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Were the Frick children seen but not heard?

By Yu-Chen Shih

​The Fricks spent a lot of money on their children’s play, building a whole Playhouse with a bowling alley and a darkroom for Childs’ photography. The Playhouse is far from Clayton, perhaps strategically, so that the adults would not have to listen to the loud noise of kids playing. Did the Fricks believe in the old English expression that “children should be seen and not heard”? A picture taken of the Clayton Cadets in front of the Playhouse might offer some clues about Fricks’ philosophy on children’s play. This group of young boys wearing military-style uniforms and caps was led by Childs Frick who was “Captain” of the corps. They met for practice, squad drills, and other exercises. Notice that several boys are carrying large bass drums and that they would not all fit in the Playhouse. Clearly they were making noise outside.

What kinds of sounds would they have made when doing their drills around the estate? Since there was no radio or television, they would need to find inspiration from live events or recordings. They may have seen drills in local parades. They also might have been inspired by the sounds of marches that the Fricks played on the orchestrion and piano. For instance, in Frick’s music collection, there are numerous pieces by John Philip Sousa, such as “King Cotton.” 

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Excerpt from Sousa's King Cotton, performed by the US Marine Band

In the clip, you hear the very end of the Trio section, which is immediately followed by the exciting Break Strain, also known as a “dogfight” because it depicts a battle scene. The “fight” happens between the band’s different sections. For instance, different instrument groups alternate phrases. First, the upper woodwinds and high brass play a phrase, which is answered by lower brass and percussion. For the player and the listener, these attacking phrases seem like a battle. This kind of music may have sparked the imagination of Childs and the Clayton Cadets for their drills and their play.

Returning to the initial question, the Fricks did seem to encourage their kids to play and make noise. This was a new way of thinking. According to Barbara Beatty’s research on early education thinker John Dewey, she noted that “Dewey constructed his own notion of play that he argued fostered experiential learning, voluntary participation, and social order. For Dewey, play and work were naturally linked in ways in which the needs of the child and society coalesced.” The Fricks seem to have agreed with this emerging nineteenth-century view when they built the Playhouse to help their kids learn and grow. By providing a space for the Clayton Cadets to do drills, the Fricks seemed to think that it was essential for the boys to experience social life and social order, closely matching the new philosophical ideas of John Dewey.

What sounds do you think the Clayton Cadets made on the Frick Estate?
Select all that apply:


Beatty, Barbara. “John Dewey’s High Hopes for Play: Democracy and Education and Progressive Era Controversies Over Play in Kindergarten and Preschool Education.” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, 16/4 (2017): 424–37. 

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