“Brenna Record”: Audio Snapshots from Rural Nebraska (1908-1911)

Just over a century ago, a stock farmer in Wayne County, Nebraska named Franzi Enoch Moses (1857-1947) bought a phonograph with a recording attachment and used it to make a number of wax cylinder records of himself, his family, and his friends telling stories, reciting poetry, performing music, and creating audio theater.  Twenty-eight of these cylinders survive today as part of the Vernacular Wax Cylinder Recordings at the University of California, Santa Barbara—an important body of material I was happy to see among the twenty-five new additions to the National Recording Registry announced on March 25.  More specifically, the Moses family cylinders—like the majority of the vernacular wax at UCSB—belong to the David Giovannoni Collection of Home Cylinder Recordings, which I had the pleasure of digitizing and researching a few years back.

Here’s what the Library of Congress press release has to say about such recordings in general:

From its commercial introduction in the 1890s through its demise in the 1920s, the cylinder phonograph allowed its owners to make sound recordings at home. Their “snapshots” of everyday life are perhaps the most authentic audio documents of the period. They are unfiltered encounters with ancestors, unburdened by commercial or scholarly expectations. They are among the most endearing recordings of the period—songs sung by family members, instrumental selections, jokes, ad-libbed narratives and even the cries of newborn babies and barnyard animals. Vernacular wax-cylinder recordings are among the most endangered of all audio formats because their grooves are extremely fragile and shallow; the wax on which they were recorded decomposes with time; archives find them challenging to catalog; and collectors shave off their existing recordings to make new recordings. The vast majority of vernacular wax recordings remain in private hands or uncatalogued in institutions. UCSB Library’s extensive special collection serves as a beacon for the recognition and assertive preservation of these highly endangered audio treasures.

You can browse all UCSB holdings of vernacular wax here, or the Giovannoni portion of them here, and many hours of fascinating listening await you if you do.  But in this blog post I’d like to showcase the Moses family collection as one nicely extended sample of the sort of stuff you can expect to find.  Many of the UCSB vernacular cylinders are one-offs, found in isolation in the wild; but others turned up together as coherent groups, which lends them special interest because they offer us an opportunity to get to know particular people and families in some depth.  Over the course of the twenty-eight cylinders in the Moses family collection, we meet F. E. (or “Fran”) Moses himself; his attorney father Halsey H. Moses; his wife Martha; their son Irving; their daughters Martha (called “Myrtle” or “Mert” in the recordings) and Edith (“Edie”); Edith’s husband Chester Niles Chubb; and his sister Helen (another son, Halsey S. Moses, is mentioned but not heard).  A few neighbors also put in cameo appearances, as does a family pet.  I’ve transcribed most of the recordings here so that you can read along while you listen (please let me know if you hear anything differently or can make out any words that have stumped me), but I’ve left a few of the more difficult ones undeciphered for you to take a shot at yourself if you like a challenge.  You’ll also have an opportunity to try to complete one unfinished story by Halsey H. Moses that cuts off abruptly at the end of a cylinder, reminiscent of Mark Twain’s “story without an end.”

“Fran” turns out to have been a person of some importance in the local history of Brenna Precinct in Wayne County.  According to Wikipedia: “Brenna precinct was named for Brenna Moses. F. E. Moses, who was the first settler in the precinct, was allowed by County Commissioners to name the precinct and he chose to name it after his sister, Brenna.”  Brenna’s name turns up in the recordings too; one of the cylinders is announced as a “Brenna Record” made on “Brenna Ranch.”

Here’s where the “Brenna Stock Farm” was located according to a map of 1898 (note its two noncontiguous sections):

moses-ranch-map-1898And here’s a 1918 map showing how the same land was divided up among family members at that point:

moses-ranch-mapBelow is a view of the same spot of land today as seen via Google Earth (search for “84881 573rd Ave‎, Wayne NE” if you want to find it).  The area I’ve marked in red was identified in 1918 as owned by F. E. Moses himself, while the parts shown in purple apparently belonged to his sons Irving and Halsey S. and the bit in green to Edith and Martha (a.k.a. Myrtle).  The 1898 map shows the same land belonging to the Moses family, but divided up a bit differently while Halsey H. Moses was still living.moses-ranch-google-earthAnd now let’s zoom in for a close-up on “84881 573rd Ave‎.”  The house to the southeast seems to correspond to the residence of Irving Moses in the 1918 map, so I’m guessing it wasn’t the main ranch house.  There was another house on the noncontiguous southwestern part of Brenna Ranch in 1898, and two in 1918, but since that land had been split off from the F. E. Moses part by then, I doubt either of those was the main ranch house either.  By process of elimination, I suspect that the main Moses residence on Brenna Ranch—where the recordings were probably made—was located approximately where the two lines of the “T” of trees intersect near the road.


