Bearnstows Peg-Leg Piano
A permanent fixture, familiar to all Bearnstow past campers and workshop participants, is the grand piano in the southwest corner of Main Hall. Ever wonder why its rear leg is missing and replaced with a perfectly crafted log?
Over the years thousands of people from all over the state and beyond came to hear the Big Bands and dance the night away. The trolleys would make their way from Augusta, along the shore and then stop at the bridge to let people walk over to the Dance Pavilion on Island Park. It was clearly the place to be for a good time in the early 20th century. At the height of its popularity, the park hosted more than 1,200 visitors a day. Read Memories of Island Park.
After many years of hosting the Big Bands, the Pavilion finally closed after 1941 when the U.S. entered World War II, and patrons became engaged in the war effort. And the piano the Big Bands used now stands in Bearnstows Main Hall. Ruth Grauert tells how it got there:
Bearnstow got the piano in 1946. I believe that it was our insurance broker who knew of a piano in a storage house in Augusta that was being condemned by eminent domain and that we could probably get it cheap.
The piano cost us $85 delivered to the Hall. The storage house supplied the truck and a couple of men with piano-moving know-how. They enhanced the foot bridge for the weight load, and about eight other men (mostly local neighbors recruited by our caretaker, Clifton Frost) very slowly maneuvered it by hand on its side into the hall.
Once inside Main Hall, the piano had to be placed on a crate to prop it up because the rear leg had been partially cut off. Why was its leg cut? That is attributed to one very famous band leader. Among the many Big Bands to perform at Island Park was Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians (thats Guy Lombardo of New Years Eve fame, who played Auld Lang Syne on radio and TV from New Yorks Roosevelt Hotel and the Waldorf Astoria from 1929 to 1976).
The story goes that Lombardo, in order to bring the piano closer to the orchestra, had the leg cut so that the rear end of the piano could rest on the low platform stage of the Dance Pavilion.
But Lombardos piano wasnt at Bearnstow long before it was clear that the ugly crate holding it up just wouldnt do. So Cliff the caretaker cut a log to just the right length and diameter and sanded it down, and the piano has rested on its log leg ever since.