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 }

WHO, What, & Where

30 November 2012


Who polka players?   Wait ... what?  Shouldn't that be, "who are polka players?"
Oh ... W_H_O Polka Players. Why didn't you say so. You meant the WHO Polka Players, of course, with Bill and Irma on clarinets, Smitty on trumpet, Bruce and Hymie on saxophones, Al on sousaphone, Loyd on drums, and Bob your WHO radio host. Where you ask? Well they're broadcasting from high atop the Liberty building in Des Moines, Iowa. When? 1950. It's says so right on the front.


Regional radio bands were once a common part of American life. Every kind of entertainment show that we now watch on television, from sit-coms to game shows, was invented first for a listening radio audience. The major cities, like New York, Chicago, or Detroit could afford to produce the full orchestra or big band concerts since they were then relayed throughout a radio network. But smaller stations also employed musicians like the WHO Polka Players to perform in combos for their local programs. The WHO radio station made its first broadcast in 1924 and was owned by Banker's Life which occupied the main floors of the Liberty Building in Des Moines. Later in the 1930s the station was acquired by B. J. Palmer of Davenport, IA, the son of the founder of chiropractic therapy.



If you heard something you liked on the radio, you would send in a request and the station would mail you a postcard of your favorite group. That's what Cletus Purdum of Montezuma, Iowa did in March of 1950. At 50,000 watts, WHO's AM signal could be picked up over a large area of the Midwest. Montezuma, with a population around 1460 in 1950, is 70 miles east of Des Moines










Cletus may have preferred the Polka Players. Perhaps he had a secret crush on Irma? But he probably got more toe tapping dances from the WHO Buckaroos, with Slim on fiddle, Si on clarinet, Bill on trumpet, Jack G. on drums, Red on bass, Cece on accordion, and Jack L. on electric guitar. With their black stetson hats and sharp suits, they must have kept the WHO studio jumping.









In 1949, the Cedar Rapids Gazette carried a regular Radiolog with the schedule for the 4 stations then available,

   KCRG - Mutual Broadcasting System
   KXEL - ABC
   WMT - CBS
   WHO 1040 - NBC. 

During the week you could enjoy your second cup of coffee in the morning at 9:45 with the Polka Players, and that extra muffin with the Buckaroos at 11:30. You could catch them again for another 15 minute set at 4:00 in the afternoon, with just the perfect rhythm to get your tractor hopping along the corn rows.



















Though he was long gone by the time the Buckaroos and the Polka Players were regulars at the station, future President Ronald Reagan was in front of the WHO microphone as a sportscaster from 1932 to 1937.











According to the WHO radio history, the station's theme song in the 40's and 50s was the Jerome Kern song Who? from his 1925 Broadway musical Sunny.  Here's a German version by Jack Hylton und sein Orchester that probably resembles the snappy arrangement that the gang at WHO played everyday.









This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone else is a long way from foxtrots. 





A Sister Duo

23 November 2012



A short novelty drawn
from a postcard
of two nameless young girls. 


The door was locked. With a grumble he set the cases down on the sidewalk and peered into the shop windows. It looked open but maybe not. He could see dozens of photographs along the walls and a glass case with fancy frames. There was a light in the back.

The wind was brisk as Ches pulled his coat tighter around the collar. Hard to do with bandaged fingers. That blasted coupling came loose so quick and near took the whole hand off. Suppose he shouldn't complain though. A lot of brakemen had trouble counting to ten with missing a digit or two. Still his fingers were sore and it was hard to grapple with these dang cases. Eight days riding the road in freezing weather; eating boxcar soups; stealing sleep whenever the train pulled onto the sidings for the express. Right now he just wanted to close his eyes in his own bed proper.

But no, he's got to get up early and carry these dang instruments through the snow and down to Friedmann's  photo house. Esther wasn't very big, but her holler could rattle the window sashes, and it wasn't half as bad as her sulk. Best to get it done. She was making most of the money at home now anyway. Seemed like every gal in town had one or two of her dresses.

The door gave a jingle as it opened and a little red-faced man in spectacles squinted at him. "Can I help you, sir?"

"Yeah, my wife made a time for some pictures. I come early to bring their stuff." He pointed to the cases.

