Clark House Season’s Greetings, 2020

Before we come to the end of 2020, I’d like to share a little seasonal cheer with this pictorial look back at previous holidays at the Jonathan Clark House Museum. Many thanks to Nina Look, the JCH board, the community, and all the Clark House volunteers and young historians who give so much of their time and resources to keep the house alive.

If you’d like to support the Clark House and its mission to collect, preserve and share the history of the house and the early settlers of Mequon and Thiensville, please click here to make a donation. Thanks for reading, thank you for your support, and best wishes for a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Original photo pages by Nina Look. Click each page to open larger image in a new window:

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Haydn’s “The Creation”

Today’s post was originally intended to complete our coverage of the Milwaukie Beethoven Society’s first performance, on March 23, 1843. But I got caught up unscrambling a mixup I made on my post about the first part of that concert, and got behind in new research and writing, so that post is not yet ready. I expect to finish my look at the Beethoven Society concert this coming Wednesday. Sorry for the delay.

Until then, how about listening to some wonderful, joyous music, to drive away the gloom and darkness of Winter, 2020?

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Christmas, 1944

One of the useful things about studying history—if you pay attention—is that it can give you a bit of perspective on life and current events. This year, 2020, has been an objectively awful year, no doubt about it. A previously unknown virus has killed hundreds of thousands, infected millions, and brought economic misery to even more. Our communities and our political system have undergone stresses they have not seen since the mid-19th century.

Social distancing and mask wearing have become necessary to protect our health and our neighbors. Many of us are frustrated and sad that we will must spend our holidays apart from family and friends. It’s a tough ending for a rough year.

So this Christmas, I wanted to share something with you from my family collection. It’s a reminder that—when push comes to shove—we can work together and get through difficult times—like 2020—and even find ways to celebrate the spirit of the season in spite of difficult circumstances.

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Santa Claus Visits Milwaukee, 1867

Christmas Eve is tomorrow night, so I thought you might enjoy another look at our previous Santa Claus posts, from December 25 and 30, 2017. I have combined the two original posts and incorporated a few revisions and updates to the text. Ho! Ho! Ho!

Christmas in early America

For many years now, Christmas has been celebrated by many Americans as an important religious and community holiday. Christians gather to worship and commemorate the birth of Jesus, and they and other Americans enjoy a break from work and gather with family to feast and exchange gifts. But it was not always this way.

But in many of the American colonies, Christmas was not observed as a religious or secular holiday. The seventeenth-century Puritan leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony considered Christmas to be non-biblical and pagan influenced. In Boston and other parts of New England any observance of Christmas was prohibited and, for a few years, actually illegal. The holiday was not generally accepted in many parts of the United States until after the federal government made December 25 a national holiday in 1870.

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Monday Musicale!

The Beethoven Society, part 2

UPDATED, December 27, 2020: I managed to mix together my notes on the two works by Haydn—adapted by William Gardiner as “his” pasticcio oratorio “Judah”—that appeared on this first concert of the Milwaukie Beethoven Society. I have updated this post to correct the information and links about piece no. 2, from “Part First” of the performance, “Now elevate the sign of Judah.” The information about the chorus “Lo he cometh”—the 8th item on “Part Second”—has been moved to its correct place in our upcoming post about the second part of the concert, scheduled for Monday, December 28, 2020. Sorry for the confusion. —R.P.

In Friday’s post we introduced what is commonly believed to be Milwaukee’s first concert society, the Milwaukie Beethoven Society. If you missed it, please take a moment to read that post for background on the group and its place in early Milwaukee’s cultural life. They gave their first performance on Thursday, March 23rd, 1843, at the Milwaukee Court House. The advertised program was:

Milwaukee Weekly Sentinel March 15 1843, page 2. Click to open larger image in new window.

The program for the evening was typical for the era, featuring solo songs (“song,” “air,” “ballad”), vocal duets, trios and quartets, and choruses for the full ensemble. (It’s also possible that the duets, trios and quartets may have been sung one-on-a-part, or with the full chorus divided into two, three or four parts to cover the “solo” lines.) On this initial performance, the Beethoven Society did not play any strictly orchestral works.  This suggests that the the newly-formed ensemble may have understood itself to be more of an “oratorio society”—focused on vocal and choral repertoire with instrumental accompaniment—rather than a “symphony orchestra” with an affiliated chorus.

Oratorio Societies

Even as early as 1843, it’s not surprising that the citizens of Milwaukee could form a performing ensemble of some 35 singers and instrumentalists. Oratorio societies were very popular throughout 19th- and early-20th century America for aesthetic and practical reasons. From a practical point of view—and my own more recent experience—it was probably much easier to assemble a reasonably capable group of men and women to form a decent mixed-voice, SATB, chorus. As we discussed last week, many 19th-century Americans were taught the rudiments of music and singing in school, in church, and at home. In the 19th-century, singing in harmony was a common part of worship, education, and home life.  And you don’t need to invest in expensive instruments and years of regular lessons to become a contributing member of a good amateur chorus. Then as now, the talent pool for a good community chorus is usually deeper than for a full amateur orchestra.

