Mustering is perhaps the most enjoyable of all the Ancient traditions, but in truth it is not a tradition at all. It was an invention, the brainchild of Sanford “Gus” Moeller. It was Moeller, who in the mid 1940s thought up both the concept and the name, the same time that other Ancients, most notably Korczak Ziolkowski and Theodore “Ted” Kurtze, were attempting to unite the Ancients by hosting “drum corps parties.” The muster as we know it finally came to fruition under the able leadership of Ed Olsen who, aided by the “Committee of Twelve, used these ideas to develop a muster structure and then convinced the Deep River Drum Corps to host the first one on September 5, 1953. This was an instant success, and the Deep River Ancient Muster has been an annual event ever since — a pleasant surprise to the “Committee of Twelve,” which was actually a committee of three consisting of Olsen, his wife Cathy, and the late Carl Emmanuelson, leader of the Deep River Drum Corps. This is the first in a series of articles about the Ancient muster and the features that have become its customs.
Muster memories don’t fade away, they survive in the form of an inexpensive pin back called the muster button. Buttons were an integral part of the very first muster in 1953, serving both as souvenir and, more importantly, fundraiser. With one uncomfortably notable exception (2004), there has never been an admission fee associated with mustering, not even with the first one. However, there certainly were (and are) expenses associated with mustering, which often strain the budgets of the sponsoring corps, and thus muster button sales were a much-needed financial adjunct.
The first muster button was a simple affair whose purchasers were recognized as “boosters.” It did not take long for muster buttons to become more elaborate, borrowing features found on the medals and pin backs awarded at contests and conventions such as those held by the Connecticut Fifers and Drummers Association.
The first muster button was small, measuring 1-1/4” across, and unadorned by anything but the necessary identifying text. However, as the buttons became more decorative, they became larger, most measuring 1-3/4” across, to accommodate photographs as well as text. Today’s buttons are more or less standard at or near 2-1/2” wide.
Although there are many musters held throughout the summer and fall, the two that dominate the circuit have each developed their own signatory muster buttons. The Deep River Drum Corps, which has held musters annually since 1953, personalize their button by featuring photos of respected Ancients, important corpsmen or women, or departed members, and sometimes the entire corps itself. The Westbrook Drum Corps, who started hosting musters in 1959, customarily feature a historic flag of the United States on its button.
Another feature of early muster buttons was the addition of ribbons. Contest buttons often sported ribbons printed with convention dates, locations, and sponsors. Since the ribbons were not permanently affixed, it is difficult to ascertain whether the Ancients wholeheartedly adopted this feature, but evidence of its use survives, at least from several Fairfield Muster buttons thus adorned. The use of ribbon adornments may have been discouraged as an unnecessary expense once host corps adopted the custom of issuing a “muster ribbon” to each participating corps, of a size large enough to be affixed to a guideon or flagpole.
With the advent of digital design, muster buttons have become colorful and expressive while remaining relatively inexpensive, even more so by the easy availability of kits that allow home production of small numbers of buttons.
The expenses associated with musters, unfortunately, now far exceed the profits produced by button sales. Nonetheless, muster buttons continue as a vital part of today’s muster culture.