Theater pipe organs like the Dickinson Kimball were built to accompany silent films in the early 20th century. The organs were used to draw out the emotion from the screen. The Dickinson Kimball came from the now-defunct Boyd Theatre in Philadelphia.
Dilworth, who was working as a math teacher at Dickinson High in the late 1960s, first heard a theater organ while listening to radio programs as a child in the 1930s. In 1956 he purchased a recording that included “Slaughter on Fifth Avenue” performed on an organ. He was hooked.
In 1968, Dilworth discovered that RKO-Stanley Warner Corp. was giving away aging theater organs as a tax write-off. The organs had long before gone the way of the dinosaur thanks to talking films. He wrote a letter on behalf of the school asking for an organ. After what seemed like an eternity, his dream came true.
Before Dilworth and a group of students would begin dismantling the pipes, Larry Ferrari, a popular local electronic organist, played a farewell concert at the Boyd in February 1969. Dilworth and crew completed the removal by May, then they began to rehabilitate it and install it. The first piece went into the Dickinson Theatre’s newly constructed chambers the following July. The first concert was held in February 1970. The society has presented four to seven concerts each year ever since.
Through the years, the society added onto the original console and 19 sets of pipes. Dilworth says today that, with its more than 66 ranks (sets of pipes), the organ is the largest of its kind housed in a public auditorium. Dilworth, an unofficial historian, will be glad to give you all the details on the three larger organs—one of which resides in a pizza parlor in Arizona. He’s seen them all.
According to Double, these theater pipe organs have the ability to suck a person in. And Dilworth, with his indescribable passion, has long been gone.
“You don’t do what he’s done as a volunteer for more than 40 years without passion,” Double says. “The theater organ generates this. It runs throughout the organization. For Bob—when you combine passion with the opportunity and the desire to create arguably among the top five theater organs in the world—you’ve got a special individual … especially for someone who doesn’t play. Most don’t. They’re interested because they love the sound.”
Dilworth taught at Dickinson until he retired in 1985. He was in charge of all installation and maintenance until five years ago, but he continues to keep auditorium responsibilities through the society.