The man waved him in. "Oh sure, sure. You must be Mr. Maguire. Yes, I have you down for 8:30, but now I have another family in the studio, so if you'll just wait here, I'll be with you presently." He turned and scurried through a curtain behind the display. 

Inside was not  much warmer than outside, and Ches looked around at some of the big studio photos. There was the Applebaum's wedding, and Schneider's store all draped in bunting with a band standing on the steps. From July he guessed. On the wall was a couple dozen prosperous gents and ladies sitting around with their families. The Methodist church picnic back in May. Up on the counter was a revolving wire stand with postcards of various people and places around the county.  He picked out one with a big 2-6-2 engine lying on its side. He remembered that one. Two? No, three summers ago when the rains washed out the Topeka loop bridge.

Where were they? He reached reflexively for his watch, then grumbled. It was still over at Goldstein's. Maybe after next payday he could reclaim it, if they had any money left. Used most of his September pay for these dang instruments. Doc Marstin said the cornet would be good for Aggie's lungs. He didn't see how, but the doc explained that all that blowing might strengthen her breathing after the diphtheria two winters back. He shuddered at the memory. Then this fall it was mumps. Both of them. One more paycheck gone.

He heard voices as an old couple came through the curtain with the little red-faced man. "Yes, sir. I'll finish these tonight and then you may pick them up tomorrow afternoon." He scribbled away on a notepad. "All together with the duplicates, it will be two dollars."

Two dollars! Ches didn't have 60 cents in his pocket. Why'd they need photos anyway? Just cause Esther wanted them for Christmas to post to her folks back east. He'd have to see if the station boss would put him on a second shift again at the roundhouse. 

Just as the door closed, it opened again and two little girls in long coats burst into room. "Daddy!" they squealed with steaming breath and rosy cheeks. Esther was right behind. 

"So you found it alright," she said as she removed the girl's coats. "When you get back to house, Chesney, there's biscuits and gravy on the stove and an apple tart in the pie safe." She cocked her head and gave him a sly smile. "Think you can help Margret with her boots?"

The photographer held back the curtain. "Yes indeed, a fine morning for music. You girls just step this way." As Ches untied the strings on the cardboard case and took out the bass drum, he carried it onto a small stage. "Yes that will do nicely. Now you girls need a dark backdrop for contrast with those pretty white dresses. It won't take a moment to pull out." He went over to a corner and began shuffling through several large canvas rolls.

"Daddy, I can do a triple paradiddle now. Mr. Wisner showed me how. You want to hear me do it?" Margret took out her drum sticks from a leather roll. She began a slow but rhythmic beat on the snare drum. 

The little girl gave a loud blast on the cornet. "Aggie dear," exclaimed Esther. "Don't dribble spit on Mr. Friedmann's carpet. Come on now, we got to get you girls over to the armory after this for the band rehearsal." Esther fussed with their bows and pulled up their stockings once more. "Mr.Friedmann, you are so kind to do this for us. I know my parent's will be so impressed with how the girls have grown. My papa used to play trombone in Gilmore's band and he so wants to see them with their instruments."

"Oh, you are most welcome, Mrs. Maguire. My wife thought this a nice exchange for altering that graduation dress so wonderfully to fit my Gertrude. Such a big gal." He moved the camera in closer to the little stage, tossing a black cloth over his head. "Very nice. very nice." He turned and smiled at Ches. "Yes, sir, Mr. Maguire. You got some talented girls here."

Ches blinked at the sparking dresses. "Yes, I do," he said. "I surely do."



The preceding is a complete work of fiction, as the postcard photo
has no record of names, date or place.


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you will likely be introduced to even more sisters.






The Toledo Newsboys' Band

17 November 2012




Every morning a newspaper magically appears on my front walk, and in return for her breakfast, my dog will eagerly retrieve it to the house. Given the lightweight pages of today's news, she may have the better bargain. It is odd that in the many years of our subscription, I have never met the delivery person who drives down our street in the predawn hours to toss the rolled newspaper over the fence gate. Perhaps I would pay better attention if it was delivered by a marching band like the Toledo Newsboys' Band, pictured here in a patriotic parade and led by a diminutive drum major wearing an impressive bearskin hat. The postcard was a free souvenir from the Toledo Blade newspaper, and it was posted to Mr. & Mrs. E. H. Porter of Sand Creek, Michigan on September 3, 1907.


