Tag Archives: News from the Societies

April Events Sure to Inspire and Inform

TAHS presents Norton Bretz on “A Murder in Eastport, 1870,” April 9th

A Murder in Eastport: An 1870 Family Story of Racial Profiling
By Norton Bretz, President of Eastport Historical Society
Sunday, April 9th, 1pm

This talk will examine a fascinating 1870 murder that echoes issues our country still deals with today.

On June 12, 1870, a black man named William Swan was walking along what is now US31 near near Eastport. William and his family had been living in the Charlevoix area for over five years, the only black residents of the county. He was was shot and killed by two Civil War veterans, for no apparent reason. The shooters would be acquitted.

Come hear Mr. Bretz, a descendant of these veterans, give a lively recounting of this event and its aftermath.

Norton Bretz is President of the Eastport Historical Society. He spent his career as a nuclear physicist at Princeton University. He is a Michigan native who grew up spending summers in Eastport.

Program is free and open to the public. Program will take place Sunday, April 9th, from 1-3pm, at the Traverse Area District Library, Children’s Story Room, 610 Woodmere Ave.

Boardman River Nature Center hosts Drinking Water Screening and Program on the Boardman River

Image courtesy of Gabe Popa, available on his Flickr page.

Stop by to discover what the Boardman River Nature Center (BRNC) has to offer! From 10:00-12:00pm, GTCD and the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assistance Program (MAEAP) are holding a FREE domestic drinking water well screening. For more information, click here.

Visit us from 1:00pm-2:30pm to join our educator as we learn all about the Boardman River. We will work with our indoor stream table, hike along the Boardman, and create a fun craft to take home. Ideal for ages 4+. These Saturday events are free and open to the public.

Annual Parklands Spring Clean-up in Grand Traverse County

When: Multiple Wednesdays – April 5th, April 12th, and April 19th, from 9:30am-12:00pm
Where: Various parklands throughout Grand Traverse County

Shortly after snowmelt is a great time of year to remove unwanted debris and miscellaneous items from our local parklands. In addition to cleaning up the parks, small scale park enhancement projects will take place. Contact us today to learn more about which parklands will be of focus this year, and what you can do to help!

Registration: RSVPs are required; contact Reb Ratliff at rratliff@gtcd.org or 231.941.0960×27, or Tom Vitale at tvitale@gtcd.org or 231.941.0960×19.

Regional Events in November for History Folk

Twentieth Century Farm Life

pieSunday, November 20th at 1pm, Susan Odom of Hillside Homestead, nationally known expert on early twentieth century cooking, kitchens and small-scale farming, will address the Traverse Area Historical Society and all attendees on the art of running an early twentieth century farms. Come pick up some tips for holiday cooking! Event will be held at the Traverse Area District Library, 610 Woodmere Ave. in the McGuire Room.

Shoes! Glorious Shoes!

pair_of_womans_oxford_shoes_wedding_lacma_m-83-156-1a-bThursday, November 10th at 4:00pm.  Join the Benzie Area Historical Society to “walk a mile” in the shoes of our ancestors with Nancy Bordine.  We’ll explore what they wore on their feet, and why they wore them. We’ll ponder the world’s most extreme shoes in terms of age, price, comfort and significance.  This entertaining experience may change the way you think about footwear.

Vintage aficionado Nancy Bordine has been playing “dress up” with historical clothing for five decades.  At last count, she owned more than 550 pairs of vintage shoes. Combine Nancy’s collection with her wide knowledge and contagious enthusiasm, and have yourself a most entertaining history lesson. Held at the Benzie Area Historical Museum, Benzonia.

Genealogists Meet to Share





New Exhibits, Hands-on Fun and Walking Tours in September

Downtown Traverse City Historic Walking Tours Every Saturday

Don’t miss the Traverse Area Historical Society’s Downtown Historic Walking Tours! The tour will be offered every Saturday in September, starting at 10:30am.  The tour will last approximately 90 minutes.  Please meet  in front of Horizon Bookstore, 243 East Front Street, 20 minutes before the start time. The cost is $10 cash or check; with all proceeds benefiting the Historical Society.  Reservations (at 995-0313) are appreciated but are not necessary.

