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The Organ Grinder: 1910

The Organ Grinder: 1910

An organ grinder on the streets of New York's Lower East Side circa 1910. 5x7 glass negative, George Grantham Bain Collection. View full size.


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Organ Grinder in Boston

In the 1960s, while I was a student in Boston, there was an organ grinder at the subway exit near Boylston Street. It was a good feeling to come up out of the depths onto the sunlit street and hear the organ music. I even bought an LP record he was selling, although I can't find it now.

Yiddish Signs

My Yiddish is not great, but what I can understand of the sign on the right is: "Don't go any further Market." Following is an account of the different plates they sell, one of which is chicken. The right side of the sign is cut off, so I can't see the beginning of the phrases.

What a great photo. Wish I could have been there to see it live... and join the organ grinder with my musical saw.

Saw Lady

Organ grinder

Great image. This appears to be a 'pipe' organ type. A web search of 'Busker organ' will lead you to further information if you have an interest. "Busker" is a term for a street performer working for tips. They were much more prevalent in Europe than the U.S. (this is also true today). Like bagpipes, you either like the sound, or you don't. Having built one for myself, I like it!

Recent Sighting....

While attending the Dickinson County Fair {MI}, six years ago, there was a organ grinder with a Capuchin monkey working the crowd on the midway and with nary a blink the monkey grabbed a quarter in a flash from our young son's hand, put it in a tin cup and scurried promptly up the grinder's pant leg and deposited it in the grinder's pants pocket....

Organ Grinder

I remember seeing an organ grinder, with a monkey, at the Sonoma County Fair in the late 70s. Or maybe it was in San Francisco... I was little at the time, 4 or 5, but I swear it's true. After that, organ grinders promptly disappeared from the face of the earth. Any more recent sightings?

Re: The Monkey Is Off Camera

Of the 13 photos of organ grinders on actual streets (as opposed to studio portraits) in the LOC archives, only two show monkeys. If there was a monkey, I'm pretty sure GGB would have put it in the picture.

The Monkey Is Off Camera

It is a virtual certainty that there was a monkey nearby.
The children appear to be watching something off to the right, possibly the monkey asking for money.

The monkey could also be behind the grinder, the boy to his rear appears to be holding a tether.

Angelo Rulli is an organ grinder historian. He says that while the music was supposed to be the real draw, the organ grinder's monkey was a necessary tool of the trade.
"The monkey was a matter of economics. Because the monkey has an opposable thumb the monkey could hold a cup and by holding a cup, the monkey could go out into the crowd and bang people on the knees and collect money while the grinder was plying his trade."

The monkey may have collected the cash, but it wasn't necessarily for the reason you'd think. It was more often to get rid of them rather than for musical appreciation.
"The irony of the grinder and the music that was played is that as often as not, they were paid to get out of the neighborhood...because it was for the most part terrible music.Ultimately, over the years, all of the major cities in America imposed laws, very, very strictly enforced laws as to the hours that a grinder could be on streets."
In the end though, it wasn't laws or bad music that finished off organ grinders.

"The transistor changed everything, music was now affordable for every American family it wasn't necessary to go to the streets for music. And at about the same time there became a greater awareness of the way that animals were being used for profit. So the organ grinder and the monkey sort of faded away more or less about the same time, after WWII."

The real Brundibár

Ever heard of the Czech children's opera Brundibar? (Really moving piece of history.) This guy is looking so grumpy he could be Brundibar. And the kids are just about to sing the final song.

Organ Grinder cont'd

The large print on the sign to the right reads "Tshiken Market." The top line appears to be "geht nit vayter," or go no further. In other words, you've come to the right place. I can't make out the lower part.

The Organ Grinder

I have never understood the appeal of this. Perhaps that is because in my 68 years there has always been recorded music (phonograph records) and radio. The organ grinder could only produce the same thing over and over.

Crank That Thing!

Let me guess, Bugs Bunny?

Organ Grinders

As usual Wikipedia has a great rundown:

The organ was called a street organ.

Trivia: Fiorello LaGuardia banned organ grinders in 1936 in a bid to stamp out Italian stereotypes.

[Another Wikipedia article on organ grinders here. - Dave]

An Organ Grinder's Organ?

So what do you call the organ of an organ grinder to distinguish it from a "pipe organ" or "theater organ"? "Organ Grinder Organ" doesn't sound right.

Crank That Thing!

Believe it or not, this is the first picture I've ever seen of a real organ grinder. Up until now, I've only seen them in cartoons. I guess it's safe to say that in reality, they usually weren't accompanied by a monkey with a cup in its hand.


Can someone translate the sign on the right?

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