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Forbidden Donut | all galleries >> Galleries >> The House On The Rock > 100 year old violin playing machine.
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100 year old violin playing machine.

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Lara Kupsh 11-May-2009 16:12
I can attest to the fact that Thomas Kupsh did the work described and more. I am his daughter and he worked there for years.
Guest 20-Nov-2007 07:52
Ben, I should also mention that the steam carriages (which you call "horseless wagons") in the Streets of Yesterday were built by Mike Olp. In fact, one of them was so good it even fooled Alex himself! I think all of them are fakes and products of the imagination rather than representations of actual machines. Prove me wrong: have YOU ever seen an actual original steam carriage?
Andrew 20-Nov-2007 07:38
Alex didn't actually build much himself. He was more of a designer and imaginer than a builder. Tom Kupsh did many of the sculptures and figures found at the attraction, such as the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the devil's head doorway in the carousel room, and the bulldog on the carousel. Don Martin did a lot of work on the Streets of Yesterday, which was inspired by an exhibit, "The Streets of Old Milwaukee" done by Paul Yank at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Many of the music machines, real and fake, were restored or built by John Hovancak, Art Reblitz, and Dave Ramey.

This particular instrument, the Double Mills Violano-Virtuoso, is actually a real old-time instrument, though it doesn't actually date back to 100 years ago. These instruments were built by the Mills Novelty Co. of Chicago from about 1912-1930. The Violano-Virtuoso was the invention of Mr. Henry K. Sandell, a talented immigrant. The first patents date to about 1904, and the first production model (1906) contained just the violin, and was called the "Automatic Virtuosa". I think just one of these has survived, and it is in a private collection. The piano was not added until about 1909, and this model was not initially popular. It wasn't until Mr. Sandell designed a symmetrical piano (patent #1,028,496), and the instrument was renamed the "Violano-Virtuoso" that it became popular. The Double model (with two violins and piano) was not introduced until the 1920's and was never as popular as the single model, probably because it was more expensive and the two violins play the same notes from the same style roll anyway. Out of an estimated 4,000 or so Violanos that were made, about 1,000 single-violin and 50 double-violin models are known to exist today. These huge numbers are accounted for by the facts that: they were all-electric rather than pneumatic, and lasted longer and were somewhat easier to rebuild; they took up less space than a regular piano, being cabinet-sized; and they were correctly perceived as unusual and unique, and worthy of preservation.

If you don't believe any of this, read pages 506-525 of the "Encylopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments" by Q. David Bowers, or better yet, go to a public display, such as San Sylmar (the Nethercutt Collection) in Southern California, or the Music House Museum in Michigan, where restored Violanos reside and are regularly demonstrated. There are also videos of Violanos on Youtube.

This particular double Mills was originally restored and played, however sometime in later years, it sounds like synthesizers have been wired in to substitute for the violins, judging from a field recording posted to the internet (the instrument was out of order when I visited in person).

I strongly believe that if a dedicated and knowledgable person were kept on the staff solely to maintain the instruments at House on the Rock, and visited once or twice a week, that all the instruments could be maintained in tip-top shape instead of various states of disrepair.
Ben 18-Oct-2007 15:03
Probably not 100 years old. Most of the "Antiques" are recreations. Some, like the 'horseless wagons' in the streets of yesterday, were actually built by Alex Jordan Jr. out of scraps. Another example is the 'Tiffany' lamps, actually recreations built by a company in Wisconsin, and the Ivory Carvings made by a man named Richard Rahn.