Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday's Faces from the Past: Photo Challenge Solved!

There were many enthusiastic replies and some amazing stories associate with the photo from last week's photo challenge. I have really enjoyed hearing from the family as well as my readers. Many of the replies came via e-mail or facebook and I'd like to share some of them with you as I disclose the young Bloomfield musician in the photo.

The first to venture a guess was my second cousin once removed, Ellen—Harry Bloomfield's granddaughter. Here is what she had to say:
"...As for the photo, I'm going to guess that's a baby Joe with the violin. Otherwise, I don't have a clue. Thanks for posting all these wonderful photos and research!"
Closeup of Ben with the
Violin in a youth orchestra.
Ellen was only partially correct. She found the Bloomfield in the photo! But it's not Joe. Joe was musical as well, but this young Bloomfield violinist is not Joe. 

The next person to reply was my uncle Michael. His guess was based on the one time he met his great-uncle:
"Wonderful. I met him in Vermont many, many years ago, and remembered him as a saxophone and other types of horn player. That's why I picked Ben, and that's why I picked those two guys." (He is referring it's the two horn players in the back).
Ben Bloomfield (Top, second from the left)
holding a Saxophone with the original1937 Yacht Club band. 
Despite being partially incorrect, this is a good guess. Ben Bloomfield is the young man in the photo and between the two of them, my relatives found the correct Bloomfield. This guess, also teaches us a bit about Ben and his versatility as a musician. He did play horn instruments, but apparently at this young age, he played the violin.

The next person to take-up the challenge and the first to nail the reply, was not a relative at all, but a genealogist and faithful reader, +Mariann Regan. Here is how Mariann came up with the correct answer:
"Yikes, it's test time! OK, I'm going to guess that the young Bloomfield is the violinist, front row right. My guess is that it's Ben, Joe, or Barney. OK, just kidding. I'm going with . . . Ben. I looked at the photos in the last two posts and chose by the shape of the face and the ears. My second choice was Joe. I don't think it's Barney. I'm probably totally wrong. Wow, is there ever a strong family resemblance!"
Impressive Mariann! You are an excellent photo detective!

The last response I want to share, came from someone who knew Ben growing up, Shirley, Bareny Kenet's daughter (remember the flood Hero peddler story?). Shirley has no trouble identifying Ben, whom she knew well. Her e-mail was full of fascinating details about this amazingly talented uncle:
"...The picture of the little violinist is definitely Ben. Even then his great intelligence and interest in whatever he did is evident in his expression. Ben was a very accomplished musician and played a number of instruments , many were self taught. At one point the Vermont symphony needed a horn player (oboe or bassoon) so he taught himself that instrument and played with the orchestra. He also was an accomplished actor and performed in regional theatre groups in Ludlow and Weston Vermont in lead roles. The Spencer Tracy type roles. He was tall, ruggedly handsome, charming and had a great sense of humor and wonderful laugh.
Shirley shared another story about a girlfriend he brought home from New York, but I'll leave that story for another day. Shirley's account is consistent with other stories I've heard about uncle Ben, who seemed to have been quite the renaissance man. Here is what his nephew Marty wrote about him for his profile:
"Ben played the slide trombone in one of the famous jazz clubs in Greenwich Village during its heyday. Because of his talent he was selected to play in the all Indian Band (they needed a trombone player) for Roosevelt in 1932.... He was quite a man, involved in the Vermont symphony, theatre as acting and then directing, and also was political. He worked with the police department, helping them with troublesome boys, too. When he retired he had a direct line in his home to help GE with their cars.... He enjoyed solving math puzzles in the Scientific Magazine."
Ben Bloomfield, 1937
Photo from the collection of Marty Bloomfield.
And if he didn't play enough instruments, in the photo on the left, Ben is playing the piano. And so I'll quote Marty again when he summed up his impression of Ben: Quite a guy!
Questions remain about the original photo from our challenge. It is a remarkable photo of Ben at the onset of his musical career. As we have seen, the family had little money, and there are very few photos from before 1919. How old was Ben in the original photo with the youth orchestra? Where was the photo taken?

Dating the photo: Ben arrived in America in 1909 at age four. He looks to be somewhere between 10-13 in the orchestra portrait, therefore we can further limits the time frame of the photo to between 1914 and 1917. Comparing the photo to the family photo of the Bloomfield boys with their mother Freida Toby, taken in 1919 (see close up on the left) confirms that the orchestra photo had to have been taken before 1919.
Close up Ben from the family photo c1919
about 15 years old. 

Location of the photo: In 1914, the Bloomfields were in the process of moving. They appear in both the Claremont and Laconia city directories of 1913 and 1914 and after that, they settled in Laconia. It's most likely the photo was taken in Laconia, although it's possible it was a Claremont Youth Orchestra. My next task is to locate information about the two youth orchestras in that period.

Do keep the stories about Ben coming and I promise to share more that didn't fit in this post (yes, there is more!).


  1. Excellent! Ben is an extremely artistic Bloomfield, and with all those instruments, he sounds like a one-man band! Jazz, theatre, the Vermont symphony, helping the police, the piano . . . he must have been brilliant. Handsome and charming as well. Looking forward to hearing more about him!

    1. He really is like a one-man band! That is a great way to think about him!

  2. Oh, Smadar, this post triggers so many thoughts!

    First, you may find some more help by contacting each of the cities that were home to those two potential youth orchestras. Maybe those youth orchestras are still in existence. Perhaps someone kept an archive of their old photos and/or participants. Maybe they can help you find a match to your photo!

    Second, about Ben's talent in music...this reminds me of my own father. In his early days, he, too, focused on the violin, but later taught himself many instruments. Like Ben and his saxophone, my dad found a place in the big bands of that era--although in my dad's case, it was the trombone that became his meal ticket. Later in life, he returned to his "first love," the violin, and played in the local symphony.

    What was interesting about his role in the Big Band era was that I can still find old newspaper clippings with mentions, photos, and even ads including his name. Because he also played in New England area, as did Ben, as well as in New York City, I've gotten the most search results by searching through the site, Old Fulton NY Post Cards. Perhaps you will find some mentions of your Ben there, too.

    1. Contacting Laconia and Claremont is a great idea. I've tried to look up their youth orchestra's but not very extensively yet. Thinking about how a poor kid who just immigrant from Russia, gets an opportunity to learn the violin around 1915 is really amazing and I'd love to learn more about these youth orchestras.
      Thanks for the suggestion of the Old Fulton NY Post Card site. I don't know that I've looked for Ben there yet and it's an excellent thought! I love the site! Thanks for sharing the story about your dad! It sounds like he was a very musical and talented guy!


Thanks for sharing your comments!