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Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Wurlitzer 153 Then and Now

When comparing these two images, it is easy to see that the Wurlitzer 153 Band Organ on display in the window of the Lou Holtz Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame in East Liverpool, Ohio, today, is the exact model shown at left in 1970 still playing in the center of the Carousel Pavilion in Rock Springs Park. Identical models, yes, but are they the exact same machine?

I reported in my book and on this blog that the band organs pictured are indeed one in the same. On June 22, 2011, I wrote, “Rock Springs Park’s Carousel Band Organ was sold at auction in 1974. It was purchased by Dr. James Smith of Connecticut. Dr. Smith, an East Liverpool High School alum, collected amusement park machines, especially games of chance, and displayed them in his suburban Connecticut barn.” But upon studying the two images above I noticed that the scenes painted on their facades were not the same.

So what might account for this difference? Well, in the September/October 1983 issue of Americana magazine an article on Smith's collection reported that "Unlike some other collectors, devotees of coin-operated machines usually approve of restoration, refinishing, and rebuilding them." Smith, a plastic surgeon by trade, used his skills to restore many of his own machines, but he also "hired a local artist to decorate them," according to the article.

While the two scenes are different, their themes are roughly the same. Each shows a rural setting with trees, waterways, and North American animals. The decorative screens in front of the louvers and bar-bells depict a nighttime scene of a small village, stone bridge and steeple on the Lou Holtz model, but this same area on the Rock Springs Park model is hidden by one of Bill Dentzel’s military horses in the photo above, so we don’t know what it depicts. I’ve yet to find an image of Rock Spring’s organ in which this scene is clearly visible. In all the images I’ve come across it is either blocked from view or too faded to make out. Perhaps this is why the restoration artist chose a similar theme but did not paint an exact duplicate. It might have been so faded that exact replication was not possible.

In all the articles I’ve read about Dr. Smith’s collection, they mention how he began his love for coin-operated machines during the Depression when as a youth he traveled to West Virginia’s Rock Springs Park. We are fortunate that he did, because if it was not for his love of the park and its myriad of machines we would not have the opportunity to hear the band organ play again back home.

Some other related facts:

In a photo caption from the East Liverpool Review dated Saturday, July 4, 1992, titled, “Sounds of Yesterday, Alumni of Tomorrow,” and showing two sisters admiring a Wurlitzer 153, photographer, Fred Fischer, notes “Cara Goodman (left) and her sister Stephanie admire a 153 Wurlitzer band organ on Fourth Street with their cousin Mike Hill Friday. The band organ was originally used in the merry-go-round at Rock Springs Park. All the children are East Liverpool residents.”

Wurlitzer Style #153 Duplex Orchestral Organ. This type was used on three-abreast carousel's, in open dance pavilions, skating rinks, and other amusement areas.
The machine was made by the Wurlitzer Company of North Tonawanda, New York. It has 54 Keys and plays from paper rolls of music.

Height, with front, 7' 1"; without front, 5' 2".
Width, with front, 8' 8"; without front, 4' 2 1/2".
Depth, with front, 3' 8"; without front, 2' 7 1/2".
Weight, packed for shipment, 1,300 lbs. Requires 1/2 H.P. Motor to operate.
Basses:- 3 Wooden Trombones; three 8-foot Stopped Diapason; three 4-foot Open Diapason; Three 2 foot Stopped Diapason.
Accompaniment:-9 Stopped Flute Pipes; 18 Violin Pipes.
Melody:- 16 Stopped Flute; 16 Octave Violin; 15 Wooden Trumpets; 15 Cello Pipes; 32 Violin; 16 Open Flute; 15 Stopped Pipes; 16 Bell-Bars
Traps:- Bass Drum, Snare Drum, and Cymbal.
Automatic Stops: 1 for Octave Violin; 1 for Open Flute; 1 for Cello Pipes; 1 for Stopped Pipes; 1 for Bell-Bars; 1 for Swell Shutters.

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