Meet the newest addition to the Beall-Dawson House, and your curator’s new favorite artifact: the Walker family’s melodeon.

melodeon

This is a four-octave, lyre-leg rosewood melodeon, almost certainly made by Mason & Hamlin in the late 1850s. When upright, it measures 30” tall, 31” wide, and 17” deep. This style includes a single lamp stand (the red velvet circle at right), an engraved brass latch to hold the lid open at an angle (it’s rather loose now; the lid should be standing taller), and other decorative yet functional features, though it lacks the carved music stand that other manufacturers employed. It appears to have all original parts, and it’s almost complete, but unfortunately the missing bits – a board inside, and a broken-off foot – mean it neither plays nor stands on its own. Happily, a convenient wall helps with the latter issue, and it doesn’t need to be playable to be a lovely addition to our Parlor.

top view

The manufacturer’s label has been removed from the bellows, but it is an extremely close match – using both the catalog image and known examples in modern collections – to Melodeon No. 9, made by Mason & Hamlin in the mid 19th century. Ours is marked 605 on the case and 629 on the works, which would place it in the late 1850s in the maker’s number sequence, as noted here.

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From the 1863 Mason & Hamlin catalog. Our example matches, in octaves and size, “No. 9 Four Octave, Portable,” for $60.

A melodeon – also known as a portable or collapsible organ – is a small reed organ, an American invention that uses vacuum or suction of air over reeds to create sound . (Note that it’s the opposite, then, of the English harmonium, which uses air pressure over the reeds.) The vacuum bellows mechanism was invented in the 1830s, patented in 1846, and used by a number of organ manufacturers in the mid to late 19th century.  Melodeons have what one collector describes as “a bright reedy tone with little voicing” – see the bottom of this post for links to examples.  To this non-musician, they sound like what they are: tiny organs.

melodeon, insides

Larger reed organs, known as parlor organs, were common in middle- to upper-class U.S. homes in the Victorian era. In contrast, melodeons were small and compact, lacking the decorative tops so often found on parlor organs; as such, they were both easier to place, and cheaper to buy. Some were made in “piano style,” with fixed legs, and others were designed to be portable (relatively speaking), with a detachable stretcher and folding legs – perfect for teachers, itinerant musicians, families moving out west, or anyone who wanted organ music on the go. Here’s ours in traveling mode, with the legs folded underneath on iron hinges:

melodeon, folded

Melodeons were popular in the 1840s-60s. Two mildly famous examples: John Brown gave one to his daughter in 1857; the Alcott family had one at Orchard House. By the 1870s, manufacturers were turning their focus to parlor organs and pianos, and sales of new melodeons dropped – but that doesn’t mean the old ones weren’t still played, even into the 20th century. (Check out this website’s photo series for some lyre-leg examples in use over the decades, as well as lots of parlor organs in situ.)

Our instrument is an example of just that: use long after its manufacture. It was donated earlier this year by Joe Snyder, who knew that his grandmother, Fidelia “Della” Seward Walker Snyder (1871-1960) of Browningsville, owned and played the melodeon around the turn of the last century. The local newspaper noted several occasions when Miss Della Walker plied her talents; for example, she sang the opening hymn at Edward Watkins’ 1900 funeral, and at the 1904 wedding of Emory Purdum and Alma Molesworth, she “accompan[ied] with a popular march suitable to a home wedding.”

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The story goes, Miss Walker brought her melodeon with her to churches and events around the area – but even folded up and ready to go, the thing weighs at least 50 pounds. Thus, she had a driver, a young man from the neighborhood named Preston Snyder (1885-1967), who conveyed musician and instrument when necessary . . . and in November 1908, Della and Preston were married. After a few years in D.C., they moved to a farm in Travilah; the melodeon went with them, eventually inherited by their daughter Carol.

As if that fantastic little story weren’t enough, there’s more! Della’s father was George Washington Wesley Walker (1837-1915) of Browningsville, a well-regarded music teacher, organist, and choir director. Professor Walker was a self-taught musician, who later studied formally with William Mason*. He played the organ at Bethesda Methodist Church [which is in Browningsville, not Bethesda] for over fifty years, and his home Mendelsohn Terrace was the center of all things musical in the Browningsville/Damascus area.  Late in his life, Professor Walker summarized his career as having “taught the people to sing in 49 different churches and 69 halls during fifty years of his life.” Several of Walker’s children carried on the tradition; in addition to Della’s performances, we know that Alice Walker gave piano lessons [edited to add: She was also head of the music department at the Shenandoah Normal School], and in 1884 William Walker started the Browningsville Cornet Band, the longest-running band in Montgomery County.  (For some Walker photos (including Prof. Walker, though not Della herself), visit this family website about Della’s nephew, Wesley Day.)