Dear Mama & Papa & Mabel
I arrived here safely and have started school today. I have the same teacher I had before & I'm thinking some of going to another school if we stay here much longer. I guess I will close.
Your summer son Walter
P.S. I have not heard from Bertha     yet.  Walter






I like the idea of a summer son. I used to have an all-season son, but alas he is now only a son for the holidays.

In 1907, a young boy might find work as a newsboy, but it was not a teenager on his bicycle doing an afternoon paper route. It was long hours from early morning to late night, hawking the latest edition of the news in all kinds of weather and at every street corner, street car, pub, and hotel. The competition was fierce as most cities and small towns had multiple newspapers. A morning paper and an evening tabloid. A commercial advertiser and a sporting gazette. A Democrat tribune and a Republican herald.

The newspaper publishers were one of many industries that hired children as pickers, gleaners, breakers, sweepers, miners, ushers, match makers, cigar rollers, bobbin doffers, and hundreds of other difficult and dangerous jobs. Taking advantage of the era's difficult social conditions, many employers routinely exploited child labor for its cheap wages. In the case of the publishers,  they considered the newsboys to be independent agents, as newsies bought newspapers on bulk discount and then sold them for 3¢ to 5¢ apiece. But the publishers did not buy back any unsold papers. A boy might make 30¢ or 50¢ a day, or not if sales were poor.


Newsboy - New Haven, Conn. 1909
Lewis Hine  -  U.S. National Archives
This photograph comes from the Lewis Hine collection on Flickr.com which has over 500 photographs that Hine took in the early 1900s for the National Child Labor Committee.
Hine's description reads:
12 year old Newsboy. Hyman Alpert, been selling three years.
Spends evenings in Boys Club. New Haven, Conn, March 1909
The NCLC was lobbying Congress to put an end to this abuse of children in the American labor force. It impossible to look at these astonishing images and not be moved by the hardship and suffering that many children endured in this era.



Newsboys - Hartford, Conn. 1909
Lewis Hine  -  U.S. National Archives
Another group of newsboys, most of whom look about 9 to 12 years old, photographed by Hine with this caption:
Sunday noon. Some of the newsboys returning Sunday papers.
Many of them had been out since 5 and 6 A.M. Hartford, Conn, March 1909

These boys were street kids who probably had little time for reading or any academic exercise. Left on their own by working or even absent parents, the boys (and girls too) grew up around vice of all kinds. Gambling, liquor, smoking, and petty crime became their school and newsboys frequently became entangled in gangs, corruption, and violence.

Wayward youth were recognized as a major social problem in American cities as the 19th century ended. And though many people could see the problem, few were offering a solution. But in Toledo, Ohio one man decided that he would try to make a difference. His name was John E. Gunckel, (1846-1915).

Gunckel was a railroad ticket agent who regularly encountered the misbehavior of newsboys. Being of generous spirit, he began treating a few boys to a wholesome dinner and encouraging them to aspire to a better life. Before long he had befriended so many that, in 1891 he invited 102 newsboys for a Christmas banquet. This became his starting point for forming the Toledo Newsboy Association. 


As president of the organization, Gunckel helped the boys organize their own rules and government. They were to play square, live clean, be honest and respect others. Smoking, drinking, and theft were not tolerated and the boys policed themselves. They wore badges and had an official membership card.




The Toledo Newsboys Band

After establishing a kind of guild that included both newsboys and shoe blacks, they wanted the public to see them as professionals. I found a news report that in July 1894, the newsboys went on strike to protest the reduction in price of the Morning Commercial paper from 3¢ to 1¢. This predates the more celebrated Newsboy Strike of 1899 in New York City when newsboys successfully protested against the newspapers of  Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.

By 1893 the Toledo Newsboys Association had over 250 members, and they began adding activities that only members could participate in. A music instructor was found to start a band program which soon became the best way to promote the organization. It was so successful that in 1905, the Toledo Newsboys Band and Cadets were invited to Washington D.C. to march in the inauguration parade of President Theodore Roosevelt.



