A 19th-Century Piano Is So Square, It’s Cool

Richard K. Lieberman lifted the lid on the piano and asked the roomful of lecturers at LaGuardia Community College, “Who’s going to play?” No hands went up, but one of the teachers sneaked across the hall and found Eric Anderson, a 26-year-old history major who turned out to be a pretty good pianist.

“This is too cool,” he said, weaving together melodies like “The Entertainer,” the Scott Joplin rag that was used as the theme for the Robert Redford-Paul Newman film “The Sting,” and something that sounded like the theme from the old Joe Franklin show. (But who was awake enough when it came on to remember?)

The piano was older than the music Mr. Anderson was playing. It was an 1858 Steinway piano, a rectangular instrument often called a square piano, that was donated to LaGuardia in the 1990s.

Mr. Lieberman, a professor of history at LaGuardia and director of the La Guardia and Wagner Archives, said it had an interesting history: It survived the Civil War in Kentucky, hidden in a barn where it was not burned as troops crisscrossed the area. The family legend was that someone played “Dixie” when Confederates were within earshot. It is not known whether the same pianist struck up “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” when Union soldiers were around....

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