Fox Theatre’s Mighty Mo

It takes enormous skill and musical virtuosity to play this behemoth, and most theatre organists from all over the world consider a performance on Mighty Mo to be the pinnacle of their career. Bob Van Camp was the house organist for more than 25 years at the Fox. When he died, Patten and Atlanta Landmarks board member Robert L. Foreman Jr. sprinkled his ashes in the attic over the organ chambers.

I read in the February 5, 2020, Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the Fox Theatre’s 90-year-old Möller pipe organ was hauled to Lithonia, Georgia. The A. E. Schlueter Pipe Organ Company will be doing more than half a million-dollar repair and restoration.

It will be getting a few modern touches like Cat 5 cable and a computer to control the pre-set pistons. M. P. Möller (M. P. Möller, Inc.) was a prolific American organ builder (over 11,000 instruments) located in Hagerstown, Maryland from 1875 to 1992. The company was founded in 1875 by Danish immigrant, Matthias Peter Möller in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

The City of Hagerstown, Maryland took notice of Möller’s early successes and induced him to move his business to that city to help make Hagerstown a viable business center in Western Maryland.

Early Möller instruments utilized mechanical (tracker) action in the pipe chests, whereas the console is linked to the pipes by mechanical means. Later, tubular-pneumatic action was used for a brief time until the company adopted its own version of electro-pneumatic action (or pitman action).

Möller organs could be found in thousands of churches of all denominations, schools, concert halls, private residences, and movie theaters. The largest Möller church organ, built as a single new instrument, is installed in Calvary Church, Charlotte, North Carolina, Opus 11739, completed in 1990.

The first major contract that Möller obtained with the United States service academies was for the instrument in the Cadet Chapel of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. This was Möller Opus 1200, dedicated in 1911.

Möller built a large number of theater organs (often known as the “Möller Deluxe” organ) and the company’s theater’s largest instrument still resides in the Atlanta Fox Theatre, affectionately known as the “Mighty Mo.”

Return to the Fox

After the half-million-dollar repair, the fabulously ornate console was returned to the Fox on December 8, 2020. Double the help was on hand Tuesday as the Möller was delivered from the Lithonia organ builder and dollied back to center stage. The scuffed, cracked, and flaking case had been refurbished. The cigarette burns were erased from sight.

The entire console was wrapped in an imitation gold leaf. One of the main problems that had been repaired was just age. In the 70s a streaker had landed on the keyboard as did a rock musician later in the decade. After that, the Fox built a metal cage to protect Mighty Mo when not in use. Arthur Schlueter III, a second-generation organ builder, could peer inside the console and see repairs dating back to the 1960s.

In that era Westinghouse electrical engineer and organ enthusiast Joe Patten was retained by the Fox to put the ailing organ back in working order. Two of the organ’s weak points, then and now, were the pneumatic switches inside the console and the bundle of 4,000-plus wires that snaked out of the base of the console in a trunk as thick as a two-liter Coke bottle. The wires carried signals from the console to the pipe chambers, high up on the walls to the right and left of the stage.

The pipes and orchestral instruments operated by the console are hidden in these chambers under ornate archways and behind gilded grills, masquerading as box seats. Repeatedly stressed as the organ was lifted out of the orchestra pit on its elevator, many of the wires had shorted out.

Schlueter removed the pneumatic relays and the bundle of wires and replaced them with a purpose-built microcomputer and a few slim Ethernet cables. Traditionalists may be upset by the changes to the organ.

They’ve taken this 1920s technology and brought it to the 21st century, which is where we play music

Ken Double – who, with Rick McGee, serves as house organist at the Fox.

The original stop tabs, which were made of nitrocellulose (an explosive material also used in munitions) have been replaced with plastic tabs. In the course of being disassembled, the ivory veneers on the four keyboards were also replaced with plastic veneers. Mighty Mo was settled into place without incident, ready to play again.

Further Reading


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Theatre Organs

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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