OTTO FRIEDRICH MESLOH
by Karl R. Mesloh, great-nephew
[from “The Towpath” – July 1988]
The village of New Bremen has been the home of many fine musicians. One of the finest was Otto Friedrich Mesloh, born February 26, 1867, son of John Henry and Wilhelmina (Boesel) Mesloh. Although a machinist by trade, his love of music won out and Otto became a professional musician.
Otto excelled in both the cornet and flute and also played the saxophone and piccolo. As a cornetist, Otto was unique – he could walk up to a cornet suspended by a string and immediately hit “C” in altissimo (which is the highest practical note for the cornet) by simply touching the mouthpiece of the suspended cornet with his lips (brass players will know the extreme difficulty of such a feat). Otto could also sustain a single note or a trill for upwards of 3-5 minutes by a system of reserving breath while inhaling. In fact, several newspapers reported that even the audiences themselves would “gasp for breath”, fearing that Otto would completely exhaust himself while maintaining a long trill in the “Carnival of Venice” cornet solo.
Locally, Otto played with “The Big Six” of Springfield, Ohio and in Dayton. He traveled with the Waite Comedy Co., Bubb and Bennett and Waite’s Western Co. Otto then moved to Boston and played the Park Theatre for two years. In 1898, he joined John Phillip Sousa’s band as solo cornetist and was Sousa’s leading soloist for three years. With Sousa, he toured extensively all over the country, touching every state in the Union. Local cities in which performances were given included Dayton, Fort Wayne, Toledo, Cincinnati, Columbus, Zanesville, Cleveland, Chillicothe, Portsmouth and Marietta.
Otto also played in various other military bands – Howson’s, the renowned 69th Regiment Band, Callahan’s New York Marine Band, the British Guards Band and Somerset’s Military Band. Performances given during these years included open air concerts in the numerous well-known parks of New York City as well as presentations in Herald Square Theatre, Grand Central Palace, Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera House.
Otto next became the celebrated member of the “Elite Musical Four”, reported in the “Atlantic City Review” as being the best and greatest musical team in vaudeville. It was a very popular group, which presented all four musicians playing selections on cornets, saxophones, xylophones or flugelhorns. While the “Elite Musical Four” were returning home to New York City on June 11, 1906 following an engagement in Atlantic City, the Jersey Flyer of the Central Railroad of New Jersey hit an open switch while traveling at 60 mph and derailed. The brakeman of the freight train, which had been shunted to a siding to let the express pass, had unfortunately not re-closed the switch, causing the derailment.
Otto’s seatmate, George Van Duzen, manager of the “Elite Four”, was thrown through the open window beside him headfirst into the marsh, suffocating in the mud. Otto nearly suffered the same fate and although pinned beneath the smoker baggage car, he was able to slightly move his head, forming a small cavity in the mire which permitted him to blow some of the mud from his nostrils and breathe sufficiently until rescuers chopped through the car pinning him.
Although believed (and reported) to be mortally injured, having suffered numerous head, chest and internal injuries, he did survive. It was next feared that Otto might never play again as a result of broken facial bones and a severely injured jaw, but he did recover and did play again.
Following a lengthy convalescence, Otto began playing once more in 1908, accepting limited engagements and teaching a private clientele of students. He next played in operatic orchestras for a number of the better-known operas (Aida, Carmen, Bal Masque, Otello, Il Travatore, La Bohčme, La Traviata, Lucia di Lammermoor, Mephistopheles) mainly performing in the cities of New York, Boston and Philadelphia. He also toured with the Jacinta Opera Co. which performed in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and the New England states. Later he played in theatre orchestras in the Liberty, Knickerbocker, Gotham, Bronx, Amsterdam, New York, Daley, Imperial Lyceum, and Broadway theatres, to name a few. Theatres played other than New York City ranged from the resort cities of New Jersey and northward along the coast to Halifax, Nova Scotia and Toronto, Canada.
Otto was a jovial, fun-loving individual with a keen sense of humor. He remained a bachelor and was devoted to his parents, sisters and brothers. On his annual visits home, the Mesloh homestead reportedly “rang eloquent with melody” as his mother, Wilhelmina, and sisters, Emma and Dora, were also musicians (pianists). “Harmony prevails and with it, of course, bright cheer in the most generous measure when the musical chords are set in vibration”. On such a visit home, Otto played the cornet solo “The Lost Chord” to a packed Boesel Opera House for New Bremen’s April 12, 1912 “Home Concert”.
The train accident took its toll, however, as Otto’s health began failing following the accident. He passed away June 28, 1923 at the age of 56. Funeral services were held at his New Bremen home at 19 South Herman Street. Burial was in the family plot in German Protestant Cemetery. A young life and brilliant musical career had an untimely ending.
[The author appreciates the information received from Otto’s nieces, Louise (Henning) Laut and Margaret (Henning) Boecker, and from nephew, Karl Mesloh, Sr., as well as that of Mrs. Robert Ellis, Ed Quellhorst and Virgil Horn. …Karl R. Mesloh]
EDITOR’S NOTE: Otto Mesloh’s cornet was owned for some time by Aaron Vogelsang, brother to Mrs. Robert Ellis and Mrs. Frank Quellhorst. It is now on display at the N.B.H.A. museum.
(Click here for Sousa timeline)
Check this website for more information about Otto Mesloh, much of it provided by Karl Mesloh.
Listen to Wearing of the Green (with variations): Otto Mesloh with Metropolitan Band - No. 663
If you listen very closely with the volume UP as high as it will go, you can hear the voice announcing the name of the song "Wearing of the Green" – “with cornet solo by Otto Mesloh.” Make sure you listen to the entire song. The best part is the last minute, starting at the 1:15 mark. It is 2:04 minutes long. Click “Find Album Info” for more about the Pink Lambert celluloid cylinders.
THE THOMAS B. LAMBERT COMPANY
Columbia Model Q Graphophone / Cylinder Records
Produced ca. 1902-1903
made of a light, thin, pink-colored plastic
The Lambert Company was incorporated on 3/5/1900, with capital of $300,000, with its principal business being given as "manufacturing advertising novelties." By 5/23/1900, 2000-3000 white celluloid cylinders had been made. By 3/28/1901, 75,000 cylinders had been sold. The one-piece pink celluloid cylinders were introduced in February 1902. There were also brown and orange cylinders made. (Earlier cylinders were of brown wax.)
The Lambert Company, unable to compete with the "Big Three" recording companies - Edison, Victor and Columbia, went bankrupt in January 1906.
Material used by permission of
Archeophone Records (see below)
Be sure to look at their website below. It tells about the CD from which this recording was taken
and lists the other songs on the same CD.
The Lambert Company has been out of business for over 100 years. As far as our copy and re-mastering of the cylinder, the NBHA is free to use it in their website with this attribution to us:
"Wearing of the Green (with variations)" played by Otto Mesloh with Metropolitan Band (1902) provided by courtesy of Archeophone Records (see website above) . The selection can be found on "The Pink Lambert" CD (the direct link is www.archeophone.com/cds/3001 ).
Archeophone Records, LLC
4106 Rayburn Ct
Champaign IL 61822
[January 28, 2009]