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Organ Music Returns to the Castle

When the Joslyn Castle & Gardens was recently approached about an opportunity to bring organ music back into the historic home, the answer was an enthusiastic YES!

A crew of four church friends with a passion for salvaging historic organs sprang into action. Westminster Presbyterian at 35th and Woolworth was undergoing an ownership change and was looking to rehome their original pipe organ, installed when the church was built around 1923. Who could possibly house this giant instrument?

Thankfully, James Pierson (one of the organ-salvaging friends) thought of us. He remembered the Joslyn Castle’s music room had not housed an organ for over 90 years.

“I immediately thought of the Castle. I knew there used to be an organ in there and it would be really nice to have an organ returned to the Castle. It’s the right vintage for the room and it has beautiful stops,” Pierson said.

The original Aeolian pipe organ installed by the Joslyns was removed and donated to Sarah’s Joslyn Memorial (now Joslyn Art Museum) for their new concert hall in 1931, where it remained until 1949 when it was purchased by Milliken University of Decatur, Illinois.

When the music room was added to the Joslyn Castle in 1907 just four years after the completion of the home, it was uniquely designed to showcase the Joslyns’ love for music.

No expense was spared on the space, which featured elements of the Prairie school of design including art glass windows from the storied Linden Glass Company of Chicago, light fixtures showcasing a Macintosh rose motif, and of course the satinwood lattice that concealed the original organ pipes. 

The room was lowered to house the height of the towering two-story pipes. This was no run-of-the-mill instrument. It was custom commissioned for George Joslyn by the Aeolian company, and given a unique name: the Opus 1035.

This organ was a technological wonder for the time, and included a complex series of electromechanical switches that allowed secondary pipes to be installed throughout the home. There were even antiphonal division pipes installed in the third floor ballroom, effectively making the Joslyn Castle an early adopter of “surround sound” listening in the home.

The Joslyns were gracious hosts who welcomed the community into their home regularly for concerts in the space. Apparently, neither George nor Sarah were musically inclined, so they would often hire world-class organists for weeks-long residencies in their home. These professionals played nightly concerts on the Opus 1035, and often times George and Sarah sold tickets to the concerts as fundraisers for their many charitable causes.

The organ donation from Westminster Presbyterian heralds an exciting return to the Joslyns’ original premise for the music room.

Board member Francie Prier has been the lead coordinator on the Castle’s behalf for this project, and is utilizing funds raised by the Castle Guild to accommodate the new organ in the original space.

She said, “We were given the opportunity through the generosity of Westminster Presbyterian and these unique volunteers to bring organ music back to the Castle, just as George Joslyn originally intended.”

Currently, the pipes and console have been removed and are in storage until the slated January 2023 installation date.

The four friends with this rather uncommon skillset who made this plan come to life are James Pierson of the Cathedral Cultural Center, Sean Reed of Union Pacific, Dr. Danial Page, and Father Robert Scheiblhofer of St. Barnabas Church.

The friends are all self-taught on historic organ installation and maintenance, with a common love of preserving these historic instruments. Pierson said often times when a new venue cannot be found to house the organs, they are scrapped for the value of the metal. Their efforts allow future generations to continue to experience this unique instrument.

The friends have also completed a similar installation of a wayward organ at St. Barnabas Catholic Church.

The Joslyn Castle & Gardens is thrilled to welcome the community back into the music room to experience the space as it was originally intended – filled with organ music! Stay tuned for concert announcements in Spring 2023.