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 }

Chauncey Olcott's Rose Garden

18 April 2014

My dog can sing. She's in tune in any key. She's even a good dancer. But she's just an amateur compared to this dog, who was a genuine star of the musical stage. She belongs to the  man gallantly tipping his hat —  Chauncey Olcott — the most famous Irish tenor ever to be not born in Ireland.

This cabinet photograph was produced by Launey of New York City in about 1894-97 to promote Chauncey Olcott,  a new leading actor of Broadway's  theater world. His full name was Chancellor John Olcott, and he was born in Buffalo, NY in 1858. His early musical career began as a ballad singer in traveling minstrel shows, but in 1890 he moved to London to take voice lessons and there he appeared in a few music hall productions.

On his return to New York in 1892, he joined the cast of an Irish themed play called Mavourneen, as a replacement for the actor, W. J. Scanlan, another noted "Irish" tenor who was actually born in Springfield, Massachusetts. Like Scanlan, Olcott sang romantic songs as part of his Irish character, and at some point came up with the novel idea to add his St. Bernard to the cast list.

Dogs work cheap. 

A man of many talents, by 1896 Olcott was writing his own songs to include in his new shows, and they proved to be big hits with the public. The music industry of New York City's Tin Pan Alley was reaching new heights by publishing the latest songs and dances, as it seemed no American household was complete without a piano or a reed organ. Chauncey cleverly cultivated this offstage Hibernian persona to reflect the Irish characters he played on stage. Though his family roots may have originated in Ireland, his spirit of self promotion was all-American, and his celebrity helped to define the stereotypical image of the Irish American in American culture.       

In September 1902, Leslie's Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, featured an article called Pets of Popular Players, which included a bit on Chauncey and his other dog. I say other, because the St. Bernard that is pictured is much larger and has a darker face than the one pictured in my photo.

Leslie's Illustrated Weekly Newspaper
Volume 95, September 25, 1902

If "laughter is God's greatest gift to man," then Mr. Chauncey Olcott and his big dog "Prince" are certainly a gifted pair. When they laugh together, if the world doesn't laugh with them, "it is not to laugh" and the world is a sorry place. "Prince" and Mr. Olcott are co-stars between whom there is absolutely no professional jealousy. They even "dress together," and that is saying a most marvelous thing. A dressing room may be ever so spacious, but it is never quite large enough to hold the dignity of a star, and to crowd that dignity — well, I guess not! 
But  Mr.  Olcott and "Prince" are not like that. "Prince" finds the most comfortable place in the room,  where he stretches out and licks and prunes himself while Mr. Olcott turns himself into Garrett O'Magh, or some other Irish laddie of a century since, singing as he does so, little Irish love tunes sotto voce, to which "Prince" whines an approving accompaniment. "Prince" has been an actor so long that he knows the ropes as well as anybody. He knows what the "half hour" and "fifteen minutes" calls mean, and when "overture" is called he invariably gets up and walks to the dressing room door looking back expectantly to see if his master is coming. "All right, old chap. Wait a minute — curtain is not up yet," says Mr. Olcott, and the dog lies down and watches the crack under the door. In some of Mr. Olcott's plays "Prince"  has appeared so often that he has come to know his cues and never has to be led on nor called off. 

The money that Olcott's fame and success provided, allowed him to indulge in a life style that was a long way from his Buffalo origin. According to a book entitled Eminent Actors in Their Homes: Personal Descriptions and Interviews by Margherita Arlina Hamm, Chauncey and his dog kept residence in three homes: a handsome apartment in New York on West 34th Street near Fifth Avenue; a music studio near North Washington Square; and a summer place in Saratoga Springs, NY.  This house was named Inniscarra after the title of one his first big plays - Sweet Inniscarra. and became a very popular postcard image.

This card from 1907 shows the back of a typical two story New England Colonial house that by modern standards seems rather modest, but to Olcott's fans it must have appeared a palatial estate. Note the quaint covered well which resembles the studio prop in Olcott's photograph. 

