Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sweet music, hard luck

This is another of those Columbia photographs I'd like to know more about. These were musicians (all but the gentlemen on the right are holding either instruments or music) who perhaps had just performed --- or were about to. But what was the occasion? Could those be the front doors of the original Columbia Methodist Church behind them? Or was it the Presbyterian church that burned, propelling my family from Calvinist to Wesleyan?

I have so many Columbia stories that if the little county-line town didn't exist, I would have to invent it in Faulknerian Yoknapatawpha fashion. And since this is a story told only by an image, all sorts of license could be taken.

But some things are known. The young woman holding the mandolin and with antler-like ribbons in her hair is my great-aunt, Emma Prentiss. She's the only one of the seven I know. Emma was an accomplished musician, trained by her brother-in-law, Alpheus Elkanah Love, who played for her own amusement as well as with many Columbia musical ensembles.

Since this was a musical ensemble, Uncle Al probably was involved as its director. Since Uncle Al also was the town photographer, chances are he took the picture, too.

The photo probably was taken during the mid-1880s, before Emma's life took a Faulknerian turn, when harmony still was possible.

Not long thereafter --- in January of 1887 ---  Emma, then 23, and a man named Jones got the sex cart ahead of the marriage horse and she ended up pregnant. Marriage was proposed, but forbidden by Emma's strict stepfather, my great-grandfather. 

Verna was born in October of that year, and within a year or two was stricken by polio. A judgement, some said. Wicked, wicked child --- born out of wedlock.

Emma, accomplished musician, aspiring poet, loved by her family, was damaged goods --- stuck in Columbia without means to go anywhere else, contributing a little income to the household by working as a seamstress. During late 1893, she was thrown from a runaway buggy onto a pile of wood and died of her injuries in January of 1894, only 29.

Since I don't know who the others in this photo were, I can only tell you about Emma. Hopefully, the rest had better luck.

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