Richard O. Haffer, 70, theater pipe organ expert

April 26, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Richard Odell Haffer, a theater pipe organ expert and retired CSX railroad manager, died of heart failure Friday at his Severna Park home. He was 70.

Mr. Haffer was born in Baltimore, raised in the Morrell Park neighborhood and graduated in 1954 from Polytechnic Institute.

"As a teenager, he worked as an usher at the old Century Theatre and came to love the sound of the great theater organ that played there daily," said Ray Davidson, a longtime friend. "He was later promoted to head usher, where one of his duties included raising the lift for the organ for the legendary Baltimore theater organist Harvey Hammond."

Drafted into the Army after high school, he served in Chicago, where in his spare time he helped in restoring the Chicago Theatre's famed Wurlitzer organ.

After completing his military service, Mr. Haffer returned to Baltimore and began a railroad career of more than 40 years with a job in the Baltimore & Ohio advance ticket sales department. He retired as a manager for successor company CSX in 1997.

In 1961, while working as a member of the organ crew at the State Theater on East Monument Street, Mr. Haffer was asked by Jack Fruchtman Sr., owner of J.F. Theaters, to direct restoration of the organ in the now-demolished Stanley Theater.

It took several years for Mr. Haffer and his crew of volunteers to dismantle and rebuild the organ, which had not been cleaned since its installation in 1927. The organ had at least 15,000 moving parts and 2,635 pipes - some as thin as the diameter of a pencil, others 16 feet high and 2 1/2 feet square at the top.

Renamed the Stanton amid the project, the theater presented the Baltimore stage premiere of The Music Man in 1962, and - though only partially restored - "the huge Kimball pipe organ rose from the orchestra pit for the first time in 12 years to the cheers of the audience," Mr. Davidson said.

"The work, which has all been done gratis, necessitated the removal of more than 2,000 pipes and washing them by hand as well as replacing the 3,000 hinges of leather and rubber attached to the movable parts," The Sun reported in 1964.

"If you were born and raised in Baltimore, you recall your many experiences in such theaters as the Stanley. It was a 3,000-seat theater, and its Kimball organ was the third-largest in the East. Radio City was first, and the Atlanta Fox was second," said Roy Wagner, past president of the Free State Theatre Organ Society. "Richard was what they call `keeper of the organ' and was responsible for overseeing the work that kept it playing. It was a complex and involved affair.

"He and his crew could only begin work around 1 a.m. after the last movie had been shown. They'd take a section apart and check the leather pouches in the pipes, and I remember one night when Richard said, `We need a piece of leather. Whose shoe are we going to cut up?'"

After the final performance of Oliver in 1965, the organ was removed and the Stanton was bulldozed for a parking lot. The organ was kept in storage for 25 years before its parts were dispersed around the country and installed in other organs.

Even though he couldn't play the instrument, Mr. Haffer had perfect pitch, friends said, and was often called backstage to make last-minute tunings or repairs at organ concerts.

"Over the years, he was involved in numerous home installations of theater organs and traveled the country extensively attending concerts and conventions," Mr. Davidson said.

He was a member of the American Theatre Organ Society, and as a member of the Free State society he helped maintain its 1922 organ that once thrilled silent-movie audiences at the Metropolitan Theater at North and Pennsylvania avenues. It was reinstalled in an auditorium at the state's Spring Grove Hospital Center.

Mr. Haffer was alsointerested in wooden boats from the 1950s and was a member of the Richardson Boat Owners Association.

Services are private.

There are no survivors.

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