Deep inside Memorial Hall

... a photo essay: Where few are invited to go

from the SilverStringers

When Ed Boyd went to interview Memorial Hall Director Chuck Person a couple of weeks ago, he invited Stringers Don Norris and Louise Fennell -- to provide photo coverage. This was actually the first shot -- not by Louise nor Don, but by Chuck, who had climbed high onto the catwalk and (with Don's Nikon) shot this impressive photo of the three of us, amid the chairs of the Melrose Symphony Orchestra.

Not in order, but our tour included GAR Hall -- a smaller auditorium and meeting room at the front. It is the traditional meeting place of veterans from, first, the Civil War -- veterans who were in their sixties and seventies when Memorial Hall was built in 1912 -- then the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq. The "GAR" stands for Grand Army of the Republic, and that is General (later President) Ulysses S. Grant, in marble. The left pix is typical of the statuary and theme of this beautiful gothic hall.

From the floor of the big auditorium, one looks up at the 50-foot stage, with its ornate bronzed ornamentation. It is a deceiving view for behind that back wall are the intriguing works for one of the two remaining grand organs produced by the Austin Organ Company of Hartford. Behind that wall are the tightly packed pipes -- what seems like hundreds and hundreds of pipes, the pressure tubes and three (what we could see) of the accordion-like pumps to provide air to all those pipes. It is a maze, backstage.

Director Person's tour included access to those organ works, through the very narrow, ornate doorway right on the stage. One had to be slim and agile to fit in the tight spaces of the organ's anatomy. Several doors were about one foot wide, and stair-ladders went up into the darkness above at a precipitous angle.

There is a room within this maze, small and compact, that contains three accordion-like pumps. A pipe disappears into the floor, and an actuating wire (we think) runs up to the ceiling -- and goes goodness knows where. The organ, with its four keyboards and endless footpedals, is perhaps six feet wide, yet it is on rollers and can be hand-pushed onto the stage -- trailing numerous wires, hoses  and tubes.

Again Chuck climbed solo to the catwalk, for pictures from overhead. He later told us that, at the annual Christmas play, "snow" is sifted down from buckets -- by stagehands on the catwalk. Not exactly like Radio City Hall in New York. We have no idea what the three golden globes (at right) are, but they are part of our tour.

The scene switches to the "basement" of Memorial Hall. Barely six feet tall, water from the Mothers' Day flood of 2006 put 2.5 feet on water here -- it came in faster than the pumps could push it out. Such flooding is not unexpected however, for the site is part of what was Dix Pond -- now the parking lot for Memorial Hall.

There is a greeting hall on this level, in front of the building (under GAR Hall), which used to be a dining area. Several years ago, however, the Rotary Club of Melrose provided a brand new kitchen -- not below, but just off the GAR Hall above. Nothing has been done with the room below, except there is a coat room, rest rooms, some limited storage and several "cubbies" where dust-covered books, manuals and documents reside, awaiting re-discovery.

January 4, 2008

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