Opera Chicken

Opera Chicken.jpg

QUESTION:  How many chickens have become professional opera singers in the United States?
A)  35
B)  22
C)  9
D)  0

The American Treasure Tour blog has been dedicated to exploring the stories of items in our collection now for years - the variety of pieces on display provides a virtually endless choice of subjects. Last week and this week have focused on accomplished Americans (both Union and Confederate, as the case may be) honored in lithographs. Today, we are going to take a sharp turn into the worlds of music and electric store animations.  Yes, the subject line got it right. We have a chicken singing opera on display in our Toy Box. Sadly, we could find no information about real chickens that sing opera, although there are is a small representation of animated opera chickens and people dressed up as chickens singing on such sites as YouTube. So we enjoy our little guy - about three feet tall and singing away, dramatically gesticulating. There is SOME confusion, though. It looks like a chicken, but is wearing a vest and trousers, as one might expect a rooster to do. We're pretty sure it's a chicken, but know that there's no such thing as a male chicken.  But there are certainly male opera singers.

Opera is an Italian word which translates to "work" - both the act of working and the resultant work. There is a "first" opera. Produced in 1597, Jacopo Peri's Dafne delves into Greek mythology, telling the story of Apollo's love for the nymph Daphne. The powerful Medici family of Florence loved the performance enough to support Peri's future works (or operas). Sadly, much of his music has been lost, although the libretto (or lyrics) survive. Dafne began a musical art form that continues to this day in numerous languages and countless variations. From Mozart's operas in German and Italian (and one Latin!) of the 18th century to the operas of Richard Wagner during the 1850's and Bizet's French Carmin in the 1870's.  The turn of the twentieth century found the introduction of American operas by such luminaries as Joplin, Kern, Gershwin, Copland, and later Glass. So, the burning question ignited by our opera-singing chicken is what song he would be singing if he had a voice. We cannot be completely sure, but we suspect it might be an operatic interpretation of the 1970's character made famous by John Wayne and re-created by Jeff Bridges, Rooster Cogburn.

ANSWER:  D)  0.  Unfortunately, the operatic skills of chickens seem to be limited and, thus far, none have achieved the status of professional.  Here's hoping this will change.  Real soon.

Davis Carousel

QUESTION:  The Wurlitzer 165 displayed next to the Emperor here at the American Treasure Tour was once displayed at the Davis Carousel in Griffith Park, Los Angeles.  What type of machine complements it now?
A)  Another Wurlitzer 165
B)  Stinson 165 Military Band Organ
C)  Artizan B Band Organ
D)  North Tonawanda Musical Instrument Works Model 14 Band Organ

So, a week's exploration of the land that would become Griffith Park in the heart of Los Angeles, California is finally coming to a close. You've been wondering all this time where it was going, and now you have an answer: it's bringing us to one of the few remaining merry-go-rounds found in its original setting in the city: the Davis Carousel!  As with all things, the Davis Carousel does have a story. It was built in 1926 by the Spillman Engineering Company of North Tonawanda, New York.  Spillman was the maiden name of the wife of Allan Herschel.  Never heard of him?  Herschel is considered the first American (an immigrant from Scotland, but we are, after all, all immigrants) to establish a business dedicated to the construction of merry-go-rounds. He partnered up with his wife's brothers to create the Herschel-Spillman Company. It lasted a few years but bad blood between the partners led to a split and, we're sure, tense family gatherings. So Spillman Engineering went independent. But we digress.

Members of the Spreckel Sugar Company commissioned the carousel so that it could be placed at their Mission Beach Amusement Center in San Diego, California. The Great Depression did the center in, and in 1935 they closed down, and the carousel went to the city's Balboa Park as part of the California Pacific International Exposition. After two years, Ross Davis purchased it and moved it to Griffith Park, where it has been ever since.  Davis commissioned a band organ for his carousel and, in 1939, Wurlitzer sent him the very same Model 165 currently on display next to the Emperor in the American Treasure Tour's Toy Box. It is hardly a conventional 165, though. By '39, Wurlitzer had retired production of automatic music machines in their North Tonawanda factory, so they assembled the machine from what they had around, including a Model 157 facade. The machine is in near-perfect condition, showing off its original paint and having never required any restoration of which to speak. And the carousel continues to entertain kids, as it did for the daughters of Walt Disney, who went on record as saying the Davis Carousel in part inspired the creation of Disneyland. And, being in Los Angeles, there can be no surprise that it has also been on television, notably during a commercial in which a young James Dean was handing bottles of Pepsi to teenagers as they rode the horses.

ANSWER:  B)  Sintson 165 Military Band Organ.  We're sure you caught our joke - there's no such thing as a North Tonawanda Musical Instrument Works Model 14 Band Organ!  We always have a lot of fun here at the American Treasure Tour blog!