With that introduction, let’s do some listening, starting with a few talks by F. E. Moses himself.  (NOTE: I’ve embedded direct audio links for your convenience, but if you find that they’re taking too long to load or otherwise not working, please click on the numbered UCSB link to go directly to the page actually hosting the recording at UCSB, which will also contain additional information about it.)

1. F. E. Moses: “Ghost Stories” (179-03, UCSB 12965)
The people of every country believe more or less in the existence of ghosts or spirits having more-than-humane powers, and it is somewhat amusing to see how the different peoples picture these ghost spirits.  To illustrate, I will tell two ghost stories.  I cannot vouch for their truth, but I think they must be true because they were told to me by a truthful man.  One dark night, a Swede took a shortcut home through a graveyard.  Of course the hour was late, the weather misty, and objects could be seen only through a haze.  As he passed along, a ghost came out from behind a monumenta monument.  It is no disgrace to the Swede to say he was scared, and run, and that he kept running until he was tired out.  Then he sat down on the end of a log to rest, and the ghost sat down on the other end.  Said the ghost, “We had a pretty hard run.”  The Swede jumped up and simply said, “I think we will run some more.”  Now, an Irishman handles ghosts differently.  In a certain matter of reform, Shan had repeatedly disobeyed throughuh, rue the, um, warnings of the priest.  As a last resort to cure him, the priest concluded to scare him.  Knowing that Shan would be late going home and that he would use a frequented path through the graveyard, the priest took advantage of a new-dug grave and concealed himself until Shan should appear.  Luck was with the priest, for he had hardly gotten into the grave when Shan was heard coming along the path.  At the right moment, the priest said, “Woe, my soul it cannot rest, my soul it cannot rest.”  Shan stopped and sobered up mighty quick.  “Begorry, no wonder you can’t rest,” said he.  “You are only half buried.”  And without more ado, he took a spade that had been left by the gravedigger and covered the priest up. 

I’m not positive the Irishman’s name is “Shan,” but that’s the most plausible rendering I’ve found, and it’s definitely “more-than-humane” rather than “more-than-human.”

2. F. E. Moses: “Bryan’s Speech,” October 13, 1908 (179-17, UCSB 12979)
October thirteenth, nineteen hundred and eight.  Voice record of F. E. Moses.  I have this day listened to a speech delivered by W. J. Bryan, candidate for President.  He believes in tariff revision, to which the Republican Party is also pledged.  He also advocates that United States senators should be elected by direct vote of the people.  Although our Senate is not noted for being composed of a superior lot of men, I cannot see how we would make any improvement by a direct vote, for certainly our present senators are the equal of United States Representatives, who have always been elected by direct vote.  It is [claimed… (?)] that now [usually the (?)] rich men can buy the office, but by direct vote, comparatively poor men would be elected, and they would be an easy mark for wealthy sharks [or “sharps”?] to buy.  I cannot agree with Mister Bryan on the question of securing bank deposits.  The government is the people, so that as a matter of fact, we would only be our own security.  We might just as well have the government secure us when we take out a life or fire insurance policy, or when we buy railroad bonds.  If the precedent [pronounced “pre-CEED-ent”] is once established, there would be no limit to the business ventures that the government would be called to stand security for.  As a whole, the speech was disappointing.  Nothing was said about the extravagant wastefulness of the nation’s wealth, nor of the enormous burden of the army and navy.  The [industrious need (?)] for the upbuilding of the lower classes was not mentioned.  Mister Bryan gave me the impression that he is not a brilliant statesman.

Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan had made phonograph records of speeches on all the topics mentioned here, as I helped to document for the Grammy-nominated Archeophone CD, Debate ’08: Taft and Bryan Campaign on the Edison Phonograph.  Given that F. E. Moses spoke his response to Bryan’s speech into a phonograph, it’s tempting to suppose he might also have heard it from a phonograph.  However, Bryan had in fact given a live campaign talk in Wayne, Nebraskathe nearest town to the Moses ranchon October 13, 1908, the same day F. E. Moses made this recording, so what we’re hearing is presumably a reaction to that whistle-stop tour appearance.  In other words, what we have here is a critical oral assessment of a live Bryan speech, recorded by an earwitness within a few hours of the event.  There are a few phrases I haven’t been able to decipher to my satisfaction, but the overall sentiments are clear.  Bryan ultimately carried Nebraska (his home state) but lost the national election.

