Saturday, March 6, 2010

Don't Shoot the Piano Player! Sousa, Ragtime, and 1905 Bawdy House Habitues

Visitors to brothels in 1905 St. Louis might have heard ragtime, and if you were especially lucky maybe something by Scott Joplin.

What was the music in Salem brothels?

Firm evidence is pretty slender. CT is out of our element here in local music history, and our thoughts are all too speculative. Nevertheless, by a happy coincidence, the Salem Concert Band gives us a clue and helps to describe the general musical world of the first decade of the 20th century.

On Sunday the band plays a program titled, "In the Steps of Sousa." It features music Sousa played in Salem.
The Dwellers of the Western World suite by Sousa was played by Sousa’s band in Salem during the tours of 1911, 1915 and 1927. Sousa had introduced the suite to other lands during his world tour in 1910-1911, and this year the work will return to Salem. Its three movements are entitled “Red Man, “White Man” and “Black Man.”

As in beer, in music German immigrants were key.

Germans invented the saxophone and valves for brass, and German military and performing models were influential generally. There were certainly military bands in Salem. The Salem Military Band appears in a couple of photos right around this time (here and here). Sousa's band and compositions arose from this nation-wide love of military bands.

Germans were important in other ways. Joplin and, a decade or two later, many of the important jazz composers and instrumentalists took lessons from German music teachers. As Gunther Schuller says in The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz 1930 - 1945, "practically every town in America had a German music teacher and...these provided musical training to the likes of Scott Joplin, Benny Goodman, and Earl Hines, and countless others." We owe thanks to names like Julius Weiss (Joplin), Franz Schoepp (Goodman), and Von Holz (Hines).

In Salem one of the tantalizing names is H. H. Deiner. He appears as a pianist for Fanny Davenport's brothel. (Fanny Davenport was also the name of a famous actress, so this is almost certainly a pseudonym. She appears in the 1905 Marion County census, but not obviously in the 1900 or 1910 Federal census. Deiner is even more elusive.)

The history of jazz in Salem is not yet written and, so far away from the Mississippi, jazz would have come slowly and lately here. There's probably not much of a history to write. The rhetoric gets pretty ugly sometimes. Still, it's difficult to imagine that some ragtime wouldn't have got played in the traveling shows that came to the Grand Theater. The papers have ads for coon shows and minstrel shows, and it's likely their successors came too. At the same time, Salem was overwhelmingly white, and wouldn't have provided much of a home or the performing personnel for the musical innovations of ragtime. 1905 is probably early for much ragtime here.

A couple of contemporary performance notes suggest the popular tastes in music - and echo off-handedly the ugliness. When the Reed Opera House closed in 1900, the Salem online history says:
A Salem newspaper published a farewell to Reed’s Opera House on April 26, 1900. Patton Brothers, managers since 1896, opened the theater for the last time with a performance by the Great Barlow Minstrels. The show was rated among the best minstrel performances ever seen in Salem. Galleries were packed and fewer than a score of empty seats remained in the who house. The "niggers" said the critic, "were black, their teeth white, and their jokes recent".1 Between acts, Hal Patton came upon the stage and made a nice farewell speech.
A little later in January 1905, the theatres were booking vaudeville, "musical burlesque," and minstrel shows. (A longer survey of the listings is beyond our scope here, alas.)

Not surprisingly, more is known about classical music in Salem. Writing about "Music in Salem: 1900 - 1930" in Marion County History, Dorothy Pearce said that three important music teachers had been students of Emil Winkler, "who taught at Willamette and in Salem in the 1890s."2 Winkler was "a recent graduate of the Conservatory at Leipsic [sic], Germany" and people in Salem felt "it was unquestionably a great stimulus to the school to have this instructor fresh from his studies in one of the great European music centers of that day."3

Without more information, it seems reasonable also to place Deiner in this context of German immigrant musicians. Germans had the musical training, the technique, and the cultural authority and status - even for a lower-status job like a brothel piano player. Deiner may also have been itinerant. He appears not to have stayed long and hasn't left obvious traces in various censuses or directories.

In March of 1905, city police raided Peppermint Flat and arrested Deiner and Davenport.


