New life sought for pipe organ damaged on 9/11

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. --- The soaring sounds of a pipe organ silenced when dust from the collapsing World Trade Center invaded its church sanctuary nearly a decade ago could soon fill a place of worship again.


The instrument built in 1846 was dismantled and put in storage days after the Sept. 11 attacks and hasn't been played since.

Now, as the 10-year anniversary of the attacks approaches, Trinity Wall Street is donating the instrument to Johns Creek United Methodist Church outside Atlanta, leaders from both churches confirmed.

"There are many who have prayed that it will rise again and bring glorious music once more," the Rev. D. B. Shelnutt Jr. told his congregation at Johns Creek on a recent Sunday. He described the instrument as "the Rolls-Royce of pipe organs."

The hope is to have it in place about a year from now, in a new sanctuary being built by the metro Atlanta church, said the Rev. Beth Brown Shugart, a pastor of worship and music at Johns Creek.

"We're just beside ourselves, we're so happy," she said.

Randy Elkins, the organist at Johns Creek, had an idea there might be an instrument somewhere that needed a new home, and he began exploring possibilities, Shugart said.

Soon, church leaders were in touch with organ builder John Bishop, the executive director of the Massachusetts-based Organ Clearing House, which works to preserve vintage organs. He is now working to refurbish the instrument at his workshop in New England.

A few days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Bishop inspected Trinity's organ and noticed the distinct smell of jet fuel in the church offices. Dust had invaded the sanctuary, and there were fears it damaged the instrument.

The precise extent of the organ damage is not yet known. In the coming months, brushes will be used to clean the pipes, and a vacuum will suck out any dust.

The organ's 8,000 pipes range from the size of a pinky finger to to 20 feet high, Shugart said. It was stored in about 300 crates and took three semi-trucks to move all of the pieces, she said.

It will cost the Johns Creek congregation $1 million to $1.5 million to have the instrument redesigned and installed in the new sanctuary, Shelnutt said. He estimated its value at $4 million to $5 million.