We recently received an item that is part of an interesting story with a connection to an important alum. The item is a zither — yes, a zither. It’s a complex musical instrument that was quite familiar a hundred years ago. This was the first time I had seen one outside of a museum. The zither was donated by an RPI alum who grew up in Troy. Here is his story:
While growing up, I lived at 165 8th Street, almost across the street from Mr. [Garnet] Baltimore’s house. I remember Mr. Baltimore as a tall, elderly man. In warm weather he wore a brown suit and a white straw hat. We often exchanged greetings near Quillinan’s store. After Mr. Baltimore died, the house was occupied by his housekeeper (or wife?). Nobody seemed to know her exact status. She was a small, stern looking, white woman and not friendly to us kids. In the spring of 1953 (or 1954?), the house was no longer occupied. Two of my friends entered through a door at ground level on the right-hand side of the house. Dick took the zither and smashed it with a brick. His brother, Jim, then gave it to me. I later put bolts through the zither and tried to play it. There was once a date (1863?) written in pencil under the strings. The zither has been in my possession for about 55 years. I kept it in fond memory of Mr. Baltimore. I hope the zither will now have a place in your Special Collections.
The provenance is a little troublesome, but what a great story. I hope the statute of limitations on possession of stolen property has passed! I have not been able to determine whether Garnet Baltimore owned or played a zither. It seems likely that either he or his “housekeeper” was the musician. Either way, it is a fun object to have in the collection. All the strings are intact, but as the donor explained, the box is in need of repair and very dusty. I hope to have it cleaned it up so that it can be displayed in the future.