My grandmother Annie had a piano. Like many of her generation who learned to play, it was an essential part of education for most young women. She started young, at the age of four.
We still have her piano. It was built in 1889 by the Knabe Piano Company of Baltimore, Maryland. There is nothing particularly special about the piano itself, thousands of its type were built. It’s a fairly typical upright in the late Victorian style. It has an open fretboard backed with fine purple velvet and a keyboard cover steam-bent into a gentle curve. The corners are embellished with delicate fluted columns and the keyboard with its authentic ivory keys is held up by curved supports reminiscent of a base clef. A drop pendant at the top of the clef completes the decoration. The entire piano is made of Brazilian Mahogany finished in multiple coats of brushed marine varnish. Polished to a soft gleam, you can see your face in. It is beautiful.
Considered one of the finest of its kind the Kanabe has been owned by the likes of Francis Scott Key and
My grandmother Annie had a piano. Like many of her generation who learned to play because it was an essential part of education for young women. She started young, at the age of four.
No one now living told us this, we found out because we still have her piano. It was built in 1889 by the Knabe Piano Company of Baltimore, Maryland. There is nothing particularly special about the piano itself, thousands of its type were built. It’s a fairly typical upright in the late Victorian style. It has an open fretboard backed with fine purple velvet and a keyboard cover steam-bent into a gentle curve. The corners are embellished with delicate fluted columns and the keyboard with its authentic ivory keys is held up by curved supports reminiscent of a base clef. A drop pendant at the top of the clef completes the decoration. The entire piano is made of Brazilian Mahogany finished in multiple coats of brushed marine varnish. Polished to a soft gleam, you can see your face in. It is beautiful.
The Knabe was considered one of the finest pianos of the age. Composer Francis Scott Key owned one as did Camille Camille Saint-Saëns and Ragtime composer Joseph Lamb. The Knabe was the official piano of the Metropolitan Opera. Tchaikovsky played his “Coronation March,” on a Knabe at the grand opening of Carnegie Hall in 1891. Nothing was too good for little Annie.
My grandmother was what is know in Hawaii as a hānai child. In the Hawaiian culture, childless families can informally adopt children to raise, as their own. Long before in-vitro fertilization and other high-tech methods of making babies, people had their own way to balance the vagaries of nature. Those who were blessed with infants gave them to be raised by those who were not. Hānai is, loosely speaking, the Hawaiian word for adoption, but its meaning is less rigid than its western equivalent. For one thing, hānai children know their biological families and usually keep close ties to them. In fact, in most cases, babies are placed in homes with blood relatives.
This was the case with my grandmother. Those involved in hānai never saw it as “giving away,” but rather as “sharing.” The family didn’t get smaller, it expanded. There was the common bond that strengthened the relationship between her birth mother and her aunt and uncle. The families kept in touch much more than they would have otherwise.
Annie went to live with her aunt and uncle, Patrick and Sarah Mckean Moore in 1889. She was just four.
Patrick and Sarah Moore were from Ireland. They had both emigrated fromIreland through Liverpool. They met in Sandusky Ohio and married, he was 45 and she was just 17. As is common with immigrants to American the extended Moore family stuck together. Patrick, his father and sisters slid west in the 1870’s and ended up farming in the lower Santa Maria valley around Oso Flaco lake. Oso Flaco, and Guadalupe town were heavily populated with Irish at the time. There were Donovans. McBanes, Maguires, Cooks, Newloves and the Grays, my grandmothers family. They were all farmers.
Pat Moore had listed himself as both a farmer and a capitalist on census forms. As it turned out he was very good at both. By 1889 when Annie went to live with them he had built the most imposing house in San Luis Obispo County. Located on a low hill just east of town it looked down on Bridge Street and what would one day become a California State Highway. In 1889 it was still a dirt road over which wagons, buggies and the stagecoach traveled. By every standard of the time Pat Moore was a rich man. He had invested in early oil discoveries in the Orcutt Hills and the Santa Maria Valley and was president of the Pinal Oil Company. He owned thousands of acres of farm and ranch land in the area but the one thing that escaped him was that he and Sarah were childless.
In the late 80’s, my grandmothers parents were still living in the little red house on what is now Division Road in Oso Flaco. My great-grandmother Jenny, being the niece of Sarah Moore was somehow convinced that her first born should be sent to Arroyo Grande to be raised by the Moore’s. The Grays in 1889 had two more children, Annies younger sister Sadie and a little brother just born in October named David. There were to be four more births in the following years but it seems a monumental gift by todays standards.
