The Wurlitzer 153 Band Organ in the front window of The Lou Holtz Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame Museum (Courtesy of Christian Comm)
Since I started this series of blog posts about my experiences with the book Images of America: Rock Springs Park, and how they remind me of my favorite movie, Field of Dreams, I sat down and watched the famous “guy-cry” flick for the hundredth time and, yes, I cried, again. It is the perfect storm of heart-tugging emotions for a guy like me: In the final 10-minutes of the film, the protagonist's daughter nearly chokes to death on a good-old American hot dog, a deceased small-town doctor gets a second chance to fulfill his dream of facing a major league baseball pitcher but then gives it all up to save said daughter, at which point we realize that he can’t play ball in "heaven" anymore because of some weird rule involving the first base line. To top it all off; Ghost Dad returns and has a last “catch” with his son, asking, “Is this heaven?” To which the son replies, “No, it’s Iowa." (dramatic pause) "Is there a heaven?” “Oh yeah,” Ghost Dad says with a smile, “It’s the place where dreams come true.” Son then looks to wife and daughter on their farmhouse porch swing and says, “Then I guess this is heaven.” AND THE WATERWORKS FLOW!!!
Like most guys, I used to be able to hold back all kinds of tears. It is an unwritten part of the "bro-code" that guys are only allowed to get a lump in their throat and maybe the slightest hint of watery eyes, but that’s it! "THERE'S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!" Then, I majored in theater and was trained to release all those pent-up emotions, allowing them to surface and flow like the bubbling spring waters of Rock Springs Park. I probably saved thousands of dollars in therapy bills. But now I live life on the edge; trying to avoid embarrassing situations like the time I cried sitting beside my 9-year old daughter and her friends while watching Because of Winn Dixie, and don't even get me started with Toy Story 3!
In the fall of 2009, I was hoping to get such an emotional response from the elderly gentleman who provided me with most of the images for my Images of America book. His name is Richard Bowker, and after many “scanning parties” at his home in Forest Hills near Pittsburgh, I discovered that not only was Rock Springs Park his favorite amusement park, but he was also one of the last fun-seekers to ride the Cyclone on Labor Day night 1970. And, to top it all off, he is a huge fan of Wurlitzer 153 Band Organs, especially the one that was once housed in the carousel pavilion at Rock Springs Park. In fact, during that same summer of 1970, the last season the park was open, Mr. Bowker tried desperately to get a reel-to-reel audio recording of the band organ playing one of his favorite march rolls. He explained that the year before, owner Bob Hand had paid to have the organ totally refurbished, but then, that winter, the antique instrument was ruined by an ice melt and a leaky roof. Like Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams, who offers the aging Doc Graham a chance to fulfill his baseball dream, I saw an opportunity to make a similar offer to Mr. Bowker. “I know a place where that Wurlitzer Band Organ plays again and, if you’d like, I could take you there.”
So in August of 2009, with my book only halfway completed, I took Mr. Bowker to East Liverpool, Ohio, to the Lou Holtz Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame Museum. In the window of the old bank building, rests the Wurlitzer Band Organ from Rock Springs Park, on loan from the East Liverpool High School Alumni Association, donated by Dr. James Smith from his 3.3 million dollar collection of amusement park devices . For 25 cents a visitor to the Lou Holtz Museum can see the old organ light up and play a gay melody from a time gone by.
We were met by museum director, Robin Webster, and a reporter from The Review, Mike McElwain, and his photographer. All were very generous and gracious. As the quarter was dropped in the slot, Mike’s photographer snapped a couple of pictures of Mr. Bowker standing before the Wurlitzer window listening to that beautiful old machine crank out a tune with bells, drums, whistles, and eighty-year old pipes.
This is it! I thought. Mr. Bowker is going to turn to me speechless with wet eyes and nod like Doc Graham after he gets that base hit at the end of the movie. Instead, Mr. Bowker turned to us all and said, “That doesn’t sound very good! I know a guy who could fix that for you.”That story got the second biggest laugh of the night when I spoke to the Women’s Art Club in Wellsville, Ohio, over a week ago. But it was at that same meeting when Phyllis, who I wrote about in my last blog post, amazed us all with her own Field of Dreams story, one that begins in Rock Springs Park and ends in a television studio in New York in the 1950’s.
Look for the final installment - Coming soon!