The veranda of Chauncey's house looked out onto a formal garden pictured on this card postmarked in 1906. Saratoga Springs was another spa town like Mineral Wells, TX which was the location for my story last week. But this spa is much older and dates back to 1776. The geology of this area just north of Albany, NY created a mineral water that was credited with great medicinal powers. Entrepreneurs established dozens of different wells in Saratoga Springs, each claiming that their water had beneficial qualities that would cure various maladies and ailments that doctors could not. Naturally when combined with its pleasant summertime climate, Saratoga Springs became the summer playground of the wealthy and elite society people of New York.

The photographer for this view of Chauncey Olcott's rose garden must have stood in the upstairs bedroom window. This postcard was mailed in 1907 and like the other two, was published by a company in New York but printed in Germany. I don't know if the house and gardens were open to the public, but these cards represent only a few of the dozens of different postcards made of Olcott's home. Judging by the hundreds of similar postcards available on eBay, it was clearly a very popular choice of tourists at Saratoga Springs for many years. Curiously I have not found any postcards of Olcott himself, as most of his publicity material seems to be cabinet card photo reproductions from around 1895-1905. 

Chauncey Olcott
Source: NYPL Digital Gallery

This image from Launey Studios was probably made at the same time as the first photo. The dog, (whom I have nicknamed Princess as what else could it be?), is posed reclining with her master on a suitable Gaelic rock. It also proves that she was a real dog and not some photographer's taxidermied mutt.

Between 1899 and 1921, Chauncey Olcott is listed as a composer, lyricist, and/or performer in over 18 Broadway plays. I don't think it would be correct to call them musicals. Perhaps melodramas with music gives a better idea of their style. Most theaters in this era employed orchestras to accompany the plays, and having a character sing a love song was typical of how these light theater shows promoted their stars. 

Chauncey Olcott
Source: NYPL Digital Gallery

This image shows Chauncey with his other dog, Prince. Like the previous photo it was found at the digital archives of the New York Public Library. I wonder if Prince had any speaking lines in the plays.

Today we can't escape reading or hearing about celebrities in every kind of media. It was no different 100 years ago, when Fuel Magazine: The Coal Operators National Weekly printed this amusing story in its edition from May 17, 1910. 

Got Him Going and Coming
Chauncey Olcott is somewhat conscience stricken – a rather unusual thing for an actor – and the cause of his remorse came about in this way:
One afternoon while he was rehearsing his company in his new play, Ragged Robin, at the Broadway theater New York, a young man whom he had noticed in conversation with two other men in front of the theater left his companions and crossing the street said:
" I beg your pardon but are you Chauncey Olcott?"
"No," responded the comedian, "I'm his brother."
"Then I lose my bet," exclaimed the stranger, darting in front of a car and rejoining his companions.
Mr. Olcott saw him hand one of the men a bill, and not wishing the stranger to lose his money, he started in pursuit to explain, but there was a rush of traffic at the moment and he lost sight of them.
An hour or so later Mr. Olcott was walking up Broadway when the same young man approached him with another man.
"Are you Chauncey Olcott?" asked the man.
"Yes, I am, and I want to say that when I told you a little while ago I was not I didn t know you had a bet on it."
"Well, I'll be blowed!" exclaimed the stranger. "That's two bets I've lost on you this afternoon. I just bet 'Jim' here a five spot that you weren't Chauncey Olcott, and I thought I had a cinch." And he turned and walked dejectedly away.

Source: Courtesy of the Irish Fest Collection,
Ward Irish Music Archives, Milwaukee Irish Fest

Of the many songs that Chauncey Olcott wrote, Mother Machree, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, Goodbye, My Emerald Land, the Wearers of the Green, this one – My Wild Irish Rose – may be his most memorable. It is one of the reasons that Olcott was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, which includes his name with the other great composers of the Tin Pan Alley era, men like Geroge M. Cohan, Sigmund Romberg, and Irving Berlin.


The song was written in 1898 after a suggestion from Olcott's wife, Margaret and it featured in Chauncey's play A Romance Of Athlone in 1899. He would sing it many more times, including on a recording he made in 1913. We can hear his voice, courtesy of this video on YouTube. The dog is there too but unfortunately they don't sing a duet.  

