Last Updated on July 29, 2020 by Jeremy
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One of the things I love about our goal of visiting every attraction in Pittsburgh is uncovering a hidden gem that most who live in the city may not even know about. The Bayernhof Museum in O'Hara Township certainly fell on that list for us, and after visiting it is now one of the many places in the city we have come to regret not visiting sooner.
The reason for this is because when we first heard about the Bayernhof it was described to us as a house of musical instruments. Okay, we love music, but that wasn't really the greatest of sales pitches that would inspire us to get out the door. In fact, we probably would not have visited at all if it wasn't for our goal of doing everything Pittsburgh has to throw at us.
After visiting, however, we came up with a better way to describe the Bayernhof. It is a gorgeous home-turned-museum housing one of the world's largest collections of self-playing musical instruments, nearly all in working order, that you can actually hear during a visit.
Excited yet? You should be.
A House of Music in Pittsburgh
The collection of self-playing musical instruments at the Bayernhof was assembled by Charles Brown III (yes, Charlie Brown), an eccentric man who made a fortune after founding the Gas-Lite Manufacturing Company in 1963.
One of his hobbies was collecting rare self-playing musical instruments, and his final wish before passing in 1999 was to turn the house into a museum to share his collection with the world.
And what a collection it is.
Think of any type of self-playing instrument you can, and it is likely in the collection at the Bayernhof. Self-playing pianos? He has two in the TV room, right next to a full-size machine that was used in the silent movie days. In the same room is a self-playing dual violin machine as well as a Welte Style 2- a smaller version of the same machine found at the Frick House in Squirrel Hill which plays a plethora of instruments all at once.
The collection continues like this in just about every room, with some of the more unusual items including a self-playing banjo, several intricate music boxes, an even an Edison wax cylinder phonograph- a machine invented by Thomas Edison that is widely considered to be one of the first music machines ever made.
Seeing these instruments is one thing, but the highlight of this aspect of the tour is that you can also hear all of the instruments as nearly all are in working order (although they do go out of commission and need repaired more frequently than you'd imagine). I only wish we could have hung around all day to listen to every piece in the collection, as the brief samples simply are not enough.
For those who want to take in a bit of musical history, there is no place better than this house.
The Bayernhof Museum is More than Music
Now, we could end the article here and be happy in sharing the fact that the Bayernhof is home to one of the most amazing collections of musical instruments you'll ever see, but there is even more. We did say Mr. Brown was an eccentric after all, and you can imagine he poured in a lot of time, effort, and money to make his house, well, unique.
I never like to give away too much in our articles, but suffice it to say that the Bayernhof house lives up to Mr. Brown's eccentric reputation and is home to many oddities, several wet bars (a man after my own heart), and even a few secret passages to name a few.
The docents do a fantastic job bringing the Mr. Brown's personality to life, and in capturing his essence you really get an appreciation for what it was like to visit this museum when it was his personal residence- good, bad, and off-the-wall.
I'd like to share more about this one, but to be honest it would do the house a disservice for you to know all of its secrets going in. In fact, I'm not even sharing my favorite rooms in this post for that same exact reason.
Part of the Bayernhof's charm is letting the secrets come out over the course of the two-and-a-half tour, and we do not want to ruin that surprise in the slightest. So schedule a tour to visit this the Bayernhof right now, as it is truly one of the best house-turned-museums in the city.
The Bayernhof Museum is located at 225 St. Charles Place in O'Hara Township, just north of 28. Tours are by appointment only by telephone (412-782-4231) and they typically require 2-4 weeks advance registration for weekend tours. The minimum age for visitors is 12 years old.