History of Paul Eakins and His Antique Music Machines
Paul Eakins love of antique music machines began in the early 1950's on a cold, gray November day in Lincoln, New Mexico. Headed for Tucson, he and his family stopped to see a "Billy the Kid" museum. They had to go through the empty La Paloma Bar to get to the museum. Passing through the Bar, Paul saw a Regina Music Box and a Nickelodeon with an "Out of Order" sign stuck on the front. Paul commented to his family, "I believe if I got hold of one of those, I could make it work."
That was the beginning of Eakins passion for old music machines. Finding, restoring and displaying what became the greatest collection of fully restored automatic music machines soon became an occupation for Eakins. The collection ranged from small electric pianos to large fair organs and all sized machines in-between.
In the early 1950's, Eakins and his wife, Laura, opened the Indian Trading Post as a tourist attraction. It evolved into the Gay 90's Village with the War Drum Restaurant, and a few other businesses in the vicinity of the Museum. In 1966, the Museum was relocated to 320 South Broadway in downtown St. Louis, Missouri, and renamed the Gay 90's Melody Museum. It closed in the early 1970's.
Eakins collection became world famous and he appeared at many fairs and on many television programs such as Gary Moore's "I've Got a Secret", the NBC "Today Show", Play Your Hunch on NBC, Mike' Wallace's "P.M." Show, "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" and several television specials. His machines were displayed and played at the Arizona State Fair, Iowa State Fair, Steamboat Days in Burlington, Iowa, Midsouth Fair, the New York World's Fair with the Continental Circus and Ringling's Museum of the Circus, and several appearances at the Illinois State Fair. The Photograph Album shows some of the history of Paul Eakins and his collection of musical machines.
In the late 1970's Eakins sold most of his collection of automatic music machines to Walt Disney World. He and his wife, Laura, retained the rights to the music of his collection, recording and selling the music on LP's to the amusement industries. You can learn about and buy many of the his recordings in the COMPACT DISC section of this site.
About the Collection
Eakins spent many thousands of hours traveling throughout the country searching for certain machines and following tips, some of which lead to the discovery of treasures.
For example, Eakins learned of a rare mechanical piano in a theatre in a southern state. He waded through knee deep water and debris left from a tornado to reach the back stage of the theatre where he found a regular player piano. On another trip to the south, instead of a machine that the owner swore had a guitar inside, Eakins found a fine Double Mills Violano Virtuoso with its original shipping case intact.
Often sides of buildings had to be taken out to allow passage of the machines, such as happened when Eakins acquired a theatre organ with its huge room of instruments and tremendous blower. The brick wall was put back into place by a bricklayer Eakins hired for the job. In another instance, the musical machine was lowered to the ground from a window. More often, door facings and doors were removed to make room for the machine to pass through the opening.
Eakins collection contained machines manufactured by some of the greatest names in the business: Seeburg, Wurlitzer, Link, Mills, Regina, Mortier, Limonaire, Gavioli, deKliest, Bacigalupi, Gasparini and many others. Starting with the smaller machines, his collection included three fine monkey organs, all of fine European make, hand-cranked and played from a pinned cylinder. Two of them had the original leather strap attached for carrying and a peg for resting while playing the monkey organ. From these smaller machines, the collection also contained rare arcade pieces such as Madame Zita, Puss in the Boots and a Donkey and Elephant, stemming back to the earliest automations, high in the scale of rarity. There were life-sized fortune tellers ranging from hand-carved wooden figures to the wax type, all with moving eyes, head, mouth, hands and chests. Mutoscopes and Caillescopes entertained with actual film from movies and great events, with the mutoscopes operated by turning a crank with the pictures dropping into view just like a movie. More about the automatic music machines in Eakins collection can be found in the Machines section of this site.