View the current restoration efforts from the following video, which
Nevada City, Montana, features one of the world's largest music collections.
The Gypsy Arcades offers you a unique view of what games used to look like in the 18-century
No trip to Virginia City is complete without watching a family-friendly play featured every year.
There is something for everyone at Virginia City. Let your kids enjoy the games in the Gypsy Arcade while parents enjoy a cocktail at the authentic Bale of Hay Bar. While the whole family gets to experience what life was like in the 18-century.
Location: Opera House
A source of endless curiosity and delight for the visitors of Virginia City is our Cremona organ located in the orchestra pit of the Opera House. Newcomers are always asking, "What's the source of all those bells, percussion, and pipe organ sounds?"
In the 1920s, the accompaniment to silent films and vaudeville was provided by live musical instruments. Makers of player pianos and orchestrians (mechanical orchestras) began to create a wide variety of self-contained, theater orchestras (photoplayers), designed for movie houses for an orchestra or full-scale, theater pipe organ.
Most photoplayers consist of an upright player piano unit rigged with organ stops and foot buttons which controlled additional instrumentation housed in one of the two separate cabinets. The photoplayer operator would push buttons or tug on ropes to activate the various sound effects suitable to the screen action. Many photoplayers were equipped with two-player roles, and by switching back and forth, the mood of the music was varied.
This Cremona is a wonderful example of the type, a "Cremona Theatre Orchestra, solo style M-3." It is sixteen feet wide and features two side chests containing flute, violin, bass pipes, xylophone, bass drum, crash cymbal, tom-tom, tympani, snare drum, sleigh bells, tambourine, castanets, cathedral chimes, triangle, and train bell. It was manufactured in Chicago by the Marquette Piano Co., whose wide variety of coin-operated player pianos, orchestrians, and photoplayers were sold under the Cremona trademark and were regarded as "top of the line." No expense was spared in their creation, from the piano keys of genuine ivory to the double-veneered hardwood cases, newborn calfskin bellows, imported felt piano hammers, and overstrung scale (imparting the piano with an extraordinarily rich tone most notably in the mid-bass range).
Photoplayers were advertised to theater owners as late as 1928. Costing as much as six thousand dollars, they were a major investment. Nevertheless, with the advent of talking pictures, photoplayers swiftly became a relic of a past era.
During this initial period of disuse, most of the instruments were destroyed. With a "white elephant" on their hands, theater managers often removed the player mechanism in an effort to sell the piano unit to help offset their enormous purchase cost. (For years following the depression, a piano stripped of its player mechanism had a better market value than one with the mechanism intact.)
The various drums and sound effects were dismantled and sold individually or given to children as playthings. The remaining mechanical parts, rendered useless, were hau1ed off to the city dump. The machines remaining in theaters usually suffered moth, rust, or fire damage over the years. Photoplayers were largely overlooked during the 1940s and the 1950s when private collectors first revived interest in the player pianos and nickelodeons. An instrument of this size and volume wou1d hardly be welcome in a typical suburban rumpus room! Today, of the thousands that were distributed across the United States, only four Cremona photoplayers are known to exist. Only two Cremona photoplayers are still in use in theaters. One is in Virginia City; the other is in Sydney, Australia.
It was discovered in a Deer Lodge, Montana drugstore hidden behind a wall installed when the original movie theater was remodeled for retail use. After its rehabilitation in 1950, it was installed in the Virginia City Opera House. Its music has lent a unique air of merriment to our presentations every summer since.
Location: Music Hall
Among the earliest automatic musical instruments was the unlikely self-playing harp. Like the Violano, it was perfected by an independent inventor, J.W. "Row'' Whitlock (1871-1935). Whitlock spent six years developing the automatic harp, according to family sources. The patent, issued on September 8, 1900, read as follows:
This invention relates to musical instruments which are automatic in their action, starting upon the introduction of a coin...and stopping automatically when the piece is finished.
In 1905 Wurlitzer established an agreement with Whitlock to sell the harps on an exclusive basis. The two firms signed a contract for 1000 harps, to be delivered in three years, at a rate of 35 per month. The last harp was produced in late 1910 or 1911.
The harp contains sixty fingers (almost human in their operation) and produces a volume of soft, sweet music equal to several Italian harps played by hand. The face of the instrument is covered by large harp-shaped plate glass, showing the interior lit up by electric lights and the wonderful little fingers picking the strings. This feature gives the instrument an exceedingly attractive appearance.
Approximately 1100 style harps were made, of which 4 are known to exist today. The change of case design to a Style B took place in 1906. About 400 Style B harps were made of which 7 are known to survive.
The machine was promoted as soft and sophisticated, the correct music for elegant dining. Except for the electric motor, it is made almost entirely of wood. Another even more attractive model, shaped like a real harp, was designed but few were built. When player pianos were more perfected, the popularity of the soft¬ playing harps waned. Several dozen harps survive nationwide. This harp and the beautiful Wurlitzer DX Roll Changing Piano now in the Nevada City Music Hall were purchased from the Five Mile Inn, which still stands on South Harrison Ave. in Butte, Montana.
