Category Archives: Stories, Stories, Stories - Page 2

The Kansas Tornado

Have you ever wondered how MGM managed to recreate one of the most realistic movie tornado’s in the history of Hollywood’s most amazing special effects WITHOUT the usage of animation or any computer manipulation?

Amazingly enough, only about $12,000 out of the total $2,777,000 used to make the entire 1939 Wizard of Oz film was used to build the Tornado.

The first tornado was designed from a 35 foot tall rubber cone.The problem with this tornado was that is was way to rigid and wouldn’t spin properly. The special effects coordinator, Arnold Gillespie, had never experienced a real-life Kansas tornado.

He did though take advantage of his aviation background to come up with his next idea. He recalled that the shape of the airport wind socks greatly resembled the cone shape of a tornado. He took a piece of woven cloth and fashioned it into the shape of a tornado.

Seeing that his newest tornado replica was flexible enough to twist and bend like an actual tornado, he built a much bigger muslin version of 35 feet. The top of the tornado was connected to a specialized steel framework from on top of the stage. The mechanism was specifically built for the movie and was very similar to lifts used in warehouses to lift heavy objects to move them around. Again, the top of the funnel was connected to the top of the stage. The bottom of the funnel disappeared into a slot in the stage floor. A rod came up through the base of the tornado to pull it from one side of the stage to the other, making it look like a real spinning tornado.

To make the tornado appear more realistic, a powdery brown dust and sediment was sprayed into the base of the tornado. The same dust was sprayed into the top of the tornado. As the muslin was somewhat porous, the dust and sediment could escape the tiny holes and appear to look more like an actual spinning motion. This also kept the the sides of the tornado fuzzy, so that it didn’t look like a hard surface. Some dark stripes were painted on the muslin inside the tornado and a little dust was added to give the incredible whirling effect.

To recreate the dark and ominous clouds often seen during a tornado, two panes of glass were placed 4 to 5 feet in front of the cameras. On the panes of glass, gray puffs of cotton balls were glued on to resemble these clouds. The panels were shifted from side-to-side to add to the believability of the storm. Stage hands were forced to breathe in a yellow-black sulfur smoke that represented the dense clouds of the tornado. Many of the stage hands became very ill and coughed up a similar colored mucus.

After the tornado was filmed, it was projected onto a translucent screen. The actors could then be placed in front of it and shot in their roles. Dirt, leaves and other storm debris was blown by wind machines onto the actors. Stage hands, again, got dirty by contributing to the tossing of debris.

The San Francisco Music Box Company has recreated The Wizard of Oz (TM) Tornado…it might not be as good as the original but we really like it! You can see it here!


The Jewelry Box

Name: Cora Versaggi
“The Jewelry Box”
Submission Date: 9/8/2011

Three years ago I inherited my mom’s jewelry box and all the beautiful jewelry inside when she passed away suddenly.

Since then I have worn a piece of her jewelry every day.

One night about 8 months after I lost my mom, I had an extremely difficult situation involving my young son, and I needed my mom desperately – I needed her to tell me it would be okay, that I’d made a good choice and that I was a good mom to my kids.

The next morning after a night of dreams of my mom trying to hug me but never quite being able to reach me, I opened the jewelry box and it played music (for the one and only time in the three years since I lost her) – for a full minute. The sound of it forced me to my knees where I just listened, knowing it was her way of reaching out to envelop me in the sounds of music where her arms could no longer reach.

My son and I listened to the music together, both of us knowing that grandma loved us and that we would be okay.

Last week tragedy struck again – someone stole her jewelry box and everything inside, including her wedding ring. As we work to rebuild what was taken, I find that it is her jewelry box and the love it gave me when I needed it most, that I think of with the most longing.

What a powerful connection…

“Untitled” by Joann Lane

Name: Joann Lane
Submission Date: 9/1/2011

I would like to take this opportunity to share a personal experience with you. I just wanted you (SFMBC) to know, my mother’s favorite movie was “Gone With The Wind”, and what better gift for Mothers Day, than a music box from her most favorite movie in the world. My mom loved those music boxes, she had such joy in her eyes when she opened the present every year. She has passed since (4/12/03) and the music boxes that I had given to her, I chose to give to her surviving sisters. My aunts were overwhelmed with such happiness, joy and tears, because they knew how much those music boxes meant to my mom and to this day, they absolutely cherish them.

So, I wanted to say a personal Thank You to San Francisco Music Box Company for allowing me to bring joy and happiness into the lives of my mother and my aunts.

“The Waterglobe” by Jordan Jarrett

Name: Jordan Jarrett
Title: “The Waterglobe”
Submission Date: 9/1/2011

For most people, a visit to Grandma usually means a pleasant chat with a cup of tea. For Mom and me, it meant cleaning her house.

I didn’t object to cleaning. That home needed a good scrub. Garbage bags lay by the door instead of on the curb, and the dust-bunnies were as big as my fist.

But this time, I didn’t care about the dishes I’d abandoned an hour ago. I didn’t care that Mom’s wrath would be upon me later. I was where I needed to be; sitting with a lonely woman who’d otherwise stare into oblivion with just her memories as company.

