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How Many Men Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb? A Haskell Opera House Chandelier Story

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--March 20, 2012.

larger_chandelier_001.jpgOne of the gems of the border communities has just got a bit of its sparkle back. For years, the great antique chandelier in the Haskell Opera House in Stanstead had not been as twinkly as it should have been. Most of the thirty bulbs in the massive brass fixture, which has illuminated the famous performance venue since it was built over a century ago, were burnt out.

The bulbs were rarely changed. And rightly so, since the only way for staff to change them was to climb up the narrow joists that hold up the tin ceiling above the chandelier, taking care not to step through the ceiling, and to painstakingly lower the fixture by hand to the floor many feet below, where the bulbs could then be changed. It was a difficult, dangerous task that has been outlawed at the Haskell for some time.

So bulbs have been burning out one by one -- and not being replaced. Until this year, that is. Thanks to a little group of volunteers, changing those bulbs has gotten a whole lot easier – and safer.

Dennis Ziegler, Rick Gosselin and George Lague, all from the Vermont side of the border, and all friends of this beautiful old opera house, decided one day that they could help. The first task at hand, according to Ziegler, was to construct a work platform in the space above the tin ceiling of the opera house.

Then the ingenious trio lowered the chandelier to the floor below, modified and relocated the supporting pulley, and installed a winch onto the new work platform. Next, they changed all the bulbs, rewired the chandelier, and attached a brand new steel cable. Finally, they routed the new cable to the winch and hoisted the massive fixture back into place.

According to Ziegler, all of the lumber for the platform was donated by Poulin Lumber in Derby, Vermont, which he said was happy to help. The materials for rewiring, re-lamping, and hanging the chandelier were purchased with funds from a USDA grant for technical upgrades, and by QNEK, the resident theatre company at the Haskell. Ziegler himself donated the winch.

As for the chandelier itself, it was purchased by Colonel Horace Stewart Haskell who, along with his mother Martha Stewart Haskell, funded the construction of the Haskell Free Library and Opera House from 1901 to 1904. In 1903, Haskell paid seventy-two dollars for the fixture to the firm of McKenney and Waterbury Company of Boston. The company’s slogan was, “We Light the World – Gas, Electric and Oil Fixtures.”

Opening night in the opera house took place on June 7, 1904. On that occasion, the Columbian Minstrels played before a packed house. 2012 marks the Haskell’s108th season, and preparations are already well under way for a full schedule of performances which are set to begin in May.