Cedarville, Ohio: circa 1915. One photograph, measuring 9.75” x 7.75” shows an entire finely-dressed blackface minstrel company posed on a ornately curtained stage. A second photograph, approximately 7” x 5”, shows eight members of the company posed on the same stage carrying a drum, sabers, and pennant for Cedarville, Slippery Rock College, and the University of Michigan. The third photograph, approximately 7” x 4.5”, shows members of the Cedarville Sons of Veterans Band posed in a group photograph while wearing a variety blackface, clown, and hobo costumes. Each has a backstamp for The Nagley Studio of Cedarville. All are in nice shape. The two musical pamphlets are titled The Witmark Minstrel Overture and The White-Smith Minstrel Opening Chorus. One contains 15 pages, the other, eight. One was published in 1914, the other in 1915. The leaves of one have separated long ago and are now bound with an old ribbon. The cover of the other has split almost entirely along its spine, but the inside signature of leaves is intact. Both have some soiling and mends; one bears the name Burton McElwain on the front cover. Item #009291
The minstrel show was a distinctly American form of entertainment consisting of comic skits, variety acts, jokes, song, and dance depicting slaves and later free African-Americans, usually—but far from entirely—portrayed by white men in blackface. Immensely popular in the 1800s, professional minstrel shows were eclipsed by vaudeville by the 1920s, however amateur club and school performances continued until the 1960s when they became seen as racially insensitive by nearly all white Americans. Cedarville, Ohio is a small town located near Dayton that is best known for its historic opera house, which is probably where the minstrel shows were performed. It is likely that the on stage photos were taken inside the opera house and the band alongside its exterior. The Sons of Veterans was a fraternal group initially composed of the sons of Civil War veterans who were members of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). It continues in operation as a patriotic organization today with hereditary membership being open to male members who can show an ancestor served in the Union Army and “associate” memberships for men whose ancestors did not. Similar organizations, including the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, limit their membership to females. A nice set of photographs depicting a well-organized amateur minstrel group organized bya fraternal Civil War veterans’ organization. As of 2019, a late 1940s minstrel photo album is for sale in the trade. OCLC shows seven institutions that hold similar amateur minstrel show photographs. The Rare Book Hub lists several auction records for photographs of professional minstrel shows, but none for amateur productions like this Cedarville set.