During that hour, Grandma mosied over to the fireplace and took the waterglobe sitting on the mantel. She wound it up, and it played “Fur Elise.” The carousel horse inside revolved to the dainty tune.

Grandma called the globe an emblem of her childhood. The first song she learned on the piano. Her first carnival ride. Her first treasured item.

    “If an item can hold even one memory,” she said, “it’s to be valued over every material thing.”

We watched the little horse dance.

Just a month later, Grandma died. I wasn’t grief-stricken like my mother. I mourned, yet remained at peace that I gave Grandma one last happy memory before she left.

My family has a tradition that when a loved one passes away, each of us chooses one item of that person’s to keep forever.

As you know, I chose Grandma’s waterglobe.

Future “Swan Lake” Star!

So magical….so memorable!

One of our fans sent this video of his 2-year old daughter dancing to the tune of a San Francisco Music Box ballerina musical water globe.  She was enchanted with the ballerina, the music, and the glitter!  Watch her dance here, with her very own tutu, to the ballerina water globe tune “Swan Lake.”   It’s a video that will make you smile!

Pier 56, Where it all began

The San Francisco Music Box Company was founded in 1978 and became one of the largest retailers of musical gifts in the world. The first store was opened on San Francisco’s bustling Pier 39 boardwalk and became the flagship store for a chain that featured over 300 stores in almost every mall in the U.S and Canada. Throughout those years, the brand reflected the highest in standards for detail, quality and execution and the products created a loyal following of millions of consumers world-wide.

Although we no longer operate our own stores, those same great products are featured in quality retailers across the U.S. and Canada, as well as Europe and Australia. Check our store locator for a retailer near you.
All of our products are exclusive to SFMB and include award-winning designs in water globes, figurines, carousels and Italian inlay wood music boxes. Every item from San Francisco Music Box Company is musical and features either an 18-note movement or a long-playing chip and the musical experience sets our music boxes apart from other gifts.

The Spirit of Columbia Gardens Carousel: Painted Horses Remember

In the old mining city of Butte, Montana, I stumbled upon a historical legacy fifteen years in the making. A carousel of remembrance and renewal.

The Butte Brewery Horse, carries a can of ale in its saddle roll.

Nondys Mason, whose name means “Little Flower,” in Sioux Indian, planted the story bud softly, but with passion. And, petal by petal, she revealed the potential of the beautiful flower close to blooming. I encountered Nondys, quite by accident, in the Butte Plaza Mall, MT. She was working quietly and methodically in the workshop of the Spirit of Columbia Gardens Carousel. It seemed an unlikely place for a carved wooden horse’s head, which dwarfed the Native American woman completely, and in retrospect, I almost passed her by. How pleased I am, that I didn’t.

Sometimes, unexpectedly, we learn of a story that needs sharing. It begins as a tale of hard work, commitment, sacrifice and persistence – a tale worthy of telling in its own right. Once you’ve heard it, you realize it runs far deeper, because it involves the lives of not one, but many. Such is the labor of love which Nondys Mason embarked upon well over a decade ago, as she memorializes others, through painted horses.

The history of Butte’s Spirit of Columbia Gardens Carousel begins in mining

“The Richest Hill on Earth,” attracted many looking to make their fortunes on Butte’s gold and silver reserves, until the advent of electricity boosted copper prices to soaring levels. Rich in copper reserves, the battle for Butte’s mineral wealth was a given. With billions of dollars up for grabs, three men – W.A. Clark, Marcus Daly, and F. Augustus Heinze – launched a territorial war to control it all. Known as the Copper Kings, these men turned Butte into one of the most notorious boom towns of the American West.

Clarke in particular left an enduring legacy on the town of Butte, and attracted money like a magnet attracts iron ore. Joseph Kinsey Howard wrote of Clark in his 1944 book, Montana – High, Wide, And Handsome, that “never a dollar got away from him that didn’t come back stuck to another.” Clarke ended his days a rich man, and although it was earned off the backs of others, he did leave the people of Butte a beautiful memorial, a 68-acre paradise called, Columbia Gardens.

The mining town of Butte, churned out copper readily, but it was a bleak affair, with little to offer the families who dwelt there. Clarke’s gift, proved a welcome one for the town’s residents, and every Thursday, children were transported free of charge, to enjoy the Columbia Gardens and its amusement rides. The eventual jewel in the crown was added to the park in 1923, a beautiful carousel ride nestled in the heart of the gardens.

Dedicated to the citizens of Butte, the carousel’s forty-two hand crafted horses and equally impressive chariots, bobbed merrily along, ferrying children to the sound of the band organ. Its decorative mirrors and ornate canopies, afforded all who came to ride her, a bevy of brightness in an otherwise drab, mining community.

Generations of families enjoyed the gardens until 1973, when a large company looking to expand open-pit mining, decided to dismantle it. Butte residents received one last chance to touch the horses and ride them, but the opportunity for objection was never granted. Before the carousel’s beautiful steeds could be disassembled and placed in storage, the 50-year-old carousel mysteriously burnt to the ground and it was all gone.

