Faithful fans may not know it, but riding the Riverfront Park Carrousel hasn’t been a complete experience since 1984.
That’s when the pipe organ in the center of the Carrousel, decrepit after decades of use, was moved into someone’s garage to duplicate its music on cassettes.
Since then, park-goers have heard a tape-recorded copy of the Adolphe Ruth organ, manufactured in Waldkirch, Germany, in 1907.
“The difference is going to a live concert and then listening to a live concert on CD,” said Betty Largent, a park employee who helps maintain the Carrousel.
The organ was returned to the Carrousel, where it sits silently. Soon, however, it may again offer “live concerts.”
On Saturday the park kicks off a fund-raising effort to resurrect the organ in conjunction with a U.S. Postal Service dedication ceremony for new carousel horse stamps.
During the dedication the organ will play briefly, despite worn bellows and tubing. Even though the music will be less than fine-tuned, the demonstration should give an example of its distinct sound.
The organ can produce the sounds of 60 band instruments.
Its music elicits memories of World War I and World War II patriotism and romanticism. There’s also ragtime, marches, waltzes, and polka music, even such Disney classics as “Spoonful of Sugar,” from “Mary Poppins,” and “Zipedee Doo Da,” from “Song of the South.”
If the Carrousel was the Nintendo of 1910, then the organ was a boom box, Largent said.
“This is the predecessor of automated music. There was no records, no CDs, not even player pianos. People would come out to the Carrousel and sit in rocking chairs to listen to the music,” Largent said. “Of course, I don’t think we’re going to get rocking chairs in Riverfront Park.”
The organ was manufactured specifically for Looff Carousels. It is one of five such instruments in the nation. The next closest is in Santa Cruz, Calif.
A fully restored organ would be worth $110,000, Largent said. The cost of repairs could be anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000.
Repairs will be overseen by organ specialists Scott Olsen, of Missoula, and Harold Curryer and Paul Quam, both of Spokane.
The hand-made leather bellows must be rebuilt. Original paper rolls on which the music is printed need to be restored, along with carvings on the front of the organ.
The bulk of the work involves replacing the bellows and tubing. Parts are being shipped from Rhode Island.
A motor pumps the bellows, which push air through the tubing into paper holes that plug the pipes to play the notes, creating the sounds of violins, trumpets and flutes. There is also a snare drum, bass drum and cymbal.
The organ was originally operated manually by two people who passed the book music - thick, folded cardboard sheets with punched holes - through a slot, much like two lumberjacks handling a cross-saw.
In the 1920s though, it was converted to an Artizan-type, an early sort of player piano, in which the holed paper had a rewinding mechanism.
While one roll rewinds, another begins to play.
Full restoration will take about six months, but Largent hopes a significant amount of work will be finished before the National Carousel Association convention comes to Spokane in September.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: STAMPS OF APPROVAL The Looff Carrousel turns into a post office for a day this weekend. Sort of. There won’t be any mail pick-up or delivery, but folks can buy cachets and four new 32-cent carousel horse stamps on Saturday. Cachets - collectible dated stamped envelopes - with a brass ring inside, will sell for $4. Proceeds from cachet sales will be used to repair the organ. The ceremony begins at 11 a.m., after a guided tour of the organ at 10. There will also be speakers and a Postal Service float - left over from the Lilac Parade - highlighting the stamps on display. The stamps - which depict generic carousel horses, not those in Riverfront Park - can be purchased until 3 p.m. -Isamu Jordan
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