Oakwood Cemetery Tours Every Sunday

The Traverse Area Historical Society will conduct walking tours of Oakwood Cemetery at 4:00 PM on all Sundays in September and on October 2 and 9. The tours will focus on the unique history of the area and the early pioneers who began the process that led to the community we know today. The tours are geared towards an adult audience and last 1 ½ hours. The cost is $10 per person and all funds raised will benefit the programs of the Historical Society. Participants are encouraged to wear shoes suitable for hiking over uneven terrain. They should meet with docents on the sidewalk outside the cemetery at the corner of Eighth Street and Steele approximately 15 minutes prior to start time. For additional information call (231)941-8440.

Specific Dates: September 4, 11, 18, and 25; October 2 and 9

National Parks Continue Celebrating their History

Sleeping Bear Dunes, August 2011. Image courtesy of Rodney Campbell, https://flic.kr/p/aa2nva
Sleeping Bear Dunes, August 2011. Image courtesy of Rodney Campbell, https://flic.kr/p/aa2nva

Would you like to attend a star party, witness a shipwreck rescue reenactment, hear some excellent live music, and volunteer to help restore biodiveristy in our region? Then get involved with the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the National Park Service as the celebrate 50 (for the Dunes) and 100 years of service to us! Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock (like some residents of the Dunes), you’ve probably heard about the celebration, but with the winter months coming on, the last few days to enjoy our collective conservation history is upon us. Don’t wait!

Click here to see the calendar of events for September 2016

New Exhibits on TC Paralympian and Traveling at TADL, Woodmere

Join us on the 2nd Floor of the Woodmere Main Library, Traverse Area District Library, for two fantastic exhibits, never before seen in Traverse City:

Tommy Kelderhouse was a Paralympic athlete from Traverse City. Archery was just one sport he medaled in.
Tommy Kelderhouse was a Paralympic athlete from Traverse City. Archery was just one sport he medaled in.

Tommy Kelderhouse, 1970s Paralympic athlete and Traverse City son, is featured on several interpretive panels courtesy of Port Oneida Community Alliance and the Kelderhouse Family.  Tommy Kelderhouse was the great great grandson of Thomas Kelderhouse, founder of Port Oneida. Enjoy this piece of history, just in time for the Paralympic Games, beginning on September 7th in Rio, Brazil. This exhibit is in the primary display space to the right of the 2nd Floor Reference Desk.

Profuse thanks to the Port Oneida Community Alliance for the privilege of displaying Tommy’s work and achievements. Port Oneida Community Alliance is a nonprofit organization providing hands on opportunities for education, recreation, and celebration of historical knowledge, environmental stewardship, and sustainable agriculture that honor and perpetuate the legacy and community spirit of the resilient subsistence farmers who called Port Oneida their home.
Also, a brief exhibit on how passengers in Grand Traverse County fared on various modes of transport, from the 1850s to the 1920s. Learn more about Traverse City’s own auto manufacturer and more! This exhibit is immediately at the top of the stairs on the 2nd Floor.

August Events for History Lovers

Downtown Traverse City Historic Walking Tours begin in August

Don’t miss the Traverse Area Historical Society’s newest offering, our Downtown Historic Walking Tours! The first tour will be offered on Saturday, August 6th, starting at 10:30am.  The tour will last approximately 90 minutes.  Please meet  in front of Horizon Bookstore, 243 East Front Street, 20 minutes before the start time. The cost is $10 cash or check; with all proceeds benefiting the Historical Society.  Reservations (at 995-0313) are appreciated but are not necessary.  Subsequent tours will be offered each Saturday of August.  Information on Fall tours will be available at a later date.

