New home for Harwich's ‘mystery piano’

Jamie Balliett

The newest addition at the Brooks Academy Museum – a Baldwin Acrosonic piano – has led an exciting life over the last year. 

First, the honey-colored piano was abandoned in the woods, at the edge of the Bell’s Neck Conservation Area, and discovered by a hiker Nov. 22, 2008. Whoever left it there also left its bench – an indication perhaps that they hoped it would find a new home. 

The “mystery piano” story made headlines around the world for a few days and then the instrument was moved to the garage of the old police station on Sisson Road. No one ever came forward with information and no one claimed it.

Eventually the police released the piano to the music program at Harwich Middle School, where it sat unused for months because it was out of tune and needed repairs. Boxes and dust accumulated on and around it.

That’s when a few angels stepped in to help.

Local pianist Dorothy Hemmings looked into the status of the instrument during the planning for the Harwich Wildlands Musical Stroll that was planned for this fall. Seeing that it needed attention, Hemmings alerted others.

Jonathan Page, a local piano restorer from Gilbert Lane, got involved. Page, who has run restoration business on the Cape for 35 years, assessed its condition and determined that “it needed an overhaul and several repairs.”

Page knew that if no one cared enough to even find a home for the piano, no one was likely to help fix it up. So he did the work himself, a project valued at almost $500.

Page also knew the Acrosonic wasn’t the best fit for the middle school and that the Brooks Academy Museum was in search of a replacement piano for its 149-year old Steinway. So he arranged for a storage and moving company to donate a different piano to the middle school. 

“I knew the Acrosonic was better suited to be in the museum,” he said. “The one given to the school is just what they need.”

After two repairs and two tunings to bring the Acrosonic back up to pitch, Page declared the mystery piano ready for its new home.

Next, the museum had to make plans to relocate its century and a half old Steinway.

“It had been given to the museum around 1960,” said Fran Geberth, co-chairman of the Museum Collections Committee. 

A buyer for the older piano was found and Page agreed to store it in his shop until moving plans could be made.

So after several months of planning by Page and the museum staff and volunteers, the mystery piano was moved to its new home at Brooks Academy – even sitting on a new rolling platform, also donated by Page.

“Isn’t that a wonderful sound?” asked Hemmings, who volunteers at the museum and who also plays piano.

When Harwich Oracle visited the museum one day last week, Hemming played “My Dream of Love” for a reporter.

“It’s really, really nice,” she called out, keys in motion.

Hemmings was happy to have the mystery piano at the museum not just for its local stardom but also because it’s such an improvement over the old one.

“The previous one has a rinky-tink sound – it was very old,” Hemmings said quietly. “And with Jon’s help, here we are and he didn’t even charge us a thing!”

Page said that piano owners often given away their pianos with short notice, sometimes due to a death in a family or a house sale. Others just need minor repairs.

“I don’t know why someone threw this one away – it was worth at least $500,” he said. “Their mistake is our gain.”

Hemmings said she was at an event recently and heard someone in attendance mention, almost in a whisper, that they knew where the mystery piano came from.

 “They wouldn’t say,” Hemmings said with a frown. 

Then she and Geberth pulled out a golden cotton cover and carefully placed it over the Acrosonic, covering it from top to bottom.

Safe and sound at last.

Harwich Oracle