Sepia Saturday – Two Fiddling Webbers

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

The prompt photo brought to mind a photo of my great-grandfather Myron David Webber.

M. D. Webber playing fiddle

Looking at this photo, I have several thoughts and questions:
When and where was it taken?
What about those clothes, the hair, the missing mustache?
The position of the fiddle?
Did he play only for his own (and his family’s) enjoyment, or did he play publicly?
Did someone teach him to play, or did he teach himself?
How did he acquire his fiddle?
What happened to it?

M. D. Webber was born 15 October 1874 in Villisca, Iowa. Sometime before July of 1888, the Webber family moved to Lurray, Kansas. M. D. married Dorinda Strange on Christmas Day 1897, at the age of twenty-three.

Below is a wedding photo for comparison. On his wedding day, M. D. was sporting a mustache and tamed that curly hair.

Wedding of Myron David Webber (left) to Dorinda Rebecca Strange

I always remember him having a mustache and other photos I have of him show a mustache. So does the lack of one indicate that the photo was taken before 1897?

Great-grandfather Webber and me

But wait. Is that the glint of a wedding band on his left hand?

M. D. Webber playing fiddle

Maybe the mustache had not yet become a permanent fixture when this photo was taken. And has his hairline receded, or is it just the way his hair was combed in the wedding photo that makes it seem so?

I wish I knew more about men’s fashion at the time. His shirt has a stiff collar. A quick internet search has me wondering if this is a separable collar, worn to look stylish without the expense of frequent laundering, starching and pressing. These were often paired with separable cuffs, which M. D. does not have. His collar is stiff and pristine, but his shirt is soft and not stiffly pressed. “Dress casual,” but not “Sunday best?” And can someone please tell me about that wide, dark waistband/belt?

Typically, the violin or fiddle is played with the instrument tucked under the chin. M. D. is not holding his fiddle in that position. My cousin identified the photo as M. D. Webber playing fiddle, so I’ll assume he played fiddle music rather than classical. Is his positioning of the instrument more in line with fiddlers? I don’t know. Maybe one of my musical friends can help me out.

One cousin says she heard that M. D. sold his fiddle to help finance the family move from Fairfield, Iowa to Iowa City. I have written several posts about M. D. and Dorinda’s son, Fred Webber, who won a debate scholarship to the University of Iowa. The family moved in 1926 so that Fred could attend the university.

So far, my best guess as to the date is early 1900s. And place is either Luray, Kansas or Fairfield, Iowa.

Unfortunately, there are no living family who heard M. D. play the fiddle or know much about his skill or public or private playing. In his early years, he was a teacher and minister and active in the community. Did he ever play with others in church or at a club meeting? One thing seems clear: this instrument was for pleasure and when money was needed to assure his son’s university education, it’s usefulness was as a source of income.

In 2018, I wrote a Sepia Saturday post that linked the cornet band in Luray, Kansas and M. D. Webber’s uncle, James T. Webber. Although Jim Webber was not in the cornet band, he was a supporter and I found references to him playing the fiddle.

Luray Headlight, 7 Mar 1889

And other references that do not specify which Webber played the violin. I’ll assume the reference is to Jim.

Luray Headlight, 20 Oct 1887

The Luray Headlight (Luray, Ks) 18 Oct 1888

Maybe Uncle Jim taught M. D. Webber to play. And since Jim was known for his fiddle playing, one can assume that family gatherings included fiddle music and perhaps some singing too. I found other references to Uncle Jim singing in the choir and his sister Nettie playing organ (if I remember correctly).

I haven’t been able to answer all of my questions, but I do like this photo and the little peek it provides into a fuller understanding of my great-grandfather.

Since my Webber and Strange families lived on the prairies of Kansas, I went looking for a fiddle song to include. If you read the Little House books, you know that Pa played the fiddle. I have now learned that several musicians have recorded the songs that Pa played in the books. I’ll include one each from two different groups.