Interlochen Center for the Arts History at Benzie Museum


“Historic Photos and Stories from the Interlochen Center for the Arts” by John and Margaret Beery at 7pm on Thursday, August 11 at the Mills Community House. The Berrys will share the dreams and vision, through photos and stories, of Dr. Joseph Maddy, founder of Interlochen Center for the Arts and examine the stories and personalities of such recognizable Interlochen folk as Aaron Copland, John Philip Sousa and Percy Granger. Margaret is the managing director of tours, and John has been on the Interlochen summer staff for 33 years and acts as curator of the Greenleaf Instrument Collection.

Concert to Celebrate 100 Years of National Park Service

NPS cent band poster Aug16-27 (1) (1)The National Park Service Centennial Band will be performing a concert to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service on August 18 at 2:00 at the Traverse Area District Library, and at 7:00 at the Fountain Point Resort at Lake Leelanau. The band will perform songs related to National Parks around the nation. A family event, fun for all, so bring your kids, friends and neighbors! Click on the image (right) to see the full schedule.

Making Waves: Michigan’s Boat-Building Industry, 1865-2000: Leelanau County Historical Society’s “Literature on the Lakeshore” program with Scott M. Peters

makingwavesOn Saturday, August 20th at 4pm, join your friends at the Leelanau Museum for a nautical adventure! In this 2016 Michigan Notable Book, Scott M. Peters, Curator of the Michigan Historical Musuem, explores the intriguing story of Michigan’s Illustrious place in boat building that changed boating across the world.

At the Leelanau Historical Society Museum, 203 E Cedar St, Leland, MI 49654

WWII Veterans in Their Own Words: Leelanau County Historical Society’s “Literature on the Lakeshore” program with Larry Martin


On Thursday, September 1st at 5pm, Larry Martin will present the memories of Edgar Harrel, a marine aboard the USS Indianapolis. On July 30th 1945 the USS Indianapolis was hit by several torpedoes from a Japanese submarine. She sank in 12 minutes in the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean. There were 1197 men aboard and about 300 died during the sinking, putting about 900 men into the ocean. Hear Edgar tell what it is like to be lost at sea for about 112 hours.

In addition Larry will have several tables of WWII memorabilia on display! At the Leelanau Historical Society Museum, 203 E Cedar St, Leland, MI 49654

The Comedy of Crystal Lake with Dr. Daniels

Author and Archibald Jones-reenactor Dr. Stacy Leroy Daniels.
Author and Archibald Jones-reenactor Dr. Stacy Leroy Daniels.

The National Park Service at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (National Lakeshore) will host a special presentation and book signing event on August 5, 2016 at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire, MI with Stacy L. Daniels, author of the book “The Comedy of Crystal Lake”. Dr. Daniels will present a program in the visitor center auditorium beginning at 10:00 a.m. followed by a book signing that will last until 1:00 p.m.

You might remember guest contributor to the GTJ and author Dr. Daniels. If you’ve missed his Archibald Jones impersonation in the past, now’s your chance! Your Editors still considers Daniels’ hefty tome to be well worth your time to read… what a story!

Dedication Service honors Dr. David Wilson Cousins, Union Veteran, Colored Infantry in Mayfield Township

cousinsAlthough a bit late for this publication, Your Editors hope you will make the trek to Down Cemetery, to honor Dr. David Wilson Cousins, Union Veteran Company H 102nd Colored Infantry, and members of his family. Dr. Cousins was laid to rest 107 years to go, without the Veteran gravestone he justly deserves. Our good friends at the Grand Traverse Area Genealogical Society and Robert Finch Camp #14 Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War have worked together to identify his resting place, and fund the erection of the grave marker.  This event took place on Saturday, July 30, 2016 at 10am, Down Cemetery, County Road 633 and Harrand, Mayfield Township, Grand Traverse County. You may have missed the unveiling, but it’s never too late to honor our deserving veterans, and a cemetery is a pleasant place to enjoy a picnic with friends new and old.

