Motor Man and I have commercial tenants, and one of those is an upholstery/boat canvas business.
A couple of weeks ago, the business owners asked us to step back to the building they rent from us so they could show us something.
It was a calliope. And, no, I’d never seen one in person.
I was amazed and so happy to have a chance to take pictures of it. This is the seat in the forefront, the keyboard, and at the back, the pipes.
A better view of the keyboard with a tag showing the maker.
Such a tiny keyboard compared to a piano or organ.
This is the steam ‘boiler’ or generator, and the two white tanks at the bottom left are water tanks.
I really knew nothing about calliopes other than their connection to carousels and circuses. There’s a wonderful article on Wikipedia, which you can read here.
I’ll share a few little interesting excerpts from the article. Apparently the pronunciation of the word varies, depending on whether the person speaking actually plays the instrument. This poem appeared in an 1800’s magazine entitled Reedy’s Mirror:
Proud folk stare after me,
Call me Calliope;
Tooting joy, tooting hope,
I am the calliope.
Folks who don’t play the instrument pronounce it to rhyme with ‘me’, those who play it use the pronunciation to rhyme with ‘hope’.
When I first mentioned to Marshall about seeing the calliope, he did some research, and we were both pleased to read about some ‘old’ songs with references to the instrument.
The first reference was the song: “Tears Of A Clown” (1967, music written by Stevie Wonder and Hank Crosby) and recorded by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. The music has a circus/calliope feel, so Smokey was led to write the lyrics referring to a clown.
“Blinded By The Light”, (Bruce Springsteen), covered by Manfred Mann, has the lyric: “The calliope crashed to the ground”.
And the song: “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite” on The Beatles “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album featured calliope music.
As to how our tenants came to have the calliope: they’ve been commissioned to make a cover for it. The owners purchased it from a 90+ year old gentleman on the west coast, and it’s our understanding that he passed away within a couple of weeks of signing the purchase agreement.
As for the new owners, Motor Man and I previously met the wife several years ago. I contacted her last week to ask permission to share the pictures of the calliope, and she graciously agreed. We were told that she’ s planning to learn to play it. If I’m fortunate enough to get to see that, I’ll be sure to video it and share it here.
~These Days Of Mine~