This photo of newsboys and shoe blacks shows some of the charter members of the Toledo Newsboys Association. It was taken from Boyville, a book written in 1905 by John E. Gunckle. By this year, Toledo was part of the National Newsboys Association, and Gunckel had become their national voice. He began advocating for funds to build a proper clubhouse, a building just for the Newsboys, which was dedicated in 1911. The second band photocard shows them standing in front of the main entrance, the postmark is 12 Sept 1912.








John Gunckel died in 1915, a beloved and cherished benefactor. His legacy is that the National Newsboys Association evolved into part of the Boys & Girls Club of America. Communities around the country now have these clubs, just like the Toledo Newsboys Association, that offer activities, training opportunities, guidance and above all a safe and trusted environment for thousands of disadvantaged children. 






The John E. Gunckel Monument

from findagrave.com



Gunckel was buried in Toledo's Woodlawn Cemetery, and the newsboys of Toledo built a 30' x 26' stone pyramid in his honor, each stone a contribution from a child. The epitaph reads:

Who saw in every boy a man
Of worth and purpose like Gods plan
and said to him: Do right-You can!
The Boys Club of America.





















Sandusky OH Star Journal - 1 July 1911

This last story appeared in the July 1, 1911 edition of the Sandusky Star Journal. It's a report of two Toledo boys who have run away from home to follow a circus. Their hope was to find work as candy butchers or vendors, but a sharp eyed butcher who also hails from Toledo recognizes one boy and turns them in, to be returned to their parents.
It was the boy in the tall bearskin cap leading the Toledo Newsboys Band.













This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Click the link to find out what everyone else is reading this weekend.






A WW1 Prisoner of War Camp Orchestra

09 November 2012


Since ancient times, the story of a soldier's life is often a tale of long days of boredom interrupted by brief moments of action. But that monotony became an interminable ordeal for any soldier captured by the enemy and held as a prisoner of war. In the Great War of 1914-18, over 6 million men were confined to hundreds of prison camps scattered around Europe. In Germany alone there were over 2,400,000 POWs, with over a million more imprisoned in Austria, Bulgaria and Turkey.

In some of these prison camps, the captive soldiers were allowed to have musical instruments and form small orchestras as a way to provide a small comfort from the dull routine. This photo postcard shows one such POW orchestra from a camp in Münster, Germany, with soldiers dressed in a mixture of British, French and Italian army uniforms. The French soldiers wear the distinctive Kepi hat, and the Italians have stars on their coat collar.  The 18 musicians are posing outdoors with their instruments arranged on the ground in a typical military fashion by leaning them against each other. There are 4 clarinets, a flute, a horn, 6 violins, a cello, and a double bass on the far right.


On the back of the card is an inscription: 
Mr. Fred Parkin
With my kind regards
{unreadable signature}

The name Fred Parkin unfortunately shows up too often in British military records to make a proper identification as the search term captured, POW, or Münster is not part of the data base. According to the dealer from whom I acquired this set of photos, Fred Parkin may have been the camp photographer.
Any suggestions on the inscrutable signature are appreciated.







Here is a larger view of Fred's Münster camp showing the prisoner barracks, a larger  assembly building which might have been the orchestra's music hall, and what appears to be a formal garden park with several dozen men scattered around. There were actually 4 Münster camps  built during the war around this city of 100,000 in North Rhine-Westphalia.  One had previously been a race course and another was built on farmland. This has the look of a rural landscape but there are no markings to indicate which camp it was.


In 1914, all of the military forces expected that the war would last no more than a few months, so there was no planning made for captured troops. The first prisoners who were taken often endured very harsh conditions, and the international rules for maintaining proper care of POWs were often not followed for various political and logistical reasons.  Enlisted ranks were required to work, which sometimes meant rebuilding enemy trenches and collecting bodies from the battlefield.





This second photo of a POW orchestra came from the same collection and is undoubtedly the same camp.  This time 16 musicians hold their instruments, and three men who were on the left in the first photo are now standing on the right. The Frenchman with the marvelous mustache has changed his hat for a cap and holds a horn. Another Frenchman in front of him has a saxophone. They are arranged around a piano and I would guess that the British soldier seated in the center with his hands crossed is the pianist and maybe even the orchestra conductor.


