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Alwin's Toothbrush

In the late 1890s, Alwin Schroeder and his family spent their summers in the lakes region of Maine.

According to Elizabeth Foster, whose grandfather hosted the Schroeders there, Alwin always traveled with his toothbrush:

Alwin Schroder, the first ’cellist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was another guest on the island who had an adventure with the narrow-guage. Whenever Grandfather invited him, he would accept promptly, adding, ‘— And I will bring my “toothbrush”’. ‘The toothbrush’ was his pet name for his ’cello. Grandfather never asked him to play, feeling that it was more tactful not to, but he always did.

        Schroeder’s ’cello was too large to go through the tiny door of the parlor car, and too valuable to make the journey in the baggage car, so it was always placed on the rear platform where Schroeder could watch it and stop the train immediately if by some dreadful chance it fell off.

The Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Railroad became accustomed to rounding curves slowly and carefully so the ’cellos wouldn’t fall off.

         Schroeder’s best friend was an Austrian musician who was also an excellent shot. He taught him how to shoot, and Schroeder... became wildly enthusiastic about this manly pursuit and arrived one summer at the island with his ’cello and a shotgun. Grandfather told him that game birds were out of season, but this did not upset him in the least.

         ‘Ach so!’ he replied. ‘Then I will shoot vat iss in season, and you vill tell me so I vill not make a mistake.’

         In those days quite a few birds and animals which are now fully protected could be shot out of season, so Grandfather gave him a list and he went off with his gun, blissfully happy and full of enthusiasm.  Each evening he would return to the island with a surprising assortment of wild fowl and small animals. He was extremely proud of his aim, and insisted upon having his trophies stuffed by the village taxidermist so he could take them home and show the Boston Symphony what a remarkable Nimrod he was. To his chagrin he discovered that taxidermy was quite expensive, but that deterred him only momentarily. He went on shooting everything within range, and by the end of his visit he had a collection worthy of a natural history museum. He packed them all in wooden boxes, and was as fussy about them as though they had been Stradivari. They were shipped across the lake in the Florence Percy on a calm day so the waves wouldn’t endanger them, and he loaded them on the train himself, politely but firmly rejecting all offers of help. Everything was finally arranged to his satisfaction and the train was pulling out of the station, when he rushed out on the back platform wildly waving his arms and screaming, ‘Stop the train! Stop the train!’

         ‘What’s the matter?’ yelled Grandfather, running after him in an attempt to stop it. He thought, of course, that one of Schroeder’s precious birds had come to grief.

          ‘Mein Gott!’ I have left my “toothbrush”! cried the frenzied musician.

          Grandfather caught up with the engine, and the train backed slowly into the station again, where Schroeder’s ’cello was put on board the rear platform and peace restored to the parlor car. 


from Elizabeth Foster, The Islanders. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1946, pp 92-3

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