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The website Irish Sheet Music Archives has a long list of songs written by other composers who tried to find a rose by some other name, but none would achieve the same lasting success as Olcott's song.
  • I Am Dreaming Of My Irish Rose
  • I Want An Irish Rose
  • Little Connemara Rose
  • My California Rose 
  • My Emerald Isle Rose
  • My Galway Rose
  • My Killarney Rose 
  • My Irish Rose
  • My Little Irish Rose
  • My Irish American Rose
  • My Rose Of Erin's Isle
  • My Rose Of Old Kildare
  • My Rose Of Tipperary
  • My Sweet Derry Rose
  • My Wicklow Primrose
It occurs to me that the Chrysanthemum is a neglected flower when it comes to songs. Someone should look into this, as they smell just as sweet. 

Chauncey Olcott died in Monte Carlo on March 18, 1932 – St. Patrick's Day. It would be hard to find anyone else who made such an important and lasting contribution to Irish-American culture.

In 1947 he received the ultimate Hollywood tribute with a bio-pic movie musical called My Wild Irish Rose. It was directed by David Butler. and starred Dennis Morgan and Arlene Dahl. It was nominated for an Academy Award in 1948, and has a colorized trailer which is a fabulous example of how movie trailers once used
instead of explosions and car chases to grab the attention of movie goers. About halfway through there is a very brief glimpse of  why this 1940s film no longer shows up on classic film lists.

I wonder if there is a dog in it.

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This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is out working in their garden this weekend.

The Musical Water of Mineral Wells, Texas

11 April 2014

Texas is usually known for cowboys, not sailors. But in 1917, some 400 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, a children's band from Texas posed for the camera in their best white jumpers and sailor hats. This postcard tells us who they were.

Woodward-Davis Family Band
consisting of W. W. Woodward and Sister, Mrs. E. L. Davis and their Children,
ages from 5 to 16 years.
Season 1917.   Permanent Address: MINERAL WELLS, TEXAS

Photos of family bands usually show Father as the bandleader, though many were a Mom and Pop outfit. This band is unusual to have a brother and sister combine their progeny into a performing group. It's a brass band with Mrs. Davis on tuba and W. W. Woodward on clarinet. The oldest boy on cornet looks about age 18, while the youngest on drums might be 6 or 7. Their Permanent Address was Mineral Wells, a small town west of Fort Worth, that was far from the sea, but not from the water.

Even very prolific siblings would be hard pressed to make up this 28 piece band on their own, which has added more local musicians to the Woodward & Davis company. The group is posed outdoors on the steps of a rooming house or hotel and the card is captioned:

The Junior Rotary Band.   Mineral Wells, Texas
W. W. Woodward, Director. Mrs. E. L. Davis, Instructor

The band director was William W. Woodward, who ran a jewelery store in Mineral Wells. In the 1920 census, he and his wife Maude had 5 children and a niece in their household. His sister's name was Minnie Davis and she was married to Edward L. Davis, employed as secretary of the Retail Merchants Association.

With occupations in the Mineral Wells business world it is not surprising that the children would be part of the Rotary Club which is a nationwide service organization for merchants and local leaders. Most of the boys and girls appear to be teenagers but there are some older musicians in the back row. The youngest is the boy in front wearing a fez and holding a long cane as a baton.

This same photo was used in a short report that appeared in the San Antonio Express, Sunday morning, June 1, 1924.

MINERAL WELLS, Tex., May 24.

San Antonio delegates to the recent meeting of the West Texas Chamber of  Commerce at Brownwood were amazed at the quality of music produced by the Junior Rotary Band of Mineral Wells,  one of the remarkable musical organizations of Texas. Ten members of the band belong to two families, and they are related. The band is directed by W. W. Woodward who has five children in  the organization, and his sister, Mrs. E. L. Davis; who has three children playing in it. Only  two of the youngsters in the band are 17 yeas  old, the next in age  being 15, and the youngest being only 8. The average age of the band members is 13 years.
Guy Woodward, oldest boy in the band,  not only is principal cornet player, but can play all other band instruments. He directs the K. of P. band of Mineral Wells, and also the municipal band of Perrin. Dorothy Davis, also a cornetist, teaches piano and violin. Dell Woodward, aged 10, played a cornet solo the last night of the convention at Brownwood. Members of the band also have a jazz orchestra and a  saxaphone quartett.