Out of the ashes of history, emerges new hope

From the ashes of the carousel sprang forth a new determination. And while it doesn’t necessarily replace the lost, it proposes something better, stronger and more meaningful. For the past fifteen years, a push has been underway to replace the carousel and the breath of fresh air it once afforded the people of Butte. The Spirit of Columbia Gardens Carousel Foundation, is dedicated to reclaiming and restoring a larger part of Butte’s history, as a nonprofit organization.

For the past fourteen years, Nondys Mason has been working with individual sponsors on creating custom horses for a new carousel. She has outlasted many of those who began the project, most of them elders, who have since moved on to greener pastures of their own. After incredibly talented volunteers, expertly and carefully hand carve each horse to exact specifications, the bass wood horses are handed to Nondys for painting, and the magic comes together.

Each horse is unique to the sponsor and celebrates Butte’s history

Nondys told me that every horse is unique to the person, company, or organization who sponsored it. Each mount takes 1,000 hours to hand carve, and another 250 hours to hand paint. Pointing to the hollow which will eventually contain the pole, Nondys explained how some of them will be time capsules, and others will accept the ashes of a deceased loved one. Individual steeds carry a special memory, more diverse than the one that will gallop beside it; every mount is a living testament to something, or someone. Together, they recreate the town’s history, both historically and personally.

Take the Warner Horse, for example, sponsored by Tim C. Warner, president of Cinemark International. Born and raised in Butte, Warner manages Cinemark Theatre’s, 613 overseas screens. His horse, a resplendent black with silver leaf mane, tail and hooves, is an existing family tree. Each rose, Nondys explains, depicts one family member, as does the color of the rose.

The trailing buds reveal another generation, right down to the harness gems, which represent the youngest family members. The chest plate and blanket, emblazoned with a “W,” speaks the family name, and if you follow the edge of the saddle pad carefully, an authentic reel of film is immortalized forever.

Across the way is the Butte Brewery Horse, once one of the largest breweries to serve its fare to the town’s miners. This majestic creature will run across from the Warner Horse, with an original can of golden amber forever preserved in his saddle roll. Then there is Tammany, Marcus Daly’s coveted racehorse. The Copper King’s pride and joy, once represented the west against the east’s favorite, Lamplighter, in the 1893 Guttenberg Stakes. Daly hauled the horse 3,000 miles to New Jersey, where he beat Lamplighter by an impressive 4 lengths.

The passion for the carousel is contagious

Tammany represents the history of Daly’s, Anaconda Copper Co. His jockey’s colors of copper and green are incorporated into the saddle and blanket, along with a portrait of Daly himself. The racehorse’s own color was carefully matched by Nondys, not an easy feat in an era of black and white photography.

No two horses are painted the same, Nondys tells me, who mixes the paint herself, with enough in reserve for touch-ups. This is important Nondys says, for she could never hope to match the color again. As much as each horse is different, Nondys adds, they all share one prominent character, the mining history of Butte is preserved in the paint, and can be seen in the silver manes, the copper hooves and the gold insignia on every horse.

I find myself gripped by the passion of this dark-haired volunteer, quite rightly proud, of all she has accomplished in 14-years. I’m astounded she has painted every one of the 28 horses completed to date, with five coats of primer before even tackling the base colors. I am further floored when I learn that she works for free, and her spare time is spent painting smaller custom horses, sold for funds which can be rolled back into the project. I found myself wanting to hear every story behind each horse, but time constraints rudely interrupted.

Nondys assured me that when the carousel is completed, the foundation is planning a book, detailing the history behind each horse. One copy already has a home, and I shall collect it when I fulfill my promise to Nondys, to return, and see the finished product in all its glory. The new carousel will have 30 jumping equines, a further four in reserve, two standing horses, and two chariots. With the dedication and hard work of volunteers, it is well underway to completion.

The $20,000 carousel machine is waiting in the wings, the site for its final unveiling still in the works, but the foundation needs help. Nine carvers have passed away since the project began, failing eyesight has forced others to step back, and volunteers have dwindled over the years. A recent drive to recruit more support, courted promises that never materialized and the organization remains desperate for extra hands.

In celebrating the past, the Spirit of Columbia Gardens Carousel project is laying the groundwork for Butte’s future. If you can help, please do call the foundation at (406) 494-7775, or visit the workshop in the Butte Plaza Mall and pledge your support. Nondys herself is available for custom artwork, at (406) 287-3313.

In recollecting the Winston Churchill quote, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” I cannot help but imagine, that both Nondys, and Butte’s painted horses, would agree.



  • Personal interview with Nondys Mason; The Spirit of Columbia Gardens Carousel; Butte Plaza Mall, Butte. MT;
  • Howard, Joseph Kinsey. Montana High Wide and Handsome. Yale University; 5th edition (1944). ASIN: B000NPR6R2
  • Glassock, C.B. The War of the Copper Kings. Western History Publications (2002). ISBN: 1931832218
  • The Copper King Mansion Bed and Breakfast in Butte, Montana.