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One thing that intrigued me as I researched the melodeon’s history was the fact that, as it was made in the late 1850s, it was so much older than Della Walker herself. A few sources indicate that in the early 20th century, Professor Walker had a sideline in piano and organ sales; perhaps he purchased a used instrument for his daughter? Then I found this tidbit: In a 1938 article, written by Walker’s granddaughter Mary Browning Scanlon, the author noted that “Young George decided that the hymn singing [at Bethesda Methodist] could be improved upon, so he bought a melodeon and began studying for himself. In 1858, at the age of 21, he organized his own singing class.” Aha! The timing fits! Now, it’s entirely possible that by the time Della was a young woman her home was filled with stray keyboards, and she chose one from the family stash that had the nicest sound or was the easiest to carry . . . but it would be pretty great if her little melodeon was also her father’s first major instrument.

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As noted above, Della’s melodeon is not currently playable. But thanks to the internet you are not left hanging, wondering what it sounded like. Here’s a Mason & Hamlin melodeon in use, and as a bonus here’s one by Waters, another melodeon manufacturer.  (The first-linked gentleman has lots of vintage instrument videos; you can while away many an hour if you’re so inclined.)   The piano restorers of the world have you covered if you want more mechanical information – enjoy a video tour of a restored Mason & Hamlin, or a video explanation of organ mechanics (look for “Play Video” under the heading “Organs and Melodeons”).

 

* William Mason, son of famous hymn writer Lowell Mason, taught music at the Normal School in Florida, NY, which Prof. Walker attended in 1870.  Lowell Mason’s work was important to Walker, who kept a photo of him on display at Mendelsohn Terrace, along with one of the 1870 Normal School class. Perhaps coincidentally, our melodeon’s maker, Mason & Hamlin, was founded by Henry Mason – another of Lowell Mason’s sons.

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The month of June has a lot going on, filled with holidays, traditional events, and newly instituted month-long celebrations. These “National [X] Month” designations cover topics from the pleasant and fun (accordions! audiobooks! roses!) to the serious (men’s health, torture awareness).  So many places to find blog inspiration!  A Fine Collection has already featured artifacts related to Father’s Day, end-of-year recitals, graduation, and Flag Day, and last week I accidentally took care of National Dairy Month, so let’s take a look at some collections items that relate to other exciting June moments.

 

June is National Candy Month. This is a glass hobnail candy dish, 6″ diameter, probably made by the Fenton Art Glass Company of West Virginia. Milton Allman and Ordella Shingleton were married in 1949; they moved to Bethesda soon afterward. Thanks to Mrs. Allman’s careful record-keeping, we know that the wedding presents included four candy dishes: a silver dish, one with an aluminum lid, a “Fostoria stem” dish, and this “pink curled edge dish” from Mr. and Mrs. Lambert. (On a related note, Berthy Girola Anderson of Rockville’s 1929 list of wedding gifts included eight bonbon dishes, out of 151 items: in other words, the accumulated loot was 5.3% candy dish.) Donated by William Allman.

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June is National Safety Month. Here’s a Boy Scouts of America merit badge booklet on that topic, copyright 1971 (1977 printing); it was used by Scoutmasters Stanley Berger and Jim Douglas, Troop 219, which met at Millian Methodist Church in Aspen Hill. The book still has a 55 cent price tag from J.C. Penney – probably the store in Congressional Plaza, Rockville (bonus photo at end of this post). Donated by Stanley L. Berger.

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June is Adopt-a-Cat Month (also Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month); June 4th was Hug Your Cat Day. We have many photos of historic Montgomery County cats in our collections, but this one can’t be resisted: Lloyd Brewer, Jr., of Rockville hugging one of the family cats, circa 1928. Donated by the Brewer family.

Lloyd Brewer, Jr., with cat

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June is National African American Music Appreciation Month. Our collections include 94 jazz and swing records from the 1920s-40s (mostly 78s) amassed by several generations, with their last home in Bethesda before donation to MCHS. (That’s a roundabout way of saying most of these records were probably purchased in Chicago.) The collection includes this eight-side “Ellington Special,” put out by Columbia Records in 1947. The notes inside the cover inform us, “In this, the first post-war album in its Hot Jazz Classics series, Columbia takes special pride in presenting for the first time eight historically significant and musically distinguished recordings by Duke Ellington and his orchestra. None of the sides in this collection has been available until now . . . [This set is] the rarest of treats for connoisseurs, collectors, Ellington admirers, and just plain jazz fans.” Though all four records in the set are present and intact, the cover has not fared as well; the front and back are detached, and the spine is gone completely.  It appears that this was a frequently played and enjoyed album. Donated by David and Joy MacDonald.

