Bearnstow’s Peg-Leg Piano

A story for Bearnstow campers past and future

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?

The old Island Park Bridge led to the popular dance pavilion shown on the left. Just a short trolley ride from Augusta, this was the place to be for a good time during the early 1900s.
Bearnstow’s piano dates back to the 1920s and 30s (perhaps ear­lier) and was used at the Island Park Dance Pavilion on Lake Cobbosseecontee, a large 8.6 square-mile lake a few miles west of Augusta. In 1903, the Augusta, Winthrop and Gardiner Street Railway created a recreation area at the north end of the lake. The Island Park project, which included the open-air Dance Pavilion, was undertaken to attract riders to their trolleys.

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. Island Park was indeed one of the “hot spots” in central Maine. Read Memories of Island Park on Facebook.

Caretaker Clifton Frost in 1956

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 Bearnstow’s 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.

Guy Lombardo is said to have had the piano’s leg cut, permitting its rear end to rest on the stage so it could be closer to his orchestra. Bearnstow’s care­taker Clifton Frost cut a log to the exact diameter and length.
Photo by Dasha Chernova

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 (that’s Guy Lombardo of New Year’s Eve fame, who played “Auld Lang Syne” on radio and TV from New York’s 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 Lombardo’s piano wasn’t at Bearnstow long before it was clear that the ugly crate holding it up just wouldn’t 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.