A Confederacy of Coincidences — And That Brings Us Back to Mo

Two weeks ago, it was my nice  fortune to be a projectionist on duty when we presented a rare showing of "The General" (1926) in the Atlanta Fox Theatre, accompanied with a live musical score performed on our powerful Moller pipe organ. Buster Keaton's classic Civil War comedy is based on the actual 1862 incident when Union soldiers and sympathizers stole a Confederate train, setting off a dangerous locomotive chase through Georgia.

I learned of "The General" booking in late spring, about the time my wife and I renewed our season tickets to Theatre in the Square, a small, professional venue producing plays in nearby Marietta, Ga. TITS, as we like to call it (Donna said it first! Donna said it first!), announced their line-up of shows, but I paid minimal notice. I get so much more out of theatregoing by not immersing myself in details of the productions in advance.

Sunday, 12 evenings after "The General," I found myself in our second row seats at Theatre in the Square, watching the world premiere of "Stealing Dixie," a gripping drama —

(One moment. Let me copy and paste this...)

— based on an actual 1862 incident when Union soldiers and sympathizers stole a Confederate train, setting off a dangerous locomotive chase through Georgia.

"Stealing Dixie" promo, Marietta.
I was bewildered. This largely unknown historical event provided the frameworks for two entertainments I was essentially summoned to attend less than a fortnight apart.

The coincidences continue.

Theatre in the Square is located one storefront away from the Marietta railroad tracks. Standing at the entrance, one can glimpse the former Kennesaw House, maybe 200 feet yonder. It was inside that building, depicted explicitly in "Stealing Dixie," where the Union men holed up the night before their crime. The boarding of The General, I assume, occurred mere yards away, too.

Western & Atlantic Railroad No. 3, The General on display in Kennesaw, Ga.

Until yesterday, the above material was enough of a weird story for me to ponder. Then, out of the blue, things took another turn.

Accomplished theatre organist and silent film enthusiast Dennis James uncovered my previous article on "The General" at The Fabulous Fox. He sent a note of kind remarks and shared his memories.

I had projected "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925) for one of Dennis' special Fox appearances, around 25 years ago. He was at the keys of the "Mighty Mo" organ, supporting the motion picture.

Dennis wrote:

I well remember our sellout screenings of Lon Chaney's PHANTOM OF THE OPERA over the years, and the TCM presented Erich von Stroheim THE MERRY WIDOW that we also recorded for the cable channel periodic broadcasts. What a house, what an organ!

I was pleased to hear from him and startled I had somehow missed his connection to "The Merry Widow." I had no idea he had provided the soundtrack, recorded at the very same Fox console. How did I miss this development? Turner Classic Movies, after all, is my second home. I practically live inside the channel.

I dropped what I was doing and immediately moused my way over to TCM.com. I would have TCM send me an Email Alert in advance of their next presentation of "The Merry Widow." They occasionally broadcast silent films. This one would be back around within a year or two.


What is going on here? "The Merry Widow," I read, was scheduled to be aired:

Tue, Aug 24, 2010 8:30 AM EDT

That was THIS morning, only 14 hours later.

Screen credits from "The Merry Widow" (1925), as seen on TV

I recorded the movie. Does the story end here?

I don't know because I seem to be back at the Fox. I'm going to enjoy running "The Merry Widow" on my television, but with one begrudging caveat. I should be paid to listen to the Fox organ, you know. I have always been paid to listen to the Fox organ, working there and all. It's what I do.

Play it again, Dennis....

Train photo courtesy Harvey Henkelmann.

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