A piece of Myrtle Beach history that entertained tourists and locals for nearly 60 years has been moved from its usual spot at Broadway at the Beach, but the owners say it’s not gone for good.
The hand-carved Baden Band Organ — which dates back to the 1900s and was a staple at the Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park until it shut down in 2006 — was removed from its home at the Pavilion Nostalgia Park at Broadway at the Beach in the last couple of weeks, sparking disappointment among some locals and tourists. The area that used to house the historic organ has been transformed into a Demolition Derby bumper car zone.
Crews moved the 11-foot-tall organ, which operates with old-style cardboard music, to an indoor facility and it will go back on display somewhere in Myrtle Beach, though officials aren’t yet saying when and where.
“Over the last 60 years, the outdoor display conditions at the Pavilion and Broadway at the Beach have been less than perfect as the salt air and humidity have been harsh on the organ’s components,” said Lei Gainer, spokeswoman for Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc., which owns the organ. “Recently, to ensure the function of the organ over the long term, the company relocated the organ from Broadway at the Beach to an indoor facility. The company is currently pursuing an alternative display option for the organ that will offer the general public good viewing access, while providing conditions that will preserve the organ for future generations.”
That’s a relief to tourists such as Henry Newton of High Point, N.C., who grew up coming to Myrtle Beach and remembers watching the organ at the oceanfront Pavilion. He said he was “deeply saddened“ to see it not in its usual place at Broadway at the Beach last weekend.
“My heart sank when I saw bumper cars in its place,” he said. “Bumper cars carry memories, but not like the organ. The organ was priceless. It was an institution and steeped in Myrtle Beach history.”
Sharon Braziel, who works at an information booth operated by Wyndham just around the corner from the Pavilion Nostalgia Park, discovered last week that the organ was gone after a visitor from Delaware wanting to take pictures of it asked her where it went, but she didn’t know.
“People are still looking for it,” said Braziel, reminiscing about how the organ was one of the first things she took in at the Pavilion downtown after moving here from California. “That was really, really surprising. I am very sad that it is gone.”
The band organ was a popular feature at the oceanfront Pavilion, regularly attracting crowds with its music, twirling figures and cherubs that play cymbals, bells and drums. The organ is 11 feet tall and 20 feet long and weighs about two tons. It has 400 pipes, 98 keys and operates with cardboard music, most of which was composed more than a half century ago.
The organ was built in the 1890s at Waldkirch in Baden, Germany by A. Ruth & Sohn, who hand carved the figurines and decorations. It was specially built for the World Exposition in Paris in 1900, then was moved from town to town in Europe on a large wagon pulled by six horses, Myrtle Beach historian Blanche Floyd wrote in a column for The Sun News in 1991. The organ became the property of a wealthy American industrialist in the 1920s, and he placed it in a specially built room in his home on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., Floyd wrote.
When Myrtle Beach Farms, now known as B&C, expanded the Pavilion in the 1950s, a representative went to Martha’s Vineyard to check out the organ. In 1954, it was shipped to Myrtle Beach and set up at the Pavilion.
“The band organ was in the middle of the park, and kids pedaled little ‘rail carts’ around it and under the ‘Wild Mouse’ ride,” Newton said. “There were bench seats where our parents could sit and enjoy the organ and its beauty and at the same time watch us pedal around.”
In 2006, B&C shipped off the organ for restoration, and it returned to the Pavilion downtown for about a month before the amusement park shut down for good.
During that restoration, the organ was completely disassembled and each piece was reconditioned or rebuilt. B&C touted the organ’s return in August 2006, saying “this instrument has become a symbol of The Pavilion, and to have its music echo throughout the park again is very exciting.”
B&C said then that it had invested about $89,500 in repairs or restoration to the organ in the early to mid-2000s. B&C said this week that the organ is still a treasured part of the Grand Strand.
“Many of our visitors still tell us stories about seeing it for the first time when they were kids coming to the beach,” Gainer said. “We want these experiences to continue in the future.”
Another historic ride from the oceanfront Pavilion — the Herschell-Spillman carousel that debuted in Myrtle Beach in the 1950s — continues to operate at Broadway at the Pavilion Park near the Hampton Inn.