2000.03 Ellington

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June is National LGBT History Month. We don’t currently have much in our collections to reflect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender experience in Montgomery County – something we’d like to rectify – but we do have a recent artifact: a yard sign showing religious support for the Civil Marriage Protection Act (Question 6), the November 2012 Maryland ballot question that would allow same-sex marriages in the state of Maryland.  Question 6 passed, and the Act went into effect on January 1, 2013. The 18”x27” plastic sign with vinyl lettering reads, on both sides, “AMEN – Advocate for Marriage Equality Now – United Church of Christ.”  Signs and posters are a nice graphic way for museums to tell the stories of local concerns and political questions. Because it’s proclaiming the views of a specific group (in this case, a congregation), this sign helps illustrate some of the nuances of the debate that more generic “Vote Yes” / “Vote No” signs might miss.  (Interested in learning more about community activism topics in Montgomery County’s history? Visit our next exhibit, opening on June 28, 2014!) Donated by Emily Correll.

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There are many, many more options for June celebrations, including National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, for which I could find nothing in our collections (help us fill in that gap, if you can!).  You can while away an afternoon looking up “June national month” on the internet, if you choose.  But first, as promised, a photo of the J.C. Penney Co. at Congressional Plaza, Rockville, circa 1960s.  The store has since closed, and the center has been remodeled, but I’m sure long-time residents will remember this version of Congressional. (If anyone can give me a better “no earlier than” date based on the car models or other details, please clue me in.)  Photo donated by Edward A. Abbott.

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This month’s laundry-related post is a tad tangential.  Why?  Sunday, September 8th, is our annual “Happy Birthday Montgomery County!” celebration, and to coordinate (tangentially) with our laundry exhibit we’ve invited a jug band to the party.  Members of the Sunshine Skiffle Band will play a set at 3:15, and they’ve promised us a washboard.

Jug band musicians turn everyday household items into musical instruments.  Granted, many of those items are no longer quite so “everyday,” but a traditionally-minded band still relies on the washboards, washtubs, vinegar jugs, and other tools that could be found in many 19th century American homes.  I won’t attempt to parse the long history of jug band music, which began in the American south and was pioneered by African American musicians, both amateur and professional (here’s a nice overview, or check out this history, including audio, of the Memphis Jug Band).  Instead, let’s look at some of the artifacts themselves.

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The washboard.  Our early 20th century example is made of wood, with galvanized tin ribs, measuring two feet tall. Any labels or markings have long since washed away through use.  It was donated by John W. Magruder (1902-1979), who grew up on a farm in Gaithersburg, and served as the Montgomery County Agricultural Extension Agent from 1948 until 1963; unfortunately, we don’t know if this washboard’s history is related to his home or work life.
Original use: Before the agitator washing machine, the laundress had to do the agitating herself in order to work the soap through the cloth; a common method was rubbing fabric vigorously against the ridges of a washboard.  (This method is hard on both fabric and hands.).
To play: A percussion instrument. Washboard players achieve a nice rhythmic sound by rubbing their hands, or another tool, up and down the ribs.  Different materials (washboards can be made of metal, glass, or plastic) produce different sounds.  This instrument is popular in Zydeco bands as well as jug bands.

 

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The washtub.  This circa 1910 tub is made of galvanized tin, and stands 11 inches tall.  The manufacturer’s paper label is water damaged – like the washboard above, it’s a well-used piece – and now illegible.  The tub was donated by Katherine Poole, and was likely used at Poole family homes in Washington, DC or Rockville.
Original use: Laundry day required multiple tubs, for soaking, rinsing, and bluing clothes and linens.  A metal tub like this one was an improvement over the old wooden tubs, which didn’t last very long, and could give an unwary laundress splinters.  Even better were tubs that were built with legs, reducing strain on the back.
To play: With a few additions, a tub becomes the string section of a jug band.  You need an upside down metal tub, an upright broomstick, and a taut wire stretched between them that can be plucked like a guitar string.  Moving the broomstick varies the tension on the wire, and thus the note achieved.

