The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 6, 2001


Carlisle Comments "The Mighty Wurlitzer" theater organ

Have you ever been to a silent movie? Do you remember when they used to show them on TV? I'm pretty sure that you don't remember them from the original time in our local theaters. Actually, my father-in-law used to play background music on the piano for the silent movies, as did my stepmother and her mother before her. The big city theaters often used organs or full orchestras. Of course that was long before my time and yours.

Do you know that there is a local theater organ group that owns and maintains the original theater organ from Boston's Loew's State Theater which was located on Mass. Ave. near Symphony Hall? When I first came to Boston, the windows of my Burbank Street apartment faced the back brick wall of the Loew's State Theater. Little did I know that the organ behind that wall would be something I would seek out some forty years later.

How is a theater organ different from a regular organ? Well, it has all kinds of sound effects: bells, whistles, drums, banjo sounds and stuff like that. Why? Because this way they could accompany a silent movie with all the miscellaneous sounds without having to pay for a complete orchestra. Of course at the time, all they had were silent movies. There are musical chase songs, or themes, also scary sounds, love mood themes, as well as happy and sad themes. I'm not talking about a little electric organ that you might have in your living room. I mean a big, air-driven, hundreds-of-pipes, pipe organ.

The most amazing thing is that when you go to one of these performances, you quite forget that you are watching a silent film, and your own imagination takes over and offers a better dialogue than a lot of the current movies or talkies. When you see Clara Bow swoon, or watch Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. or John Barrymore strut about with sword and flashing eyes, you become quite bedazzled yourself.

With short skirts, heavy makeup, overacting, hair styles from Mars, we only think we are original. Come, have a laugh at ourselves and our ancestors, as I am sure that someday our children and grandchildren will get a chuckle out of us and our "modem styles."

This organ from the Loew's State Theater is now located at Knight Auditorium at Babson College in Wellesley, where each month from September through May, a movie is shown for the admission fee of ten dollars. For more information, the website is Tickets can be purchased at the door. After the show, they even give tours of the inside of the organ and you can see all of the pipes and a lot of the mechanisms that make the thing run. If you have never heard a powerful theater organ like the "Mighty Wurlitzer," you are really missing something.

+YEAR+ The Carlisle Mosquito