This barrel piano is a more recent addition to the museum's collection and is believed to have been used to provide music for the Merry-Go-Round or carousel at Kingston Point Park.
A barrel piano, also known as a street piano, uses a hand crank to turn a pinned barrel. The pins in the barrel hit the levers of the piano hammers, which then strike the piano strings, making a sound. How the pins are placed on the barrel determines what song is played. The person operating the crank must move it in a steady rhythm, or the music will come out jumbled.
Sometimes confused with other crank instruments like the barrel organ (which uses forced air and pipes to make sound) or the hurdy gurdy (which turns a rosined wheel against the strings of a violin-like instrument), the barrel piano was often a feature of amusement parks. Also not to be confused with the steam calliope, which would have provided music aboard steamboats and was powered by their steam engines.
The museum's particular barrel piano, also known as a cylinder piano, was manufactured by E. Bona & A. Atoniazzi in New York City. Little is known about the original owners, but the company became known later as the B.A.B. Organ Company. You can read more about the company history here.
To hear what a barrel piano might have sounded like, check out this video of one playing a very complex piece of music.
If you would like to see the barrel piano in person, come visit the Hudson River Maritime Museum and head to the East Gallery.
On Tuesdays the Hudson River Maritime Museum will share interesting images from its collection. We hope you enjoy these brief forays into the past!
The merry-go-round at Kingston Point Park, from a postcard circa 1906. A ferris wheel was the other amusement ride at the park. Mostly people strolled around, ate picnic lunches at tables scattered throughout the park, and listened to the band playing in their bandstand in the lagoon. Hudson River Maritime Museum Collection
Kingston Point Park was built as a steamboat landing, amusement park, and gardens in the 1890s. Featuring a trolley station and Ulster & Delaware Railroad Station nearby, Kingston Point Park served as a central hub for tourists and travelers to come to Kingston in the early 20th century.
For decades the Hudson River Day Line had docked primarily at Rhinecliff, and visitors to Kingston had to use the ferry to cross the river. But Samuel Coykendall, president of the Thomas Cornell Steamboat Company, saw the potential of Kingston Point. Coykendall was also involved in the Ulster & Delaware Railroad, and many passengers were coming to Kingston to go to the Catksill Mountain Houses, so taking the railroad to their final destination was obvious.
Opened in 1896, the landing was soon populated with a hotel, amusement park rides (like the above merry-go-round carousel), boat rentals, bandstand, and more. But by 1928, nothing was left. The short-lived landing has left hundreds of postcards and photographs evoking the romance of the heyday of steamboat tourism in the Hudson River Valley.
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
The Hudson River Maritime Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the maritime history of the Hudson River, its tributaries, and related industries.
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