3 men 'cast out demons' from 1928 pipe organ

JACQUES KELLY

September 24, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

After a decade of work, an auto mechanic, a computer specialist and an usher made the notes of "Rock of Ages" resound through the auditorium at the Third Church of Christ Scientist.

Last Sunday, a 65-year-old church organ was running again at 702 Cathedral Street, an address that faces Baltimore's Mount Vernon Place and has a special place in local presidential history.

The three retired men who decided to repair and re-leather the 1928 pipe organ, originally made in Hagerstown at the M. P. Moller works, are not musicians or professional musical mechanics.

"We had estimates that it might cost more than $100,000 to rebuild the organ. We couldn't afford that. We did it ourselves," said Dewey L. Jackson, a retired Luby Chevrolet mechanic and church member.

"Even in bad shape, she sounded good," said Ed Stricker, a retired computer technician who likes to work with mechanical gadgets and rescue temperamental old musical devices.

John Lukas, the church's head usher and music committee leader, helped another way: "I like music and know the scales," he said. "When the two other fellows would be up in the pipe chamber, I would sit at the keyboard and hit a C note."

Stricker is not a musician. If asked, he will finger out a simple version of hymns. Otherwise, he leaves the music to William Griggsby, the congregation's regular musician. But he became interested in organ music 50 years ago with an assist from an old Philco radio.

"I used to listen to WCAO, when Roland Nuttrell played on the 'Nocturne' program broadcast late at night at the Parkway Theatre on North Avenue. I liked his music and got interested in the sound," he said.

After World War II, Stricker began buying organ records, building his own hi-fi systems. He then joined in groups formed to preserve and save old theater pipe organs, the instruments that added music to silent films in the 1920s. One of these organizations, the Free State Theatre Organ Society, is slowly rebuilding a 1920s model salvaged from the old Metropolitan Theatre that once stood at North and Pennsylvania avenues.

Stricker, who is not a member of the church, was paid a small fee for his labors. The other two men worked as volunteers. For 10 years, they typically gave one Thursday a week. Whole sections of the organ had to be removed from a very confined cavity high above the church auditorium's proscenium arch.

"We'd take out the pipes one by one so that we could get back into the chamber," Stricker said. The organ has 811 wood, zinc, spotted metal, lead and tin pipes.

Its pipes had to be re-leathered, wherein pouches attached to each pipe needed individual replacing.

The Third Church of Christ Scientist is an unusual Mount Vernon landmark in a neighborhood where every corner seems to have a noteworthy building, not to mention another in mid-block. The church's claim to historical fame is its association with President Abraham Lincoln, who stayed the night here April 18, 1864.

At that time the house that ultimately became the Third Church was a private residence owned by William J. Albert, who was president of the Sanitary Fair, a forerunner of what became the Red Cross. Albert was one of Baltimore's merchant-princes and lived in high style on Cathedral Street. The place has a pair of secret panels, a magnificent curving staircase and all the parlors, drawing rooms and salons usually associated with "The Age of Innocence" in architecture.

Architects Niernsee and Neilson, who gave Baltimore so many landmarks, from Camden Station to the College of Notre Dame, devised this grand double-width residence. The house later belonged to Margaret Abell Griffis before passing into church ownership 70 years ago.

But even with a house that had more rooms than some hotels do, there was not space for a Christian Science church auditorium.

So the residence's old stables were demolished and its garden was taken to accommodate the auditorium, a speaker's platform, organ and a gold-leaf panel that reads, "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons."

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