There is very little archival material online that pertains to POW camps in the First World War. This POW orchestra is one of several that I have acquired, and last year I posted a story on a similar Army Orchestra from 1917 that I believe came from an Austrian POW camp.  That postcard inspired my search for more information about this unusual kind of ensemble as each photo brings up the same question. Where did these POWs get these musical instruments? A cello is not ordinarily taken into combat by an infantryman. Maybe a viola, but never a cello. So how did a cello come to be photographed in a prisoner of war camp? Surprisingly the answer is the YMCA.

This week I found a superb book on the history of the POWs in WW1 that seems to be published online for free, Pursuit of an 'Unparalleled Opportunity'  by Kenneth Steuer with the subtitle: The American YMCA and Prisoner of War Diplomacy among the Central Power Nations during World War I, 1914-1923. In his eBook history, Steuer explains in great detail how the American Young Men's Christian Association became the intermediary for providing welfare to the millions of allied soldiers imprisoned by Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, and Turkey.

Shortly after the start of the war in 1914, President Wilson felt the United States should avoid becoming entangled in the conflict and instead remain a neutral country like Spain, Sweden, or Switzerland. But as the war continued to expand and more POWs were taken by the Central Powers, public concern for the captured soldiers grew, so the American government agreed to monitor the prison camps on behalf of the allied nations. But the US military and civilian authorities had no experience in providing this kind of social welfare support, so instead the American YMCA accepted the mission to organize and provide for the physical, mental, and spiritual needs of war prisoners.

One of their first efforts in 1914 was in distributing Christmas parcels that included games, cigarettes, candles, and musical instruments as well. Even the prison camp guards were given gifts, as they were "just as lonely and homesick as the prisoners of war".

This section from Chapter 8 of Steuer's book details the importance given to music as a solace for the war prisoners.

Another important element of the Association's Four-fold Program was entertainment for POWs. Mental diversions allowed POWs to temporarily forget about the situation they faced. Music was one of the most important parts of this service. The American YMCA provided a variety of musical instruments and sheet music so that the POWs could organize orchestras, bands, and choirs. 

Between March 1915 and June 1917, the American YMCA spent twenty thousand Marks on musical instruments for POWs in Germany. Once organized, bands, choruses, and orchestras provided evening performances for the POWs and the guards, as well as music for religious services, at theatrical performances, and at funerals. Most camps had talented musicians among the ranks who worked hard to develop the music programs. Not only did they lead the bands and orchestras, they offered lessons to POWs, who were eager to learn how to play a variety of instruments. The prisoners could draw up a wish list of instruments and musical scores and send it through the YMCA field secretary to the WPA Office in Berlin. 

At Döberitz, the POWs organized the "Prisoners' International Orchestra," and the Association provided a cornet, flute, French horn, violoncello, castanets, and a tambourine to fill out the orchestra. The Association sent an organ and stringed instruments to the officers' prison camp at Werl for Russian prisoners. At Königsbrück in Saxony, Jacob equipped a Serbian gypsy orchestra, while Michel organized and equipped an orchestra at Worms. The YMCA also provided sheet music for the chorus at Schneidemühl, which allowed the prisoners to produce a show that greatly helped improve camp morale. Often, the musical talents of field secretaries helped ease prisoners' suffering. 

Michel reported that POWs at Friedberg took special comfort in his music. The benefits of music could even be extended to far-flung labor detachments by sending musical instruments and scores to POWs at work sites. Michel pointed out that "music, especially singing, had charms to soothe, cheer, and bless" the hapless prisoner of war.


After the United States entered the war in 1917, the American YMCA recruited replacements from the neutral nations of the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. This organization was then named the War Prisoners' Aid or WPA.


Musical entertainment was a critical element of this relief. By June 1917, the YMCA had equipped twenty-seven orchestras in prison camps and provided harmonicas to 120 labor detachments. To meet the heavy demand for instruments, the Association developed a business relationship with a musical instrument manufacturer in Leipzig. The relationship evidently flourished, since the WPA Office in Berlin received a single bill for 504 mouth organs. Red Triangle workers provided sheet music and orchestral scores upon request.