Artistically, choral repertoire fulfilled a need for individual and community music-making and aesthetic and spiritual uplift. In today’s post you’ll see that many of the works on the concert—whether originally sacred or secular—were adapted from their original texts and purposes and fitted out with new, English language, Bible-based or liturgical texts. And if not sacred, the texts of the other pieces—with one or two exceptions—tended to be either somewhat sentimental or deeply maudlin. (It was the Victorian era, after all.)

The orchestra

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“…hear them discourse most excellent music”

The Beethoven Society, part 1

In our previous post, I teased a first look at the Town of Milwaukee’s first concert organization, the Milwaukie (sic) Beethoven Society. The first mention of the society that I can locate is this announcement in the February 8, 1843, edition of the local newspaper:

Milwaukee Weekly Sentinel February 8, 1843, page 2. Click to open larger image in new window.

This was an ambitious undertaking in a collection of villages that would not unite and become the city of Milwaukee until another three years had passed. In fact, when the Wisconsin territorial census was enumerated in 1842, the combined population of the “Town of Milwaukee”—comprising the West Ward, East Ward, Walker’s Point and adjacent lands—came to a mere 2,730 men, women and children. How was such a musical society—and concert—possible only one year later?

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Beethoven’s Birthday!

Today is the 250th anniversary of the birth of composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). I’m going to celebrate…and continue work on an upcoming post about Milwaukee’s first musical organization, the Milwaukee Beethoven Society!

Milwaukee Weekly Sentinel February 8, 1843, page 2. Click to open larger image in new window.

Life for early Milwaukee-area settlers was frequently difficult, but often less primitive than we imagine. Among other attributes, Milwaukee has long been a musical place. As early as 1843, the short-lived Milwaukee Beethoven Society brought the first organized concert performances to the neighboring towns that—three years later—would join to become the City of Milwaukee.

1843 was also the year that so many early Mequon immigrants, including Jonathan M. Clark, journeyed to the Milwaukee land office and court house to register and pay for the land they had settled, and obtain their federal land patents. These early Mequon residents knew Milwaukee; it was their center for law, business, shopping, news, and meeting out-of-town visitors. Did Jonathan and Mary Clark make a trip to Milwaukee to hear the Beethoven Society perform? It’s fun to speculate, but we really don’t know.

I’m collecting information on the Beethoven Society’s organizers and their first (and only?) two concerts. In my next post, I aim to gather that information together along with links to online performances of most of the pieces from the first concert so that you can enjoy something like the experience of that debut performance from the comfort of your computer, tablet or phone.

Meanwhile, today is a big day for music lovers. Grab a celebratory beverage (and piece of cake, if you have one1) and enjoy this stirring performance of …

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Monday: Map Day!

First official map of Wisconsin, 1837


Some of my favorite characters in film are the dogs in Pixar’s animated feature Up. It’s clear that Pixar’s artists and writers have a deep understanding of our canine friends, especially their tendency to be distracted by, for example, a…squirrel! 1

Likewise, some of the pleasures (or hazards?) of history research are the many squirrel!-like moments where you manage to be completely distracted by cool stuff that is not at all related to the topic you are actually trying to research. Like the dogs of Up, I am easily distracted, although my attention is drawn more to old maps, books, newspaper clippings, sepia photographs and colorful lithographs.

This week, I was looking for more information about possible Clark connections in Lower Canada in the early 1800s, to add to our earlier posts, including this one, this one and this one. But what did I find? Glad you asked…

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Busy Week…

No post last Wednesday, and just a short one today.

Like so many of us, my family won’t be traveling to holiday get-togethers this year. So this week we’ve been busy wrapping and shipping gifts to distant loved ones. I’m usually not this organized this soon, but we decided to ship early this year, to avoid the rush and make sure everything arrives in time for the big day.

It must have been easier when you could just do your shopping in town, put the packages on your sled, and walk them home…

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Monday: Map Day!

Diagram of Stanstead Township, c. 1800-1809

I’m still on the hunt for the elusive parents and kin of Jonathan M. Clark. Based on what we know so far, we are looking in the area of Derby, Orleans County, Vermont and its northern neighbor Stanstead Township, Lower Canada, circa 1800-1830 or so.

There are so many documents to read and sort through in order to get a grasp on the various Clark families that pioneered this area. Our Canadian friends had a land grant system that was quite different from our U.S. system, and this has taken time to get used to. Happily, most of the original paper files have been digitized and made available for free (thanks, Library and Archives Canada!), but the organization of the files remains confusing (why do there seem to be so many duplicate images in many of the files?), and the LAC’s user interface makes browsing slow and cumbersome. That said, we are making progress.

Here’s today’s map:

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