Sunday, October 25, 2015

Freighting the Tabernacle Organ ... or Whoops, Did I Repeat an Urban Legend?

From Wikipedia.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir was broadcasting from the Salt Lake Tabernacle instead of the Conference Center this morning, so I told my son the story that I saw in the family history and wrote into a biography of Sidney Tanner:
The Tanners lived in San Bernardino until 1857, when Brigham Young called the settlers back to Utah Territory at the time Johnston’s Army was threatening the Saints. Sidney and his family settled in the beautiful valley of Beaver, Utah, after Sidney delivered the new Tabernacle pipe organ to Salt Lake City.
Sidney Tanner
I pointed to the great bank of organ pipes and said that it had some of the original pipes that Sidney would have helped transport. Then my History Hogwash Meter™ kicked in and I remembered that the Tabernacle was built in the 1860s, several years after the Saints left San Bernardino.

An official History of the Tabernacle notes that Joseph Ridges constructed the organ for the new Tabernacle out of ponderosa pine from Pine Valley, Utah, a logging settlement in the mountains above St. George. Like our Bryant-Parkinson-Stapley family, Joseph Ridges was an English emigrant from Australia. His family settled first in San Bernardino, then moved to Salt Lake City during the Utah War

But it would be a mistake to abandon the family story even though it doesn't fit into this timeline: the Tabernacle shown above was the second Tabernacle the Church built. The first one was an adobe building situated where the Assembly Hall is now, and it did, in fact, have an organ built by Joseph Ridges in Australia and transported across the Pacific Ocean and then across the Mojave Desert and through old Utah Territory to Great Salt Lake City.

1855 Carl Flemming map of the Southwest, David Rumsey maps

Here is the story of the first organ from a Church News article provided by Joseph Ridge's family.
[Around 1853] Joseph became convinced of the truth of the gospel. He and his wife were later baptized. 
In his spare time he began to build a small, seven-stop pipe organ. Fascinated with the instrument, Mission President Augustus Farnham asked Ridges to donate it to the Church in Salt Lake City. Ridges agreed, and when Pres. Farnham sailed for Utah, he was accompanied by the Ridges—and the organ—who were among a company of 120 aboard the Jenny Ford. When the ship landed in California, they accompanied the members to San Bernardino.... 
Joseph H. Ridges
The following spring Brigham Young sent teams and wagons to haul the organ to Salt Lake City, where it arrived in June 1857. The small organ was installed in the small adobe tabernacle that was built on Temple Square where the Assembly Hall now stands. But with Johnston's Army approaching Utah, the organ was dismantled and packed, and was evacuated to the south along with the population of Salt Lake City. When the fear of war was over, the organ was returned to the old tabernacle, and when the Assembly Hall was built, many of its pipes and better parts were incorporated into the Assembly Hall organ. 
In the 1860's, construction on the present Tabernacle began. Brigham Young asked Ridges, who was then farming in Provo, if he could build a grand organ for the new building. Although Ridges' only previous organ-building experience was on the small organ, he had no doubt that he could build a large organ.... (Source.)
Stuart Grow's thesis "A Historical Study of the Construction of the Salt Lake Tabernacle" specifies that the organ was transported by teams sent from San Bernardino by Charles C. Rich and Amasa M. Lyman (Sidney's brother-in-law). The organ was played for the first time in the Old Tabernacle on October 11, 1857. (Link.)

The Old Tabernacle to the left of the New Tabernacle.

Since the family preserved this memory and Sidney was one of a small group of Mormon freighters running the dangerous trade route between Salt Lake City and San Bernardino, the biographical note about transporting the Tabernacle organ is undoubtedly true, and I will leave his biography mostly as is, but add a note about it being the Old Tabernacle organ.

According to the Church News article, part of the Australian organ was used for the Assembly Hall organ after the Assembly Hall was built on the site of the Old Tabernacle. Here is a picture.

Creative Commons, used as is, Aaron Goodwin, Flickr. 

Note: There's a new well-reviewed history, Michael Hicks, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir: A Biography (2015). I haven't read it yet, but the reviews are positive.

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