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Ernie Johnson's Grandfather: A Cabinet Maker for an Organ Company
Yup, you read that title right.
It is my favorite time of the year: the NBA playoffs. But only 50% of the reason is because of the actual basketball. The other 50% is because NBA playoffs means that Inside the NBA on TNT, hosted by Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, and Kenny Smith, is on almost every night of the week!
After watching the Warriors take game three against Sacramento last Thursday and the Inside the NBA postgame show, I had an idea.
A few minutes later, I found Ernie’s father, Ernst T. Johnson Sr., in the 1940 census. The future MLB pitcher was 15, living with his parents and two older siblings. I looked at his fathers occupation, and had to do a double-take. It said “Cabinet maker.” But for the company, it looked like it said “Organ factory.” He was a cabinet maker for an organ company? I had to be reading that wrong.
I wasn’t reading it wrong! Thorwald Johnson, Ernie Johnson’s grandfather, was a cabinet maker for the Estey Organ Company in Brattleboro, Vermont. He worked for them for 48 years. I found it on his World War II draft card that he filled out in 1942.
Thorwald wrote that he worked at Birge Street, the factory in Brattleboro, VT, where Estey Organ Co. produced hundreds of thousands of organs during the late 1800s and into the 20th century. Here is a picture of the Birge Street factories where Ernie’s grandfather worked at for almost five decades.
It is a bit of a mystery where cabinets fit into the organ and piano equation. The Estey Organ Company built half a million pump organs between 1846 and 1955 and made pianos. They sent them around the world to Great Britain, New Zealand, and Africa. Did Mr. Johnson build cabinets separate from the organ and piano divisions of the factory? Did he mean that he built small cabinets on the organs themselves?
The story of Ernie's grandfather is only the tip of the iceberg of the Johnson story! But next time you are watching an NBA playoff game (tune in ASAP, the games are incredible this year) and see Inside the NBA post-game, you’ll know a little more about the legendary Ernie Johnson, nicknamed “The Traffic Cop” because he mediates hilarious and heated discussions between Shaq, Chuck, and Kenny. And consider: What enticing mysteries lie in your family tree?
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