The YMCA and WPA arranged for POWs to get material for other activities like handicraft shops and sports. In this view of the same prison camp park we see curving walkways, flower beds, and rustic benches that were probably a product of the POWs using tools provided by the YMCA. With such an odd mix of British, French, and Italian design, I imagine that the men's garden club discussion could get pretty heated. And in multiple languages. 







This last photo postcard is of a group of 22 British servicemen from the same Münster camp. The back of the card includes a photographer's imprinted name and address and is the only evidence for the location of this POW camp.  
Carl Dülberg, Münster i/W, Steinfurtherstr. 9. 


I count over 13 different regimental cap badges, including one sailor. His cap has his ship's name but despite my best efforts I just can't decipher it. I was unable to find many instances where the Royal Navy lost ship crews that were taken prisoner during the war, but I did discover the 63rd Royal Naval Division which was an unusual navy reserves unit which fought on land and had many sailors who were captured. But that is a story for another time.

The POWs did have a postal service to receive letters and packages from home, and I believe that these postcards were produced by the soldiers for their own mail, though it was subject to German military censors. Without postmarks and messages there is no way to completely identify the who, when, and where of these photos which are part of the vast complicated history of the Great War.

But on November 11th, 1918 - Armistice Day -  I expect that the Münster POW camp orchestra gave a rousing performance that all of these soldiers would rejoice and remember for the rest of their lives.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday,
where the phones are ringing with new stories of old photographs. 



UPDATE: For my readers who like puzzles, here is an enhanced  detail of the sailor in the last photo. The cap letters look to me like HMS Pembroke but there was no ship by that name in WW1.  But let us hope he eventually made his way back to his home port.




Dr. & Mrs. Halstead on Election Day 1920

01 November 2012

Recently on a visit back to my parent's home, I was shown a vintage photo postcard that had come from an old photo album, acquired from my father's family. The photographer at Moren's Studio entitled it:

Dr. J. S. Halstead, age 102
Mrs. Halstead, age 91
at the Polls November  2nd. '20

and below is written:

Breckenridge, MO.

Dr. Halstead and his wife are walking along a shopfront on their way to vote. Each has a cane, and Mrs. Halstead also keeps a good grip on her husband's arm.

It is the national election of 1920, with Warren Harding (R), and James Cox (D) contending for the office of President. Harding would win with an overwhelming 60% of the popular vote, but would not complete his term, as he died suddenly in San Francisco on August 2, 1923 after a brief illness while on a tour of the western states. He was succeeded by Vice President Calvin Coolidge, who would later win the 1924 election also.





The man in the hat is Dr. Joseph Singer Halstead, who was born in Kentucky in 1818, but had made his home in Breckenridge, Missouri since 1860. His earlier career in Lexington, KY was as personal physician to Henry Clay (1777 – 1852) a skilled lawyer and celebrated Kentucky politician who served in both houses of Congress. Clay was still a well known historic figure in the 1920s and Dr. Halstead's connection to him was always mentioned in the many newspaper accounts I found about the good doctor.

Senator Henry Clay and Lucretia Hart Clay
on their wedding anniversary 1849
from historyofahousemuseum.com
As the youngest elected Speaker of the House, Henry Clay achieved one of the longest tenures in that position (1811–1814, 1815–1820, and 1823–1825). In 1799 he married Lucretia Hart, and together they made their home in Lexington, KY raising eleven children. The estate was named Ashland and is preserved today as a National Historic Landmark.

Clay seems to have collected walking canes, and on the occasion of his great speech advocating statehood for Missouri, a fellow Senator from Maryland gave him a cane made of olivewood that came from a tree grown at the grave of  Cicero, the famous Roman orator and philosopher. Sometime later, Clay was attacked by a dog on the streets of Washington and in his defense broke the cane head. It was repaired but was now too short, so he presented it to Dr. Halstead who had since always prized the cane and is no doubt holding it on his way to the ballot box in 1920.