J.W. Whitlock

QUESTION:  Which of J.W. Whitlock's machines was once played for sitting President Richard Milhouse Nixon?
A)  Model A harp
B)  Model B harp
C)  Model 1 banjo
D)  Model 44 piano

You likely have never heard of a man named J.W. Whitlock; however, that is due more because of a disinclination to grab at headlines than it is because he lacked the innovative flair of peers such as Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. He also moved between projects such that his focus never lasted in one place for very long.  He created an electric starter for automobiles (he discarded it once he saw another had been installed in a car), he created an arcade game depicting a miniature horse race, but never bothered to patent it or produce many. It never reached a mass audience because he didn't want to devote the time to it. He also designed a boat for Henry Ford intended to traverse swampland. It was an early form of the fan boat. Although it never reached mass production, it did show Whitlock's understanding of water vessels.  He did reach people with his skills as a speedboat racer, making records that remain in place to this day.

His greatest legacy, as far as the American Treasure Tour is concerned, is associated with his design and development of an automatic harp machine.  He began work on it in 1899, and his relationship with these magnificent machines lasted for almost twenty years.  He produced around 1,500 harps for the Wurlitzer Company, who sold them across the country.  They were hugely popular for a number of years, providing elegant music for people wanting a quiet experience.  Now, they are considered one of the pieces in the great trifecta of stringed automatic musical instruments, alongside the Encore banjo machine and the Mills Violano Virtuoso.  The American Treasure Tour proudly displays all three in our collection.

ANSWER:  B)  Model B harp

North Tonawanda, NY - February 21, 2014

The writers, editors, producers and consultants at the American Treasure Tour blog would like to acknowledge all of our die-hard fans as we end our week of the Wurlitzer Family.  Today's entry will be dedicated to the town where nickelodeons were made: North Tonawanda, New York.  We realize that this little suburb of Buffalo has appeared in the blog in months gone by, but there is a lot about it that merits our time.  After all, as the center of the American mechanical music industry, North Tonawanda is pivotal to the story of the Treasure Tour itself!

Originally settled along the Tonawanda River in 1809, North Tonawanda was not incorporated as its own entity until 1897.  It had achieved some prominence prior to that, though, partly because of its strategic location along the Erie Canal, but also because of the great forests of the region that inspired its nickname "The Lumber City" by the mid-19th century.  Allan Herschell and James Armitage set up shop among the trees in 1873 for their carousel and roller coaster manufacturing company.  Fifteen years later, they recruited German band organ producer Eugene DeKleist (another favorite!) to come to town, and the North Tonawanda Barrel Organ Factory began production.  It was this company that, in 1908, was purchased by the Wurlitzer Company and became the center of production for their musical empire.  The Wurlitzer factory still stands in town, although it is not used for its original purposes anymore.  It now houses offices and shops, but back in the heyday of mechanical music, it was truly the place to be!


Which of the following did Wurlitzer NOT manufacture?

a)  Band Organs

b)  Traditional Instruments

c)  Music Boxes

d)  Nickelodeons

e)  Juke Boxes


New Haven, Connecticut is likely more famous for being the home of Yale University and for its connection with the American Revolution leader and traitor Benedict Arnold than for publishing, but it deserves recognition for printing the first telephone directory ever.  In the world.  Ever.  On this day in 1878, only two years after Alexander Graham Bell presented his invention to a curious public at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.  The first phone book was a single cardboard sheet that contained information for fifty local business that happened to have telephones on the property, but that was the start of it all, and it guided people - and their fingers - for generations.  Today, the internet has made them all but obsolete, and many communities regard these once-vital resources for communication as unnecessary.  

Generally regarded as one of the greatest accomplishments of an otherwise controversial presidency, today marks the forty-second anniversary of the day when Richard Nixon traveled to China and met Communist leader Chairman Mao.  He paved the way for active trade routes between the two countries and gave American citizens who were glued to their television sets during the visit their first ever glimpses of China and Chinese culture.  Nixon's accomplishments are obvious today, as Chinese-made merchandise virtually dominates the American marketplace.


Very rarely do we get the opportunity to celebrate the birthdays of 17th-century Americans, so the ATT blog had to jump at the chance today.  On February 21, 1621, a daughter was born to William and Joanna Towne in Great Yarmouth, England.  Rebecca was nineteen years old when the family migrated to Salem Colony in Massachusetts.  Four years later, she married Frances Nurse, a "tray maker," or a woodworker who specialized in household goods.  The mother of eight lived an honorable, largely anonymous, life until her seventieth birthday.  Then, things took a turn for the worse.  She was accused of witchcraft by a few young girls in town.  Their claims were taken seriously, which led to the hanging of Rebecca Nurse and eighteen others accused of similar crimes (and the pressing to death of a nineteenth), a tragic incident in American history that reminds us of the dangers of false accusations.  On the positive side, the Salem Witch Trials have served as a draw for this beautiful New England town that is worth a visit regardless of your interest in witches.

On this day in 1925 was born a baby boy who would become one of the most controversial film directors of the late-twentieth century.  Sam Peckinpah gained a devoted following by people who enjoy violence-filled action films. Ironically, Peckinpah was a World War II veteran who saw too much action in Japanese-occupied China and wanted to use the art of film to show people the horrors of violence.  Instead, films including The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid became were often interpreted as glorifying violence and proved inspirations for many future directors, rather than the deterrent he had intended.


We shall support whatever our enemies oppose and oppose whatever our enemies support. - Chairman Mao

Answer:  c)  Music Boxes - they did distribute music boxes for the Regina Company of New Jersey, but they did not manufacture them.