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Organ Meet: 1924

"Organ grinder, New Orleans, 1924." Nitrate negative by Arnold Genthe. View full size.

"Organ grinder, New Orleans, 1924." Nitrate negative by Arnold Genthe. View full size.


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Organ grinder girl

The recent run of circa 1910 photos have been wonderful: Manchester NH, Cleveland, NYC, Charleston, LA. (Not so big on the four doctors and the arthritic foot in 1949.) But I keep going back to New Orleans in 1924, on Tuesday, four days ago, to reinspect the central character (for me) that I’ve come to think of as the organ grinder girl: her face in profile, prominent nose, and a distinct spark in her step. She is so taken with the cart and maybe even the organ grinder fellow. All the other kids have something going on, too, but I have come back every day, for these past few days, as one does frequently on Shorpy, to look at this arresting girl.

You Too can be an Organ Grinder

A quick search of the internet reveals a kit organ that is operated by hand power and a punched paper roller not unlike a player piano. This one, while new, seems a tad wheezy.

Not a Mighty Wurlitzer

Here's a video demonstrating what those simple pipe organs sound like along with a glimpse at how they work.

Another with a trove of period photographs.

Grinding for pennies

Organ grinders made money by receiving tips for their musical performance. Many folks considered them to be only one step up from beggars. However, at that time music itself, particularly for the less fortunate, was a rare thing to hear unless one's family had talent and instruments, so the performance was actually worth spending a few pennies. Often the grinders would have a monkey or human performers with them, sometimes in costume, who would stage a kind of street performance to jazz it up a bit.

Ultimately the grinders were driven out because music licensing came into effect, effectively preventing grinders from performing the current hits, such as they were. Very few actual grind organs still exist as a result.

This fellow works a long day, since he has a lit lantern with him, foretelling his lengthy evening's work ahead.

I love the fact that the performer has stuffed his ears with cotton to dampen the deafening noise.

[I suspect the lanterns were a city requirement for carts. - Dave]

Flora Power

These kids undoubtedly had ironclad immune systems.

Where's The Monkey?

The little girl appears to be looking for something.

The Missing Building

The sizable gap was a building that explains the group of kids seen in the photo. It was the McDonogh Public School #15 on St. Phillip Street.

New Orleans once had more than a dozen schools numbered and called McDonogh. Why? A local history of the schools explains:

"When wealthy recluse John McDonogh died in 1850, the residents of New Orleans and
Baltimore were surprised to find themselves the beneficiaries of his considerable estate.
His will specified that the money was to be used for the purpose of establishing public
schools in the two cities for "education of the poor of all castes and races." When the
complicated details had been hammered out and the bequest had been honored, over 30
public schools bearing John McDonogh's name had been constructed in New Orleans.
Finding photos of the original McDonogh schools was more difficult than I thought it would
be. Most of the McDonogh schools were demolished and rebuilt very early on, as the
population increased and larger buildings were required. (Many of these second McDonogh
schools are still standing, more than a century later.) Some were even rebuilt a third time. "

But not McDonogh #15. Farewell ...

Organ Grinder Econ 101?

How did one actually make a living as an organ grinder?

724 Saint Philip St

The large building on the left, across from Montalbano's Italian Grocery, is now gone, but everything else looks basically the same.

Offal Title

Oh, man --

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