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WDAY: The News Leader

Published October 25, 2013, 06:35 PM

Fargo Theatre’s Silent Movie Night

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - In less than two hours, the curtain will rise at the Fargo Theatre to feature the best of a by-gone era: Silent Movies.

By: Drew Trafton, WDAY

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - In less than two hours, the curtain will rise at the Fargo Theatre to feature the best of a by-gone era: Silent Movies.

But an original piece of that history still remains: It's the "real" main attraction.

It's Silent Movie Night at the Fargo Theater, but you won't find the star on the silver screen.

Lance Johnson- Organist: "The theater organ was designed number one, to provide music to the silent films, and number two, as a solo instrument.”

This Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ, an original albeit refurbished piece of the Fargo Theater, is the largest theater organ between Minneapolis and the West Coast; a living, breathing and large time machine.

Johnson: "It would take four railroad box cars to haul it if it were crated up."

The organ needs three chambers in the theater and three separate blowers to function.

Legendary local organist Lance Johnson rescued it after 25 years of sitting unused, and restored the instrument in 1973.

It was back in operation with time to spare for the theater's first silent movie night in 1974.

On Friday night, the organ will be providing the score to one of Johnson's favorites: Harold Lloyd's comedy, "Safety Last."

But, perhaps more impressive than the instrument making the sounds is the one Johnson has between his ears.

He watches an hour-long silent film just once in order to prepare his score.

Johnson: "I'm playing it in my head, and so I can recall these themes as sound effects that I'll need. For example, tonight's movie has a train."

Johnson estimates he's spent 1,000 hours maintaining the organ, and he's not looking to slow down anytime soon.

Johnson: "When you see my obituary in the Forum, then I've stop playing."

So, perhaps on a night when the art of yesteryear is appreciated, it's fair to say the rarest treasure will not be featured on the marquee.

The show, which also includes big band music, starts Friday night at 7:30.

Tickets are $16 at the door.

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