3. F. E. Moses: “Fools” (179-13, UCSB 12975)
I am an old man who has lived a long time.  For many years I have built the kitchen fire in the morning, and when I told my wife how smart I had been for the last thirty years, she only said, “It takes a fool to build a fire.”  Speaking of fools puts me in mind that when I was a boy, some of my friends wanted to know how I was going to make a living when I grew up.  I told them that I was going to be a farmer.  They were somewhat surprised and said that anybody could be a farmer, making out that it was a business requiring little or no skill.  There I got it again.  Now I find that it takes lots of skill to even drive a cow.  When a down-east Yankee starts to drive cattle, he has a stick in one hand and a stone in the other and hollers, “Whay there, whay there!”  And if the cattle don’t go, they get the stick or the stone and perhaps both at once.  When a woman drives cattle, she will shake her dress-skirt and say, “Shoo!  Shoo, boss!”  And if they don’t go, the woman does.  I once knew a girl who, when she tried to drive the old milk cow out of the cornfield, tried coaxing, and as that did not work she tried hitting her with her hand, and finally she got so mad to think the old cow would not budge that she took her sunbonnet and struck the poor brute over the back with it.  But the cow stood still and ate corn.  The proper way to drive cattle, so considered in the West, is to be on the back of a good riding horse with forty feet of rope coiled around the horns of the saddle, and when your horse gets to prancing nicely to yell “Hoist!  Hoist there!  Hoist ‘um!”  And they always go. 

I’m unsure of the second verb in “if they don’t go, the woman does,” and also of “hoist” in the Western cattle-call (“whay” and “shoo, boss” are attested in written form, so I think I’m on safe ground there).f-e-moses-fools

4. F. E. Moses: “Quotations” (179-24, UCSB 12986)
Quotations.  It is easy to find fault if one has that disposition.  There was once a man who, not being able to find any other fault with his coal, complained that there were too many prehistoric toads in it.  Training is everything.  The, uh, peach was once a bitter almond.  Cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.  A man found fault with the world, the way it was made, and the way it was managed.  Among the rest, he said that his nose was too long, and, to mend matters, he cut off the tip of it.  But now, finding his nose too short, he bewailed to a friend that he could not make it longer.  Said his friend, “It is much easier to find fault than it is to make either a world or a nose.”  Even the clearest and most perfect circumstantial evidence is likely to be at fault, after all, and therefore ought to be received with great caution. Take the case of any pencil, sharpened by any woman; if you have witnesses, you will find she did it with a knife; but if you take simply the aspect of the pencil, you will say that she did it with her teeth.  April First: This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.  It is often the case that the man who can’t tell a lie thinks he is the best judge of one.  Every woman has an ideal husband before marriage, and a very real one after it.  When in doubt, tell the truth.  Noise proves nothing.  Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she has laid an asteroid.  Truth is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economize it.  There are two times in a man’s life when he should not speculate: when he can’t afford it, and when he can.  By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man’s, I mean.

This is a pretty noisy recording, and if it hadn’t been made up entirely of published quotations, it would have been immensely difficult to transcribe.  Most of the quotations were composed by Mark Twain.  The two exceptions are “a man found fault with the world” and “every woman has an ideal husband before marriage,” both of which had appeared in the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine in 1894.

5. F. E. Moses: “Alfalfa, No. 1” (179-20, UCSB 12982).
Delivered at the corn show, nineteen hundred and ten.  The cultivation of alfalfa in Wayne County has long ago passed the experimental stage.  We find that it is a hearty plant, easy to grow, and that it produces a large amount of feed.  However, for the first few months of this growth it is rather delicate, and if weeds are not kept back they are liable to smother it.  For spring sowing, we prefer to plant corn on the ground the year before we intend to sow the alfalfa.  We plow the ground for corn as late in the season as possible and give the corn good cultivation.  The fodder is cut in the fall and hauled away.  The next spring the corn ridges are leveled with a disk, and after danger from frost has passed, one third bushel of alfalfa seed is sowed broadcast per acre.  Usually we cover the seed with a harrow but have disked it in with good result.  We go over the field several times during the summer with a mowing machine and kill the weeds.  We have never had any difficulty in getting a good stand of alfalfa by sowing in this manner, but we lose the use of the ground for one year and do considerable work without any return for the labor.  We have also followed early oats with alfalfa, plowing the ground as soon as the oats are harvested and sowing the alfalfa the last of August or the first of September.  Alfalfa grows quite late in the fall, and the young plants are very hardy in this climate.  Although last winter was as severe as we ever have, a field of young alfalfa that was on the north and west slope wintered with only very few plants being killed, and we harvested three very good crops this summer.  By sowing in the fall you do not lose the use of the land for a year, as you would if sown in the spring. 

