When Peabody's Elizabeth Schaaf got wind of the fact
that several dusty, aged gallons of home-brewed liquor had
been exhumed during the school's ongoing major construction
effort, her wheels started turning. No, she wasn't thinking
of the party ramifications; rather she turned her attention
to the mystery of just who could have left such a cache of
Schaaf, Peabody's archivist, said she rifled through
her history-laden memory banks to solve the riddle, and one
name leapt to mind, but she could not be certain.
The bottles, which had been found in an old cupboard
that had been exposed when construction workers broke
through walls of the institute's East Hall, would later be
turned over to the
On Oct. 24, when Schaaf examined the artifacts, she
said it took her mere seconds to confirm her earlier
"When I looked at them and saw the labels, it was
immediately apparent: The handwriting was Gustav Strube's,"
said Schaaf, referring to the conductor and composer who
served on the Peabody faculty from 1916 to 1946.
The German-born Strube, who was also the founding
conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, was actually
fresh in her mind, as an orchestra in Germany had recently
asked the Peabody Archives if it could provide a copy of
one of the composer's symphony manuscripts.
Strube's stash included bottles
branded with his distinctive handwriting.
PHOTO BY HPS/WILL KIRK
Beyond the handwriting, other evidence pointed to
Strube, she said. With more than 100 years' history of
Peabody and Baltimore cultural institutions at her
fingertips, Schaaf has an intimate knowledge of some of the
area's most illustrious musicians — so much, she
said, that they have become like extended family.
Established in 1983, the Peabody Archives resides on
the second floor of Friedheim Music Library. It is the
official repository for the historic records of the Peabody
Institute, it contains an extensive collection of recorded
Peabody performances, photographs and personal papers of
the institute's trustees, faculty and staff, as well as
those of noted musicians and artists. It also maintains the
records of many of the performing arts institutions in the
Baltimore area, among them the Baltimore Symphony
Orchestra, the Baltimore Civic Opera, the Harford Opera
Company and the Lyric Theater.
"Peabody has become the performing arts archive for
this area," said Schaaf, Peabody's first archivist. "We
collect records of many of the musical organizations and
the papers of musicians and ensembles that perform in and
around Baltimore. I might be biased, but this is a
wonderful and rich collection."
Among the stacks are records of former Peabody
trustees such as Samuel Claggett Chew, the renowned
Baltimore physician, and John Pendleton Kennedy, who served
as U.S. Secretary of the Navy in 1853, when Japan had
opened up to the Western world. Not just a repository for
papers and photographs, the archives also house personal
travel diaries, opera costumes, artwork and now
"This pretty much tops the list of oddities," said
Schaaf of the dozen various-sized jugs of Strube's liquor.
"Although, I must say, we've had some peculiar objects turn
up in personal papers that have found their way here, some
of which, for want to be discreet, we have to keep out of
Part of the archives' collection is the Strube Papers.
The conductor was a close friend of H.L. Mencken, the
prominent journalist who was not only a Baltimore Sun
writer and editor but also the founder of the Saturday
Night Club, a collection of amateur and professional
musicians who met on Saturday nights to drink and play
music at club members' homes.
"Together this very talented group would play through
a series of works selected by Mencken himself," Schaaf
said. "In fact, we have a number of compositions written by
Mencken here in the archives. It's quite a wonderful
treasure. Not many people know of Mencken as a musician,
and that he was a muse to several composers, including
Schaaf said that when Prohibition came, Strube,
Mencken and Hopkins anatomical artist and Saturday Night
Club member Max Broedel took to making their own spirits,
some of it in Broedel's lab at Johns Hopkins.
Strube, who passed away in 1953, was born in the Harz
mountains in Germany, an area with a long tradition of
brewing alcoholic beverages from fruits and berries.
Further evidence linking him to the bottles uncovered last
month were paper labels with handwritten descriptions such
as "Small White Grape" and "Wild Cherry."
Unlike Strube's moonshine, however, most of the
artifacts in the Peabody Archives are donated, not
uncovered. Schaaf said that many Peabody alumni, and
children of alumni, see fit to entrust their memorabilia
with the archives.
"From this group, we have amassed recital programs for
our very first students back in the 1860s, right through
the institution's history," she said. "Not too long ago a
lady phoned us up and wanted to entrust to us her ballet
costume that she wore for a performance here 40 years
Schaaf said that one of her favorite pieces in the
archives' collection is a green wood trunk that had
belonged to Enoch Pratt, who had served as Peabody's
treasurer at one point in his life. Inside, she said, was a
"treasure trove" of Enoch Pratt records and papers,
including a number of detailed financial records, letters
and canceled checks to Peabody that he had kept on file.
As for the bottles, Peabody plans to exhibit a small
selection of them during its Grand Reopening Festival, when
the construction is completed next spring. The $26.8
million renovation includes a new performance hall and
rehearsal spaces, a restored entrance on Mount Vernon
Place, a glass-covered grand arcade and a mews side
entrance on Charles Street.
Following that event, the bottles will be kept and
preserved in the archives.
Recently, Schaaf was contacted by Strube's
great-great-granddaughter, Suzanne Brunton, who had learned
of the moonshine discovery. She told Schaaf that she had
been told by her mother that Papa Strube frequently would
hide a batch of his latest brew for others to find
Going by the location of the bottles, and the dates
they bore that were so near to the time of his retirement,
Schaaf said it's a fair assumption that Strube left these
bottles as a parting gift to his colleagues.
While that anticipated party obviously never
transpired, Schaaf said, the bottles have reappeared "just
in time for another big celebration, our grand
To contact the Peabody Archives, call 410-659-8100,
ext. 1160. Its hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through
Friday, and by appointment.