July Events For History Lovers

Oakwood Cemetery Tours

Love meeting new people? What about dead ones? Traverse Area Historical Society invites all those interested to meet some of our favorite deceased Traverse City residents! Colorful characters once roamed our streets, including William “Wild Bill” Germaine, known better for brawling in the street than his political doings, and  our first female doctor, Augusta Rosenthal Thompson, who pursued her education with such passion that her husband divorced her. This tour is a packed one-and-a-half hours, and never dull!

Oakwood cemetery tours begin on Sundays at 7:00pm, beginning on July 3rd. Participants should meet at the northwest corner of the cemetery at the intersection of Steele and 8th Street. It is best to park on Steele street. Cost is ten dollars per person, payment to be made by cash or check. All proceeds go to benefit the Traverse Area Historical Society. You may preregister by sending an email to contact@traversehistory.org (preferred) or phoning (231) 995-0313. Drop-ins accepted if numbers permit. Rain or shine.

“The Lumber History of Frankfort Harbor”

Join the Benzie Area Historical Society for a lecture on “The Lumber Industry of Frankfort Harbor,” by Andy Bolander, at 7:00 pm on Thursday, July 14 at the Mills Community House. The lecture will focus on the development of Frankfort Harbor and the industries along its shores. Particular attention will be paid to the manner in which the building of the Soo Locks inspired a chain of investment by eastern capitalists in Benzie County that culminated with the creation of the Frankfort & South Eastern Railroad. Andy Bolander, a railroad and car ferry enthusiast and a volunteer at BAHS, has spent a year gathering photographs, maps, news clippings and county records information for this lecture.

Leelanau Historical Society, Exhibits and a New Gallery

IMG_20160624_173609188Leelanau Historical Society and Museum packed in the crowd at their recent dedication for the Norbert Gits Family Gallery and Bluestone Conference Room! LHS&M invites all interested in seeing their beautiful new space to come visit. Please check out their website for Museum hours.

Of particular interest to many is the new exhibit displayed in the Gits Family Gallery, titled “In Focus: Photography, History, Art,” featuring the art of Keith Burnham and other area photographers from past to present. One of Your Editors has had the pleasure of viewing the exhibit, which features some of this publication’s favorite photographers of old, Orson Peck and Edward Beebe. It is not to be missed!

If you would like your event featured in Grand Traverse Journal, please email details to gtjeditor@tadl.org

From Sea to Cemetery: History is Happening in Leelanau County, Picnic in Grand Traverse

This month’s “News from the Societies” features our wonderful neighbor to the north, Leelanau County! Whether you’re looking for a fun exhibit for all ages, or you’re looking to do some hands-on history conservation, June in the “LC” is where it’s at! Special thanks to Stef Staley, Director of Grand Traverse Lighthouse, and Kim Kelderhouse of Port Oneida Community Alliance, for keeping us informed through their newsletters and Facebook pages. You, dear reader, can also stay informed directly at their respective online presences, linked below for your pleasure.

Also, join the newly re-named Traverse Area Historical Society at their first summer picnic! See below for details.

Grand Traverse Lighthouse

Image courtesy of Grand Traverse Lighthouse.

The Lake Michigan Aircraft Carrier Exhibit has been wildly popular for the Grand Traverse Lighthouse, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you are seriously overdue! But, lucky you, the Lighthouse plans to continue the exhibit for the 2016 season (“with key additions,” teases their website). The exhibit features the history of the USS Sable (IX-81) and USS Wolverine (IX-64). Both were converted to freshwater training aircraft carriers, used on the Great Lakes between 1943 and 1945. 20,000 pilots and landing signal officers were qualified on those vessels. There are awesome stories, sweet replicas, and whole myriad of photographs and histories to look at. Don’t wait, get on up there in June!

Port Oneida Community Alliance

For hands-on fun, look to the Gravestone Preservation Workshop, hosted by the Port Oneida Community Alliance, in partnership with Cleveland Township, Leelanau County. A number of local cemeteries could use a little help in preserving their headstones, so consider getting trained at this event, and Your Editors will be glad to point you where your expertise is needed!