 

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The jug.  A mid-late 19th century stoneware jug, with no maker’s marks or other identifications, 11 inches tall.  Donated by Charles T. Jacobs, it was likely used by one the many local branches of the Waters and Jacobs families.
Original use: Stoneware jugs of various sizes and shapes were indispensable in the 19th century kitchen.  Usually locally made, and reused over and over again, jugs held water, vinegar, cider, or any other frequently used liquid.
To play: The jug is essentially the brass section, and is played like a trumpet or tuba – you blow across the top, using changes in the position of lips and mouth to affect the pitch and tone of the resulting notes.  (I say that like I can do it; I cannot.)  There’s no jug band without a jug… because then it’s called a skiffle band instead.

All three of these pieces can be seen (but not played, sorry) in the Beall-Dawson House – the washboard and tub as part of the laundry exhibit, and the jug (along with some friends) in the “Old Kitchen.”  Other common jug or skiffle band instruments can be found in our collections, and probably yours as well: spoons, combs, buckets, bottles… Try your own internet search for “how to make jug band instruments” for instructions ranging from toddler- to adult-appropriate, then take a look around your house with new, instrument-seeking eyes! (But don’t break anything.)

Oh, and be sure to visit us this Sunday from 2-5 at “Happy Birthday Montgomery County!”  As always, the party is free.  In addition to the fabulous music, we’ll have children’s activities and crafts; a presentation on the Monocacy Cemetery at 2:15; birthday cake at 4:30; and, throughout the event, a chance to tour our museums, check out our exhibits, talk to reenactors, and learn about local historical and cultural organizations.   A good time will be had by all.

Today we have some music – specifically, some late 1960s pop – to brighten your Wednesday morning.  Last year, we received a donation of 24 vinyl singles, enjoyed by the donor and his sister when they were growing up in Bethesda.  The collection includes songs released between 1955 (Sons of the Pioneers, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett”) and 1970 (several, including “Give Me Just a Little More Time” by Chairmen of the Board), and a variety of artists are represented – although there are two versions of “Purple People Eater,” and The Mamas and the Papas win the imaginary competition with five singles.  (Spanky and Our Gang come in second, with two.)

Most are in plain white sleeves, but a few still include the picture cover:

DSC05750Spanky and Our Gang, “Sunday Mornin’/Echoes of My Mind,” 1968

Several are in their studio-specific sleeves, and I particularly liked this psychedelic example:

DSC05753Ohio Express, “Yummy Yummy Yummy/Zig Zag,” 1968, released by Buddah Records

And here’s the impetus for today’s post: I typed “Beatles” into our database to see what it would come up with.  Along with a few misspelled references to insects, the database returned the 1966 double A-side single “Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out.”  (Our collections are indeed vast and all-encompassing.)

DSC05745No picture sleeve, alas – you can admire the original here – but the donor did write his initials on the corner of the studio sleeve, to ensure its safe return.

This is a great little donation (though I wish we had a complementary 45 rpm record player with County provenance . . . hint hint).  Our collections include lots of school-related artifacts to help us relate the lives of Montgomery County teens over the years, but there’s more to life than school.

I know this isn't a very good photo; you'll just have to visit the mirror in person, won't you?

Here’s another oft-overlooked piece from the Beall-Dawson House, with its own story to tell. This mirror, or tall pier glass, comes from the Anderson home in Rockville. It was designed to fit between the tall, narrow windows in the first floor parlor. (A “pier glass” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a large high mirror, especially one designed to occupy the wall space between windows.”) Unlike some examples, this mirror is a free-standing piece of furniture, with a small marble-topped base. There are matching wooden ‘valances’ (now detached) which went around the window frames, integrating the mirror into the windows on either side.

Unfortunately, we have no photos of the mirror in situ. It may have originally come from the Vinson house, elsewhere in Rockville – this is one of those donations where, in addition to the official paperwork, there are notes written on notes attached to more notes, resulting in some conflicting information – but if nothing else the mirror does appear in a 1967 inventory of the Anderson House, in the “first floor living room.”

At the top of the mirror, and on each side valance, is a woman’s face made of gilded plaster. According to information provided by the Anderson family (on one of the notes mentioned above), this head represents Clara Louise Kellogg, an American soprano who was particularly famous in the 1860s and 1870s. According to this article most of the busts and faces on late Victorian furniture that were popularly believed to portray Miss Kellogg or Jenny Lind are not actually meant to be their portraits, although Miss Kellogg’s image was occasionally used on furniture. (If you’d like to see what Miss Kellogg actually looked like, here’s a photo from the Library of Congress collections.)