Pat Moore being a capitalist and Annie father Sam Gray being of the same bent struck a deal. The Moores would raise little Annie, provide for all her needs and pay for her education which in time would result in her graduation from the University of California at Berkeley. Property was also part of the deal. Annie was to be given acreage upon her graduation or at Pat Moores death, whichever came first. Surprisingly perhaps, this was simply a handshake deal.
She was the apple of Pat and Sarahs eye. She was given everything her heart could desire. The big house, which had been christened “Grandview” for its panoramic view of our fertile little valley was always filled with local children, for just down the road were the homes of the pioneer Harloe and Phoenix families, whose sons and daughters quickly became Annies chums. The Whitely, Lierley and Dixons lived just a little farther on. Even Annies future husband lived just a short walk away. The Donovan girls lived up by Mount Picacho. Two other children were soon taken in. The Tyler girls were orphaned when both of their parents died in quick succession and they soon became permanent residents at “Grandview.” Hattie and Mamie were as close to Annie as sisters.
Pat Moore was a generous man. When Annie came to live at the big house he arranged for her to take piano lessons. Music was considered an essential part of a girls education, and Annie needed a piano of her own.
In those long ago days a letter and a bank draft would have been dispatched to Baltimore in order to begin construction of the piano. Once complete it was boxed, loaded in a freight car of the Baltimore and Ohio RR. Leaving Baltimore the train proceeded west through Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky to Saint Louis Missouri. The boxcar was then switched to the Missouri Pacific RR which went nowhere near the Pacific Ocean, the old roads in particular were not known for their lack of imagination when it came to names and possible destinations. The locomotive would have chuffed up to Kansas City and on to Council Bluffs, Iowa. Detached from its train the car was shuffled around the immense rail yard which was the original beginning of the fabled Union Pacific, which at that time didn’t go to the Pacific either. Eventually she rolled out of Council Bluffs west, crossing the great plains and the Rocky Mountains through South Pass. Running down the west slope of the Rockies to Ogden Utah the west coast bound box car was switched to a Southern Pacific freight which hauled it first to Roseville California and then down the partially completed Coast Line to Templeton. Off loaded to a horse drawn wagon it made its tortuous way down the winding Cuesta grade to San Luis Obispo’s Higuera Street and the depot of the little Pacific Coast narrow gauge railroad. Switched to the smaller cars, the box containing the piano was pulled south to Arroyo Grande by he little steam engine of the PC. Off-loaded to the dock at the AG depot next to the creek, someone from the dispatchers office would have sent a boy up to the big house to say it had arrived. Pat Moore then sent a wagon down where it was loaded and then the team pulled it across the RR bridge, over Arroyo Grande creek, the old bridge did triple duty as a pedestrian, wagon and train bridge in those days.
Hauled up to the house, a few hefty men muscled the box up the steps and into the parlor where it was finally unboxed. There it sat in all its glory, terribly out of tune of course, a piano is not likely to survive a cross country trip in a boxcar through all kinds of weather, across deserts, towering mountain ranges and a bumpy wagon trip and be ready to play. A tuner was sent for.
In days before radio and the phonographs pianos were once ubiquitous in American homes. Playing was considered a part of a young persons basic education. Music was played in churches and lodge meetings. Any music in the home was generated by the residents. There was no competition from other devices. This can scarcely be imagined today. The phonograph was only invented in 1878 and not commercialy produced until 1899 under the name Gramaphone. The first radios didn’t come along until November, 1920. By then my grandmother was 35.
Kids growing up in the latter part of the nineteenth century sang, accompanied by the piano. I imagine my grandmother in the parlor playing for friends and relatives the tunes of the day. After all she was a teenager and long before portable record players kids gathered around and sang the latest “hot” tunes just like they do today. “When you were sweet sixteen,” which she was in 1901 or “In the good old summertime” and “My Wild Irish Rose,” a song appropriate to a family from Ireland. Al Jolson sang it and sheet music was sold for piano so you could sing and play,
“Rosie, you are my Posie,
You are, my hearts bouquet
Come out, here in the moonlight
There’s something sweet love.
I’m gonna sing about my baby,
Your honey, your boy I’m waiting
Those rubies, those lips to greet
Don’t be so captivating,
My blushin rosie,
My posie sweet.“
It ain’t the Supremes or Miranda Lambert but the sentiments the same.