The Woodward-Davis Family Band was a great feature of Mineral Wells, TX, and clearly the citizens took pride in the group to send them to a convention of the regional Chamber of Commerce. But there was more to it than that. It was all about the water.

This vintage colorized postcard shows Oak Street in Mineral Wells with a trolley car in the center and what looks like two fire wagons participating in a parade. The generous pavement and numerous retail establishments give the town a prosperous appearance. 

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{If the Google Map Street View does not display Click the link above}

(The new Google Map embedded viewer has a gremlin)

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The same intersection today in Google Maps street view shows a faded city whose colors are not nearly as vibrant. The sidewalks have narrowed, the street car line has been paved over, and the pedestrian crowds have disappeared to air conditioned malls.

But if you take a virtual walk up Oak St. you will find some businesses remain.

On the left just above the trolley is the Palace Saloon which is still in the same place today. The Poston Dry Goods Co. - The Store With All the Goods is also still on Oak St. but has moved down next to the saloon. And in the distance is a large building with the name, Crazy Well Water Company, painted on the roof line.

Even for Texas that's an odd name for a business.

The back of this postcard provides a clue. It has no postmark but the style of printing puts it in the prewar 1905-1915 era. It was sent to Mrs. Frailey of Joplin, MO with this funny message.

If you would fire those two nurses you have and come down here you could kick the shingles off the chicken house in a few days   

The Crazy Well Water Company was one of many enterprising businesses that took advantage of a natural resource that made Mineral Wells a tourist destination. In the late 19th century, Texas became famous for its mineral waters which people consumed in a belief that it could cure whatever ailed them. Mineral Wells was only one of over a hundred Texas communities in the decades 1890 to 1920 that advertised the healthful benefits of drinking Texan alkaline water. Bart's enthusiasm was doubtless due to his having imbibed the invigorating waters of Mineral Wells.  

The first water well in this part of Texas was dug in 1880 on a ranch that was four miles from the Brazos River which had previously been the ranch's only source of drinking water. The Lynch family who lived there discovered that their poor health improved despite the water's strange taste, and soon their neighbors noticed this dramatic change too. By 1881 the demand for the curative water was strong enough that more wells were dug. Before the year was finished the boundaries of a new city were surveyed. It was named Mineral Wells, and Mr. Lynch was the first mayor.

The Crazy Well Water building we see in the postcard view, was the site of a well also drilled in 1881. At the time an old woman suffering from some mental disturbance took up a habit of sitting by the well and asking people to bring her some of the water. When her condition improved, the well became known as the Crazy Lady Well and later just the Crazy Water Well.

Some of the waters of Mineral Wells do have a significant amount of lithium. The other minerals that were promoted as medicinal agents­­ – calcium, magnesium, and sulfate­ – supposedly could effect dyspepsia, neuralgia, sore eyes, paralysis, insomnia, liver and kidney problems, rheumatism, scrofula, and improprieties of the blood. In an age when medical science had few cures for disease and chronic ailments, it is no wonder that a magical water would attract people desperate for any product that might restore health.

It is also no wonder that big money could be made selling the water and providing a place to stay while it was consumed.  By 1913, Mineral Wells had 21 water companies; several bath houses and sanitariums; and over 40 hotels and rooming houses. Each well offered different methods for consumption of the water and people visited each establishment to get the full benefits. This drove a boom in recreation services like restaurants, gaming houses, and resort amusements of all kinds. The Woodward-Davis Family Band were a small part of this entertainment industry supporting the many spas of Mineral Wells.  

One of the hotels was also located on Oak Street, just a block past the Crazy Well Water Company. It was called the Delaware Hotel, and on October 16, 1907 it burnt to the ground. Evidently there were limits to the restorative powers of the local mineral water.

Photo postcards have an interesting sub-genre devoted to photographs of disasters and accidents. Fires were a popular subject and here the Mineral Wells photographer has artfully colored the smoke to emphasize the dreadful horror. The firemen's horses and wagons might even be the same ones pictured in the parade on Oak St.    