6. F. E. Moses: “Alfalfa, No. 2” (179-21, UCSB 12983)
We do not think it is advisable to plant a nurse crop with alfalfa, and it will not do well on the low ground if any water stands on it in summer, or any ice freezes on it in winter.  We put our alfalfa on our highest and driest ground and have always sown it broadcast, although I am of the opinion that it would be better and cheaper to plant the seed with a press drill.  A few days ago I inspected a field of young alfalfa that is a little the best of anything that I have ever seen.  The ground was plowed late in fall.  On account of the dry weather in the spring the owner did not sow at that time but left the ground fallow until the last of July.  It was then re-plowed quite shallow.  After being thoroughly harrowed, the seed was drilled in at a rate of fourteen pounds per acre.  It was planted the last week in August.  When I saw it, the alfalfa was a foot high, thick and even, and free from weeds.  We usually cut our alfalfa three times, and I have known of fields that were cut four times during the summer.  The soil on a number of Wayne County farms is gradually growing poorer.  Farms that are managed without keeping any stock except the work horses are being shipped to Chicago in carload lots. 

7. F. E. Moses: “Alfalfa, No. 3” (179-22, UCSB 12984)
Of course this is all right for the present owners, but I am afraid that the next generation will have hard work to make a living on these lands.  In justice to future generations, not more than half of the soil should be in cultivated crop.  The other half should be in grass, and alfalfa should be used for pasture and meadow.  We have never used alfalfa for pasture.  We commenced sowing alfalfa on our farm so that we could keep more cattle.  More cattle would fertilize the soil, and then we could raise bigger crops of alfalfa, and of course we could then keep more cattle.  We figured that if the ratio was continued for a period of fifty years, we would be able to keep quite a large herd of cattle on our farm.  I will not take up your time in trying to prove the value of alfalfa as a food product.  Mister Wing of the Breeders’ Gazette says that it is good for food for both man and beast.  For cattle, it is best to cure it and feed it in a dry state.  Mankind prefers to have it boiled with bacon and served hot with vinegar.

Nebraska held an annual State Corn Show during this period, conducted by the Nebraska Corn Improvers’ Association.  F. E. Moses must have given this talk at the show for 1910.  Did he speak it into his phonograph ahead of time to test his delivery or afterwards to preserve it for future generations?  I don’t know, but either way it’s probably the world’s oldest surviving recording of a lecture about the cultivation of alfalfa.

8. F. E. Moses: “Stone Age” (179-23, UCSB 12985).
There is hardly *** more fascinating than the early history of man on the earth.  Written history tells us a great deal about his life and manner of living during a period of about two thousand years, or during and since what is known as the Bronze Age.  Earlier than this we have a very scanty record, so that anything that we can learn about mankind at an earlier period is of very much interest.  While man was still using stone implements, shafts were sunk in the chalk cliffs of England for the purpose of mining flint for making axes and arrow and spear heads.  In one of these shafts, recently opened, a gallery was found where the roof had fallen and buried the tools used by the workmen.  It seems that for picks, they used deer horns with some of the prongs taken off so that it made a tool somewhat similar to the iron picks that miners use at the present day.  On the handle of this deer horn a [print of a (?)] man’s hand could still be seen, although it has been buried for probably three thousand years.  In an old grave in Denmark, a skeleton of a man was found that undoubtedly dates back to the Stone Age.  The bones were in very good preservation, so much so that it was easy to see that he was killed by the blow of a flint axe which severed the shoulder blade.  Parts of the flint axe were broken off and adhered to the bone.  There is no flint of the kind the axe was made of in this neighborhood, so that people of this age must have traveled long distances for trade or war.  In North America, sea shells have been found in a burial mound at least a thousand miles from where they were taken out of the ocean.  In the early graves that date back to the Stone Age are found axes, chisels, awls, knives, arrow and spear heads made from flint or some other hard stone, also spears and fishhooks made from bone or horn.  In all parts of the world, it seems that these were the kind of tools used by man before metal was discovered.

The recording was made starting on the beveled edge of the cylinder, which made it very challenging to transfer.  The *** in my transcription marks a skipped rotation that no amount of effort seemed capable of extracting from the wax.

Next we’ll move on to some other members of the family.

