Music to Our Ears
The Marion Palace Theatre is fortunate to be one of the historic theatres that still have a working theatre pipe organ. According to the American Theatre Organ Society, there were originally several thousand theatre pipe organs around the world and today only a few hundred remain. The current organ is a Wurlitzer, but the original was a Page.
The original Palace organ was an ornate, three-manual Page Rainbow Gold, built specifically for the Marion Palace Theatre in 1928. It shone beams of light into the auditorium as the spotlight reflected off its surface. Though Palace construction included the necessary wiring for talking movie pictures, it would be some time before it was installed. The organ was used not only during intermission, but also for silent films, helping to tell their story. The organist would also play background music for performing Vaudevillians and offer a signal of the end of the entertainment, giving guests a cue that it was time to leave.
While date of the sale of the organ is unidentified, it is known that the past theatre management sold the organ to help pay down the struggling Theatre’s debt. Recognizing the theatre organ’s role, the theatre restoration management later replaced the Page with The Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ.
The current organ- the Wurlitzer left the factory on Aug. 30, 1924. It was originally installed in the Mars Theatre, in Indiana. Next it went to Al Mason’s home in Michigan. Mason was, for some time, the national president of the American Theatre Organ Society.
The late Tom Yannitell procured the organ and, with the help of a crew of volunteers, installed it at the Marion Palace Theatre. Installation was completed for the 50th anniversary and reopening of the Palace in 1978. The late Joe Weygandt, Stan Krider, and Dave Kohler assisted Yannitell. Most recently, Dave Kohler, assisted by Jack Shaffer, provided needed repair and maintenance for the Mighty Wurlitzer organ.
It is capable of reproducing the sounds of an entire orchestra and is equipped with silent film sound effects and other “bells and whistles”. Some of them are a train whistle, Chinese gong, siren, sleigh bells, and even chirping birds.
Today, the organ is often heard as introduction and accompiniment to many an event, but sometimes it is the focus, like the Pedals, Pipes and Pizza event on August 25. Watching it rise up from under the theatre floor and hearing the powerful sound, is a delight that should not be missed! To learn about the Mighty Wurlitzer visit the Marion Palace Theatre’s web site.