Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on September 3, 1972 · Page 64
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 64

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, September 3, 1972
Page 64
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Page 64 article text (OCR)

The Fire-Eating Music Box If it goes like it did last year, the 1 overture and prelude to Charleston's Second Annual Sternwheel Regatta on the Kanawha River today will be played on an instrument as American as ''Yankee Doodle," but more rare than a Ford Tin Lizzie It will be the calliope, one of the earliest and most effective forms of outdoor advertising. Originally it was spelled with a "K". If you're from certain parts of the country or if you haven't heard it pronounced, that's "cally-ope" or steam- PIE-anna. But look it up and you'll find it's really pronounced "Ca-LIE-o-pe," with the accent on the "lie." A calliope is an instrument with stopped flute-type metal pipes voiced on high pressure and intended for outdoor use. Barrel-operated or roll-operated steam calliopes, made mainly during the 19th century, used steam to blow the pipes. Calliope music advertising a steam boat's coming could be heard by the farmer plowing his field, or by the woman washing on an outside scrub board from as far away as 12 miles. When they heard it dogs barked, children yelled, adults paused in their work--excitement was kindled. The story is told of the mountaineer who. hearing the calliope for the first time, mistook it for some strange animal and hurried down to the landing with his gun and his hound ready to exterminate the varmint. Strong calliope notes echoing from hill to hill down the river valleys had greater power than dozens of printed posters. The vibrant music promised something now, not in the future. It announced with a mighty voice that that the showboat had arrived. Invented by the man who later dreamed up the horse drawn hay-rake, the steam calliope, a pure American invention, made its first appearance appropriately, on July 4. 1855. This first calliope was so named because Calliope in Greek mythology was the muse of epic poetry. The word also means sweetvoiced or magnificient- voiced. The public soon discovered this new machine was aptly named. First shown on the Worchester Commons, Mass.. the instrument had a keyboard. Later ones didn't. Joshua Stoddard of Worchester. the inventor, stoked the wood fire to maintain the pressure and his sister Edna played. The instrument was an instant success. The fire-eating machine had 15 whistles fashioned like the locomotive whistles that had fascinated Stoddard as a boy. They were gradated in size. These whistles were attached in a row to the top of a small steam boiler. A long cylinder with pins of different shapes driven into it ran the length of the boiler. The pins were arranged so that when the cylinder revolved they pressed the valves and blew the whistles in proper sequence. He later replaced the cylinder with a keyboard about two feet wide at the open part of the "V." Wires were run from the keys to the valves. It was played like a piano The keys were made of brass to withstand the heat. Stoddards machine was shown again in 1856. By this time he had, with the backing of local industrialists, formed a company called the American Steam Co. The American Steam Company's calliope was mounted on wheels and attached to the rear of a passenger train. The exhibition was a success. The calliope was a success. Moddard was not. He had more talent for 4m CHARLESTON, By Pat liouck inventing than he did for bush ess and within five years he was maneuvered out of his own business. The new owner, Arthur S. Denny, (sometimes spelled Deny) even had the audacity to claim the invention of the calliope as his own. In fact a London News article of 1859 gives Denny credit for the invention. Stoddard had patented it in 1855. If anyone had prior claim to the calliope's invention it would have been William Hoyt of Dupont, Ind. who had been working for a number of years on an "instrument which could produce music by the agency of steam." Under Denny, the American Steam Co. and the sale of calliopes grew. The instrument was exhibited abroad for the first time in England in 1859. The London News carried the report, calling the instrument a steam organ," the softest- toned ever made." It was played on at the pressure of five pounds to a square inch--the maximum employed in church organs is five ounces. Various uses of the new instrument were projected. It was suggested the calliope could be used on the field of battle to convey the orders of a general, or as a substitute for chime bells. (It was Stoddards original intent that the instrument be used in church.) The article told of a calliope which was used by the English Government on the coast of Nova Scotia to signal boats. The report also drew attention to the fact the instruments could be better used if it were not for the volumes of steam they gave off. This shortcoming was soon to be corrected. Calliopes found their true home on steamboats and circuses. During the late 1850's, most river packets carried a calliope or a brass band. Some carried both. The calliope's first success on the river came on the Old Hudson River Day Line's steamer "Glen Cove." Owners desperate at continually going into the red, gambled that Stoddard's machine would attract attention to the ship and to the pleasures