Oct.16, 1907 Delaware Hotel Fire, Mineral Wells, TX
Source: Portal to Texas History

The archives at the Portal to Texas History provide another view of the same hotel fire. It is easy to see how a postcard like this would become a big seller to the tourists who stayed in Mineral Wells. It was still published two years later in 1909 when it was sent to Miss Ida Vinther of Godley, Texas.

Hello Ida   How are
you. I am feeling
all right this morning.
I eat my breakfast  t...(?) mor...(?)  I
don't know when
I will get to come
home. I had
hot eggs for breakfast
they were put in
the hot water and
that was all. I
have a good nurse
Good Bye  (Willie
St. Joseph's Infirmary

We can only hope that eggs poached in Texas mineral water provided Willie with some relief, because I can't believe that they tasted very good. 

Woodward Family Band/Gem Theater Band
Mineral Wells, TX, circa 1915
Source: Portal to Texas History

The same Texas archives have a photo of the Woodward-Davis musical clan standing in front of the Gem Theater of Mineral Wells. The description dates the photo to 1915 based on the two movie posters behind them - The Diamond From the Sky, and The Wayward Son. Perhaps the films of the 1917 season had a more nautical theme which would explain the band's sailor suits.

Minerals Wells remained a prominent and profitable health spa resort through the years of the Great Depression and WW2, but by the 1950s magic elixirs were no longer a good reason for visiting central Texas, even with air conditioning, and the town's fortunes declined.   

However you can still get bottled Crazy Water, and the brand's website presents a terrific history of this health resort town and its salubrious water.

No doubt the children of W. W. Woodward and his sister Minnie Davis thrived on it and drank it every day. See how musical it made them?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link to book a room at another hotel.

A Hero's Life

04 April 2014

Dear Band Students and Parents,

This semester our school band has really taken off for new heights in music.
All the kids are practicing hard for our Spring Concert next week
and I know that you will be impressed with their super sound!

They are no longer just beginners. They are now advanced beginners
on their way to meet new and exciting musical challenges.

So you can be very proud of your child’s efforts and accomplishments,
as parental encouragement has been a big factor in achieving this progress.

Being a member of the band can be very rewarding for a young child.
Learning to play an instrument helps develop many good habits
like proper posture, mental concentration, and finger coordination.

Playing in the band teaches teamwork and
offers children an opportunity to experience
a whole new level of artistic communication
that will stay with them for a lifetime.

This year we are especially grateful to Dunmore's Music Store for
helping to outfit the kids with new instruments. 

When Mr. Dunmore said he could make a great deal with
the Acme Accordion Company, he wasn't kidding!
That special discount of an electric guitar
with every five accordions we ordered was an unexpected surprise. 
Maybe next year we could add some saxophones or a tuba.

It has been my pleasure and honor to teach
these fantastic kids the Fun d'mentals of music this year.
  I look forward to meeting you all at our concert.

Sincerely,    Marvin Gardner
                   Music Teacher
                                           Placid Plains Middle School

Teaching.   It's a heroic life.

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The preceding deconstruction of this 8"x10" glossy photograph of an unknown school band, was inspired by the amazing vernacular photos that are creatively displayed at the blog,
Tattered and Lost
  Click the link to discover more class photos that illustrate the joy of teaching and the wonder of schoolchildren.

We can never know exactly what this band sounded like but thanks to YouTube we can get pretty close.  Here is the Jimmy Blair Accordion Orchestra from Scotland.

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Keep in mind that this was supposedly only their first rehearsal!

Since it is a small world after all, we shouldn't be surprised that the musical cultures of China and Scotland would share a mutual enthusiasm for the accordion. But who would expect such a lively rendition of a favorite British march from the Beijing Children’s Palace Baidi Accordion Orchestra.

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The thunder of applause demands an encore of a traditional Chinese folk tune.

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This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link to spot more vintage photos.

