‘Mighty Möller’ moves on
Michael Loser (Loh-zer) of DePere, Wis. stands beside the Mighty Möller, which he recently purchased from the Crystal Theatre. Loser moved the theater pipe organ to his home and will restore it.
CRYSTAL FALLS — “There is organ everywhere,” Angie Dohl said.
Dohl is the manager for Crystal Theatre, a position she’s held since the spring of 2016. The organ she referenced is the “Mighty Möller,” a theater pipe organ originally built in 1927 for the Chicago Conservatory of Music that for the last 30 years accompanied silent films at Crystal Theatre. In that time, it had become, for the theater’s board members and its single staffer, a bit of a magical musical monstrosity — and an expensive one at that.
“You know the humongous fungus?” Dohl continued, referring to the world record-breaking subterranean fungus that spans 185 acres in Crystal Falls. “It’s kind of like that.”
Dohl wasn’t exaggerating. A theater organ is not a classical pipe organ. It’s made up of pipes, (yes, the Mighty Möller has 21 sets, or “ranks” in musical terminology); but xylophone, marimba, drums, cymbals, orchestra bells, chimes, castanets and woodblocks can all be played with a theater organ. Think of all the sound affects a silent film might require — footsteps, door knocks, horse hooves, car horns, train and boat whistles. Think of all the different doodads and gizmos and widgets required to produce those sounds. Think of all the space needed to store them. Think of all the interconnected ways those pieces get linked to any one of the 183 keys on any one of the three keyboards of theater organ.
It’s a lot to consider.
The Crystal Theatre’s organ started in the basement with two blowers that supply compressed air to regulators, tremulants and multiple windchests. Press a key on the console and a magnet drops, causing air to blow through the pipes or inflate a bellow to activate, say, the hammer for a xylophone.
Though the organ is almost 100 years old, it’s relatively new to the theater, which also dates back to 1927 when E.J. Bregger purchased it after his nearby opera house burnt down. Bregger ran the theater until 1947 when Delft Theater took over, adding it to the list of 11 other theaters it ran in the U.P. Seating was absorbed to make room for a massive projector that still lives in the theater today, though Delft abruptly closed the theater in 1957. Aldo Zaupa was the theater’s next owner; he took over in the early 1960s and ran it as a movie theater until 1980 when the theater closed once again.
In 1988, a group of community volunteers set to work updating the theater for yet another reopening in 1991 — and that is the performing arts iteration that exists yet today. It was at this time that the Mighty Möller was purchased from a pizza parlor in Green Bay to replace the building’s previous organ, which had been sold. Dohl, the theater’s manager, said attendees would drive from all over the U.P. to attend the Crystal Theatre’s silent movie nights.
Andrew Rogers is the head organist for the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. Rogers would occasionally travel to Crystal Falls for silent movie nights to play the Mighty Möller.