Well folks, here we are confined to our homes. Here in California we have been on lockdown for a bit longer than other places in the U.S. It's been a week and a half here since I've left the house, so what have I been doing with all this time? Well, a majority of this time has been dedicated to drawing and digging through newspapers.
In the last few days I decided to dive back into going through newspapers. It's been over a year since I actually sat down and went through page after page. I forget how tedious it was, but ultimately rewarding. So before I dig into the newspaper stuff, I have been meaning to talk about a few interesting things I learned about Justin Ring. A few months back, I did a deep search on Ring in public records. In the past I have explained how difficult it's been to find him in any public records before 1915. The issue with finding him has been that his name was spelled at least 3 different ways. His full name was Justus Ringleben jr., but you almost never find his full name listed anywhere.
So what to do? The best bet I had was spelling his name very slightly differently to finally find him in 1905. After a few years of trying to find him before 1915, I finally found him in the 1905 NY state census.
He was living in the Bronx not too far from the Hager's and his younger brother Franz. When i saw where he was listed, he was living with a woman named Alice. Turns out he was married to her before he married Elsie in 1909.
Later I found that Justus and Alice married in November of 1903. As far as I could find, this marriage produced no children. They were split by 1908.
(Ring, probably taken in 1902)
So of course my curiosity peaked upon knowing of Ring's first marriage. So why is it that I hadn't known of this first marriage? It's simple, Ring lied.
In the 1930 and 1940 census, Ring was living in his wife Elsie's lodging house. he had difficulty providing all the information to the census taker of all the folks living with them, and with that, he also lied about when he was first married. One of the questions on the 1930 census was the age of each person at their first marriage. Ring answered 33. So that would mean his first marriage was to Elsie in 1909, therefore completely disregarding the whole Alice thing.
But this isn't where Ring's mysteries end. As I kept trying to find what happened to his siblings, Franz and Rosie(as they called her), I noticed something that the family indicated with their parents. According to the family, Justus and Franz had a different mother from Rosie. Now talk about some intrigue! I had previously suspected that Justin's father was a bit of your stereotypical 19th century musician father. This would mean that he kind of cared about his kids, sat and wrote music most of the time, had many female lovers, and pledged that his oldest son would carry on the music. So all of this seems to be coming together, based on what I've been able to find on Justin's childhood. So this leads me to wonder about this mysterious woman who was the biological mother of Justus and Franz. Rosie's mother was the one who raised the children, but there must have been some sourness between the boys and their step-mother. As a result of this, Justus and Franz were close, often living in close proximity, away from Rosie, who had married up to a rich Jewish man named Eugene.
Keep in mind that Ring grew up right by the Bowery(I know! I went in his apartment building and walked along their street!). When he was growing up there it was the famous late 19th century slum that became so infamous for the tenements. The Ringleben's were just a step above being a tenement family, living in a three room apartment in a crowded building among all those poor immigrant souls whose pictures haunt many of us historians now. I can only imagine how rough Justus and Franz's childhood was growing up there, sneaking in the dives and clubs of fighting drunks and amateur music. This rough upbringing must have quieted Justus, making for his reserved personality later in life. Both the boys didn't attend high school, they were done with their schooling around age 13. From there the two of them were writing out music for their father and likely rambling around the Bowery together in the early and mid 1890's. Just as a side note, "The Bowery" was written in 1892, at that time Justin was 16 and Franz was 14, the perfect age for little urchins to be out getting into trouble there.
So maybe all of this is why Ring wanted to forget his early days in the business. And I haven't even mentioned his relationship with Hager! In previous posts I have talked in detail about how obsessed Hager was with Ring, and this actually leads me into the next part of this post. Two posts ago about the Hager scrapbook, I made a point to highlight the queerness of the full two pages with Ring's portrait and short bio. This and the countless mentions of Ring throughout can seem quite suspicious. I still have yet to find more examples to definitively prove that their relationship was more than professional, but the findings from this newspaper dig were very promising.
As I kept digging, I came across a handful of pages from the local papers of Ring and Hager's neighborhood. In the mid 1910's, Ring and Hager moved their families out to Flushing, NY(which I also had the chance to visit while in NY two months ago), which is a suburb right on the water between the east river and Long Island Sound, right by Queens. They lived here for the next three decades, and thankfully, the local papers really took to them both, well, Hager more particularly. By the middle of the depression, Hager was starting to slow down his career, no longer working in record labs, but he was working on radio with Ring. Ring was still working for Decca by 1936, but he still had the heart to prowl around with Hager in their neighborhood. The clippings I found ranged in date from 1932 to 1936, and most of them were on Hager rather than Ring, but yes indeed they were mentioned together very often. The way the column talks about them, it seems almost like there is some kind of inside joke about them being together.
So anyway, in February of 1936, this happened:
Hager tripped and broke his ankle, and he was 61 when this happened!
This little portion of Hager's writing was awfully nice to read, and it very much matches up with the other examples of his writing I have. The image of him stuck in bed hating the weather is quite relatable being stuck at home now.
But see, there's one thing that I missed the first few times I read through this, look at how he addresses his old buddy:
That's awfully interesting. It took several reads of this piece to catch that. It is very curious that he included that in the letter, so playfully referring to his old partner. Now I am convinced more that their relationship was more than just professional.
So, the next few pieces in that same column presented updates on Hager's nearly month long recovery. They still continued to mention Ring and Hager together, calling them partners every time they were mentioned. So as it turns out, Hager was a local celebrity in his neighborhood, and he often wrote to the local paper. Thankfully the writer of the column was a regular friend of Hager's so they often wrote about his working in radio and writing music. I'm hoping that a little while back i at least mentioned the boat fiasco of 1922, if not, here's the piece to refresh:
So that happened...
