Charlie M. Holmes
A two-foot tall wooden band director, decked out in a band uniform decorated in gold and a hat topped off in silver, greeted visitors to The Farmers’ Museum this past weekend with his cheery carnival music. His stage — the largest touring antique fairground organ in the Americas.
“It’s 16 feet long,” Jean Milburn said. “It has a 24-foot custom trailer with a generator mounted on it so we can make our own power any place we go. We can play in a cornfield if we need to.”
Jean Milburn was at The Farmers’ Museum for the Carousel Organ Rally.
“My husband, Roger Wiegand, has loved carousel organs every since he was a little tiny kid and always dreamed of owning one,” Milburn explained. “Due to the wonders of the Internet he saw a posting of a family in England that was selling this particular organ. It was made by a very famous maker, Gavioli, who operated his business out of Paris in the late 1800s. I just said, ‘You know if you’re ever going to do it, you better go.’ So he flew to England.”
The organ had been taken apart a generation before for a restoration that never happened, so after purchasing it, Wiegand and his wife had it restored to its former glory.
“It’s now dedicated to Queen Victoria and her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, which we think is the approximate year it came out of Gavioli’s workshop in Paris,” Milburn said.
Wiegand’s and Milburn’s organ wasn’t the only carousel organ to be found on the grounds of The Farmers’ Museum this past weekend.
“We have organs here from Canada, West Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York,” the supervisor of The Empire State Carousel, Mary Margaret Kuhn said. “From the largest traveling organ in America to the largest trumpet organ in Canada. You’ll find a little grinder organ in the village that only weighs nine pounds, but boy, is it beautiful.”
Carousel Organs weren’t the only things that were unique to The Farmers’ Museum this past weekend — the 77th Regimental Balladeers were also present to perform a special concert.
“The 77th is named after the 77th New York Infantry,” band leader John Quinn stated. “After the Civil War some of the veterans of the 77th regiment formed a band, and they played at public benefits. To keep their memory alive, we took the name 77th Regimental Balladeers.”
The 77th Regimental Balladeers are based in Windham.
“The Cornwallville Church, where we’re performing today, was actually moved from Cornwallville in Greene County, which is only about 10 or 15 minutes from Windham,” Quinn said. “And the (Bump) tavern, that also used to be near Windham. For us, it’s sort of like coming home because we’re familiar with these buildings and we know something about the history of these buildings. They couldn’t be in a better place. It’s an honor for us to play in that church.”
The group is in its 18th year.
“We do a lot of original Civil War music, but we do contemporary songs and tunes as well – written by other living historians who study this type of music. We just did write an original song called ‘Amelia,’ based on the letters that were written between Private John Tidd and his girlfriend, Amelia Haskle. They lived out in the Owego area of the state of New York.”
The band is made up of several educators, historians and a former member of the Metropolitan Opera, Gisella Montanez-Case. Each year on the first weekend in August the group hosts the annual Civil War Heritage Music Gathering in Windham.
“Musicians come from all over the country who do this type of music,” Quinn said. “We re-create an 1860s grand concert exactly as you would have experienced it 150 years ago.”
The 77th Regimental Balladeers weren’t the only ones at the Farmers’ Museum who were re-creating things that were more than 100 years old, so was woodcarver Bob Yorburg.
“Somehow I ended up specializing in carousel organs,” Yorburg said. “It kind of grew out of a fascination for old time Coney Island and learning about all the performers and all the things that made it special.”
Yorburg carved the city island plaque on the Empire State Carousel. Saturday he was giving a lecture at The Farmers’ Museum.
“Today I’m going to do two things,” Yorburg said. “One is a Powerpoint slideshow showing the process from raw wood through creating wooden master patterns, carving the pieces, assembling the fascades and the finished product, and how one selects paint schemes. After that, I’ll have a Q & A and then I’ll do a hands on demo of what it looks like to carve an actual piece.”
Yorburg says that even though wood scrolls are everywhere there’s very little literature on how to carve those scrolls, which is why he wrote “Acanthus Carving & Design.” The book is available at The Farmers’ Museum’s store.
“If folks are interested in carving like this I’m willing to do classes up here,” Yorburg said. “Because having the ability to learn from someone is 100 times easier than learning from a book.”