Sons of Hannibal businessman became big in music industry
The cover for the sheet music, “There’s a Service Flag Flying at our House,” is part of the Joe Morris Co., collection, Library of Congress. Thomas Hoier and Bernie Grossman put their words to music written by Al. W. Brown. The music was subsequently distributed as sheet music published in 1918 by the Joe Morris Music Co., from the company’s New York office.
Listen to the song on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIKD5NiZMRY
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Five brothers from Hannibal, Mo., made it big in the music business during the first quarter of the 20th Century, producing sheet music that has found a home in the Library of Congress.
They grew up in the post-Civil War era in the men’s clothing business, under the tutelage of their father, Israel Morris. But they came of age in Philadelphia, Pa., where the Joe Morris Music Co., was born at the turn of the century. The company’s focus: anything musical.
One of their productions, a catchy tune promoting patriotism, was released to raves during the first World War. “There’s a Service Flag Flying at our House,” was likely on the lips of home folk back in Hannibal, Mo.
And it was produced by none other than the Morris brothers:
Mark L. Morris, born in Chicago in 1863; and his younger brothers, all born in Hannibal: Solomon, 1866; Louis, 1868; Joseph, 1871; and Hyman, 1874.
While soldiers from across the land fulfilled their patriotic duty, and their loved ones anxiously awaited news from the front, Thomas Hoier and Bernie Grossman put their words to music written by Al. W. Brown. The music was subsequently distributed as sheet music published in 1918 by the Joe Morris Music Co., from the company’s New York office.
The Morris family traces its Hannibal roots back to at least July 1, 1863, when the family patriarch, Israel, registered prior to the start of the Civil War. He reported that he was married, 36 years old, and lived in Hannibal’s second ward.
Israel and Hannah previously lived in Chicago, where the German immigrant worked for the S. Harris Clothing Store, located near the corner of Randolph and Wells streets. It was in Chicago where their son, Marcus (Mark) L. Morris was born in 1863. (The S. Harris store was located near the present site of the Cadillac Palace Theater in Chicago.)
Following the Civil War, the Morris family settled in at 206 N. Fourth St., in Hannibal, a long-since demolished two-story brick house, which stood roughly opposite of Trinity Episcopal Church.
Israel Morris supported this family of boys by operating a men’s clothing and hat shop at 121 North Main Street. In 1871 he competed among other notable businessmen for customers in the same clothing genre:
Jacob Harris, 111 N. Main;
Peter Henry, 321 N. Main;
Israel Kaufman, 119 N. Main;
Marsh and Morgan, 112 N. Main; and
Settles and Bowles, northwest corner of Main and Broadway.
In 1878, the business life Israel built in Hannibal crumbled. He made the sad journey to St. Louis, filing a voluntary bankruptcy petition.
As the new decade came around, Israel Morris went to work as a salesman for Leopold Bros,, 107 N. Main.
Son Marcus Morris accepted a clerkship at A. Shenker and Co., 411-413 Broadway.
By 1881 they had moved out of the house they had occupied since 1866; moving instead to the east side of North Third St., north of Hill Street, and later to 111 N. Seventh St., and 218 S. Maple.
By 1885 the family had regrouped. A clothing store under the name of Israel’s wife, Hannah, was in operation at 101 Market. (In 2022, the still-standing five-sided, two-story red brick building is owned and occupied by White Oak Counseling, 1221 Market St.)
This unusually shaped building is the first in a row of buildings on the south side of the east end of The Wedge. Its unusual shape was designed to fit the topography of the neighborhood.
In 1888, the family was living at 111 N. Seventh St. Israel worked as an agent for his wife at 101 Market. Mark L. and Solomon L. Morris were clerks for their mother’s store. Louis Morris was a carrier for the Post Office.
By 1892, Joseph would open a news depot at 106 S. Main, selling books, stationery and music. This shop was likely the catalyst for business dealings yet to come.
Move to Philadelphia
After selling the Market Street clothing outlet to Charles Levy circa 1895, the family left Hannibal.
By the time of Solomon Morris’ marriage to Miss Jennie Kory at St. Louis in January 1898, the Morris family had relocated to Philadelphia, Pa. The newlyweds stayed for the night at the Planters Hotel in St. Louis, then traveled directly to Philadelphia, where they would live out their lives. Their family home was located at 857 N. Franklin, Philadelphia.
In July 1902, family members established “Joseph Morris, Incorporated.” The company’s mission was to deal in music and musical instruments.
Partners were Israel and Hannah Morris, and their sons, Joseph, Marcus and Hyman.
Sons Solomon and Louis went into the merchant clothing business for a time, but later joined the firm.
Mrs. Hannah Morris died of pneumonia on May 1, 1907. Two years later, on March 12, 1909, her husband, Isreal died at the age of 77. These former Hannibal business owners are at rest at Adath Jeshurun Cemetery in Philadelphia.
Their sons opened up an office in New York, and Joseph Morris, whose name was associated with the company, divided his time between the two cities. Each of the brothers in turn played management roles in the company.
In 1922, the storefront in Philadelphia, located at 6 N. 13th Ave., sold musical instruments as well as sheet music.
Among the 10-inch double-disc phonograph records available for sale at the store in February 1922:
"The Sun Will Soon Be Shining”
“All That I Need is You”
“Good-Bye, Pretty Butterflies”
Solomon Morris died 1935. He was married to Jennie Kory in 1898. They had two daughters, Blanche and Sylvia.
Hyman Morris died in Aug. 6, 1935, at the age of 60-61, aboard a train at the Atlantic City Railroad Station. He left his estate to his brothers, Louis, Mark and Joseph.
Louis Morris died Dec. 5, 1939, at Miami Beach, Fla. He was married to Bertha Jacobs at Philadelphia, Pa., in August 1907. She died Jan. 1, 1952.
Marcus (Mark) L. Morris died in May 1939 at the age of 76. At the time of his death he was a resident of Philadelphia’s St. James Hotel, where he lived with his brother, Joseph Morris.
Joseph Morris died in 1941. The last of the brothers to die, he left his stock in the Morris Music Co., to his niece and nephew-in-law, Hannah and Raymond L. Kramer. Hannah was the only surviving child of his brother, Louis.
Other beneficiaries were Blanche M. Cohen and Sylvia M. Lovett, daughters of Solomon Morris; and Bertha Morris, widow of Louis Morris.
The Morris brothers are buried with their parents at Adath Jeshurun Cemetery in Philadelphia.
Note: Name spellings for Israel Morris, patriarch of the Morris family of early Hannibal, were many and varied, including: Esreal, Ezra, Esrael.
This advertisement for the Joseph Morris music store was found in the Evening Public Ledger, Philadelphia, Pa., March 9, 1922, via Chronicling America.
An advertisement for the Morris men’s clothing store was printed in the 1871 Hannibal city directory, accessed via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s web site.
Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on Amazon.com by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Montgomery.firstname.lastname@example.org Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com