9. H. H. Moses (179-26, UCSB 12988)
About eighteen hundred and eight, there lived a character in Ashtabula County, Ohio by the name of Lyme Peck.  He used to play the bass viol at, uh, the dances in the log cabins, and one Saturday night he had been out playing until quite late and started home on Sunday forenoon, and he had his bass viol under his arm.  On the way home, he met a preacher, one of those old-fashioned preachers, who was going to hold service in a log schoolhouse, and in his sermon, the old preacher undertook to tell his people what a wicked set of young people there were in that neighborhood and told about the meeting with Lyme Peck in these words, and in— in this form: Yes, my dear brethren and sisters, it has become a very wicked age.  As I was coming along to meeting this morning, what do you suppose I saw, my dear brethren and sisters?  I met a young man with a [Christ-Jehovahly (?)] great fiddle under his arm, and I said to him, “Young man, did you know that you […(?)] fiddled your soul to hell?”  And oh, my dear brethren and—

The speaker is Halsey H. Moses (1830-1913), father of F. E. Moses and an Ohio attorney for much of his life; see biographical sketches of him here and here.  Of course, the main character’s name could also be spelled “Lime Peck” or any other variant thereof, but the date “eighteen hundred and eight” seems to fit the log-cabin era of northeastern Ohio; Halsey’s parents had themselves moved there from Connecticut in the spring of 1814.  Alas, the cylinder ran out before he was done talking.  How do you think the rest of the story went?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!h-h-moses-storyThe Moses collection also features some poetry recitations, including the following two records by F. E. Moses’s daughter Edith and her husband Chester Chubb.  I’ve tracked down the selections and provided links to them, but I haven’t included transcriptions here because I’d like to invite you to try to decipher and transcribe them by ear yourself.  Afterwards, you can check your results against the “real” texts to see how you did.  Are you up for the challenge?  Let the games begin.

10. Edith (Moses) Chubb, March 24, 1909 (179-10, UCSB 12972)  Inscription on box: “Poetry Edie”
Announcement at beginning: “Edison Record by Mrs. Chester Niles Chubb, March twenty-fourth nineteen hundred and nine.”
Recitation with laughter: “The Night Wind” by Eugene Field.

11. Chester Niles Chubb, March 28, 1909 (179-16, UCSB 12978) Inscription on box: “Chester / March 28th 1909”
Announcement at beginning: “Edison Record.  From Samantha at Saratoga, by Chester Niles Chubb, March the twenty-eighth, nineteen hundred and nine.”
Recitation of an excerpt from Samantha at Saratoga by Marietta Holley.

Next, here’s a recording of a poem by Chester Chubb’s sister Helen, a schoolteacher in Essex, Massachusetts.  This one is probably an original, unpublished composition, since it describes a visit to Wayne, Nebraska—I doubt there’s any written version of it extant.  Can you decipher it by ear?  Please share your results and/or frustrations in the comments section below!

12. Helen Chubb, March 28, 1909 (179-08, UCSB 12970) Inscription on box: “Miss Helen Chubb March 28th 1909”
Announcement at beginning: “Voice record of Miss Helen Chubb, March twenty-eighth, nineteen hundred nine.”

Some other cylinders in the F. E. Moses Collection contain seemingly extemporaneous talks by female members of the family.  Here’s a good example: a set of reminiscences about playing with dolls by Edith Chubb.  Anyone care for a little comic oral history from a hundred years ago?

13. Edith (Moses) Chubb: “Mert and Me,” March 20, 1910 (179-11, UCSB 12973)  Inscription on box: “Edie – Mert + dolls”
Mert and Me, by Me, March the twentieth, nineteen ten.  Years and years ago, Mert and I were little girls playing together out here on the ranch.  I am two years older than Mert, but I always felt twice as old and twice as big.  Mert was little, had curly black hair, and tanned in the sun; and I was big, had straight black hair and freckles on my nose.  We played thousands of games, all the way from making families out of the buttons in the button box — we call one ugly blue button Lucy to this day — to edi- editing a newspaper in which we wrote locals, verses, stories, and even blackmailed the rest of the family.  But the most absorbing play of all was dolls.  Our best dolls, named, uh, Gladys and Goldie, were beautiful jointed creations with real hair and eyes that could shut.  They had silk– dresses, Mert’s being pink and mine pale blue.  The most terrible thing that ever happened to Mert was when the uh, right eye of her doll fell in.  But the real play dolls had big bodies and were as big as real babies.  We could wash them, spank them, and stick pins into them, and even bury them [and have (?)] funerals, without […ing (?)] them.  Then we had a rag doll that we liked because we could [snarl (?)] up dresses for it ourselves.  That poor doll had a hard life.  For the living test, our big brother Halsey often stole her and nailed her by her foot up on the roof of the store room.  But oh, the paper dolls we made.  Our father and mother made the first ones for us in long rows out of folded paper, and from those first [stiff-armed (?)] ones you would never recognize the beautiful, uh, ones we finally [landed (?)] up with, water-colored with whole envelopes apiece full of fine clothes and hats.  We made them in families: a father, mother, a big sister, a little girl, a little boy, and a baby.  Fathers were the hardest to make for we could never get them to [sag (?)] right. My families were always named Van Arnold or Saint Clare.  The mother was always twenty-five years old, and the oldest daughter was always eighteen.

