Rowan Museum brings Paul Bernhardt’s Emmett Kelly Clown Organ back to life

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Rowan Museum has brought one of downtown Salisbury’s favorite Christmas decorations and traditions back to life.
Built in 1957 by the late Paul Bernhardt and the late Brown Foil, this icon of our community’s Christmas celebration has been in storage for more than a year.
Refurbished in 2009 by R.C. Kesler, the piece has undergone an overhaul by Museum vice-president Terry Holt.
Kaye Brown Hirst, the Museum’s executive director, spent a week with Holt installing new motors, cleaning the piece while repairing and adding decorations.
It sat in the front window of Bernhardt’s Hardware until two years ago.
The Bernhardt family gave it to the Museum, but it has been in storage until this year.
The organ is set up in the D.A.R. room, and is flanked by a 1950s Christmas tree with bubble lights, and a Santa off to one side as well.
All who have visited this have enjoyed it, especially those who remember it.
Hirst recalls visiting downtown Salisbury to see the Christmas lights as as a child and standing in front of Bernhardt’s Hardware watching Emmett move back and forth on the bench, and listening to the wonderful music from the speakers.
“I saw that every year of my childhood,” said Barbara Fesperman Upright.
Barbara Martin Lawther said the Museum has done a beautiful job setting up the organ.
Lawther also remembers it from her childhood.
“It was magical, and I loved seeing all the toys piled in the windows, and the sleds and snow shovels on the street.”
When Emmett took his place in the front window of Bernhardt’s Hardware each November, residents knew the Christmas season had officially begun in downtown Salisbury.
Come see a piece of local Christmas history.
The Rowan Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
For more information, call 704-633-5946 or email