Location: Molinari Building
Made by Molinari Organ Co., Brooklyn, NY. A small street piano typical of those used by "organ grinders" at the turn of the century (1900). Contains a ratchet-operated mandoline mechanism for the melody section, a desirable feature.
Charles Bovey purchased many assets of the Molinari Organ Co. from the B.A.B. Organ Co. circa 1957. Molinari had been America's foremost maker of barrel organs and barrel pianos (also known as street pianos); its assets and business were acquired by the B.A.B Organ Co., which continued to remodel and service band organs in the Coney Island area from the 1920s through the mid-1950s. Its principal owners were Brugnolotti, Antoniazzi, and Bona; one of them was reputedly married to a daughter of Molinari's. Many tools, supplies, and unfinished parts are displayed in the Molinari Shop in Nevada City. Among the equipment are music arranging, barrel-making, pipe-making, and woodworking tools, two small Molinari barrel organs which were being made when the company went out of business, and two used barrel pianos.
Location: Gypsy Arcade
One of the most recognizable pieces in the collection is the 1906 verbal gypsy teller machine. Anyone who has seen the 1988 movie "Big" starring Tom Hanks will be able to spot it in a heartbeat. Due to the fame from the movie it has been tussled over by private collectors, the state, historians, and citizens. The fortune-telling machine is one of the three remaining that used a recording to "speak" fortunes to whoever was brave enough to ask, and fed it a nickel. Magician and collector of historic Penney arcade games David Copperfield thinks it makes be only one of its kind remaining, and of course, he wants to buy it. However, he's not the only one.
The fortune-telling machine was used by visitors through the early 1970s when its deteriorating condition necessitated its removal to storage. It was put back on display in 1999, but it was for looking only, no touching. Conservators finally began to restore it to functionality in September of 2004, finishing in June 2006. In 2008, the gypsy returned to public display in the Gypsy Arcade, to turn of the century gadgetry museum.
Once it was successfully restored it was brought to the attention of collectors. Around that time, Copperfield approached the Montana Heritage Commission offering a reported $2 million of the machine for display purposes. Yet, they turned him down as well as other collectors that have offered to pay high dollar for the piece.
Since then the Montana Heritage Commission has taken the stand that they do not want to sell the piece as they believe it is more valuable as a piece of history for everyone to see verses it being stashed away in some private collector’s basement hidden to the world. This does not mean that if times get tough the Heritage Commission will not reconsider; however, for now, it is available to the public and those brave enough to hear what their futures may hold.
Location: Music Hall
It is easy to see how the Gavioli 43 Band Organ “The Butterfly” got its name. The beautifully crafted façade has carvings of butterfly and swans. This small European band organ is believed to be a Gavioli but verified origination is unknown. It was one of the many organs of this size that were made, however, only one to two hundred still exist worldwide. Currently, it plays 43-keyless cardboard organ music and was is shown on p. 208 of A Pictorial History of the Carousel by the late Frederick Fried, a historian of band organs and the Coney Island amusement area. (Originally pub. By A.S. Barnes and Co., 1964; later reprinted by the now-defunct Vestal Press, Vestal NY.)
Location: Music Hall
The Regina Music Box Co. of Rahway, New Jersey, liked purely mechanical things -none of that new-fangled pneumatic stuff for them. This instrument came out quite early in the automatic musical instrument era, probably about 1906. When played, it sounds like the, then, very popular chorus of strumming mandolins. The vibrating "piano" action is controlled by possibly the widest roll made of the heaviest paper ever used in a music machine. It is also interesting that Regina manufactured many of these instruments with a large spring-wound motor (usable in places without electricity) but for those few locations that had electric current, such as the mining camps of Montana, they had an electric version. When automatic pianos became more reliable in the later "oughts," these instruments, along with such novelties as the Wurlitzer harp, declined in popularity. About 3,000 were made, and only a few dozen still exist. This particular one was used in the "Comae" Saloon in Neihart, Montana. There was another in the Bale of Hay Saloon, although it was undamaged by the Bale fire in 1983, it was sold in 1990.
Location: Music Hall
Wurlitzer's largest production model, only five or six were ever made, by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Co., North Tonawanda, NY and only two complete models of this organ still exist. Originally shipped in 1929 to Spillman Engineering (manufactures of carousels), then it was returned to the factory and reshipped in 1936 to a church. Who apparently really wanted to wake up the congregation!
Charlie Bovey got the 180 from Mr. Cargill of Excelsior Park, Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota. It has two-tracker bars so it could play continuously with no delay for rewind. Originally it played Wurlitzer Caliola rolls (APP .rolls); however, currently, it’s been returned to play Wurlitzer 165 band organ rolls.
