Monday, February 20, 2012

The mystery of the three photographs

Several years ago a kind friend let me borrow three photographs of old-time Kerrville to scan. The three photographs were all taken the same day, and from the same spot: the intersection of Water and Earl Garrett streets.
Looking up Earl Garrett Street
The photographer stood in what was then a dirt street, and took a photograph facing west on Water Street, facing east on Water Street, and then looking north on Earl Garrett. In each image a throng of people is marching toward the photographer, led by a trio of men on horseback, a marching band, and men carrying flags and banners.
Archways can be seen in the photographs, one at the intersection of Water and Washington streets, the other at the intersection of Water and Sidney Baker streets. The one near Washington street has a large star in its center, and in the center of the star, the images of two faces, faces which appear to be children.
The one near Sidney Baker Street has a lyre over the word "Wilkommen."
Looking west on Water Street
Whatever was happening that day was a really big deal in Kerrville. A really big deal, yet, today, a complete mystery.
For years I've wondered about those photos, about the subject of the photos, and about the date of the photos.
Now, thanks to friends, and the magical powers of the Internet, I think I have a good working theory about the photos.
Here's the secret, Gentle Reader: it never hurts to ask for help.
On my history blog ( I posted the photos, included some enlarged detailed images, and admitted I had no idea why or when the photos were taken.
And helped poured in. The biggest contributor was John MacCrossan, father of the former managing editor of this newspaper, Gerard MacCrossan. The elder MacCrossan lives in Ireland, meaning the research department for this column is international.
Several readers of my blog pointed out the similarities between the temporary archways and ones in other cities around the turn of the last century, sending along images of a rather ornate one in Austin and a more humble one in Fredericksburg.
Looking east on Water Street
In both of those cases, the event for which the archways were built was a "saengerfest," or festival of singers. These celebrations were common among German communities in Texas and elsewhere. Most of the choirs which participated were all male, though a few included mixed choruses.
I also learned Kerrville had such a choir, a group with a melodic name: Concordia. Further, I learned several of the smaller communities in our area formed their own confederation of singing clubs, the Texanischer Gebirgs Sängerbund, or Texas Hill Country Singing Clubs League. (That's a very rough translation.)  Kerr County's own Senator Julius Real served as the group's president for many years.
The breakthrough came when I expanded my search beyond Kerrville newspapers, looking for information in the San Antonio newspapers I could find online. In them I found Kerrville hosted at least two Saengerfests, one in September 1896, and the other in July 1908.
After carefully studying the three photographs, I noticed several things which suggest the photos were taken in 1896. First, there are no automobiles in the images; by 1908 Kerrville had automobiles. Secondly, one of the American flags in the Earl Garrett street image has 44 stars, the U. S. flag in use from 1891-1896.
I'll post these images again on my blog on Monday.
On these three photographs, the "where" was the easiest part. The "why," I believe, is Kerrville hosting a Saengerfest celebration. The "when," I theorize, was September 2-3, 1896.
If so, the photographs represent some of the earliest and most detailed images of downtown Kerrville.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who loves historic photographs of Kerrville. If you have some you'd let him scan for his collection, he'd be very grateful.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 18, 2011.

1 comment:

  1. Great work, Joe.

    I love the thrill of conducting research to find the solution to a mystery.

    Apparently, you do, too.


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