Ah, the never-ending adventures of harp guitar builders!
This one wrote itself. I simply PDF’d three consecutive newspaper clippings from the Chicago Tribune of early March 1901 (see below). (Though long in my files from Bruce Hammond, it was recently shared with me by Cliff Hall, who’s penning a piece on the history of sunburst finishing for Vintage Guitar magazine; Bohmann plays an important role in that story.)
Allow me to set the scene…
A few years after the above photograph of famed luthier Joseph Bohmann was taken, he found himself at a new Chicago location. Like his previous establishments, it included his store and showroom at streel level, with a full basement for his “factory” workshop. The alley behind included a large “deadlight.” This was a construction of glass and iron popularized in Chicago in the previous few decades as “vault glass,” which formed a beautiful sidewalk surface while letting in light to the enhanced enlarged city basements. (For more on Chicago’s vault glass sidewalks, see this article.) Here’s a great illustration I found for us to better envision what Bohmann’s similar back alley might have looked like:
Something similar, if not as large and elaborate, was where Bohmann had his business. I’m imagining him as the guy in the doorway, with that basement space filled with harp guitars and, on the street, a horse much like this one (one of a team).
Got the picture?
On the fateful evening, Bohmann was still in his ground-level store with his two St. Bernards (he was apparently a lover of large dogs, having previously owned a mastiff). I’d love to know what he was in the middle of doing. Bookkeeping? Tuning some instruments? Dusting? Presumably, it was a quiet evening… and then, the sound of a bomb going off.
Racing downstairs – where numerous high-quality mandolins, guitars and almost certainly harp guitars were staged in various stages of completion – man and canine alike were stunned by the sight of a large horse thrashing amongst the equipment and instruments.
For Bohmann, it would be hay, not harp guitars for a full two days and nights… Well, here…just read it for yourself (then come back for my conclusion) …
(Yes, they got his first name wrong in the later articles.)
Was that crazy, or what?! And I love how the newspaper sketch artist depicts one of the St. Bernards, who – after his “vicious attack” on the horse – appears to have made up and has a new inseparable companion.
It’s always hard for my mind’s eye to truly picture these historical luthiers going about their business…Chris Knutsen, Orville Gibson, Joseph Bohmann…but this time I am seeing things as a full black & white Three Stooges-style comedy film. Thanks for that entertaining diversion, Joseph!
But surely, after all that publicity, he must have considered taking to the Chicago streets with a new surefire advertising campaign?