After nearly killing his friends and employers, Hager not surprisingly bought another boat not too long afterward. According to one of the local papers on him from 1932, this boat he got after the "swanee Smiles" incident, was called Kathryn. I have no idea where he would have gotten that name from, but my curiosity with it has become quite itchy. Of course he got another boat after the first one, great going there Hager. So this got me thinking about the amount of money Hager must have had. In the post about the scrapbook I mentioned an over 27,000 dollar amount that Hager tried to get through a lawsuit over royalties in 1906. Now thats over 2 million in today's money, and somehow I doubt Hager's ambitions to get that amount for just a single song.
He was suing to get that amount of money out of Laughing Water, which as we know was a major hit for many years, but I'm not so sure about it getting that much money in royalties in just two years.
Whether or not he got that money, it did give me some real numbers, as I had wondered for many years how much money Hager actually had. If the money was anything like that, it makes him buying that defective motor boat seem like pocket change.
Anyhow, Hager was rich.
So, while doing this dig I also found a very sad piece on Hager's publishing with Helf. So it turns out that in 1910 their office on Broadway(which they had moved to the previous year) burned down. According to the piece, it was completely destroyed, with no sheets saved.
So this actually answers the two important questions I had about them. I wondered what exactly caused Hager to leave, and also about why some sheets of theirs are very common and why others aren't. So this fire answers both of those questions. It also explains why sheets from them dated 1909-1910 are almost non-existent. Hager was too broken by this fire to jump back in with Helf, so he left, rather desperate, for Boston. Helf mourned for a little while but was back into the business within a few months, proving to become a successful publisher without Hager. This explains very well why Hager went to such a risky but desperate job right after working with Helf. Anything seemed good to him, and he wanted nothing to do with Helf or the other recording folks, no matter how long it lasted(the Phono-cut stuff ended in 1913).
While on this ambitious newspaper dig, I decided to jump back into the Hylands stuff. It's been awhile, as I thought i had already seen most of what there is to see on Hylands in terms of newspapers. Well, thanks or one of the websites I use other than newspapers.com, they added some new stuff in the middle of last year. Most of this new stuff was quite different from what I had seen before. Most of these new sections came from a publication called The New York Player, which was a paper similar to the NY Clipper for the White rats. The first one I found was from 1913, about Hylands being the master of ceremonies at a large event for the White Rats. Not only was he the master of ceremonies at this event, but he was also the leader of the orchestra(not surprisingly). This piece was quite long, so he was mentioned a handful of times, which is nice. There were more than one of these events it seemed, as I had heard that they hosted lavish balls such as this one where Hylands was the master. Another mentioned Hylands as playing piano duets with famous rag-time composer George Botsford. Botsford wrote "Black and White rag" and many others that ended up becoming "standards".
As i kept reading these various pieces on him working with the White Rats, it made a lot more sense to me how important he was in the organization. It wasn't very clear anywhere else, but after reading through a few of these, it becomes clear that he was one of the major leaders that everyone knew.
The prize of the Hylands part of this dig was a picture!
The new picture of Hylands in front of the Columbia lab was quite a score, and this one from the NY Player proved almost just as such.
a rather blurry, grinning Hylands around 1898.
So here's the new picture:
Oh my god!
Okay, so upon first seeing this picture, Marie Hylands is easy to pick out, she's right in the front to the left of the lifesaver. The issue with this picture that I had was figuring out exactly where Hylands is. I can't really tell if he's the fourth or the second from the right in the back row. The description for the picture is nice to see, though him not being well is a bit depressing. From what the period sources indicated, Hylands was not well by the time they decided to go on this English tour in 1913, but he went with them anyway, refusing to let his pain and weakness hinder him. Of course, he died while on this tour.
I did plenty more searches on this dig, but I will save those for another post. Before closing out I'd like to mention another picture that I cam across while going back through the Jim Walsh articles. After getting to really spend some time thinking about Hager's scrapbook, I went back through his writings to Walsh, curious to see if there was anything to fill in place where things seemed to be lacking in Hager's stories(more than we already know). While going back through the Walsh stuff, I went back to that one statement that Walsh said about Ring and Hager...you know, the inseparable companion thing.
Right next to the picture of Ring and Hager together(the cropped version is above in this post), there's a portrait of a mysterious musician.
This is the picture:
So, who is that?
Walsh claimed it was Fred Rose, a performer in Len Spencer's minstrels of 1899-1900. That immediately seemed suspicious. The first thing that struck me was that it couldn't be Hylands, but after thinking about the circumstances and staring at the minor details of the picture, I was starting to think that it might actually be a mislabeled portrait of a young Fred Hylands. From the Columbia exhibition picture, Hylands doesn't look too frightening, and somehow the unruly flash seemed to flatter his young face, unlike the candid Carson picture in front of the Columbia lab.
The dimple chin and slightly curled lips along with the side parted(red looking) hair got me wondering about it. Also, Etta Hylands, his sister, had a nose that looked a lot like that. The tired, dilated eyes are also interesting. The placement of the picture itself in Walsh's writing is also curious, putting it right next to the other prominent accompanist of that period, Justin Ring. So there is a chance that this is an early portrait of Hylands, but I'm not making any definitive claims yet.
I promise to talk about more of the newspaper findings soon. It was a lot to fit into one post so splitting it up seemed appropriate.
Anyhow, hope the isolation/quarantine is going well for everyone, stay well out there if you can! We'll get through this. We have records and research to do!
Hope you enjoyed this!