such travel offered. Their gamble paid off and business soon doubled. Calliopes served steamboats well. Often placed on the top deck of the showboat with its steam piped either from the tow or from its own boiler, the calliope did double duty, for in its off duty time its pipes provided distilled.drinking water. Showboat calliopes achieved popularity through the skill of their players. Besides having a knowledge of music, the player had to be a hardy soul. The first instruments were torture and the typical allegro calliope style was one of necessity. Those hot brass keys were too uncomfortable to hold down long. Often the "professors" as the calliope players were called, were accused of being drunks because their ordeal left them staggering and red faced. They were often accused of being boiled in more ways than one. Many stories are ' told of the "professors." These intrepid musicians were a colorful lot. who displayed quick wit and ready ingenuity, because the keys and valves usually stuck in the middle of a tune. There was a taboo about one tune only. That was "Home, Sweet Home." The superstition that the calliope playing that tune would be at the river bottom before the next day. Certain songs "were played on a s h o w b o a t ' s a r r i v a l , others were traditional for departure! Homer Denny, famous calliopist of the ste.amer Island VV. VA. Melodious sounds of the river packet's calliope Mas an effective early form of outdoor advertising. Sunday Gazette-Mail STATE MAGAZINE, Sept. 3,1972 Queen compiled a list of steam calliope river tunes. The list includes "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee." "On a Sunday Afternoon," and "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly," to be played on"arrival. "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight " and "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" were played for celebrations. Departure t u n e s were, "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland," "My Wild Irish Rose" and "Annie Laurie " Of course, show boats were not the only- vessels to carry calliopes. An article in the American Organist magazine of December. 1955. tells about one crafty skipper's use of the calliope. When a steamboat race developed, the skipper would order the instrument played just as his rival drew abeam and was about to pass him. Although the steam for the music robbed the engines of some of their speed, it was a shrewd investment. Passengers on the other steamer's decks would crowd the rail toward their rival's music with the result that the ship would bury her paddle wheel on that side, and hoist the other wheel clear of the water. Immediately, the hapless vessel would be left behind, executing an unmanageable circle, to the intense delight of those aboard the vessel sporting the calliope. The American Steam Music Co. continued to manufacture calliopes until the Civil War. During the next quarter century few instruments were built, but a few individual orders were filled. One company to revive the business around 1890 was the Thomas J. Nichol Co., which made the Delta Queen calliope, one of only three made by that company still in e«- istence, according to Vic Tooker, the Delta Queen "professor." Steam calliopes have almost disappeared. Even the Delta Queen one was installed within the last five years. It came from the "Water Queen"'"a showboat which sank in the Kanawha River in 1937. The calliope was salvaged by a former calliopist "Crazy Ray" Choiser. He had it remounted and played it for carnivals and parades. After his death, it remained in a barn until circus veteran Ellsworth W. Sommers added it to his collection. Sommers parted with it-on the condition it would be played again. It was r e s t o r e d b y Q u i n b y a n d S h e p a r d Laboratories of New Jersey. Quinby revamped the calliope to make it more bearable for the calliopist. He devised a foot pedal to control the steam flow and added a pressure steam gauge. After he changed the whistle arrangement to a straight line, he installed solenoid valves to replace mechanical ones. More e x t i n c t t h a n the r i v e r b o a t calliopes are the circus calliopes. The story goes you can tell a circus buff by the way he pronounces "Kally-ope." Usually the pinaccle of every circus and carried on beautiful hand-carved wagons pulled by husky matched horses, the calliope's impression is indelible in the minds of white haired men who first saw and heard it as wide-eyed little boys. Circus World Museum of Barbaboo. Wise, owns one of the last steam calliopes used in parades. Henry Ford Museum also has one. Campus Martius Museum has the one that once enhanced Capt. Billy Brant's showboat. The largest circus calliope was a 36- whistle one and it is now owned by the Ringling Brothers Circus Museum in Sarasota. Probably the most-written about circus calliope was the Forepaugh-Castle instrument. It saw service in at least 11 shows. First used on the river packet Robert Burns in 1879, it was purchased by Adam Forepaugh in 1885. One hazard to owning a calliope was the fascination the bright whistles have for thieves. They stole the original whistles from the Forepaugh-Castle Calliope and the El Hassa Temple Shrine of Ashland. Ky., will have to replace one shiny whistle for the same reason. This happened more than once to circus calliopes. Fire was also a hazard to them. P. T. Barum assured the calliope's success when he