The Southwest Michigan Postcard Club held its fall show and sale this past weekend, an event which usually leads to some interesting historical finds. This time around, I went with one specific purpose in mind—to locate images of Kalamazoo’s early musicians. Photo postcards of this nature are often difficult to locate, and this hunt proved to be no exception… until one card caught my eye—a nondescript photo of an orchestra, taken by a known local photographer (Austin) and postmarked 9 March 1908 in Kalamazoo. Information on the back of the card stated “they” would be performing in Ionia on the 17th of March, and was signed F. O. Pinkham. (Pinkham was also identified as “lower row, 2nd from right” in the photo.) But the exact identity of the orchestra remained a mystery.
After doing some speedy detective work, we were able to determine that the photo was of the Kalamazoo College Mandolin Orchestra taken about 1908. Formed in 1907, the orchestra was the first to debut R. F. Holden’s newly penned composition, Kazoo, which was to become the ‘K’ Alma Mater. In March 1908, the orchestra made a successful concert tour of Southern Lower Michigan, with stops in several towns, including Grand Rapids, and on the 17th of March, Ionia. A featured performer with the orchestra was a tenor singer named Fred Oliver Pinkham, further confirming the identity of the orchestra pictured on the card.
Learn more about Kalamazoo’s early musicians in KPL’s collection of Local History essays. And be your own detective. Contact the Local History Room for help in identifying some of your own photographs. You might be surprised at what you’ll find!