The next two recordings are similar but somewhat more difficult to decipher.  The first is spoken by F. E. Moses’s wife Martha, and the second by their daughter Myrtle (“Mert” in the previous story), said to have been “an expert stenographer and china decorator.”  How many of the words can you understand?  Again, please share attempts at decipherment in the comments section below!

14. Martha Moses (179-12, UCSB 12974)
Mean to be something with all your might.  I have often heard that it is….????

15. Myrtle Moses, February 27, 1910 (179-14, UCSB 12976)  Inscription on box: “Martha O. M.”
A toast delivered Sunday afternoon at Wayne, Brenna Ranch, February the twenty-seventh, nineteen ten, by Miss Myrtle Moses, age twenty-six, Brenna Record.  I am an old maid….????

Now for a musical interlude.  You’ve already met Edith Chubb; Irving Moses is one of F. E. Moses’s sons; and Olof and Christiana Anderson turn up in the 1910 federal census as Scandinavian immigrant neighbors of the Moses family.

16. Edith (Moses) Chubb, violin: “Handel’s Largo” (179-18, UCSB 12980)

17. Irving F. Moses, flute: Variations on “Rock-a-bye, Baby” (179-07, UCSB 12969)

18. Edith (Moses) Chubb, violin; Irving F. Moses, flute: “Last Rose of Summer,” March 12, 1910 (179-09, UCSB 12971)
Announcement at beginning: “Violin and flute duet, The Last Rose of Summer, played by Irving F Moses and Edith Chubb, March twelfth nineteen hundred and ten.”

19. Edith (Moses) Chubb, violin: “Selection from Jocelyn,” March 12 (or 10), 1910 (179-15, UCSB 12977).
Announcement at beginning: “Selection from Jocelyn, played by Edith Chubb, March the twelfth, nineteen hundred and ten.”  The spoken announcement gives the date as March 12th, but the inscription on the box says March 10th.

20. Irving F. Moses, flute: “Wagner” (179-02, UCSB 12964)

21. Olof and Christiana Anderson, Violin and guitar (?) duet, medley of “Fisher’s Hornpipe,” “Harvest Home,” and “Haste to the Wedding,” April 13, 1911 (179-04, UCSB 12966.)  Inscription on box: “Violin Oliver + Christina Anderson / Apr 13th 1911.”

Next, here’s a two-cylinder set of after-dinner speeches by the Moses family.  I’ve transcribed the second cylinder for you, but I can’t make out all the words in the first by a dam site, so you’re on your own for that one.

22. “After Dinner Speeches by the Bunch” (179-19, UCSB 12981)  Inscription on box: “Chester, Edie, Helen Chubb, Irvie, Mrs F. E. & F. E.”
Announcement at beginning: “After dinner speeches by the bunch.”  Series of humorous stories; concludes with imitation of chickens.  Box identifies participants as Chester Chubb, Edith Chubb, Helen Chubb, Irving H. Moses, Martha Moses, and F. E. Moses, but individual speakers aren’t identified.  Continues on 179-25.

23. “After Dinner Speeches by the Bunch, Continued” (179-25, UCSB 12987)  Inscription on box: “Same”; inscription on lid: “2#”
After dinner speeches by the bunch, continued.  [Laughter.]  I am reminded of a story of an Irishman and an Englishman.  They had been living in America for some time, but at last they’re both on their way back to visit their own country.  As land came in sight, the Irishman’s enthusiasm became great, and at regular intervals he would jump into the air and yell at the top of his lungs, “Hurrah for Ireland!”  The Englishman stood it as long as he could, but finally he growled out, “Hurrah for H-E-double-L.”  “All right,” said the Irishman, “every man for his own country!”  [Laughter.] Small Tommy, being reproved by his mother for some misdeed, showed his displeasure in his face.  “Why, Tommy,” said his mother, “aren’t you ashamed to make a face at me?”  “Yes, mama,” replied the little fellow.  “I tried to laugh, but my face slipped.”  [Laughter.]  Some men are like phonographs; they talk a great deal but never say anything original.  [Laughter; then unrecorded portion; then “Goodnight Ladies” sung by company.]

The final remark about men being like phonographs is all the more biting when you realize that the joke about “Small Tommy” is taken almost verbatim from a published source.  But then, the story about the Irishman wasn’t exactly original either. 

The remaining five recordings are all interesting examples of vernacular audio theater, starting with one that features some of the most noteworthy dog sounds history has seen fit to bequeath us.  At least, I assume “Bluster” (pronounced “BLUE-ster”) is really making all that racket; this certainly isn’t a case of oral mimicry as the yipping of Sally Chubb is.