That old music was almost all produced in New York City where songwriters and composers out of Tin Pan Alley is legendary. George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Scott Joplin, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Fats Waller, Dorothy Fields, Harold Arlen, and Hoagy Carmichael are just a small example of the talent that came through that small city block in its prime. Synonymous with the golden age of American song writing, when New York was the world’s epicenter of composing, lyric writing, and sheet music publishing Tin Pan Alley was an actual place, a small section of West 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue. Just a sample of the tunes my grandmother used to play, Irving Berlin “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” Jack Norworth and Albert von Tilzer “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (1908), Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes “Shine on, Harvest Moon” (1908), Shelton Brooks “Some of These Days” (1910), Milton Ager and Jack Yellen “Ain’t She Sweet?” (1927) and Leo Friedman and Beth Slater Whitson “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” (1910) or Shelton Brooks “Darktown Strutters’ Ball” (1917). Annie’s piano and my family, when I was just a kid was the center of sing alongs when all those old songs were sung. I can hear the melodies and the words in my head right now, still. My mom and dad and my grandfather Jack Shannon with his head thrown back and his big baritone voice belting out “In the Good Old Summertime,” first written in 1902. It never occurred to me that they were the songs that brought back their youth, my grandfather 20 years old my grandmother 17.
Sadly, Sarah Moore died in 1900, just forty years old. She had taken the train to SanFrancisco to be treated for stomach cancer. It was untreatable in 1900. Pat came home with her body and she was buried in the old Odd Fellows cemetery in Arroyo Grande.
….Sad news, Mrs Patrick Moore in San Francisco of stomach cancer. She was a good woman and will be missed.” San Luis Tribune, August 18, 1900.
My grandmother had just begun attending high school. Arroyo Grande HS was just re-opening after years of wrangling over the taxes to support it. It had been closed for four years. My grandfather never attended high school because there wasn’t one though most boys at the turn of the century didn’t anyway as it was considered by most as a waste of time for working class boys as they were able to work and earn a living at fourteen or fifteen. In any case the high school was not accredited for transfer to Cal but Santa Maria High School was. She took the first train down to Santa Maria on Monday and the last train up on Friday, staying in her parents house on west Guadalupe Road during the week.
On Sundays she played piano in church. She was a member of the old Cumberland Presbyterian church on Bridge Street. She was still going to the same little church when she was in her nineties.
Pat Moore was only a widower for two and one half years. In 1903 at the age of 70 he married local schoolteacher Mary “Mollie” O’Conner.
The San Luis Obispo Tribune, reprinted the following from the Salinas Index of July 15, 1903 ….needs no particular explanation to residents of SLO County except that perhaps some would like to know why the genial supervisor did not face the music at home instead of going away to Salinas to get married. “Today at 10 o’clock Judge J H Brown performed a marriage ceremony which united the hearts and lives of Patrick R Moore of Arroyo Grande and Mary O’Conner of Washington. The ceremony was performed in the parlors of the Abbott house and the host John Lavery and Mrs Lavery were witnesses to the ceremony.
The groom is a prominent resident and supervisor of SLO county’s “Bloody Fifth” district and the bride is a schoolteacher. Although Supervisor Moore is well advanced in years, and Miss O’Conner a near spinster at 28, the happy couple boarded yesterday’s southbound train with a happy smile and sprightly step of a couple who might have been just old enough to procure a license.
I would tell you about this but really, no one in the family knows the whys or wherefores of the attraction or designs of Mollie Moore. I never heard a whiff of nasty gossip from anyone in the family and she was always spoken of with affection by my fathers family. Perhaps uncle Pat was just used to having a wife around the house.
They were married just 23 months when the stomach cancer which had been growing for years surfaced on his face in the form of malignant lesions. He took the train to see a specialist in Los Angeles who removed them. Further tests indicated he was riddled with it and there was nothing to be done. He returned home and spent the next couple of months putting his affairs in order and in the last two weeks of his life he was removed to the Halcyon Health Sanitarium* so he could have the best of care. He died on July 28th, 1905. It was easy, Morphine.
He left a will disposing of his property which named as executors, John Donovan, Al Phillips and my great-grandfather, John E. Shannon. After the burial, the will was read and, of course there were immediate problems. The Piano was in play. Pat had written a note and placed it on the back of the piano, saying “The piano goes to Annie.” His signature was on it but he did not date it and the judge ruled against her taking it. My great-grandparents had brought a wagon from the Guadalupe district to pick it up but Mollie “O” refused to let them have it and they went home empty handed.
