UPDATE, TUESDAY: Many of the church’s organ pipes were recovered in a truck parked on a street in the Raleigh neighborhood. See update here.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — Restoration work on a nearly 100-year-old pipe organ at a historic downtown Memphis church has stopped after someone stole 1,800 pipes that had been boxed up and were headed to a repair shop in the Boston area.
Calvary Episcopal Church, located at the corner of North Second Street and Adams, is asking the public to be on the lookout for a yellow Penske moving truck with a Massachusetts plate.
Organist-Choirmaster Dr. Kristin Lensch said when they arrived at church Sunday, they discovered the truck containing the organ pipes was missing.
“It wasn’t there. It simply wasn’t there,” said Dr. Lensch. “It’s tough to take just because they took something that means so much to us.”
Lensch said Spencer Organ Company was four days into the restoration project when the pipes were stolen.
Two years ago, the same company restored half of the organ. Joseph Rotella, the owner of Spencer Organ Company, said he was looking forward to tackling the other half, and the project was expected to take about 18 months to complete.
Rotella said it will cost close to a million dollars to replace all the pipes, which have little to no street value.
“This organ is historic. It dates back to the 1930s, and to handcraft all of these pipes are going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the value of what they are worth on the street is practically nothing because it’s just the cost of the metal and the metal they are made of is a lot of zinc and lead which is not a very high priced scrap metal,” said Rotella.
Calvary was built in the 1840s and is the oldest building in continuous use in Memphis. Church leaders hope the thieves abandon the truck they took so restorative work can get back on track.
The church hoped to have the organ completely restored by November 2024.
“So we are hoping no matter what happens, we will have this organ complete, but it would be a wonderful gift to get the organ pipes back,” said Rotella.
The license plate number of the stolen Penske truck is T65589MA. If you spot the truck, call Calvary Episcopal Church at 901-525-6602 or CrimeStoppers at 901-528-CASH.