Restoring a Wonder (Part 1)

Greetings, Friends!

Where to begin! The last year has been a wonderful one on the Wonder Morton project. Though we have been quiet by email, we have been hard at work testing, cataloguing, measuring, and cleaning. I wanted to share with you some of the projects we have been working on to get the Wonder Morton playing perfectly again.

Since we began our work on the project in late 2016, we have removed the left side of the organ and stored it safely in a room in the theatre. All 806 pipes, percussions, chests, and framework, are organized and have been documented, ready for their cleaning and restoration.

Currently, the theatre is beginning the restoration process of the left side chamber, repairing plaster, providing new electrics, and repainting. The Wonder Morton (whom the NYTOS crew lovingly calls "Mort") will have a new and clean home for the restored pipework and woodwork to go into. We are also currently working on studying of the acoustical properties of the chamber to ensure the organ speaks well into the theatre. One of the complaints of the past told to us by organists who played the organ was that it seemed quiet or muffled compared to the sister organs, especially the Kings in Brooklyn. Without too much alteration to the original instrument, we are trying to ensure the organ has a clear speaking path into the theatre and that each surface in the chamber is reinforced acoustically. Once we figure out what this will take, we will be sure to let you know what we do!

In addition, the last few months for the NYTOS team have been ripe with experimentation and documentation of this remarkable instrument. As many of you know, the pipe organ is an unbelievably complicated musical instrument. To keep all of the items of this massive and complicated instrument straight, we are using an online database called Airtable. This is like a complicated Excel spreadsheet. This allows us to keep tabs on every item in the organ so we keep track of what still needs to be done, and what has yet to be done, and we can attach pictures of everything. It’s been a very useful tool for us.

After all of the current documentation was completed and the parts were labeled, we started the lengthy process of cleaning all of the wood framework of the left side. It is easy to imagine a pipe organ like a complicated musical treehouse. We have taken the legs and frame of the treehouse down and we are cleaning each part (being careful of the original labels and pencil markings) with acetone and denatured alcohol. Once all of the dirt is removed, we reseal it with very similar materials to what Robert Morton would have used.

A board before cleaning.

A board before cleaning and sealing.

A board drying after cleaning and sealing.

A board after cleaning and sealing.

Many organ parts, including pipework, of this period were sealed with Shellac. Shellac is an all natural substance that coats many things still today, such as jellybeans and nail polish. As a wood sealer, however, it has been replaced with modern polyurethanes.

One of the important elements for us was to match the original color of the shellac in the Morton. The original color for Robert Morton was Lemon, a color that is only available in "raw" shellac flake form. We are taking these raw flakes and dissolving them in denatured alcohol so it can be applied evenly over all wood surfaces after we clean them twice. The wood has aged a bit and will be darker than when it was installed, as you can see in the photo, but any of the wood that was not exposed to the elements still has its incredible golden yellow color. The wood in this chamber is going to shine.

Next for us is going to be more framework and restoration of some of the organs winding and ductwork. These are the wood boxes and metal pipes that bring the wind to the pipes. There are quite a lot of them…

Also on our radar is fundraising. While we have had an incredible outpouring of support from friends and fans of the organ, we are still in need of funds to keep this project going. We still don’t have enough funds to send any pipe work or the console off to professional restoration experts. Our overall goal is $250,000 for the Left Side is the organ, $25,000 of which has been raised so far.

We are currently looking for a friend to help us with grant applications and fundraising. If you would be willing to help this incredible effort, please email me at Any help at all would be spectacular. Also feel free to send me any questions about this restoration.

More updates coming soon.

Nick Myers

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