There is also a signature (or at least a word) written in pencil underneath the marble top, not that it’s helped me identify a maker, store, or much of anything so far. Any 19th century furniture fans recognize the word?

This early Victorian piano stool belonged to Nathan Dickerson Poole (1843-1912), who inherited his father’s farm in Edward’s Ferry in 1870, and built himself a grand Gothic-Italianate home the following year. Mr. Poole was married twice, but had no children; the piano stool was donated to us in 1966 by Katherine Poole (his niece) and Mary Douglas Heinrich.

The stool is mahogany veneered with a needlepointed seat, wool on silk, in a floral pattern. It is relatively plain in form, with an “abacus” (scrolled platform) base and an undecorated center pillar. The seat is attached to a metal rod, allowing it to swivel; the underside of the seat shows a nice circular wear pattern in the wood, showing it got a fair amount of use/abuse. There are no maker’s marks.

It can be seen in the Beall-Dawson House along with our 1834 Chickering pianoforte, but they do not go together; the pianoforte is one of our few original Beall family pieces, and predates the little stool. The stool itself predates Mr. Poole’s fabulous house (see photo at bottom of this post), but it’s not clear if he inherited it from his parents along with their earlier, smaller farmhouse, or if it came from one of his wives’ families, or if he bought it used… it’s fun to speculate, and perhaps a little research into Poole family inventories will shed some light on the matter.

I always regard this as one of my favorite pieces in the museum, but when it came time to write this blog post I couldn’t really figure out why. Perhaps it’s because way back when I started my job, this was one of the first pieces I encountered in the museum that could be so definitely tied to a person and a place (other than the Beall family), and wasn’t just a lovely antique – history unknown – donated in the 1960s to furnish our newly acquired museum. Lovely antiques are, well, lovely, but to my mind something is missing without that human connection, even a tenuous one. Also, I sometimes feel a little sorry for this little piece, overshadowed (sometimes literally) as it is by Margaret Beall’s Pianoforte. Next time you tour the Beall-Dawson House, spare a moment to admire Nathan Dickerson Poole’s Piano Stool, won’t you?

Nathan Dickerson Poole's house, on Edward's Ferry Road, ca. 1902.

The name Dorothy Douden is written on the cover - I haven't identified her yet, sadly.

This week’s post comes to you from the Wonderfully Unexpected Items in the Archives department: a piece of sheet music that extolls the virtues of Bradley Hills, a community in Bethesda. “In the Land Where the Sun Never Sets, Dedicated to Bradley Hills” (words, music and publication by C.W. Long, Washington DC) was published in 1913. An advertisement on the back cover explains the song’s dedication, as publication was apparently paid for by “The Real Estate Trust Company of Washington, D.C. . . . Exclusive agents for Washington’s most beautiful suburb, ‘BRADLEY HILLS.’” It would seem that Bradley Hills is filled with fragrant flowers, babbling brooks, health, happiness, and eternal sunshine – and all within commuting distance of your government job!

I wondered if this was a song written for real estate agents or developers who could then stick the name of their current project on the cover, since it is so very unspecific.  But so far, I haven’t found any evidence of other copies of the song – extolling the virtues of some community in Connecticut or New York, say – and C.W. Long is also a no-show. In his book on Bethesda’s history, Bill Offutt speculates that Mr. Long was a relative of J. Walter Long, who in 1913 was Secretary of the Real Estate Trust Company.

Bradley Hills was developed in the years prior to World War I by a number of investors, who in 1913 formed the Real Estate Trust Company. The Washington & Great Falls electric trolley provided easy transportation to and from the suburb, and a country club was planned as another inducement to move to this fashionable new community. Who knows if this song was particularly effective as an advertising campaign; the lyrics are a little too effusive, perhaps (besides making it sound like it’s in Finland; Bethesda is a nice place, but I imagine that even in 1913 the sun did in fact set in the evening). Surely even the most ardent fan of early 20th century suburbia did not believe that you’d never get sick if only you lived in a brand-new home off Old Georgetown Road. Wouldn’t it be nice, though?

The lyrics (in case you live in Bradley Hills yourself, and want to sing its praises):

I had a dream about a land,

A land where the sun never sets,

A land of health and happiness,

A land that one never forgets,

A land where no sorrows no worries are there

In the land where the sun never sets.

Chorus:

In the land where the sun never sets,

And the birds are singing all the while,

Brooks are babbling a wond’rous refrain,

All your sorrows banished not a care nor a pain,

Flowers blooming on your ev’ry side,

And sweet fragrance fills the air,

There’s where I’ll stay, ne’er go away

from the land where the sun never sets.