the grand parade.

Understanding history sometimes seems like looking though the wrong end of a telescope. We have to squint to see vague outlines and very small shapes and yet nothing comes into clear focus. What we can know is that Mr. Adsit took this photo and that someone saved it. Did they recognize a son, a husband, a brother, or a father in one of those faces?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link to see more obscure street photos.

Ladies with Brass

06 December 2013

On stage are six young Mädchen, the trumpeters or Fanfarenbläser of the Damen-Trompeter-Corps Alpenveilchen, who stand at the ready and await their conductor's cue. Their trumpets have no valves and are actually long bugles complete with fanfare flags.

The Alpenveilchen Damen-Trompeter-Corps und Gesangs-Ensemble, or Ladies Trumpet Corps and Vocal Choir, were under the direction of J. Reinstadler, shown in this next postcard standing at the back with his baton and medals. His brass band and singers number 9 women and three men, as presumably Herr Reinstadler also sometimes played lead cornet. The musicians (except for the drummer) have rotary valve brass instruments  and include an impressive bass helicon arranged in front on the floor. The young ladies wear the same uniform with a generous sash belt as in the first postcard but they sport a large white cap. The gentlemen are in formal evening dress minus the hat.

The postcard was sent on August 24, 1903 from Leipzig to someone in Eschenbach, Germany.

Herr Reinstadler produced another postcard with the Alpenveilchen ladies trumpet corps but economized with a cheap printer who used blue paper. The band here has only 11 musicians, 4 men and  7 women. Were they related? Brothers and sisters? Cousins? Perhaps married?

Unfortunately such questions will never have an answer.

This postcard was send from Markersdorf, Germany on Christmas Day, December 25, 1901, and postmarked at 6-7 in the evening.

Cyclamen purpurascens
Source: Wikipedia

The European Alpenveilchen (Cyclamen purpurascens) is the German name for the purple cyclamen, an alpine flower.  Can you guess the color of the ladies uniform of the Alpenveilchen Damen-Trompeter-Corps

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where other ladies turn trumpets into bullets.


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