Thursday, 24 August 2017

USA 2017 - Laura with the Band organs part 1

After reluctantly leaving Gettysburg, Laura and her family travelled north through Pennsylvania to meet a lovely person and very special place: a private home containing a collection of beautiful musical instruments of various kinds, including player pianos and a Violano Virtuoso (by Mills Novelty Company) - a paper roll piano and violin player!  This machine is quite incredible and was produced in good numbers from 1905.  The violin strings are played via small electric powered rollers and chromatic metal 'fingers', with the bowing done by four small spinning wheels which apply the right pressure to the strings via a variable speed motor.  Even the tuning and vibrato of the violin is controlled by the mechanisms, it really is an amazing and complex piece of musical machinery (for a full description of how it works, see Mills Violano-Virtuoso).  It sounds good too.

Watching the Mills Violin Virtuoso playing

A close up of the violin and its complex playing mechanisms, with the player piano part of the machine behind


The Violano Virtuoso label


After listening to the Violin machine, Laura went outside to meet an instrument which 28 years before had travelled all the way from London to the USA to the first of several owners.  It is a large 90 key 'Dutch' street organ, based on De Harmonica which only a few weeks earlier Laura had seen in Waldkirch, Germany.  However De Witte is now a concert organ as some additional bass pipes and more percussion have been added, so it can play almost any style of music.  It was once hand-turned like De Harmonica but with the extra pipes it needs additional wind supply so it has a blower to supplement the bellows and reservoir now.

First sight of De Witte in its trailer which obscures some of the carved façade as it was built for 3 other much smaller organs

Laura listens to De Witte playing wonderful music

The back of De Witte, showing the big bass drum and the motor powered wheel to pump the bellows

On the back of the snare drum side case was a poster advertising an event which Laura was looking forward to with great interest - the Olcott Beach Band Organ Rally

The back of De Witte showing the snare drum and rally posters

Close up of the snare drum and the wood block beaters in the side case

The big base drum and below it some of the books of cardboard music which play in the organ when it is not being played using modern midi.  Some of these books of music travelled with it to the USA just after it was first built.

The keyframe in the back of the organ which reads the cardboard music

For the next 2 hours there was lots of listening to music, talking and relaxing before it was time to find our next hotel and dinner in a nearby town.  Saying goodbye to De Witte wasn't so hard when we knew we would see and hear it again very soon, it is an organ very close to our hearts as all those years ago we built it and this was the first time we had seen it since that time.

The following day Laura's road trip continued as she left Pennsylvania and entered New York State.

On the road north and entering New York State

It was a long journey with only one stop along the way (where Laura saw De Witte's trailer at the gas station as the organ was travelling too).  The traffic around Buffalo on a Friday afternoon wasn't too bad however Laura arrived at her next destination in North Tonawanda to discover that the museum would close in 20 minutes for the day!  However the box office very kindly allowed Laura to go in for a quick look around (especially as she promised to return the next day) and she had a ride on the Carrousel with her girl!

Herschell Factory Carrousel on Friday evening

Riding the carrousel on a rather sprightly looking horse

After finding the next hotel in Lockport (an Erie Canal town), Laura and her family travelled on to the shores of Lake Ontario to a small lakeside resort town called Olcott Beach for the Band Organ Rally.  Laura met lots of friendly mechanical music enthusiasts and plenty of organs, the biggest of which she settled down to enjoy on a perfect warm sunny evening by the lakeside in the park.  First she enjoyed listening to De Witte again then she listened to a large 89 key Fairground organ which had been built in 1897 in Paris by Gavioli (who also had a factory in Waldkirch).

Laura relaxes with De Witte

Laura with the Diamond Jubilee fairground organ by the shores of Ontario

The sun was beginning to set over the lake as Laura listened to the organ

As the sun started to set, De Witte's changing lighting showed the decorated façade in different colours
Laura was amazed that it was possible to see Toronto in Canada across the lake from Olcott Beach, 38 miles away.  The sunset that evening was absolutely spectacular, with the distinctive skyline of Toronto in beautiful silhouette.

