Buying a small piece of history
A rambling by Tom Knapp,
January 1995

I bought a pulley at the Fulton Opera House.

The Fulton, built in 1852 and named for steamboat inventer Robert Fulton, is not only the oldest theater in Lancaster, Pa., It is also one of the oldest continuously operated theaters in the United States.

In 1995, theater trustees held an auction of old props and memorabilia to help fund a $9.5 million restoration of the Grand Old Lady of Prince Street. My pulley was one of many that were auctioned off during the lengthy fund-raiser, which raised close to $30,000 towards the renovation project.

I don't really need a pulley. I can't imagine what I'll do with it. But it's a neat-looking piece of tackle -- it's rough and chipped and kind of dirty, so I can tell it was well used.

It was, during the 75 minutes of auction I attended, one of the few pieces of Fulton history that I could reasonably afford.

I suppose it was used for moving scenery around on the Fulton stage. I wish there was some way to plug in and hear the voices, the scripted lines ringing up through the backstage rigging, so I could know what shows it was used in, what backdrops it might have held.

There are, perhaps, echoes of great plays, stirring musicals, schticks and slapsticks in the wood. Perhaps if I listen very closely, I can hear the applause as the actors took their bows.

I don't know where I'll put my pulley. But it's kind of neat to know I own a small piece of Lancaster's oldest theater tradition. It's even neater to know that the cultural community here, be it theater, music or art, is still thriving today. Let's hope it keeps growing stronger.

[ by Tom Knapp ]