24. “Bluster and Sally” (179-05, UCSB 12967)  Inscription on box: “Blucher [or Bluster?] + Sally”
Edie, your dog doesn’t amount to much compared with the one your mother has.  Your mother has a dog that she calls Fido, and his bark grew so big that she had to change his name and call him Bluster.  Now just hear his bark.  [Dog barking, apparently.]  My name is Sally Chubb.  I am a city dog and live in Sioux Falls with Honorable Mr. and Mrs. C. N. Chubb […Dakota (?)].  Did you ever hear anything so utterly horrible as that hayseed dog Bluster sing.  He thinks it’s an Hungarian rhapsody, I guess.  It sounded to me like down at Chester Chubb’s gas plant.  Anyway, I don’t think anything of country dogs.  They don’t wear collars, and collars are aristocratic.  Then Mrs. C. N. Chubb gives me special vocal lessons every day with a dish-pan accompaniment.  This is my latest selection, composed by Mrs. C. N. Chubb, advised by Myrtle Moses.  Arf arf arf arf arf arf!

bluster+sallyIn the next couple recordings, we hear F. E. Moses and other performers switching among different roles to act out comic scenes in the Moses household.

25. “Edie as Cook” (179-27, UCSB 12989) Inscription on box: “Edie, as cook”
Ma, ma, are you there, are you there, ma?  What is the trouble now, Edie?  Halsey says I have got a big head.  Well, your head is all right.  Lift your apron on and set the table for supper.  Mert, it’s your turn to scour the knives.  No thanks.  Yes, it is.  No it ain’t, I did it last.  Hush, girls, stop your quarreling.  What did [Rose Wolf (?)] say today?  She said Pa was a ‘ristocrat, ’cause he had blinds on his house, and I told her it wasn’t so, that my Pa was a Democrat.  Why, Edie, how did you tear your dress so?  Oh, Halsey did that.  What did you do at Mrs. [Fickyer’s (?)]?  I told Mrs. [Fickyer (?)] I wanted to look all over her house and see [Harry’s boat (?)].  She asked if I played with dolls, and I said no, but my little sister did.  She thought I was a grown-up girl.  How are you getting along with your cooking?  Oh, I can cook fine.  Chester builds the fire and puts the coffee on, and when I come down breakfast is all ready.  And I can make the best cream pies, all you have to do is to put the cream in the pie plate and slap a crust over the top, and the pie is made.  Chester says it is elegant.  He never ate such a pie before.  And roast beef—you ought to see it.  You can just buy a soup bone, put it in the gas oven, and it comes out a fine roast.  Chester is so proud of my roast beef that he shows the bone to his friends.  And ma, my biscuits beat the ones you made when you commenced to cook [all to pieces (?)].  I remember you told me that the hired man used your first biscuits to shoot wild ducks with.  Mine are so soft they will melt in your mouth if you have plenty of butter on them.  And after supper we sing “Can She Make a Cherry Pie, Billy Boy.”  But Chester is so mean, he always insists on singing the last part that says “she is too young to leave her mother.”

26. “Children’s Record” (179-28, UCSB 12990) Inscription on box: “F + M. / Childrens Recd”
Now, Myrtle, tell us all about it.  Is he a fine fellow or just a common, everyday chap?  No sirree, I won’t tell.  Oh, Myrtle [Marthy (?)]!  I mean, I haven’t got any fellow.  Tut tut, none of your […ision (?)] now.  Be honest like Edie was and tell us how handsome he is.  Well, if you must know, he is quite young yet, but he’s maturing very fast.  Is he a large fellow?  No, he isn’t very large, but he will grow some, and he’s good-natured and jolly, but say, he isn’t my fellow, he goes with another girl most of the time.  I admit I let him go with me sometimes just to have one on the train, but I don’t want any fellow, I’m going to be an old maid and do just as I want to.  Well, Irving, how is Mary?  What Mary?  Mary who?  I don’t know any Mary.  Anyway, her name isn’t Mary, and I don’t, uh, know her very well either.  Ma says, well, ma says to keep quiet, all is well that ends well.  So Irving said nothing and sawed wood.  [How’s (?)] you come and whisper in my ear?  No, I’m not as green as, uh, that.  I won’t tell.  Yes, you would.  You would tell Grandpa, and he would tell Dan, and Dan would tell it all around Wayne, and the first thing I would know, people would think that I was in company with some girl.  I don’t tell anybody where I go except Harry [Mett (?)], and Harry knows enough to keep it to himself.  But I’m afraid Harry is going to get married, and then I can’t tell him anything, for I would […ect (?)] he would tell his [new wife (?)].   Harry is getting sillier every day.  He used to be […(?)] and not bother about girls, […(?)] once in a while, but I’m afraid Harry’s done for.  When he goes, I won’t have anybody to […(?)] except Pa, and I guess I—