Mr. Kellogg's Keyed Bugle

28 March 2014

This old gentleman in his fine frock coat is playing an unusual horn. His name is Collins Kellogg, and though his instrument looks like a large trumpet or cornet, it has no piston or rotary valves and is in fact a Keyed Bugle. This hybrid design combined a bugle with the tone hole mechanisms found on early woodwind instruments in order to produce chromatic scale notes than are not possible on the simple bugle. It was used in brass bands from 1800 to the 1850s. But when this photograph was taken in the 1870s, the keyed bugle had become an old fashioned musical instrument and was very uncommon.

So why is Mr. Kellogg playing one? His clothes show that he is no military bandsman. And yet he is not a professional musician either, since when this photo was taken, he was actually employed as a milkman.

Instead his photograph celebrates the occupation he was most proud of.

A boatman on the Erie Canal.

This is the story of Mr. Kellogg and his keyed bugle.

Keyed bugle, ca. 1835–50
Graves and Company
Winchester, New Hampshire
Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

The keyed bugle is a conical brass instrument that was first devised in Britain around 1800. They were often made of copper with nickel trim like the one pictured above, though some are found in brass and even silver. It is played with a trumpet type mouthpiece and sounds like a bugle, but arranged along its length are between 5 and 11 large tone holes covered by keyed flaps that allow it to change pitch. The design makes it a member of the ophicleide family of brass instruments in that the keys remain closed until opened by pressing a key. This is the opposite way from how flutes, clarinets, and saxophones work. Therefore the fingering system of the keyed bugle does not resemble the keywork patterns of woodwind instruments. This addition of tone holes to the bugle offered military brass bands a novel solo instrument that could play more melodic tunes than what natural trumpets could then produce, since those early brass instruments were limited to a short series of notes in only one musical key.

In the 1830s piston and rotary valves were first attached to brass instruments and it revolutionized music. Now only 3 valves were needed to play a full chromatic scale on a horn or trumpet. The sound became louder and more uniform. Craftsmen focused on changing the length of musical plumbing and introduced many new brass instruments in different sizes from small treble-pitched cornets to large bass tubas. These new sonorities inspired composers of the Romantic era and music was never the same. 

The awkward fingering and softer tone of the keyed bugle never offered a sustaining reward for musicians as the new valve instruments had easier and faster fingerings and produced a more colorful sound. It quickly lost favor in orchestras and bands and was replaced by various instruments like saxhorns and cornets which had valves.

So what did Mr. Kellogg's keyed bugle sound like? 

Here is a YouTube recording featuring the keyed bugle as performed by the Chestnut Brass Company, a brass quintet that specializes in performances on historic brass instruments. The tune might very well have been a favorite of Mr. Kellogg, whose bugle is in B-flat, a common size like the ones pictured here.
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Mr. Kellogg's carte de visite photograph was made by:

N. E. A. McLeod,
176 Pearl Street, West Side
Cleveland, OH.

And on the back is written in ink:

Collins Kellogg   father
K. C. Kellogg    1st
Halsey  "
Albert   "

My research on the name Collins Kellogg offered up several  entries in the Cleveland city directory. In the 1871 edition he was listed as milkman, and in 1873, milk depot. But in following years that description was left out, no doubt because he was getting too old to make the rounds of a milk wagon.

The 1870 census for Cleveland gave his age as 68, birthplace - Massachusetts, trade - Keeps milk depot. His wife was named Anna, age 56. No one else shared their home and the other Kellogg names on the photo did not appear to be living in the Cleveland area. 

By interesting coincidence, I found the name K. C. Kellogg in Lowville, New York which is the location of another musician I have been doing research on. He was a prominent Lowville businessman often mentioned in the local newspapers as K. Collins Kellogg. His full name was Kinsley Collins Kellogg, and he and his younger brother Halsey Kellogg had established themselves in this part of upstate New York along the Black River.

Lowville NY Democrat, April 2, 1881
In 1881 the Lowville Democrat newspaper (there was also a Lowville Republican which ran a shorter article) reported on the death of Collins Kellogg,  father of K. Collins Kellogg, in Cleveland, OH on March 31, 1881 at the age of 79.  It notes he is survived by his second wife (Anna), a daughter, Mrs. Emma Shay, and  two sons, K. Collins and Halsey Kellogg. The third name on the photo, may refer to a younger brother who died at an early age, as Halsey had two sons, one named Albert and the other K. Collins. 