Only about one-third of the original organ remains, many of the missing pipes having been replaced by Ozzie Wurdeman with pipes from the Wurlitzer Organ originally in the Marlow Theatre in Helena
Location: Music Hall
The Gavioli 89 Key Band Organ is definitely an instrument that you must see when visiting the Music Hall, actually, it’s an instrument that you can’t miss. Considering the fact that its width takes up the entire back wall of the museum. Only one hundred or so of its size was ever made and only one of the dozen still exist in its unaltered condition worldwide.
The instrument was created by Gavioli et Cie, of Paris, France who was one of the first major builders of fairground organs. He created these instruments as a way to entertain the public primarily while they were on amusement rides, midways, and in skating rings.
The huge organ was originally played by folding cardboard book music and a keyframe with metal “key” levers that read the rectangular holes in the folding cardboard music books. It was later converted to a “keyless” frame in 1959 by Ozzie Wurdeman to play B.A.B. 87 note rolls. This process involved substituting the keyframe with a keyless frame that still exists in the cabinet behind the organ.
It is believed that this item was collected during World War I, it was traded to the USA by the French Government in an attempt to prevent starvation throughout their country. They traded the instrument for a carload (railroad) of flour.
Once the instrument was in the USA it was used in various indoor locations that can be compared to “Coney Island” before it was moved to the shops of the Molinari Organ Works in Brooklyn, NY where it stood entertaining crowns for years.
The Gavioli 89 Key Band Organ was among the many instruments purchased from the B.A.B. Organ Co. and added to Charlie Bovey collection in July 1958. At that time it was the largest and most important organ within the collection. Later, quoted by Art Reblitz, a world-famous automatic musical instrument restoration expert, that this instrument was "One of America's greatest European fairground organs.”
The remarkable collections at Virginia City, MT, and Nevada City, MT are as crucial to the history of the entire Western United States as they are to the history of Montana. The fact that Virginia City has remained a viable community and never became an abandoned “ghost town” means that its artifacts from many periods-not just the 1860s-have unusual historical importance.
It is well known that a historic site or museum must have “life” to attract visitors and repeatedly bring them back. Virginia City, MT, and Nevada City, MT have several unique attractions that have brought people from around the world every year. Friends and families are excited to see what new live programs will be showing at the Opera House and the Brewery Follies, and they can’t wait to put another quarter in their favorite music machine.
Music machines represent a completely different type of antique (or near-antique) from museum-caliber paintings and other artworks. These instruments were made for public entertainment and were meant to be used. Coin pianos, orchestrions, and band organs are extremely durable “overbuilt,” in contrast to today’s throw-away subminiature electronic devices and other conveniences. To the extent that if properly maintained, they will still be capable of entertaining people for hundreds of years.
The instruments displayed at Virginia and Nevada Cities have been known as one of the United States’ most important collections, it has attracted visitors from all over the country since the 1950s.
In the 1950s, each part of the country had a significant publicly displayed, privately owned collection of music machines. Most of today’s private collectors, historians, and enthusiasts first became interested when they saw and heard instruments in public displays. This interest continued until private collectors bought most of the instruments which used to be displayed publicly. Consequently, most music machines are now in private collections where younger generations can no longer see them.
If this trend continues, future generations will lose a valuable part of their musical culture and heritage: wonderful musical “time machines” that do not play recordings or simulations of the music but rather play the actual performances that brought delight to earlier generations. Despite all the negative press currently given to American youth and its culture, I am delighted to note that young children and adults still enjoy seeing and hearing the instruments in the Music Hall performing their musical magic.
In contrast to the U.S., many thriving museums feature automatic instruments in Europe (mainly Germany) and Japan. Many beautiful instruments have left America for these foreign museums in the past 20 years.
A few highly successful examples of historic sites around the country use private and public funding for the ongoing maintenance of publicly-used mechanical antiques; however, Virginia City, MT is still in existence. I encourage you to come, see and hear the excellent work that has been done to this collection. I guarantee you will not regret it.
Check out some of our favorite photos below. You can also check out our Gallery page for more pictures.
1578 MT-287, Nevada City, Montana
The Nevada City, MT Music Hall houses the one of the largest public collection of automated music machines in North America. Charles and Sue Bovey began collecting the machines in the 1940’s, bringing together a unique assortment of antiques like no other collection anywhere. Many of these machines are still in great working order, while others are being restored in partnership with AMICA’s (Automated Musical Instrument Collector’s Association) Adopt-A-Piano program.
Charles and Sue Bovey began collecting buildings in the early 1940s. The Sullivan Saddlery, moved with its contents from Fort Benton to the Great Falls fairgrounds, became the first building of their “Old Town.” In 1959 Bovey was asked to remove his collection in Great Falls. Nevada City, MT became a haven for those historic buildings and others acquired later. There are more than ninety buildings along Nevada City’s streets. A few are original, many have been carefully placed along the streets, and some are constructions. In 1997, the State of Montana purchased the Bovey properties in both Virginia City, MT and Nevada City, MT. But as you can discover, Nevada City, MT is a treasure chest of gems from across Montana. Step into the past and enjoy this unique adventure!
Every year is different in Virginia City here are some fun events we have had in the past years.