The Aeolian Organ

The Secrets of Ca’ d’Zan with Ron McCarty
By Ed Bertha
Photography By Giovanni Lunardi

The elegance and beauty of Ringling’s historic Ca’d’Zan, could only be matched by the orchestral sounds of the Aeolian Duo-Art Pipe Organ installed in January of 1925. Mable Ringling presented numerous concerts and musicales regularly at the mansion that became legendary in the Sarasota community. The custom built organ was installed in the main room of the house, the Court having a three-manual console that included a Duo-Art mechanism that could play recorded music from paper rolls. The enormous two-story organ chamber houses two-thousand two hundred eighty nine organ pipes that are concealed behind two 17th century Flemish tapestries on the mezzanine level of the Court.

The Aeolian Company was the finest builders of Pipe Organs for private residences in the United States with such patrons as Oliver H.P. Belmont, Frank Woolworth, William K. Vanderbilt, Joseph Pulitzer John D. Rockefeller and R.B. Mellon. The Ringling’s signing a contract for Opus Number 1559 on August 12, 1924 ordering the instrument having a three manual keyboard and pedals. The manual compass of 61 notes, pedal compass with 32 notes and Aeolian Solo (semi-automatic music rolls). The organ was installed January 1925 with a custom made console having gothic detailing to match the gothic flavor of the interior as well as the building’s exterior.

Having such a complete instrument is very rare with many Aeolian organs removed from the Gilded Age mansions and used as scrap metal during World War II leaving a small number in their original settings. As organs became less fashionable in the 1950’s to the 1970’s, they were removed from the old mansions and given to churches or even theaters. One recently came up on eBay that came from one of the Vanderbilt homes and could be purchased for $75,000.00. One of the major problems with buying an organ in this arena would be the fact that you have no idea of how the pipes were removed and if a great deal of damage occurred during the removal from the estate. Our instrument has been cared for like a gem with all pipes removed for the restoration into specially made crates to protect and prepare for the day of their restoration. We rotate the pipes once per year to guarantee that no reshaping has occurred with the long summer months in storage.

Only 30 Aeolian organs were built in the State of Florida and if 5 remain I would be totally surprised.

Ron McCarty