J.B. Faggart finds paper about Civil War in piano

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 28, 2012

By Elizabeth Cook
RIMERTOWN — If piano keys could talk, the old piano in J.B and Jane Faggart’s music room might solve some mysteries.
Whose hands have played music on that piano over the past 140 years? What did they play?
And — most important to J.B. — where did the old newspaper inside the piano come from?
“Lincoln Wins in Landslide!” says a headline over photos of the president (“tired but happy,” according to the caption) and his vice president, Andrew Johnson.
Nearby, a story about Gen. William T. Sherman’s exit from the burned ruins of Atlanta bears an ominous headline: “March to Sea Will ‘Make Georgia Howl.’ ”
The Civil War Chronicle found in the piano has pages dated from July to December 1864. Its intact condition and up-to-the-minute reporting suggest the publication is considerably newer — but no less intriguing.
The issue is compiled as if the newspapers of 1864 had correspondents on every front of the war with the ability to send stories and photos instantly, which was not the case.
Faggart finds this item especially eye-opening, headlined “Slaves Armed”:
“Philadelphia, Pa., Nov. 1 — Northern newspapers announced today that the South will arm 300,000 slaves. Press reports say each is to receive his freedom and 50 acres of land at the end of the war.”
Faggart says this is news to him.
In fact, it may include a little fiction.
It’s true the Confederate government authorized the conscription of slaves to help make up 300,000 fresh troops “from such classes of the population, irrespective of color,” at one desperate point near the end of the war. But the plan was never fully implemented, and the authorizing legislation makes no mention of freedom or free property for the slaves.
Perhaps the Northern newspapers got it wrong. Or the author of the Chronicle got creative.
Still, the publication fascinates Faggart.
Antique ‘monstrosity’
The instrument in which it was delivered to his home is another story.
Currently the mysterious piano is sharing a room with an upright piano and an organ in the Faggarts’ house on Rimertown Road in southern Rowan County, within eyesight of Cabarrus.
J.B. has been playing the organ for churches in the area since he and Jane married in 1949. The organ has been in their home more than 50 years.
In her arms, Jane jostles great-grandson Riley, 8 months, as she and J.B. talk about the piano.
“Isn’t that a monstrosity?” she asks.
It’s certainly an antique. Called a “square” grand piano, the instrument is more rectangular — 40-by-80 inches — and rests on sturdy, curved legs. Its Brazilian rosewood is nearly black.
The name of the manufacturer has all but worn away, with the most legible letters spelling “ALE & CO.”
A Joseph P. Hale was considered the “father of the commercial piano” by some in the 1800s. There was also an A.H. Gale piano company.
Letters on the music stand seem to spell out “ORION,” another company tied to music in that era.
The square style was popular in the United States in the late 1800s, so there’s more than 100 years of making music in this piano’s history.
The Faggarts’ square piano looks very much like one depicted in a Civil War Chronicle ad for The Newman Piano Co. Perhaps that is why the publication was tucked inside.
Big baby grand
Granddaughter Cassie Couick, who lives in Stanfield, bought the piano at an auction in Locust. She didn’t have a place for it in her house, but she loves pianos, and she felt a little sorry for this one.
“No one was bidding on it,” Cassie says.
So she bought it; the family would rather not share the selling price.
But the heft of the iron-framed piano is easy to discern. Safely lifting the lid to inspect the strings requires two people Cassie says it took eight men to hoist the piano on its side to fit through her grandparents’ front doorway. Even with the legs unscrewed for the move, getting it through the doorway was a chore.
Jane says she was surprised when she saw what Cassie had acquired.
“She just called and said she’d bought a baby grand,” Jane says.
A music man
J.B. plays a few notes on the ancient keys, now brown with age. He says the piano is only slightly off, a half step perhaps. “If it was tuned it would sound good.”
J.B. would know. He learned a little bit about playing the piano at Cline School as a youngster but did not get really interested until he was in the Army — drafted in 1945 after World War II. He picked up piano playing while at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. Sent to Germany, he worked patrol during the week and played the organ in church on Sundays.
After the war, he came home to cut sheets in Cannon Mills in Kannapolis for 25 years. He worked at the Salisbury post office for 25 years, and now — at the age of 85 — bags groceries at Food Lion in Kannapolis.
Through it all, J.B. kept playing the organ at church on Sundays.
He has played for Wittenberg Lutheran Church in Granite Quarry several years and has also played at St. Andrews Lutheran in Concord and Grace Lutheran in Rowan.
“I’m not that good,” J.B. says, “but I’m good enough to get by.”
Old news
He’s no historian, either, but J.B. would really like to know where the Civil War Chronicle came from.
Catawba College history professor Gary Freeze says photos and the wording of headlines in the Chronicle are obviously from the 20th century.
“This is the kind of thing that was popular in the 1960s not the 1860s,” Freeze says. “There was this phase when folks tried to report on the past as if it was news.”
Civil War historians at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill say they are not familiar with this newspaper-like Chronicle.
Nor is Matt Gallman, editor of a book called “Civil War Chronicle.”
So the mystery continues.
One thing is certain. J.B. is going to hold on to that Civil War Chronicle.
But he and Jane wouldn’t mind seeing the piano go.