Police Make Raid and Capture Offender Second Time – H. H. Deiner, Pianist, Also Taken in – Fanny Davenport Booked for Disorderly Conduct

As the result of another move made by Marshal Cornelius and his men last evening, Ellsworth E. Nichols must face the charge of frequenting a house of ill-fame, H. H. Deiner, a piano player, will be required to answer a similar charge and Fanny Davenport, the land-lady of a notorious house on “peppermint flat,” is booked for disorderly conduct. Nichols still being held under a former bond was allowed to go upon his own recognizance. The Davenport woman promised to appear in court when wanted so was not taken into custody, and the piano player put up $20 cash bail to insure his appearance.

Determined to carry out the original plans, and follow along the lines mapped out at the meeting held by the city officials a few weeks ago, Marshall Cornelius, assisted by Officers Lewis and Murphy, made a raid upon the house of ill-repute on Ferry street, conducted by Fanny Davenport, between 7 and 8 o’clock last evening. H. H. Deiner, a pianist employed at the place, was the first victim to fall into the clutches of the marshall, who had entered the house while the other officers stood guard upon the outside. Nichols next put in an appearance and was promptly gathered in. The landlady became very indignant at the action of the police and her fit of temper brought her into the game with a charge of disorderly conduct placed against her. The three cases will be called in the police court by City Recorder Moores at 2 o’clock this afternoon.

Marshall Cornelius and his faithful men deserve much credit for the good work they have done during the past few weeks toward purifying the atmosphere of the sporting districts of this city. Every move, originally planned, has been successfully carried out and the individuals sought have in each instance been taken in and punished.

When the news became noised about that Marshall Cornelius intended to rid the city of all undesirable characters, many of the idlers and worthless individuals who had been in the habit of parading the streets with flying colors, packed their grips and left the city between two days. The general public would be surprised (pleasantly of course) to know the number of this class who bid farewell to Salem and departed in a hurry. Among those who absented themselves to avoid arrest were also several women, of the class known as street walkers, who had made Salem their home for many months.

The action of the police has had a remarkable effect and is meeting with the hearty approval of the people. The movement inaugurated shortly after the new officers entered upon their duties has by no means reached its end, in fact it has but commenced. Among others, whose of the kindergarten class who are in the habit of roaming the streets at late hours and who can often be seen entering questionable resorts, will receive due attention by the police in the near future. This class includes girls as well as boys, a number of whom are of respectable parentage. The officers will show no favors but propose to make a thorough clean-up and in this they should, and will receive the hearty support of all respectable citizens of Salem.

Nichols is far more visible than Deiner. He shows up consistently in the Polk directories. In 1896 E.E. Nichols lived in the Eldridge Block; in 1905 Ellsworth was a laborer at 297 Front; and in 1926 E. Ellsworth lived at 243 N. Front. He died on December 8th, 1946, at the age of 85, having lived at 702 North Church Street.

Nichols seemed to have a nose for trouble and he might also have been a "sporting man." Earlier, in April 1901, he'd got into trouble with slot machines. Unfortunately his obituaries are brief, just-the-facts-ma'am.

1At least in the Capital Journal, the quote is actually, "The niggers were black, their teeth white, and the jokes nearly all of recent vintage." This is likely another example of Maxwell's penchant to quote from memory.

2"Music in Salem: 1900 - 1930," in Marion County History, vol. iv, June 1958, pp. 43 - 46.

3Robert M. Gatke, Chronicles of Willamette, the Pioneer University of the West. Portland, OR: Binsford & Mort, 1943.


  1. I think this one needs a new blog title. Salem's bowdy, forgotten past? Fascinating stuff. There should be a walking tour...

  2. Ha, Ha! We know our headlines and titles mostly suck. Wit & brevity elude, alas!

    Photos. We need pictures of Fanny Davenport, Madam McGinnis, Maggie Gardner and Nichols, Deiner and the rest!

    Anyway, it's a work in progress...

  3. Here's a citation from 1915 -

    "Punch Jones' Black and Tan Rag Time Opera and Minstrels" performing at the Bligh