After attaining the age of 100, Dr. Halstead's birthdays were a regular item in newspapers around the country. He became the oldest Missourian; the oldest Mason; the man who met Lafayette, Sam Houston, Daniel Webster, et al.  In one article in 1919, his marriage to Mrs. Halstead - was described as 67 years without a spat.
"We sometimes disagree a bit, but we never permit it to go to the extent of an argument or quarrel," Mrs. Halstead said. "That is one reason our love for each other is as great as it was when we were married." 
Dr. Halstead was revered in part because his generosity never made a disparaging remark for anyone but offered only praise. Once when challenged to say something good about a local disagreeable character, he said, "Oh well, he is a good whistler."

Dr. Halstead lived through one more election cycle and at age 107, acclaimed as Breckenridge's most honored citizen, died on September 13, 1925. His wife, Margaret Wickliffe Halstead, preceded him by dying earlier in the same year.
 


An interesting small town history of a revered man, but there was still a larger question to answer.

Why was a postcard of Dr. Halstead included in this collection of family photos?






Part of the reason is that Breckenridge, Missouri was my ancestral hometown too. Both of my great great grandfathers on my father's side of the family served in the Union army in the War between the States. After the war, Charles H. Pratt and Jacob Brubaker both lived in Breckenridge and can be found on the same page of the town's 1890 Veterans Schedule. Jacob served as a private in the 9th Regiment of Ohio Cavalry and Charles was a sergeant in the 27th Infantry Regiment of Missouri. The schedule also notes that Charles suffered a finger wound and was held a prisoner of war by the Confederates for 14 weeks, 8 of those in the infamous Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia.

People of Missouri had divided loyalties during the Civil War. As a result of the Missouri Compromise, which was taken through Congress in 1820 by Henry Clay, Missouri had entered the union as a slave state. Breckenridge in fact was named for John C. Breckinridge, a pro-slavery Kentucky Congressman and Senator who was Vice President under James Buchanan, but who later served as a Confederate general. And yet despite this heritage, in 1860 Missouri chose to remain in the union and did not secede with the Confederate states. This created very contentious politics in the state and tragically divided families and towns for many years. Dr. Halstead remained neutral, even though both the Union and Confederate military requested his services as a medical doctor.



The archives of Ancestry.com have very interesting maps as well as census documents, and there I found an 1876 survey map for Caldwell County, Missouri. The dark square is Breckenridge and below it is the 640 acre property of J. S. Halstead.

And just adjacent was the 80 acre farm of Jacob Brubaker. Go up three squares to the northeast and there was the 60 acre farm of Charles H. Pratt. How close is that? Perhaps only a few minutes walk or horse ride.





The 1880 US Census for Breckenridge, MO has J. S. Halstead, age 62, a farmer, (the doctor's retirement pursuit) listed with his wife, Margrett, age 50 along with five sons and one daughter.  Only two names down is Jacob Bluebaker (sic), farmer, age 38 with wife Elizabeth, age 36 and daughters Rozalla and Lillian, and sons, Enoch and Harvey Brubaker, age 2, who eventually will become my father's grandfather. There is an odd feeling of affinity to discover that Jacob had the same trouble with the misspelling of his name that my father and I have endured over the years.

But was the proximity of homesteads the only reason our family has a picture of Dr. Halstead? I think there is another reason that has to do with the skills of a country doctor.
I can not believe that a Brubaker (or a Pratt for that matter) would not take advantage of Dr. Halstead when he lived so close. So I believe he was present at the birth of Harvey Brubaker. As birth certificates were uncommon in those days, it may never be proven, but who would not want to keep a photo of the doctor who brought you into the world and who lived to be 107?



I hope you have been patient to reach this last part of the story because here is the most remarkable thing about the photo of Dr. & Mrs. Halstead.  

Next week is election day for 2012, and there may be some senior voters who could match Dr. Halstead's record of 21 presidential elections at age 102. But the really interesting statistic from that November day in 1920, is that for Mrs. Margaret Halstead, age 91, it was her very first visit to the polls as a registered voter!

This was the first national election after the 19th amendment to the US Constitution granted women's suffrage to American women. It had only just been ratified on August 18, 1920, and was supported by both the Republican candidate Warren Harding and the Democratic candidate James Cox. Was Mrs. Halstead a bit nervous? After all those years of listening to her husband's stories of Henry Clay and other eminent politicians, finally this day she could have a real say in the future of her country too.




This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where there are games and sticks afoot this weekend.





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