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Fiction #526
(published February 17, 2011)
Rejected Curios: Joe Louie Armstrong's "Valved Bugle"
by David Erik Nelson
Lot 238 is an American-style "valved bugle" of uncertain provenance.

When he ascended to the Moon in 1938 to defeat Nazi German heavyweight Max Schmeling, Joe Louie Armstrong not only roused his flagging nation, but also became the first black astro-pugilist to play trumpet on the Moon. As Schmeling staggered, then crumpled to his knees in the gunpowdery dust of the makeshift boxing ring, a captivated world tuned in for Armstrong's historic first transmission:

Houston, Tranquility base here: Dat's one lil punch for yo' man; one big-ole wallop fo' mankin'.

But a faulty solenoid prevented broadcast of the extended horn solo that followed, leaving those hot licks long forgotten.

This horn was purportedly the same bugle Armstrong's grandfather, General George Louie Armstrong Custer, carried into battle on the fateful morning of June 25, 1876. Contemporaneous accounts confirm that General Custer continued playing bugle calls with martial aplomb, even as a band of mounted Lakota cut him from the main force of the 7th U.S. Moon Rover Cavalry, driving him down the sandy banks of the Little Big Horn River into the brackish waters of the Sea of Tranquility. Custer was dismounted by a fatal lance blow, and the bugle was long regarded as lost.

An attached hangtag, penned in the collector's own hand, indicates that this instrument was personally presented to him by Schmeling—a claim that remains unverified, and seems unlikely.

Let us begin the bidding at $14; do I hear $14? Yes, $14 from the young lady seated with Mein Führer. Do I hear more?


David Erik Nelson is a founder and editor of Poor Mojo's Almanac(k). His geeky craft book, Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred: The $10 Electric Guitar and 23 More Dirt-Cheap, DIY Diversions, is now available from No Starch Press.

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