There was a great deal of wrangling over the will. Mollie reported to the local Herald Recorder that her husband had died without a will though she must have know there was one. Dying without a will is said by the law to be dying intestate Under this statute the surviving spouse and minor children generally are entitled to the bulk of the estate. Pat Moore and his first wife Sarah had no children of their own, just my grandmother Annie who they raised and never adopted as her parents wouldn’t go that far with their daughter.
Mollie “O” apparently wanted it all and sued everyone who had debts forgiven or received property and bequests. Uncle Pat’s estate appraised at about $150,000.00 and would be worth roughly five million today. The schoolteacher wasn’t about to give it all up without a fight.
My grandmothers ranch, The Williams ranch, the Donovans and several other who had received bequests were hauled into court. Pat Moores nieces, nephews and their parents, the McBanes, McGuires, Shipman’s and Rodriguez family all had to go to court to defend themselves. Several young women, friends of my grandmother were being educated at Pat Moore’s expense, including Margaret Phoenix (Harloe) and Mamie Tyler would have had to leave school without the money for tuition. As it was neither ever did finish college but both had long careers as teachers. Maggie” Margaret Eliza Phoenix Harloe taught in the local elementary school and at the end of her career had a new grade school dedicated in her name. Mamie Tyler taught in the upper Olympic peninsula of Washington near Port Angeles. Her school was as rural as ever could be.
The will was defended by the executors and in every case won out. The wishes of a generous man won out and the estate was divided. In the end Mollie O’Conner Moore received Farview, what was left of the home ranch which had run from what is now Cherry Lane to Berros Canyon, Much of the oil stock in the Pinal and Brookshire companies. She didn’t do too badly. She was not a universally popular woman in the small closed community of Arroyo Grande and soon determined to move away. She did. The properties were sold, the big house, Grandview, went on the block and even Annies piano had a price tag placed on it.
Mollie “O” soon “dusted her broom” never to return.
The Piano? The beautiful old upright was sold alright, Annie’s mother bought it, had it loaded on a truck and moved down to the Grey home on Guadalupe road west of Santa Maria.
The story doesn’t end there though. Jenny Grey, Annies mother kept the piano. She never returned it to daughter as long as she lived. It sat in her parlor for 36 years until she died in 1947.
The piano gifted to her by her uncle in 1889 and which she left when she went to university in 1904 finally came back to her after 45 years when she was 62 years old.
When I was a kid, in those days before television, she would play at family gatherings or just for her own pleasure. Sometimes my grandfather sang with her adding his baritone voice to the lilting notes as she “tickled the ivories.” Their were times when my mom and dad joined them, belting out the tunes written more than a half-century before. The old sheet music on the music stand, faded and cracked around the edges guiding grandma as she played.
She was very good too. For many years se played at church. After the Social Security act of 1935 she got a card and actually got paid for playing at the Rebekahs and Odd Fellows. Upstairs in the old building where women were rarely allowed she played for the lodge members those rollicking tunes favored men who were born in the nineteenth century.
I still have the sheet music. “After the Ball is Over,” and “The Band Played On.” If you went to my little brothers wedding, they first danced to that song, one he had learned before he could reach a keyboard himself.
“Cayce would dance with the strawberry blonde and the band played on,
He would whirl cross the floor with the girl he adored….” He still does adore her too.
There was “Barney Google with the big, big Googly eyes,” and “West side, East Side, All Around the Town….The Sidewalks of New York.” My grandfather Jack lived in New York as a young man and the song was a special favorite of his.
I don’t think many remember them now. They are more than a century old. They are from the days before Victorolas and radios, long before television, I-Pods and Cell phones. Some remember them though, like me and maybe you.
So, when you go to visit my brother Jerry and walk downstairs, it’s right there under the stairwell. It still gets played, my brothers hands sliding across the polished ivory keys just like his mother and grandmother did. If you ask, he will play some of those old tunes for you, and if you listen with your eyes closed you might see those generations of Shannons harmonizing in song, my grandfather, his back straight and his head tilted back, thumbs in his green and yellow suspenders as he sings, my dad with his arm around my mother and Annie, sitting on the little upholstered stool, adding her soft Soprano. A picture, perhaps a Norman Rockwell painting or so it seems to me. Music is the Soul of mankind isn’t it? It’s the glue that holds us together.
*The Halcyon Sanitarium was located in the old Coffee-Rice house in what is now the town of Oceano. It still stands as a private residence.