Music boxes make Murrysville collector’s heart sing
One Christmas, when she was a teenager, all Margaret McBride wanted was a music box.
“I got this when I was about 13 at the 5 & 10,” she says, referring to a red-painted music box that also functioned as a powder box. It plays the song, “Forever and Ever.”
“Music boxes always fascinated me,” says the Murrysville resident, 75. After that, whenever she would see a music box, she’d look into buying it.
“I have them from all different relatives and friends and bought them from thrift stores myself,” McBride says.
Almost every music box in her collection of 132 has a lovely memory, either of the person who gave it to her or the occasion on which she received it — or both.
“A friend got me this one when I was going to be a grandmother,” she says, referring to a grandmother figure on a rocking chair, which plays Brahms’ “Lullaby.” Another, which she bought on a tour of the Pacific Coast of Oregon when her daughter, Sherry Masisak, lived there, plays “We’ve Only Just Begun.” Another Oregon memento is a small copper lighthouse that plays “You Light Up My Life.”
“In different places I’ve been, I try to get a music box,” she says. So she has music boxes from New York, Nashville, Gettysburg, Las Vegas and more. She also owns a trolley car music box bought in San Francisco. The McBrides’ daughter traveled to the Kentucky Derby and brought back a music box in the shape of a large flowered hat. The tune is “Somewhere Out There.”
The McBrides’ son, Rob, of Cheswick, has bought music boxes on his travels to far-off locales such as China and Korea. Their daughter-in-law, Debbie McBride, traveled to Italy and came back with a music box that plays “The Isle of Capri.”
“My mother said, ‘When you were born, every radio played “Isle of Capri.” ‘ It was a coincidence that Debbie McBride brought her mother-in-law a music box with that same tune, Margaret McBride says.
Elise Roenigk of Eureka Springs, Ark., a past president and vice president of the Music Box Society International, says part of the appeal of collecting music boxes is that “it’s wonderful to share the type of music people have not heard or are not aware of.”
McBride displays her collection in curio cabinets to guard them from dust. She groups them by subject: two shelves feature Christmas music boxes; birds, domesticated animals, flowers and toys sit on other shelves.
She also embellishes some of the music boxes she owns. For a music box shaped like a toy box, McBride tucked in a miniature Scrabble board to symbolize one of her favorite games.
McBride’s brother, Jim Swank of Greensburg, even made her a music box for Christmas that commemorated the anniversary she and her husband, Bob, celebrate two weeks after the holiday. It has a lid, inlaid flowers and features the tune, “The Anniversary Waltz.” Their son made another with a Scotty dog and tartan bow to commemorate their Scotch-Irish heritage. The tune is “Amazing Grace.” Yet another music box, to which son-in-law Tom Masisak lent his creative talents, features an old hymnal, old-fashion wire-rim glasses, a red ribbon and the melody “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”
The largest music box in McBride’s collection also is the most elaborate; it plays around two dozen tunes in three- and four-part harmony with five percussion bells. The music box is wooden and box-shaped, with a glass lid that allows the viewer to see the bell-shaped chimes within. McBride and her husband, Bob, found the music box in a Cracker Barrel restaurant gift shop.
McBride has a list of her 132 music boxes so she knows what she already owns and doesn’t buy duplicates.
“My husband thinks I should get rid of them,” McBride says. “But I wouldn’t know which one I’d like to keep.”
Pegs have their place, too
Margaret McBride isn’t the only collector in her Murrysville house. Husband Bob has been collecting antique husking pegs, of which he has about 85, since his childhood days.
Growing up in Monroeville when it was more farming community than retail mecca, Bob McBride, 75, often saw his grandfather and great-uncle using husking pegs to husk corn.
Farmers who grew field corn for their animals would use the pegs at harvest time. The husking peg is a small piece of metal fastened to a leather strap or canvas cloth that slipped onto one’s fingers and was used to strip the husks off the ears of corn. Farmers could grab an ear with one hand and usually with one motion and with the help of the husking peg, peel the husk off with the other.
The farmers worked fast at their husking chores, McBride says.
“A good husker would have an ear in the air at all times,” he says.
Modern husking pegs are still sold today, by companies like Seedburo Equipment Co. of Des Plaines, Ill. Tim Snader, sales manager of Seedburo, says farmers now often use machines to harvest corn. But agricultural researchers and universities that have agricultural schools, like Penn State, have students husk the corn to see the condition of the corn inside as it grows.
“It’s a common tool for farmers and seed-corn research facilities,” Snader says.
Most of the 85 husking pegs in McBride’s collection are handmade by farmers, who would use leftover wood, horn or other natural materials for the handles, then attach whatever blade they thought would do the job.
Over the past 40 years, friends and relatives who have seen them have given them to McBride as gifts. He has found others and flea markets and garage sales.
“I’m intrigued by older things,” he says. “I used to go to flea markets and see stuff my grandparents and neighbors had.”