Updated: Mar 24
A MUSICAL TREASURE
When I was a very young girl, I enjoyed visiting my grandparent’s neighbors, the Davises. At the time, I thought them very old, but looking back now I really don’t know that they were. I also thought they were quite wealthy, though in retrospect, I’m pretty sure they weren’t.
Mrs. Davis, a smiley lady, was always dressed to the nines, with hair piled high on her head. Mr. Davis was tall and thin and, to me, very like Abe Lincoln. He was quiet and austere, but generous: He often had a shiny quarter to give to a visiting neighbor child.
One of my fondest memories when visiting them was that they let me play their pump organ. Always fascinated with anything musical, I was delighted to pedal and play the very grand and mysterious instrument.
I thought of the Davises in late February when I saw a Craigslist ad for a free—and still working!—pump organ. I emailed right away to express interest, though trepidatiously, because I had no idea where we’d put it. One of our household rules: Nothing comes home unless we have a place to put it. It’s a good rule, a wise rule, a helpful guideline sort of rule. But every so often we have to bend it a bit when something unique comes along.
When we went to pick up the “something unique,” we enjoyed visiting with our benefactress: a ninety-two year old, sharp-as-a-tack lady named Carol. Because of a recent move, she needed to part with her organ. None of her grandchildren were interested in it; neither was the local Goodwill.
Once we got the organ home and into the house, I began the process of cleaning and restoring. Because the weather is pointing us toward spring and all things outdoors, I wanted to get to work on it as quickly as possible. When we start the gardening season in earnest, inside projects have a way of falling to the very sad bottom of the priority pile.
First, I did some research on the internet; thankfully, there is a wealth of information on pump organs, both regarding their rich history as well as how to go about bringing them back to their former glory. Pump organs were produced from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Detailed fretwork and molding were the fashion of the day, and these very ornate musical instruments, also called reed organs or parlor organs, were prominently kept in the living room for the family to enjoy.
This particular organ, a W.W. Kimball, was made in 1883, less than twenty years after the Civil War ended. It shows most wear on the stop board behind the keys and stops; the black paint has been worn through from many years of music making. It does cause one to wonder: If this organ could talk, if it could tell us its own history, what would it be? From the signs of wear, I’d say lively tunes and vivacious hymns were part of its past.
After removing the back and front casework, I vacuumed and dusted as far as I could reach without completely disassembling the inner workings. I cleaned the keys and stops and worked with a will (and a handful of Q-tips) at the nooks and crannies.
Next came the brass reeds, which are the part of the pump organ responsible for creating its 61 different notes. Using needle-nose pliers, I pulled each reed out, used a soft cloth to carefully polish off the grimy build up. Each was then gently replaced into its wooden casing before moving on to the next reed.
New fabric for the sound holes, felt above the keyboard, and a complete polishing of the wooden exterior completed the project.
Playing the organ is as delightful to me now as it was when I was a little girl at the Davis’s house. It’s equally fun to hear Emily and Hannah, our other family keyboardists, pull out the stops, pump the pedals, and fill our home with beautiful music.