Since we’re on an historic preservation bent this month, we wanted to share Matt’s recent experience seeing – and hearing – the Wanamaker Grand Organ at Macy’s in Philadelphia. Built in 1911, the world’s largest operational pipe organ is still in excellent shape, thanks to its preservation group, the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ.
You may be wondering why Matt – not the biggest shopping fan – chose to spend his free time during a business trip in a twelve-floor department store.
Matt has grown up hearing his grandmother’s story about working at “Wanamaker’s,” (now Macy’s) when she was 18. To offer some context, Matt’s grandmother is now a sound 100 years old, so this was back in 1931! She was a seamstress by trade, and worked at the time for a hosiery company, demonstrating how to mend silk stockings.
Hearing her tell it, you realize that this was her first real adventure as a young woman in the big world beyond the small New York suburb she grew up in. Her eyes still light up when she recounts the grandeur of the Wanamaker Building. So Matt wanted to see it for himself, and share in her excitement.
So Matt wasn’t there to shop (not even a little something for his wife); he went straight to the organ. What you see from the central courtyard is only a partial view of the organ’s 28,500 pipes. The largest pipe is more than 32 feet long, and so wide that a Shetland Pony was once posed inside for publicity photos. The smallest pipe is only a quarter-inch in length.
The musicians sit in a massive console which has six ivory keyboards and 729 color-coded stop tablets. There are 168 piston buttons under the keyboards and 42 foot controls. The console weighs 2.5 tons, and the entire instrument weighs 287 tons!
What’s so fantastic about this grand instrument is not just its opulent design, but the amazing sound it makes. You can hear it being played – for free – every day at 12:00pm, and most evenings at either 5:30 or 7:00pm. Visitors are welcome to tour the console area and meet the staff following these 45-minute recitals.
So, close your eyes, and take a listen. No, seriously, close your eyes. The video is a little shaky.
And if you want a better view of those pipes, the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ give a comprehensive, two-hour tour of the organ on the last Saturday of the month ($20/person; reservations required).
The Wanamaker Organ at Macy’s
1300 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA