A Pipe Dream Come True

steve hartman pipe organ dream 67-year-old Jack Moelmann
Making a dream come true can be worth a great sum of money. But for one man, it meant nearly his entire life savings. CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman tells this man's story for Assignment America.

This story is not a story about the theatre organ 67-year-old Jack Moelmann built in his basement outside St. Louis - although that certainly would make an interesting story.

Instead, this story is about Moelmann's other passion, which is to play on as many different theatre organs as possible.

But isn't an organ just an organ?

"No, because they're all different," Moelmann said.

Since his first gig in the church choir, Moelmann has played hundreds of theatre organs. Almost all the famous ones, except perhaps the most famous of all.

"It's the biggest one made by Wurlitzer, and that makes it historic - and in a theatre that is historic," Moelmann said.

Radio City Music Hall - Moelmann has always wanted to play there.

"I looked in the mirror and I said, 'Why not?'" Molemann explained.

Of course, Radio City doesn't just let any old schmoe wander in to play their pipe organ.

In fact, the only way they'd let him play the organ there is if he rented out the entire theatre.

"I've paid so far to the music hall $118,182." He said.

He's not rich. A retired Air Force colonel and life-long bachelor, this one-night stand cost him the bulk of his life savings.

To try and recoup some, Jack sold $50 tickets - which to me seemed about $50 dollars too much ...

"Anybody want a free ticket for Jack Moelmann?" Hartman asked on the street outside the theater.

He thought he was pretty funny. Until, just a few moments later he spotted a potential taker.

"Sir, you looked like you'd like to see Jack Moelmann for free."

"I was actually going to pay for it," the man replied.

"Really!?" Hartman said.

The guy, named Alex, had read about the concert in a local paper.

Alex told Hartman he's not a big fan of organ music.

"I just admire that he's doing this so I think he deserves to get some support," he said.

By show time, nearly 1,000 people had shown up to support Moelmann. That's not many by Radio City standards, but pretty remarkable for an amateur organist.

And they all sat there - for nearly three hours of Rubber Duckie and other assorted favorites. Applauding - if not his organ playing - then at least his attitude.

Only in America can you achieve even your wildest dreams - by buying them.

And only in America can you make that dream happen - and still want more.

"Now I gotta work on the next one," Moelmann said.

"But you're out of money," Hartman said.

"Yea, but this one's free," he said.

After playing Radio City, Moelmann got an invitation to play the largest theatre organ in the world. It's at department store in Philadelphia and has almost 30,000 pipes.

Needless to say, he plans to accept the invitation.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.