Growing up in the 1960’s was amazing for a child, especially me. As the 1960’s was ushered in I was 3 years old. By the time 1969 gave way to 1970 I was an oversize 13-year-old on the verge of manhood with more testosterone than sense. But oh, those years in between.
I have so many stories of my childhood in the 1960’s that I could write everyday between now and when I take my final breath that I could never get to all of them. Today however I have time to share with you my tale of several Christmas’ where The Mighty Wurlitzer was the star of the season.
I always looked forward to Christmas time. From Thanksgiving Day until New Years Day my life was filled with wonderful surprises and amazing experiences. Several of those experiences took place at Pelletier’s Department Store in downtown Topeka, Kansas.
I spent a lot of time at Pelletier’s growing up. My Mother was Manager of the Toy Department. My Grandmother was Manager of the Children’s Department and the stores lead buyer. I could be found several times a week in the store but never quite as much as during the Holiday Season where I could be found in the Toy Department every day.
Coming in from the cold December air and into the warmth of the main floor of Pelletier’s my senses were always assailed by the sights, smell and sound of the season. Christmas lights and decorations from floor to ceiling. Chocolate cooking and candy being made behind the candy counter. The sound of The Mighty Wurlitzer filling the air with every Christmas Carol and Song known to man.
The Mighty Wurlitzer was an Organ but not just any Organ it was “The Organ”! The Mighty Wurlitzer was a pipe organ manufactured by the Rudolph Wurlitzer company from 1914 to 1943. These pipe organs were mostly used in theatres, churches, homes and other venues. One of these other venues was Pelletier’s Department Store. The Mighty Wurlitzer sat on the north end of the mezzanine and the Organist commanded the beautiful white and gold giant to bring forth tunes that reached down into every fiber of your being.
I have always loved organ music. I do not know what it is, but it touches something deep in my soul, I can feel every melodic note course through my body. I can hear each instrument that it imitates. The vibrations of its percussion thrill my heart. The music of the organ lifts my spirit and reminds me that the world is truly a beautiful place. You just need to stop for a minute and breath it in to be reminded of its beauty. The music from an organ will let you do just that; see the world as a beautiful place.
Christmas music played on an organ brings back memories of Christmas past. It stirs the air and produces visions of what Christmas is and what it promises to be. No organ never played Christmas Music fuller or more fulfilling than The Mighty Wurlitzer.
My child’s mind would fantasize about stepping up to The Mighty Wurlitzer, sitting down and playing music that would make Angels weep with joy. But alas, God had other plans for me. My hands manipulate, pencils, paint brushes and tattoo machine, not keyboards.
Memories of the Heavenly Christmas Music of The Mighty Wurlitzer at Pelletier’s Department Store have always stayed within my heart and soul. To this day I hear organ music and I smile as my spirit is once more lifted.
Imagine then my surprise when, while driving to the tattoo studio one December morning, I spied an organ sitting in front of a secondhand store. I asked my wife, “Did you see that?” She said she did and we both wondered why it was sitting outside like that. We finally concluded that they had probably just gotten it in and just had not moved it inside yet. That was until it was in the same spot the next day and the day after and the day after that.
This started causing me some concern. Several years previously my sister had left my mothers upright piano out on her patio and the weather had destroyed it. The tragedy was compounded by the fact that the piano had come from the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas. It was a loss that always haunted me. Now I had visions of this organ sitting out in the weather and being destroyed.
Now some may ask, “What is it to you if the organ get’s ruined, it isn’t yours.” That is true it is not mine but the music that it can produce belongs to everyone including me. A musical instrument is a work of art that creates art. As an Artist I cannot bear the thought of art lost. So, I went by the secondhand store to ask if the organ was for sale.
There was a sign in the window of the store indicating that the store is closed on Tuesdays and as luck would have it this was Tuesday. Next to the disheartening sign was another sign that invited the viewer to, “Visit Us On Facebook” so I did.
I found the secondhand stores Facebook Page and sent a message: “Is the organ in front of your store for sale?” A couple of minutes later they messaged back: “Its Free”. I immediately message back: “I’ll pick it up shortly.” Their response was: “Ok Cool. Thank You!!!” My response: “No Thank You.”
I was at God’s Storehouse, another secondhand store, dropping off a donation when I got the message. I rushed home, hooked up my utility trailer, grabbed a furniture dolly and headed over to the secondhand store.
I pulled up in front and got out to take my first good look at the organ. The bottom was wrapped in plastic wrap but that would do little to keep out bad weather. We had a light rain a few days before and I was concerned with the condition of the organ, but my initial inspection found no damage.
I tested the weight of it. It was heavy but nothing that I did not feel like I could not handle. I worked in a furniture warehouse when I was younger and worked at an appliance store years later. Though I am 64 years old I am in good physical shape and extraordinarily strong. Moving heavy objects has never been a problem for me and I was prepared to tackle this one.
There were 3 concrete stairs going up to the porch the organ sat on. I positioned the trailer so that I could drop the gate on the second stair. I maneuvered the organ into a position where I could get the dolly under the back. I strapped the dolly to the organ, leaned back and slowly lowered the organ off the top step, onto the tailgate and into the trailer. I strapped everything down and headed home.
After I got the trailer unhitched from the car I went inside and hooked up an extension cord to run out to the trailer and plugged in the organ.
The organ is a 1978 Baldwin Fanfare Deluxe #2167. It was sold for $5,350.00 in Flagstaff, Arizona by the Douseman Music Company on 20 September 1979.
I turned on the organ and hit a key. My heart soared, it worked. I unplugged it and got it covered with a heavy-duty tarp. Our home is small, and some rearrangement will have to be done to get it inside. But until that happens it is safe and secure on my utility trailer.
I did some research online and discovered that in 1971 the Baldwin Company purchased Wurlitzer. I also discovered that for whatever reason people practically give these organs away. I must wonder why. Is the art of organ playing a thing of the past? Do people do not want to take the time to learn this instrument? Is the video game, social media or regurgitated television more important than beautiful music? I do not know the answer. What I do know is we now have a Mighty Wurlitzer. It may say Baldwin on the label, but it is our Mighty Wurlitzer just the same. I now have a desire to step up to The Mighty Wurlitzer, sit down and play music that would make Angels weep with joy.
Yes, The Mighty Wurlitzer during the Holiday Season was a big part of my childhood and 60 years later it has once more become a big part of my Holiday Season.
-The GYPSY: December 14, 2020-