Little snippets in the town newspaper in the 1880s about Jim Webber portray him as quite a talker and joker. I can imagine him playing these lively tunes.

Don’t fiddle around. Dance on over to Sepia Saturday and see what musical notes others have offered today. And join in!

Sepia Saturday – Stunt Man on a Bike

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

M. D. Webber

Sitting outside Charles’ and Abbie’s place along highway 63 in southeastern Iowa, my dad and his grandfather, Myron D. Webber, were enjoying a quiet chat one evening. The sun had set and they watched the few cars that passed by as they talked. The truck stop was situated between corn fields at a junction of two highways. Grandfather sat cross-legged in one of the metal lawn chairs in front. He had a stately appearance – tall and thin, with a handlebar mustache. A Baptist preacher by calling and profession, he supported his large family doing plastering on the side. 

The quiet was broken by the sound of a motorcycle approaching. This was nothing unusual. My dad owned a business on this same property where he sold and repaired motorcycles and he did his best to encourage his neighbors to enjoy the benefits of motorcycle ownership.

Unlike the other vehicles that had passed by, this one did not have its headlights on. The lights from the truck stop brought the approaching motorcycle into view. A ladder stood upright toward the rear of the bike. The “driver” of the bike was on the ladder. His female assistant let loose a few helium-filled balloons and the man on the ladder pulled a pistol from his holster and shot them.

Grandfather Webber turned to my dad and said, “Gerald, isn’t that against the law?”

One could come to varying conclusions about my Great-grandfather’s comment. Was this event “lost on him” as my dad said when he told me the story? Was this a display of grandfather’s dry sense of humor, as another cousin remembers him having? Or was grandfather trying to subtly discourage my father from imitating the man – as another cousin suggested – because Dad raced motorcycles and liked to do some crazy things… ?

I heard this story for the first time a couple of weeks ago when I called my dad(Jerry) to ask him some questions about my grandparents’ truck stop. (Carrying Bricks) The man shooting balloons from a ladder on a motorcycle in the dark was motorcycle stunt rider Putt Mossman. I had never heard of him before, so I did an internet search and sure enough, the memory my dad shared with me is exactly the kind of trick riding that Putt Mossman performed. Putt had stopped in to dad’s motorcycle shop on a few occasions. When he came down the road that night, Dad knew exactly who it was.

Putt Mossman was born in 1906 and grew up on a farm outside Eldora, Iowa. His first claim to fame was as a horseshoe pitcher. He won the state title in 1924 and, at the age of 18, the world title that same summer. He repeated this achievement in 1925. Putt also designed a uniform for horseshoe throwing and designed and patented a special horseshoe for competition.

Putt Mossman seems like a man who was always on the move and always trying something new. And maybe always looking for a way to earn some cash. Besides his accomplishments in horseshoe pitching, he also earned a world title in high kicking, pitched semi-pro baseball, and was a junior lightweight boxer. My dad described Putt as a short, strong guy who could stand on your living room floor, squat down, and jump up and touch the ceiling with his feet.

As Putt Mossman is said to have told the story, he got his first motorcycle at age 20 and did his first stunt (standing up on the seat) a couple of days after he got it to impress some young ladies who caught his eye.

He did some motorcycle racing, but was known more for his stunt work. He performed in Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australia and New Zealand. I won’t attempt a biography of his life, but will share a few more photos.

He kept a busy schedule

Ladder and fancy exhaust


He took some spills over the years, broke some bones, received some burns, but rarely missed a show.

A bigger gun than he used while riding past my dad and grandfather.

In darkness on a motorcycle between two walls of fire.

Putt Mossman also did stunt work in Hollywood. He always seems to be wearing a shirt with the horseshoe logo he designed.

Jumping into the Pacific Ocean for Universal Studios

One of Putt Mossman’s last performances was on the Johnny Carson show. You can tell he is quite the talker. I think I read that he was scheduled for just a 10 minute interview, but Johnny kept him on longer. The interview starts at the 19:00 mark. Be sure to watch past the commercial breaks. There is a studio film of him doing stunts in 1931 after the first break and the bit with him throwing horseshoes is after the second break. True Johnny Carson.