Cemetery Flyer

Traverse Area Historical Society

Blackman School Picnic, 1903.
Blackman School Picnic, 1903. Image courtesy of the Floyd Webster Historical Photograph Collection, Kingsley Branch Library, Kingsley (Mich.)

Join the Traverse Area Historical Society at our first social picnic of the year, at the  Civic Center Pavilion on Sunday, June 26, 2016, from 12-4p.  The Society is hosting this favorite event of years past, to bring their members together and reminisce about the simpler times. Your presence will make the picnic a success! Please bring your stories and a dish to pass! Place settings and beverages provided.

Inside the Music House Museum’s Roofing Project

Recognized by Forbes.com as one of the ten reasons to visit Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, the Music House Museum offers a unique collection of instruments that provide guests with a walk through the history, the artistry, and the engineering of automated music.

In the off-season winter months, local historical societies spend time regrouping, or reroofing in the case of the Music House Museum. In preparation for their upcoming project to replace the roof of the 1910 barn that houses major pieces of the Museum’s collection, volunteers have been busily erecting protective scaffolding and plastic sheeting to minimize potential damage to the larger, unmoveable instruments, in addition to the regular winterizing of the building.

The General Store display is temporarily closed and under wraps for protection.
The General Store display is temporarily closed and under wraps for protection.

Bruce Ahlich, Vice-President of the Board of Directors and Chairman of the Collections Committee, invited Grand Traverse Journal back (see our first article in the December 2014 issue) to see exactly how the Museum is managing such a huge undertaking. The Board of Directors has been planning this project for over two years, which includes working on raising the necessary funding, estimated as potentially reaching $160,000 for the roofing ($116,000), structural repairs, removal of waste, cleaning and reassembly of the displays. Fundraising efforts for the reroofing project thus far have included several grants.  Further donations are being accepted through the donation site Go Fund Me at


“For the well-being of the collection, it is imperative to replace the 30 year old roof now, before leaks develop and put the instruments at risk,” explains Ahlich. “We believe there are at least two, possibly three layers of roof that needs to be removed first. These include a couple layers of asphalt shingles and the original 1910 cedar shingles”. Next time you are at the Music House, look up at the rafters for a little history; The rafters and beams still showing bark are from the original barn, built sometime in the 1880s and incorporated into the 1910 structure. The insulated new roof will pay the Museum back in time by reducing heating and cooling costs.

The Museum plans to take full advantage of the removal of most of the displays for the roofing project to also improve the visitor experience. “We will be selective in returning some of the decorative pieces to their place in the Museum while being mindful of the history of the area and the era we are trying to capture”. All of the instruments will be returned to the displays.

Wondering how you can help beyond monetary donations? Volunteers will be needed upon completion of the reroofing to help clean-up the dirt and debris left after removing the roof and reassembling and cleaning the displays. This work will need to be done quickly, as the 2015 season starts off with a bang with the Museum opening on May 1st, and on the third weekend in May hosting the Musical Box Society International’s regional convention.   If interested in helping, please contact the Museum at 231 938-9301 or via e-mail at info@musichouse.org.

then-mortierfacadeOne of the pieces receiving special preparation and protection is the crown jewel of the Museum’s collection, the 1922 “Amaryllis” Mortier Dance Hall Organ, shown here with scaffolding built and covered with plastic sheeting to surround and protect its 30 foot wide by18 foot high facade. Of the approximately 1000 plus similar instruments crafted and used in Northern and Central Europe from 1908 to the 1930s, the Amaryllis (originally built for the Victoria Palace in Ypres, Belgium) is one of two known Mortier survivors with their original facade and specification of this particular size and design. Many dance and fairground organ were casualties of the immediate post-World War II era; The devastation and poverty of war-torn western Europe and the advancement of the phonograph and radio led many of the larger instruments to be simply burned as firewood to heat homes after salvaging the metal pipes from them as scrap.

