Notice: I will be playing a thirty-minute program on the Stockton Reed Organ at the Mississippi Hill Country Heritage Day, Sunday, October 18, 2009, 211 Main Street, Fulton, Mississippi. The event will run from 2 - 5 PM and all proceeds will benefit the Create-Gaither House Fund Project, a preservation effort of Preserving Itawamba County's Heritage, to relocate and preserve Fulton's second oldest surviving residence, The Cedars (Cates-Gaither House).
Tickets to the Mississippi Hill Country Heritage Day event are $15 for adults and $10 for students; little kids free. Tours of The Cedars and information about its history, music, games, displays, and a tasting of period foods are all included in this one ticket price.
About fifty-five years ago I came into possession of a portable reed organ. That reed organ once belonged to the
One of the sons in the
One fall, in the late 1800s, the music-leading
One of my earliest recollections is a memory of going to a few evening sessions of a revival at a brush arbor in
Hattie the house cat prepares to "help" set up the
The organ Mr. Stockton's family presented to him was made by the Carpenter Company,
The organ unfolded lying on its back. Note that the base of the chest drops down; side legs fold out and hook into place on the base and strap securely in place with metal rods that attach as cross-braces into the back of the organ compartment. The pedals lift up and connect by thin metal rods to the bellows. On the bellows, some of the repairs done in the 1950s are visible (the dark brown strips). A three-year-ago repair I made using masking tape to do the work of a broken spring to holds an air value in place shows in the center top.
Sherman and I entered the house which was still full of furniture. We wandered through all the rooms without any success finding anything that resembled an organ. Finally in the rear of the house we found a large storage room or walk-in-closet-sized area. Pushed against the wall was a small wooden chest with leather handles on either end and a hinged lid. The dark wood chest had brass fittings. I unhooked the lid and pulled it up -- and underneath was the ivory keyboard. The portable organ had survived and was still a part of the estate.
Because we had been told not to bother anything in the house but just to determine if the organ was still a part of the furnishings, we closed the lid and locked the house. When I got home, I told my father that the organ was there and would he please let me go to the auction and try to buy the organ.
My father laughed and said, "No, you can't. You've got to go to school tomorrow. But I will go the sale and if I can afford it, I'll try to get it for you. Things sold at auction sometimes sell too high for us to afford."
The next day I boarded the bus to school wishing I could go instead to the auction of the
When I returned home from school about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, I noticed that my father had returned and that his pickup was parked closer to the house than usual. I walked in and asked, "Did you buy the organ?"
And to make a long story shorter, my father teased me a bit about how the strangers who came to the sale ran up the prices on everything and how ridiculous the prices went and as slowly as he could, he finally told me that the bidding ran up "all the way to the totally unacceptable level of 'twelve dollars and fifty cents' for the organ" but that he bought it for me anyway!
Organ fully unfolded with lid opened to expose the keyboard and to serve as a music rack.
I soon learned to play the organ and to keep the bellows pumped full of air at the same time -- we had to repair the bellows which had begun to leak air -- and some of the reeds had "stuck" with a bit of trash or rust and would sound every time the bellows had air in them. I learned how to take the organ reed "harp" apart to remove each individual reed/note. Eventually I stopped all of the "stuck" notes from sounding except one -- and I stuffed that reed with cotton to squelch its sound. Since is it the very highest note on the organ, I don't really miss it -- and besides, it has been nearly 50 years since I squelched it with a ball of cotton.
Mr. Art Camp of the
Over the years, I have used the reed organ for everything from a coffee table (folded down) to a side table (set up with the top closed) to a small parlor organ (set up with the pedals connected, the lid open showing the keyboard). For the past two years, the organ was in the study serving as a low end table by the couch. It had been reduced to holding the telephone and books.
Sunday afternoon, my wife and removed all the objects from atop the organ and moved it temporarily to the living room in front of the french doors. We set it up by unfolding the pieces and parts and attached the foot-pedals to the bellows and began to pump away. After not being played in more than two years, the reed organ immediately began to produce the old-fashioned organ sounds. The more-than-a-century old
In years past, I have transported the organ in the back of my car to play at weddings and other occasions. The small reed organ was even used on the lawn of the
In the 1950s when one could count upon the post office delivering a letter, I wrote the Carpenter Company in
I have learned over the years, however, that the Chaplain Service of the United States Military has made extensive use of folding reed organs since prior to World War One. Some within the chaplain service refer to the small portable reed organs as "God Boxes." It is my understanding that these small rugged portable organs accompanied our troops through the world during the past 100+ years and were used extensively for worship services at or near the front lines and for services on deck aboard naval vessels.
And yes, I still play the
One day, however, I will probably place the
Photographs above made October 28, 2007, on the occasion of the organ being unfolded and played for the first time in two years. It still works although the "wheeze" from the leaking bellows is more pronounced and you have to pedal faster to keep enough air moving to make all the notes sound properly.
[Note: This is the second time I've written about the Stockton Portable Reed Organ. The first was a pictorial essay showing my grandchildren playing the reed organ when visiting at our house in
Copyright © 2007 William T. "Terry" Thornton.