I’ll end with a couple of family photos. My dad doing a Hill Climb competition in 1953
Dad in the 1955 Iowa State Championship race.

He did a few stunts too, but not as extreme as Putt Mossman.

And here is Great Grandfather Webber, posing on a motorcycle.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday. Please visit others who participated by clicking here: Sepia Saturday. And join in! We’d love to have you participate.

On This Day – March 27, 1927

John Norman Webber and Beatrice Irene Jensen were married March 27, 1927 in Tyler, Minnesota.

Webber, John Norman wedding 1927

Norman was the first child of Myron David Webber and Dorinda Rebecca Strange. He was my grandmother Abbie’s older brother and my great-uncle.

This quote from a Webber family newsletter sheds light on how Norman, who lived in Iowa met Irene, who lived in Minnesota:
Their first summer in Iowa City, Myron, Dorinda and 6 of their children lived in a tent in City Park – with no sleeping bags. It was a momentous summer – here in the park, Norman met Irene, who was in town visiting her cousin Phil Norman.

And here we have a picture of Irene, Norman, and a woman whom I would guess is Irene’s mother. The photo is identified with these words:
In Tyler
Showing my ring
Webber, John Norman and Irene 1926 Tyler, MN Showing my ringIrene looks really happy, but she’s not giving us a good view of that ring!

Twenty-three guests signed the memory book at the wedding. There are no names from Uncle Norman’s family.

N-Guest List wedding Norman&Irene Webber363 (1)

Attendees of the wedding of Norman and Irene Webber

Cousins have been emailing back and forth the past few days helping me by sharing information and documents. (Thank you, thank you, thank you!) Some had heard that there was a rush to the altar, but no one knows for sure. Whether or not this was a “shotgun wedding” – perhaps due to a false alarm – it was a marriage that lasted and all agree that their love for one another was genuine.

The photo on the left was taken on their 1st Anniversary. The photo on the right on their 22nd Anniversary in 1949.

1st-anniv-1928 (1) copy                22nd Anniversary

And here we have Norman and Irene opening gifts on their 25th anniversary at the home of Ersel Webber Addis and Laird Addis.
Webber, John Norman 25th wedding anniversaryUncle Norman was known to have rather unruly hair.

Norman and Irene lived in West Lucas Township, near Coralville in Johnson County, Iowa for many years. They appear there in both the 1930 and 1940 census. Norman and Irene lived a simple rural life as described in this undated story by Norman:
Webber, John Norman writings pg 1 This is our home, 1927_20170325_0001

"Goat Island"

“Goat Island” Click to enlarge

Uncle Norman may not have given a monetary value to his home, but the 1930 census taker valued it at $300. To give some context, other homes on that page were valued in the thousands. Uncle Norman earned his living as a plasterer and it was not full-time work.

I love Uncle Norman’s sense of humor and writing style. “After leaning lean-tos completely surround the house and lean-tos leaning lean-tos to the lean-tos, we are beginning to feel just a bit crowded again. Shall we repeat the cycle?”

Norman’s words: “We have learned to live with the two of us” seem to echo their sense of loss in having no children. But this story also makes clear that Norman and Irene felt great joy in having nieces and nephews come to visit and be a part of their lives. As cousin Yvonne wrote in an email, “We are their children.”

In later years, Norman and Irene lived with Norman’s parents in Iowa City. They also lived in a house on the property of Norman’s sister Abbie and her husband Charles (my grandparents). I wrote a little about their home and business in Charles’ and Abbie’s Place.

One more story for this wedding anniversary post. As a wedding gift, Uncle Norman gave one of his nephews and his bride a “kissing stool” because of their height difference. As you can see, Uncle Norman was well acquainted with this particular problem.
n-i-6 copy