Play me an old-time tune

“Lilacs in bloom, rarest perfume, tells me that waiting is ended. Springtime is here, soon you’ll be near, when all our heartaches are mended. Close in my arms’ fond embraces, once more in happiest places. Jeannine, I dream of lilac time. Your eyes they gleam in lilac time.”

It seems the waiting has ended with spring finally upon us, and those who know the sweet and unique fragrance of a blooming lilac certainly anticipate breathing in its scent as it permeates the air or burying their nostrils into a lilac bouquet. This surely must have been Gene Austin’s inspiration for, “Jeannine, I Dream of Lilac Time,” a number one song on the charts in 1928. Not a coincidence, it’s also one of the Victor phonograph records played for guests at the Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum. Opening for the season just days ago, it is a local yet historically significant destination on the Great Lakes Seaway Trail as described in last week’s column, “Setting sail for regional and local destinations.”

Downloaded music on I-pods and other such devices using current technology is the only sound that youth know today. Changes have come so quickly in recent years that they don’t even know what a record or phonograph looks like, much less the distinctive music it plays on the spiral-grooved analog 78rpm discs. It follows then, that they also will look confused with the saying, “sounds like a broken record.” Fortunately, a visit to the lighthouse museum is an opportunity to walk back in time and enjoy the music of Gene Austin on the wind-up “victrola” phonograph. A corresponding book, “Grand Opera with a Victrola” by D. Appleton & Co. from 1915 also has the complete stories and most popular music of the great operas such as Carmen, Rigoletto, The Bohemian Girl, and Hansel and Gretel. Courtesy of the Victor Talking Machine Company, an introductory page invites the “Victrola enthusiast” to use it in several ways. He or she can get a clear idea of the plots of the great operas, read the English texts of foreign language operas, play and sing favorite melodies, and use the book as a guide in the “judicious selection of records.” And who thought Hansel and Gretel was just a Grimm brothers’ fairy tale? As seen in the 1915 book, it was developed into a full opera. In it, the father reminds his children of the consequences of evil deeds as the witch is turned into gingerbread. “When the need is greatest, God the Lord puts out His hand.”

The wind-up Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company phonograph plays music for visitors at the museum. Also known as gramophones or “talking machines,” the museum piece is technically not a Victrola, as that is the brand name for phonographs manufactured by the Victor Talking Machine Company of New Jersey at the turn of the 20th century from about 1901 through 1929 with the famous terrier dog “Nipper” logo. Phonograph machines were produced by several companies, including Brunswick. After some time however, people used the word “victrola” in a generic sense to refer to any phonographs, such as people today who use the word “Kleenex” for any brand of tissue. The wind-up machine at the museum is also from the turn of the century with an internal, concealed “horn” to project the sound. This company was started by an immigrant in 1845 and although famous for billiard tables and many diverse products, it also manufactured phonographs. During a time when this might be the family’s sole entertainment, if so fortunate, many were purchased in November and December during the holidays. states that the factory worked “frantic overtime” to meet consumer demand with “affordable” models priced at fifteen dollars in 1911.

“Your winning smile and cheeks blushing like a rose, yet all the while you sigh while nobody knows. Jeannine, I dream of lilac time, when I return I’ll make you mine. For you and I, our love can never die. Jeannine, I dream of lilac time.”

As the years pass, such nostalgia from “yesterdays” only becomes more valuable. The museum offers a place where visitors can remember and earlier and simpler America, including Gene Austin’s haunting voice of the past with “I dream of lilac time.” Those interested in the friendly hauntings of the “paranormal” at the lighthouse might want to consider participating in one of several “ghost tours” scheduled this season. Don’t miss the first one this month on Saturday, May 25. Starting at 7 p.m. with a general tour, it continues to about 1 a.m. Conducted by the Fredonia Ghost Hunters, it is limited to 15 spaces. Tickets may be purchased by calling the lighthouse at 366-5050 or online at Hours and other information may also be found on their website.

Make it a good week and enjoy the spring lilacs.

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