Laura and her girl watch the sunset over Lake Ontario with Toronto in the distance
Friday night sunset over Lake Ontario and Toronto
It was the perfect end to the first evening at Olcott Beach Band organ rally.

The following morning, as promised, Laura and her family returned to North Tonawanda to visit the Herschell Company Carrousel factory museum.  Some amazing fairground attractions were built at the factory in its heyday with a large carving workshop for making the many different types of animal for the carrousel ride.

Allan Herschell Co. Inc Carrousel factory in North Tonawanda, New York State

There was a large photo of the carving workshop in action

The factory was also involved in supplying fairground (band) organs and the music to play on them - barrels then later paper rolls.

Laura was interested in the organ exhibits in the museum

Laura was pleased to see the pipes in this old Wurlitzer organ were labelled to show the different types of sound they played to imitate orchestral or band instruments

Laura was fascinated by the carving of a wooden horse

The carved saddle for the wooden carrousel horse was very detailed and beautifully done

There were pictures showing the carvers at work and the different stages of making the horses as different grades of carvers were responsible for each stage.  The apprentices and junior carvers did the basic body shapes, journeymen carvers worked on the details of the bodies and legs and the master carvers did the heads.

Laura was pleased to see that the art of wood carving is still going strong as the museum offers lessons
In the USA, the carved horses have their 'romantic side' the side which can be seen from outside the circle of the ride as the public climb on to find a horse.  On the other side which faces the centre of the ride the carving and painting is much less detailed. The public never seem to notice the difference.  American Carrousels go round in the opposite direction to English 'Gallopers'.  Later the animals would be cast in fibreglass using a mould, which was much lighter to carry when building or transporting a ride, cheaper to make yet still reasonably robust.  However fibreglass animals are not as detailed because their mouldings cannot be as deeply defined as can be achieved with wood carving, otherwise they would be difficult to get out of the mould.

The 'romantic' side of the horse

The other less detailed side of the horse

Carrousels produced at this factory didn't just come with horses, they had all sorts of different animals, some of which were on display.

Dog and Pig carrousel animals

A cockeral carrousel animal

Even a Zebra for the carrousel!

It had been so interesting to see how American Carrousels had been made, however it was time to go back to the Rally as Laura didn't want to miss any more of the fun, however her experiences at Olcott Beach Band Organ Rally are in part 2.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

USA 2017 - Laura starts her roadtrip

It was time to leave the Washington area and start exploring.  We hired a car, loaded up our bags, took one last look at the swimming pools and headed out on Route 66 (it wasn't the route Karen would have taken from the hotel to her home but our GPS in the car directed us that way).

Last look at the two swimming pools

The hotel lobby restaurant, sadly with no other Sasha collectors in sight anymore

Travelling on Route 66

Just over an hour later we arrived at the home of Karen W, one of the three organisers of the festival, to collect my daughter's lost and found Festival souvenir.  We had a lovely chat with Karen as she gave us tea and snacks. I saw the two sewing machines in her dining room where she had done that epic amount of sewing for all 100 souvenir outfits.  On the table was a Sasha baby to welcome us.  Unfortunately I didn't take any photos of Laura meeting the baby or thanking Karen for looking after her missing bathrobe.  Thank you Karen for being so kind and providing a very welcome break in our journey.

After saying goodbye to Karen, we drove north through Virginia, Maryland and into Pennsylvania.  Our next stop was the historic town of Gettysburg which I had long wanted to explore as it was the sight of a devastating battle during the civil war in July 1863 and later that year the place where Lincoln gave his historic address. 

After leaving all the rest of the Sasha family at the hotel in the late afternoon, Laura travelled in her doll bag as we explored the central part of the town, we parked beside the information centre at the south end of the town and walked up to the central square as we were not only looking at the story of the battle but also for a restaurant!

