A unique musical instrument that traces its heritage to an early 20th-century San Francisco exposition, a 19th-century Copenhagen tower and an even older invention is once again wafting its haunting sounds across a Solvang hillside.
On Tuesday, the Solvang wind harp was mounted on a new pole overlooking Fredensborn Canyon, where it stood for 101 years before being taken down for an extensive restoration and renovation project.
Today, it sits on the Atterdag Village property, but it was on Atterdag College campus that the wind harp was first erected after being saved from the scrap heap after the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.
On Wednesday afternoon, the harp was rededicated in a ceremony attended by nearly 100 people, including longtime Solvang residents, city officials, Atterdag Village board members, the craftsmen who restored it and the crew that built its new tower and bolted it into place.
“This is the last significant remnant of Atterdag (College), so it needed to be preserved,” said blacksmith and City Councilman Hans Duus, who worked on the wind harp’s restoration. “We had to keep it here.”
Duus said it wasn’t hard to figure out what was needed because he had plenty of photos to use in the restoration, which he estimated took himself and four or five others 150 to 200 man hours to complete.
“It was just a matter of figuring out the proportions,” he said at the dedication. “What it entailed was a lot of cleanup, sandblasting and powder-coating — and here we are.”
Solvang’s wind harp combines two unrelated pieces of early technology — the time ball and the wind harp.
Invented in England in the early 19th century, the time ball allowed mariners to verify the accuracy of their chronometers, which is necessary to determine their longitude at sea.
A wicker, wooden or metal ball mounted on a tall tower would drop at a specific time — 1 p.m. in England and noon in the United States — to allow mariners and others to synchronize their clocks.
In 1868, a time ball — or “tidskugle” in Danish — was erected on a tower in Copenhagen, and there it dropped every day until 1909, when it was taken down.
The Panama-Pacific International Exposition that opened in 1915 in San Francisco drew exhibits and visitors from countries all around the globe, and the architect who designed the Denmark pavilion chose to top it with a reproduction of the Copenhagen tidskugle.
But he combined the tidskugle’s design with a modified version of a wind harp, a 17th-century instrument made of wood with stretched strings that vibrate when the wind blows through them, creating an ethereal music.
The wind harp he created for the pavilion used tuned tubes to create its haunting sounds.
When the exposition ended, most of the buildings were completely demolished, but Benedict Nordentoft, one of Solvang’s founders, saved the tidskugle wind harp and brought it back to be mounted at Atterdag College.
Although the wind harp was restored once more than 40 years ago, the weather took its toll over the remaining years, and many pieces deteriorated away or fell and were picked up by souvenir hunters, said Debbi Knight, marketing director for Atterdag Village.
Solvang native Bob Hatch saw the wind harp every time he visited his uncle at Atterdag Village, and one day he posted a picture of its condition on Facebook, she said.
Before the day was over, scores of people commented and pledged support to preserve it.
Hatch enlisted Duus to restore the wind harp, and Brett Hittner, facilities management director at Atterdag Village, coordinated the restoration. Elliott & Pohls Construction built the foundation and erected the restored wind harp.
Knight noted the restored version isn’t exactly like the original, but it’s very close, and with the techniques used by Duus and Elliott & Pohls, it should last well into its second century.
“I’ve only been here six years, so I’ve never heard it,” she added. “But I understand sometimes it could be heard at various places around the town. I’m anxious to hear it.”