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early photography
Fayette County
Westemoreland County
A.N. Stauffer
Hostetler Blind Family Musicians
Catherine Hostetler
Jesse Samuel Hostetler
Bartholomew Hostetler
carte de visite
Mount Pleasant
United States of America
folk music
albumen print
John Hostetler

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The Hostetler Blind Family Musicians

The Hostetler Blind Family Musicians 

albumen print on cardboard, trimmed CDV
A.N. Stauffer, Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania, late 1860s - early 1870s
said to come from an estate in St. Augustine, Florida with two Civil War-era photos
entry number: cdv.2015.01

This is a portrait of the Hostetler siblings, known as the Blind Family Musicians (or Band), active in Pennsylvania in the 1870s. Catherine (1835-1890), Jesse Samuel (1842-1923), Bartholomew (1845-1908) and John Hostetler (1829-1911) were the children of Daniel Hostetler and Mary Gibbons of Lamberton, Fayette County, Pennsylvania; three of them were born anophthalmic (Catherine, Bartholomew and John), while Jesse Samuel had poor vision in one eye, and eventually lost eyesight as well. But, in the words of a local historian, “nature, to compensate for her parsimoniousness in withholding sight, gave great musical talents, and from tender infancy these afflicted ones have been the wonder of the land.” According to the evidence that I have been able to assemble at this point, the Blind Family Musicians were touring the Pennsylvania counties by 1870, with the help of a certain Prof. Burchinal working as their agent, and probably remained active in the early 1880s; if not anything else, the death of Catherine in 1890 may have put an end to the Hostetlers’ activity as a musical band.

How did the Blind Family Musicians sound and what was their repertoire? A review of one of their concerts in Farmington (July 8, 1872) and stories passed down in a close branch of the Hostetler family tell us that the Blind Family Musicians sang church hymns, Steven Foster parlor songs and the original compositions of Jesse Samuel Hostetler, while also playing military marches as introductory pieces in their concerts. Let us give the word to the anonymous reviewer of the concert in Farmington:

The eldest brother [John] confined himself to the violin, and there was a unanimous agreement that his skill in using this fine instrument was excellent. Some of his touches, for fineness, clearness and easy rolling transition in the scale, were very effective. The brother who plays the violencello [Bartholomew] is a musical composer. His singing, playing and composition of music are all fine. Some of his pieces have the merit of pleasing better on better acquaintance, and evince no ordinary taste and skill. He plays the flute also. The leader [Jesse Samuel] plays and sings well. His voice is clear and sweet and uniform, but not remarkably strong; but it is not weak. The sister [Catherine] has a soft, musical voice, and accompanies her brothers in the use alternately of the triangle, an accordeon, and a pair of corn cobs. Few, perhaps, have thought that music could be brought out of corn cobs. But let those who think they know all about what corn cobs are fit for, go and see and hear what use this blind musician can make of the pair of cobs she carries around with her. They will hardly fail to obtain, and that in a very pleasant way, an increase of information on the subject of corn cobs.

Two words on the photos of the Blind Family Musicians: up to this point, I have tracked down six different photos of the group, five of which date from the late 1860s and the early 1870s, show the musicians with their instruments and were probably sold as promotional material/memorabilia during their tours. Only two of these bear the photographer’s marks, and both come from Pennsylvania: one from a studio in Uniontown (probably E.A. Lingo’s), the other one – presented here - from the nearby town of Mount Pleasant.

My thanks go to David Kent Coy and Scot Novak, both descendants of other branches of the Hostetler family, for their kind help in identifying and documenting the activity of the Blind Family Musicians.

* Ren.Art *, Alan Mays have particularly liked this photo


Information on the Hostetlers is available on several genealogy sites (Ancestry, Find a grave, Old family photos etc.), and there is also a wiki site dedicated entirely to the Blind Family Musicians:
4 years ago. Edited 4 years ago.
 Alan Mays
Alan Mays club
Quite interesting!
4 years ago.
skiagraphia has replied to Alan Mays club
Thank you!
4 years ago.
fantastic museum quality picture
4 years ago.
skiagraphia has replied to Nylonbleu
Thank you!
4 years ago.

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