The report places Collins' birthplace in Massachusetts, but mistakenly in West Winfield which is a town in New York. According to family records on he was born in Hampden, Mass. In 1824 Collins brought his family to Turin, NY, which is 12 miles south of Lowville, and lived there for many years before moving to Cleveland in 1846.

The obituary then adds this brief remembrance.

He was well known to the old inhabitants of Turin
who will remember his running a packet boat
between Albany and Buffalo in the summer season.

This is the clue that explains why Collins Kellogg posed for a photograph while blowing his bugle.

How did you get from Albany to Buffalo in the 1830s?

On the Erie Canal.

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Erie Canal

In the 1800s, the Erie canal was the grand idea for insuring the future  prosperity of America by connecting the Hudson River with Lake Erie and making a faster route to the new western states of the Great Lakes region. It was first proposed in 1802, though construction did not begin until 1817 after the settlement of the War of 1812, and it was finished in 1825. Built using only the labor of men and power of animals, this waterway cut through 363 miles of wilderness, and climbed 568 feet up from the Hudson River to Lake Erie by utilizing 18 aqueducts and 83 locks. Many Americans considered it the new 8th wonder of the world

When Collins Kellogg was a young man in 1825, the new canal was also a pathway to adventure and wealth. He found a job as the captain of a packet boat, the fastest and most direct way for people to go west in America.
Let's have a travel guide from 1825 describe how it worked.

Early Days of Rapid Transit
painting by Edward Lamson Henry

A Pocket Guide for the Tourist and Traveler,
Along the Line of the Canals.

By Horatio Gates Spafford
published 1825


Fare including board, lodging, and every expense, 4 cents a mile. Way passengers pay 3 cents a mile, exclusive of board, &c., and 37½ cents for dinner, 25 cents for breakfast, or supper, and 12½ cents for lodging.

These Packets are drawn by 3 horses, having relays every 8, 10, to 12 miles, and travel day and night, making about 80 miles every 24 hours. They are ingeniously and well constructed, (though there is yet room for some improvement,) have accommodations for about 30 passengers, furnish good tables, and a wholesome and rich fare, and have very attentive, civil, and obliging captains and crews. It is a very pleasant, cheap, and expeditious mode of traveling, where you have regular meals, pretty quiet rest, after a little experience, say of the first night; and find the time pleasantly employed in conversation, and the variety of incidents, new topics, stories, and the constantly varying scenery. The bustle of new comers, and departing passengers, with all the greetings and adieus, help to diversify the scene, and to make most persons seem to get along quite as fast as was anticipated. I found it so, while twice traversing the whole extent of the Erie Canal Navigation, taking notes for this little thing, which I hope everybody will find an useful, if not an agreeable companion.

Between Albany and Schenectady, 28½ miles, a day is employed, there being so many Locks to pass: but every person is well compensated for the time and expense, of at least one trip, passing 27 Locks, 2 Aqueducts, and an interesting variety of natural scenery.

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The Erie canal was only 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide with a single towpath, usually on the north side, that was 10 feet wide. The early locks were 90 feet long and 15 feet wide and meant to accommodate a typical canal boat that was 61 feet long and a bit over 7 feet wide. Packet boats, which could be 60-80 feet long and 14 feet wide, had priority on the waterway, as in addition to passengers, they also carried the mail. With boats traveling in both directions, the boatmen competed with each other to get through the locks as quickly as possible. This required an exchange of tow ropes and horses along with opening and closing the lock gates and became an exercise in efficient teamwork. Borrowing from the stage coach tradition, the boatmen used a coach horn or bugle to signal the lock keeper of their approach. 

Prince Carl Bernhard, (1792–1862), the seventh child of Charles Augustus, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach can tell us what it was like on his 1825 summer holiday in New York.


published 1828

During the night, as there was a want of births, the beds were placed upon benches, and as I was the tallest person, mine was put in the centre upon the longest bench, with a chair as a supplement. It had the appearance of a hereditary sepulchre, in the centre of which I lay as father of the family. I spent an uncomfortable night on account of my constrained posture, the insects which annoyed me, and the steersman, who always played an agreeable tune upon his bugle whenever he approached a lock.