Looking north up Baltimore street, Gettysburg

Reading about Tillie Pierce, a 15 year witness of the battle

Viewing memorials outside the Stoever-Schick Building on the square, which was a general store at the time of the battle

One of the many information boards in the town, this was explained about the arrival of Confederate soldiers in the town a few days before the battle

Map of Gettysburg at the north end of the square

Reading about the Gettysburg Hotel on Lincoln Square
which has hosted many famous visitors over the years

The Gettysburg Hotel

The David Wills House, where the Gettysburg address was written by Lincoln

Sign about the Wills House

Laura looking up at 'Return Visit' the statue of Lincoln with a modern day man in Lincoln Square

The information about 'Return Visit' - the statue of Lincoln meeting the modern day man

In a shop window was this display of Civil war artefacts, Laura was surprised to see that the cannon was quite small

Laura was interested to read about individual acts of heroism and compassion during the war, such as that of The Compiler newspaper man who asked a Confederate surgeon to operate on an injured Union soldier and was accused of helping the enemy 'capture' the Union solder

The Compiler newspaper building today

Laura was pleased to find that the town has a beautiful Library building and that another statue of President Lincoln was outside the library, standing upon a plinth with an inscription of his Gettysburg address.

Laura with President Lincoln outside the Library building
Laura liked the information notices in some windows of houses in the street which told about the 'Women Behind These Walls' providing female witness accounts of the Battle of Gettysburg.

A woman behind these walls: Agnes Barr was one of the many women who helped in the makeshift hospitals which sprang up in the town during and after the battle

Many buildings in the town carry this sign - Civil War Building, July 1863
Laura discovered one of the saddest stories of the battle, that of the only civilian to be killed, young Jenny (Jennie) Wade.

Jennie Wade was born in a house in Baltimore Street, the house where she died only 20 years later was not much further south along the same road

The Women Behind these Walls information about Jennie Wade in the window of the house where she was born

Jennie Wade's birthplace
Laura was astonished by the cannon ball lodged in the wall of this house - it didn't appear to have damaged the house much and has been left there ever since.

Cannon ball in the wall of a house

The Jennie Wade House, where Jennie, was killed by a stray bullet. Laura could see a statue of Jennie outside the house but could not go in as it was evening, after museum closing time.
The following morning Laura visited the Gettysburg National Military Park - first stop was at the museum and visitor center.

The Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Centre
In the museum was a restored Cyclorama, a huge circular painting which was toured to show people something of what the Battle of Gettysburg was like, in the days before cinema.  Laura saw a film about the war and the battle then went to see the Cyclorama which was recently restored.

There was so much detail in the cyclorama painting, which was suspended around a purpose built room as it would have been when it was a travelling exhibit

The story of the battle was portrayed with a commentary, spotlights and sound effects

Laura thought that standing in the middle of a huge 'animated' painting all around her was quite overwhelming

Around the base of the painting the foreground was built up with real artefacts like a stage set, so it was quite hard to see where the real things finished and the painting began
In the museum there were many things to look at and read, Laura was pleased to see the military band instruments, especially the flutes!  It reminded her of a Sasha friend who plays the flute.

Military band instruments of the Civil War
Laura was interested to see the differences between the Union soldier uniform (Billy Yank) and the Confederate soldier uniform (Johnny Reb).

Billy Yank

Johnny Reb

There was so much to see and so little time as Laura had an appointment to keep further north, so only a quick tour of part of the battlefield was possible.

The battle route is lined with cannons, this was along the Confederate lines

The cannons pointing towards Gettysburg

Laura's one stop on the battle route was at Little Round Top, which gives a hill top view of the battle field

The information board about Little Round Top

Laura stood beside the monument at Little Round Top and looked out over the battlefield

Laura could see Devil's Den, a rocky outcrop in the battlefield where so many soldiers had died in July 1863

Devil's Den from Little Round Top
Laura wanted to explore further but there was no more time available to spend in Gettysburg as there was a 2 hour car journey to her next appointment which was a musical one.  She hoped that one day it would be possible to return to learn more about this historic place.