27. “Markets” (179-06, UCSB 12968) Inscription on box: “Markets F.”; F. presumably refers to F. E. Moses.
Hello, Central!  Ring two short on three-three-six.  Hello!  Is that you, Halsey?  Yes, I guess it is.  Well, say, did you get the market today?  Yes.  Cows are two and a quarter.  Right good ones with all their teeth, up to two and a half.  Say, Perry, I know where there is one pretty good, has most all her teeth, can be bought for two thirty five.  We better go and see her.  Say, Halsey, the fellow that promised to bring that yellow calf backed out.  He said Gildersleeve offered him twenty-five cents more than I did, and he wanted me to raise my bid, but I told him I couldn’t afford it.  Well, that is all right, Perry.  If we go to raising our prices, the first thing you know we will get in a zoo.  But did you offer to split the difference with him?  Hello, Perry.  Did you buy anything at the sale?  Not very much.  One crippled deer and two blind ducks.  One duck died before I got it home, and that makes the other one so steep there will be plenty of profit.  Well, I am coming right up, Perry, and we will go and see that cow.  There is fifty cents profit on that cow if the market don’t break.  You can’t tell about the market.  You know the last load we shipped broke the market fast.  Perhaps we ought to send only half a load at a time.  That so?  How could— how would it do to send half a load to Omaha and the other half to Chicago?  You can go to Omaha and I will go to Chicago, or I will go to Chicago and you can go to Omaha.  But don’t let anybody know what we pay for this stuff.  People think we are making stacks of money, and about every other man backs out and won’t deliver the cows.  They shipped the cow with the crumpled horn that worried the dog that chased the cat that caught the rat that lived in the house that Jack built.

28. Clyde Oman: “Auction” (179-01, UCSB 12963)  Inscription on lid: “Clyde Oman / Auction”; inscription on box: “Clyde Oman Auction”
Ladies and gentlemen, if you will give me your attention a moment, I will give you the terms of the sale and begin.  The terms of this sale are twelve months’ time on approved note bearing eight percent interest from date.  All amounts of twenty dollars and under, cash in hand.  No stocks will be removed until conditions are complied with unless by special agreement.  Now, ladies and gentlemen, you understand that Mr. Fran Moses has decided to quit farming and cattle raising and has decided to go to the San Luis Valley in Colorado, where the sun always shines, and where money is made easy.   Now then, the first animal that we will offer you is the Pride of Aberdeen.  The Pride of Aberdeens are the best of the, of the Angus family.  Now, how much am I offered for this noble cow?  How much?  Give me a bid….. [Acts out sequence of bids with auctioneering chant; the cow is finally sold to F. E. Moses’ neighbor Perry Benshoof for $250.]

clyde-oman-auctionThe performer of this last piece, Peter Clyde Oman (1870-1951), was also a local farmer and real estate businessman.  The auction of the Pride of Aberdeen may have been wholly fictional, but F. E. Moses did in fact retire from stock farming and move out of state not too long after these recordings were made.  The 1920 federal census shows “Franzi Moses” living in Pasadena with his wife Martha and daughter Martha (i.e., “Myrtle” or “Mert”), identified as an art photographer.  In 1930, “Franzie” is shown still living in the same place with his photographer daughter, but now he’s widowed.  He died in Los Angeles in 1947.

The Moses family cylinders work together unusually well as a set, but the range of content found on them is fairly representative of the UCSB vernacular wax holdings as a whole, and there are over six hundred more where these came from—a stunningly rich resource for anyone interested in vernacular culture and/or the history of sound media.  At one point, I was planning to write my own dissertation in Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University Bloomington on vernacular sound recordings, exploring how “ordinary” people came to frame their encounters with sound-recording equipment differently over time as new models arose for them (e.g., the radio interview).  I ended up writing about the conventions of phonography as a whole between 1877 and 1908 instead because I found it hard to find enough early home recordings, dating back to the cylinder era, to generalize meaningfully about them.  Now, at long last, there are enough examples readily available through UCSB to permit the kind of study I had in mind, and plenty of others besides—and we should all be grateful to David Giovannoni and Don Hill for methodically collecting and preserving the lion’s share of this material at a time when its value was not yet generally recognized.  I hope to write more about these recordings here from time to time, but meanwhile I’d encourage you to rummage around in the collections online yourself and see what sparks your interest.



One thought on ““Brenna Record”: Audio Snapshots from Rural Nebraska (1908-1911)

  1. Pingback: My Fiftieth Griffonage-Dot-Com Blog Post | Griffonage-Dot-Com

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