The Amaryllis plays by perforated books of "music" and a hand-cranked flywheel.
The Amaryllis plays by perforated books of “music” and a hand-cranked flywheel.

The Amaryllis had been stored unplayable for decades, and required months of meticulous restoration work in 1983, and again in 2013, to restore it. The 97 key organ plays folding, perforated cardboard music books, using hundreds of pipes and other instruments (snare and bass drums, whistles, cymbals) to play its library of lively waltzes, polkas, foxtrots, and other popular music of the 1920s and later eras.  The huge flywheel which is used to play the organ was originally turned by hand; The use of a vintage electric motor to turn the flywheel now is one modern concession.

then-bruderGrand Traverse Journal will feature the Music House again in the spring, when the 1913 Bruder Fair Organ “Columbia” will be back from Ohio, where it is currently undergoing an $11,000 professional restoration that could not be done in-house. A generous $5,000 matching gift, some Endowment monies and many private donations have enabled to Museum to fund the project, as well as acquire some new music book stock by which to play it. Other newly refurbished instruments to be featured in the spring will be a 1910 Welte-Mignon Vorsetzer and an 1830 Black Forest organ clock, as well as the completion of the Wurlitzer organ project’s original toy chest and glockenspiel.

Amy Barritt is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal. Special thanks to Bruce Ahlich, Vice-President of the Board of Directors of the Music House Museum.

Like History? “Like” these Societies!

Local historical societies understand your attention is in demand. Every available cultural event abounds in the Grand Traverse Region. Thankfully, many of these societies will “push” their media announcements to you, in exchange for a simple “Like”!

Facebook remains our region’s go-to for nonprofit organization social media pages. If you didn’t join over a decade ago (February 4, 2004 to be precise), it’s never too late to join up and become informed about what your favorite groups are up to.

My new favorite is Leelanau Peninsula History Network, founded in October 2014. Not only do they push their members’ activities (which includes most of the local societies in the county), they reach out to other regional societies, like the History Center of Traverse City, and repost their announcements as well. A very active group indeed!

Benzie Area Historical Society and Museum has some fantastic programs coming up in January and February, on “Rome’s Sacred Spaces” by Dr. Louis Yock and “Lizzie Borden Revisited” by Al Bryant, if you are looking for some non-local history. Search for their Facebook page and give them a “like” to stay in touch.

Finally, History Center of Traverse City‘s new monthly programs are gaining in popularity at every meeting. Chautauqua remains locally-focused, while the Megatherium Club ranges through time and space for their history topics. Like many local groups, History Center typically announces new events on Facebook before their website, so “like” once and you’re in the know.

Music House Museum: History and Artisanship Always on Display

Phonographs on display at Music House Museum, October 2014.
Acoustic phonographs on display at Music House Museum, October 2014.

Acoustic phonographs and electrically amplified jukeboxes face each other from across the walkway of the Museum gallery, not unlike an alley scene straight out of “West Side Story”. If they had fingers, they would be snapping them menacingly in time with the beat projecting out of their horns and speakers, respectively. The heightened drama of this standoff, one audio technology superseded by another, shouldn’t be lost to visitors of the Music House Museum in Williamsburg, Michigan. Although the display is fantastic, it is hardly the most impressive sight to be seen and heard.

The Music House, a 30 plus year old non-profit museum, is home to one of the larger publicly accessible automated musical instrument collections in the United States, and it is sitting in your backyard. “Automated”, meaning that they are instruments that literally play themselves! Visitors are welcome to explore the vast collection of music reproduction technology found within the 1910 dairy barn and gallery that comprises the public space of the Music House Museum located on the remaining 7 acres of the Stiffler Family farm.