bought one and spent $10,000 to properly showcase it on a handsome wagon. He also gave Europeans their first exposure to the calliope when he toured the continent for five years starting in 1867. Calliopes sold for anywhere from $1,000 to 112,000. Bennie Dawson of the Ashland Shrine said their calliope cost less than $200 in 1937 and would sell for several thousand dollars today. Collectors News of Grundy Center. Iowa, reports the last showing of a calliope in Washington was when a Kentucky-based circus was invited to.have its historic instrument participate in !he inauguration parade of President Truman and "Veep" Alben Berkley. Eight white horses pulled the calliope through the streets to the accompaniment of tunes like "Missouri Waltz" and "My Old Kentucky- Home." Intended for outdoor use. steam calliopes were too powerful for indoor playing and their steam "fall-out" was a d e f i n i t e hazard to the player who sometimes was splashed with boiling water, engulfed in clouds of steam, and showered with soot. These handicaps led to the invention of new and better calliopes which were operated with compressed air. Most calliopes found today are of this type. Air is supplied via a pump or blower. Compressed air calliopes were made by three companies during 1920 to 1935 Q. David Bowers states in his 1971 Encyclopedia of A u t o m a t i c M u s i c a l Machines. Tangley Co. of Muscatine. Iowa, was the leading manufacturer of air calliopes. More Tangley instruments survive than all other makes by all other firms combined. Over the years the most popular model was the CA~43 which was advertised as "ready-to-go-ready-to-play" painted and mounted on a car body for only $1895. The company made loud-voiced calliopes for the circus and soft-voiced ones for theaters. As an advertising gimmick, Tangley would construct housing of the calliope for businessmen. This housing would resemble the product for sale. For instance, a large layer cake for a bakery, a box of candy for a candy company, and package of gum for a gum manufacturer. The well-known C. W. Parker, the man who "built a business on the nickels of the world's children, distributed calliopes for Tangley. Parker is best known, however, for his manufacture of merry-go-rounds or carousels. New-tone Co. which later became the National Calliope Co., also produced calliopes. National instruments were extremely well built and had a very pure tone. Bowers says they are highly prized collectors items today. It remained for Artizan Factories of North Tonawanda, New York, to patent a new caihope in :927. They called it the Air- L£j-:c and advertised it as having 17 points of superiority-one of which was easier tuning. The calliope is tuned by adjusting the s'.op ;n the top of the whistle, The air caiio s advertisement also pointed out its superiority in case of rain. Its valves were b u n t above the pipe mouth lever where rain could not affect them. Only 62 of these \vi-re b u i l t . Their vacuum system replaced the troublesome and sensitive suction system previously used, particularilv in instruments operated by rolls. Another Artizan invention was the calli- phone. Played by hand or by roll it spanned three and one half octaves and had 43 pipes: The C a l l i - p h o n e was recommended for rinks, rides, shows and street advertising. With it the ad read "A man could expect to earn $5.000annually." The calli-pohone was connected directly to an engine blower unit and mounted on a truck. I n . r m i i i i \ . this musical works company fell on bad times and was sold to the Rand Co. mow Remmington Rand) a company which had formerly printed labels for their roll music boxes. W u r l i t z e r s answer to the calliopes being sold by Tangley and National was a much improved instrument which was called the Caliola. But the Caliola was too late. Nickeldoeon and radios were becoming the chief form of amusement music. Few calliopes remain today. Forrest Burdette of Huntington. an extremely knowledgeable man about automatic musical instruments, knows of just four in West Virginia. There may be more; back in barns, or in the collections of unknown musical instrument lovers. Burdette himself owns a Tangley. "Many have been thrown away," Burdette said. "Many others were lost in the 1937 flood." Bennie Dawson of Ashland, Ky.. and the El Hassa Shrine has what must be the most unusual remaining calliope. It fits on a car exhaust and has a keyboard which attaches to the car door. It was used once to advertise new cars. Calliopes are almost gone, but their magic lingers. When the Delta Queen's calliope player steps up to the keyboard and lets loose with, "There'll be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight." the 20th century man feels the same thrill and the same quickening of pulse felt by the West Virginia bottom land farmer as the lively calliope notes danced across his newly plowed field one hundred years ago. * BRITANNICA * THE YOUNG CHILDREN^ J ENCYCLOPAEDIA E COMPLETE CODEBASE WITH B SIMPLIFIED VOCABULARY lo EASy-TO-R£AD TyPE. ' JO TDEA^ JTINKERBELL ^r^.,, \ BUBBLE AND BEAUTIFUL ( CJDOAV K.CT mssY " XfG MIR GROWSANC SRWIS! j. i H J B E D K N O B S ANP BROOMSTICKS suf- cp ACTION BED I MA Knickerbocker _ ^^^ - 'JUGGLE THE -- . .^ ro SPELL OUR NAMES AND COLOR TV/AT - A CONTEST EMTR Y, PRINT CUR NAMES - HERE. - j C O M f l l U «sc COioi H,HU C^t 0^1 CHARLESTON, W.VA. lim

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