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The packet boat trip from Schenectady to Buffalo took about 3½ days, but of course it stopped in every town and village along the way to pickup and drop off passengers. A good captain would want to alert waiting travelers that a stop was eminent. While a coach horn or bugle would do for signaling on an ordinary canal work barge, for a packet boat something more distinctive was needed. So I imagine the enterprising Captain Kellogg brought a keyed bugle that could not only announce his arrival at the locks with a personal flourish, but also play tunes for his passengers.


An excerpt from Remembering the Genesee Valley Canal, by Richard Palmer says:

... in 1892 Dr. Porter Farley, a Rochester physician, recalled:

The packet boat was a spectacle that never lost its charm to youthful eyes. As it swept through the town it was a sight which compelled attention. Its hull was white with green window blinds; its helmsman was furnished with a bugle which he was wont to blow upon in strains pleasant to hear and in sweet contrast to the hoarse shriek of the locomotive which now resounds throughout the land. 

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Source: Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, Volume 29

In the 21st century, floating along the Eire canal seems a quaint and idyllic way to travel. In the 1870s, Collins Kellogg must have thought so too, as the iron horse of the steam train had pulled far ahead of the horsepower of a packet boat. Though the canal remained practical for many decades as a way of transporting material and goods, the railroads must have greatly diminished passenger traffic on the canal by the mid-1840s when Kellogg moved to Cleveland.


Notice that this last illustration is entitled Before the Days of Rapid Transit, while the first canal image was titled Early Days of Rapid Transit. It was all a matter of perspective. 
In my research to find references about this use of bugles and horns by boatmen on the Eire canal, I am indebted to a fantastic website - There you will find many more details about the engineering on the canal and its history. 

Another website that I often use is the Internet Archives, which is where I uncovered this delightful poem by W. R. Freeman from a kind of illustrated children's book that he published in 1894. You can read the original in the embedded viewer below. But I reprint the poem in full because it captures the pastoral quality of living next to the Erie canal and the way that sounds can be part of memory. I think that is what Mr. Kellogg was trying to convey in his photograph. 

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In Western New York, Seventy Years Ago


published 1894


'Twas about this time the canal waterway
Was finished all through the State of New York.
From the great Western lakes to the Eastern bay.
And all were rejoicing over the work.

Rejoicing, the people from afar would come,
On foot and on horseback, to celebrate
(In procession with music of fife and drum)
The great achievement of the Empire State.

Now, this great waterway ran near to our farm,
And I used to run down to the towpath inn
(Although I was so little I feared no harm
In going to see the packet come in.)

As I stood there waiting for the packet boat,
Looking into the wood so dense and dark.
From out came the sound of a clear bugle note,
And out flashed the form of the little barque.

On came the bright pageant with uncommon speed.
On a brisk trot — a three-horse tandem team;
The bugler was mounted on the hindmost steed
As they came rushing down the sluggish stream.

The people, all curious, came far to see
The wonderful new rapid-transit boat.
And though how strange it could possible be
To ride from the lakes to New York afloat.

To travel in this way became all the rage.
To glide on all day and sleep through the night —
Such an improvement on the old jolting stage.
This mode of travel was hailed with delight.

In Western New York, Seventy Years Ago
by W. R. Freeman, 1894

Nothing is ever certain when reconstructing a life from the whispers of history. The full story of Collins Kellogg is impossible to know, and beyond my telling. There might be other reasons for him to pose for a photograph holding a keyed bugle, but I think the clues make my conjecture a good explanation. In 1872, which is about the year when this kind of cdv photo was still made, Mr. Kellogg would have reached the significant age of 70. Surely on such an occasion he would want to give his friends and family back in New York a photo to remember him by. What would be a better gift than a bugle tune from the good old days.    

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where all the boats are afloat this weekend.

In the video of the Chestnut Brass there was a brief glimpse of some of the other keyed brass instruments. Click these links for my other posts showing keyed brass:
Serpent and the Ophicleide; Oh Ophicleide, Ophicleide; and Monsieur le Curé and his Ophicleide.


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