In addition to the instruments already named, you’ll find examples of early radios, 200 year old barrel organs and Turkish and Spanish barrel pianos, American reed pump organs,  two pipe organs, European fairground and dance organs, a Bavarian organ clock, Milton and Duo Art player  and reproducing pianos, several example cylinder and disc music boxes, a rare Lochmann Original 450 disc piano, European and American nickelodeons, and other examples of instruments “featuring mechanical music reproduction some of which predate electricity, Bruce Ahlich, Board Vice-President and Collections Committee Chairman states that  “an important aspect of the Music House Museum, unlike some similar venues, is that if the instrument was not originally electronically amplified or powered, it normally remains so in our collections”.

Estey pipe organ acquired in 1988 from St. Andrew's in Saginaw.
Estey pipe organ acquired in 1988 from St. Andrew’s in Saginaw.

Not only does Ahlich and  his Committee oversee collections maintenance and acquisition of new items, he is also an accomplished local organist who played the dedication recital on the Estey pipe organ acquired in 1988 from St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic church in Saginaw, now located on the raised deck at the Museum and used to demonstrate a Wagnerin organ roll player.  Much of the maintenance and minor restorations of the Museum’s collection of unique instruments takes place on-site in its Workshop.  Larger projects are usually contracted out to outside specialists who engage in that particular type of work.

“Our goal is always to seek to restore the instrument as close as possible, given available materials, to its original condition, which can be a time consuming and expensive proposition”, further states Ahlich.    “Electronic sound reproduction can never replace the experience of an acoustic instrument being played”.   

“We could put CD players with hidden amplifiers in the instruments at a lot less expense, but what kind of Museum would we be and what type of musical experience would our guests have”?   The Music House Museum prides itself in having a majority of the displayed instruments playable with the major instruments demonstrated on every tour to its patrons.

Not ready for inspection! Military chaplain's portable reed organ, World War II-era; Currently undergoing restoration in the Workshop.
Not ready for inspection! Military chaplain’s portable reed organ, World War II-era; Currently undergoing restoration in the Workshop.

Local restoration and repair of instruments is done in a workshop off to the side of the main building by hired and volunteer staff.   Among projects underway is work on the Museum’s Seeburg KT nickelodeon and restoration of an Estey chaplain’s portable reed organ probably used in World War II. The Workshop also stores other automated instruments waiting for funding to be restored.  The workshop construction was paid for by a Rotary Charities grant in the mid-90s, and the volunteers remain grateful for that and other bequests to the Museum. Without this kind of assistance, and funding from individual donors, the Music House could not be what it is, a truly unique museum of musical craftsmanship dedicated to the preservation and education about a type of music that lifts the soul and gives a window to the listener to the past.  Earnings for a Museum instrument purchase/repair endowment fund assist with restorations, but often do not cover their full costs.

Rare 1830s Bavarian Black Forest clock, currently undergoing restoration in the Workshop.
Rare 1830s Bavarian Black Forest clock, currently undergoing restoration in the Workshop.

A fun piece currently being restored is a scarce Bavarian Black Forest floor cabinet organ clock, not yet ready for display that dates from the 1830s.   The principle challenge in this restoration project has been finding a suitable clock mechanism as the original had been long removed before it was received by the Museum.   The piece has stood silent for several decades on display in the Museum galleries.  An English clock mechanism has been found and will be installed by local and nationally known clock artisan, Nathan Bower, together with a new clock face this winter.  When reassembled, the clock will chime the hour and then trigger a small two-rank barrel pipe organ to play.   Ahlich states, “we are really looking forward to have this piece greet our visitors in the lobby when we reopen in for the 2015 season in May.” This project will cost approximately $2,500 to complete.

While the restored clock will be impressive, the original assembly was equally remarkable, as Bruce describes: “In slow winter months, a   village collective would develop between neighbors in the Bavarian region of modern Germany, and a cottage industry creating these intricate clocks was born. Each farmer or craftsman would work on his part; some would be responsible for the wood cabinet, others would build the clock, others craft the face and others build the organ and its mechanism, and finally a last person would assemble the whole clock together.” We might pride ourselves on being a do-it-yourself culture, but I’d say those Bavarian artisans have us beat without the benefit of electricity or computers.

