Dulcimer Reclaimed After 50+ Years

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Duane Porterfield had no idea about the set of events he’d put into motion when he took a dusty old instrument off the wall at The Dulcimer Shoppe in Mountain View this spring.

Porterfield, a national dulcimer champion who enjoys demonstrating instruments and working in the production area when he has time, decided he’d examine the long-displayed instrument and make an assessment of its musical worth. As it turns out, that decision reunited the dulcimer with its owner who had brought it in for repair more than 50 years ago.

“There was at least 40 years worth of dust on it,” Porterfield said. “It hung on the wall in the very same spot back in the building area for so long that it left a silhouette in place.”

Porterfield repaired a split near the instrument’s peg tuners and replaced the bridge before he posted a Facebook video featuring the dulcimer and describing what little history he knew about it.
Richard Stoltze, one of the shop’s original craftsmen, saw the video and immediately recalled the story, sharing it with Porterfield.

The instrument belonged to Sherry Herschend, Stoltze said, who brought the instrument in for repair in 1968, a year after it was made. It was during that visit when Herschend asked store founder Lynn McSpadden if he could craft a smaller instrument for her to use in her frequent performances at Rackensack shows and other area events. McSpadden fulfilled Sherry’s request, and she loved the smaller instrument so much that she forgot about the original dulcimer brought in for repair.

It hung in the store for 50 years while the Herschend family – owners of Silver Dollar City – continued their cultural and historical preservation efforts and grew their entertainment enterprise with attractions such as Dollywood and The Harlem Globetrotters.

Porterfield was able to find contact information for Herschend and her husband, Jack, who returned to Mountain View last week to retrieve the instrument.

“It brings back so many memories,” Herschend, now age 87, said of the instrument labeled as number 165 of more than 63,600 made to date. “I cried when it got broken. We were living here playing with the Rackensack and had been on a float trip with the family. Someone sat on it in the car and crushed it and I was so sad about it. Lynn did make me a smaller version that I carried and played all over the country.

The smaller dulcimer McSpadden made for her became known as “the Ginger” and is an instrument line craftsmen in the shop continue to produce.

“Somehow, the first moment I sat down with a dulcimer, I knew it was what I wanted to do,” Herschend said. “If you can tune it, you can usually play it, but you do have to take it home and work with it. But there’s an ease to the playing and that’s why I was able to help Lynn sell so many over the years. You can get just about anyone to play a tune on one, and they want to take it home.

“It sounds like the Ozarks to me,” she said, noting her Scotch-Irish heritage and connection to the Appalachians and the Ozarks. “I think it’s interesting that my family made that migration.”

“It’s really kind of interesting how this all came about just because we took it off the wall back there,” Porterfield said. “And another bonus is that one of the results is having Richard back in the shop as a craftsman working on the instruments. He’s back on his own terms and works however he likes.”

The drive to Mountain view and dulcimer retrieval is part of the Herschends 67th wedding anniversary celebration.

“It’s just been such a glorious time for us and this is so special,” Herschend said. “I feel like I could be raptured right here.”

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