A 1904 Lochmann Original 450 disc piano. The perforated disc pictured here, along with other mechanisms, plays the piano strings seen behind the disc.

That doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate beautiful craftsmanship when we see it! Take the Lochmann Original 450 disc piano from 1904 on display in the Hurry Back Saloon, a section of the barn restored to appear as an old-timey watering hole and general store. This piece, among the rarest in the Museum’s collections, represents an innovative step in automated instruments and a natural evolution of the disc music box. Before, craftsmen would (expensively) create music boxes by inserting hundreds of pins individually on to metal cylinders; The pins would pluck pitched combs as the cylinder rotated, and the box would play the inscribed melody. The disc music box uses stamped steel discs to achieve the same effect at a much reduced price tag. The Lochmann Originals takes the next step by moving the technology to play a 44 note piano and 12 note chime mechanism.   These instruments were built for a relatively short period of time (less than a decade) and as such are scarce and rare to find in playing condition. They, together with other disc instruments,  were replaced by the player piano and the developing phonograph by 1908-10.    Also silent for many years, the Lochmann is now tuned and playing.     Bruce played a waltz for us using one of the original discs, to show how the hand cranked 150 lb. stone in the back of the cabinet   powered the disc movement to create the music.  Worth the 10 Pfennings this coin-operated machine would have cost you? You bet!

An admirable, if amateur, attempt to build an organ, ca. 1844. Pictured here are the cow-bone keys of that organ... notice anything missing?
An admirable, if amateur, attempt to build an organ, ca. 1844. Pictured here are the cow-bone keys of that organ… notice anything missing?

Not every piece in the Music House is a miracle of invention. Acquired by the Music House in the 1990s, stored for over a decade on the top shelves in the Workshop and finally rediscovered and reassembled and largely restored in the fall of 2013, the cabinet organ pictured here is a fantastic amateur effort to build a home pipe organ. How amateur? Well, the maker forgot to build a place to rest music on.

In addition to that revelation, Museum restorer (Jim Gruber) determined that whoever built the organ was likely a skilled European cabinet maker living in the Southern United States about the time of the Civil War. How did he get all that information from boxes of disassembled parts and cabinetry? The type of wood used to build the cabinet was grown in the South, tulip poplar and gumwood; the keys are made from cow bone, which also places its manufacture in the United States; the maker was not a professional organ builder, as scrap wood and leather was used throughout and the interior shows many efforts at reworking the placement of the organ in the cabinet.  Pages from an old atlas  were used to seal the bottom of the wind chest; the paper in question was taken from an atlas (Olney’s School Geography and Atlas), and have been dated to circa 1844 by the edition numbers found on them. Finally, the maker was likely European, as the notes inscribed on the pipes for their pitches and the cabinet measurements all fit European standards. Restorers and sleuths, the volunteers at the Music House display a variety of talents.

Grand Traverse Journal will feature the Music House again in the spring, when the 1913 Bruder Fair Organ “Columbia” will be back from Ohio, where it is currently undergoing a $12,000 professional restoration that could not be done in-house. A generous $5,000 matching gift, some Endowment monies and private donations have enabled to Museum to fund the project, as well as acquire some new music book stock by which to play it.   

Hurry, the Music House Museum closes January through April, so enjoy the sounds of the season any weekend in December! Decorated for the Christmas season, as docent Becky Gagnon says, “There is a magical feeling every time you walk in!”  The Museum is also open the week between Christmas and New Years from 10 am to 4 pm with continuous docent led tours.  A community open house with refreshments and reduced admission ticket prices is planned for Sunday December 21st 12 noon to 4 pm, where all of the instruments will be demonstrated on a rotating basis playing Christmas music if it is available for them.

Amy Barritt is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal. This article could not have happened without the generosity of Bruce Ahlich of the Music House Museum. Thanks Bruce!