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GRASS VALLEY, Calif. June 2, 2017 – “Silent Movies with Walt Strony” presents the 1926 action-comedy-romance “The General,” starring Buster Keaton and featuring one of the greatest train-wreck scenes in film history.

It’s a great film for the whole family. “The General” screens for free at 4 p.m. Sunday, June 11, at PEACE Lutheran Church in Grass Valley. A reception will follow.

Strony is a nationally acclaimed organist who plays at silent film festivals around the United States. He’s now a resident of Grass Valley, and he’s eager to present the richness of the silent film era to the community.

“‘The General’ is a wonderful film. It’s got comedy, it’s roughly historical, there’s a little love interest going on,” Strony said. “It’s fun, and everybody will enjoy it.”

“The General” brings to life a real adventure with a steam engine called “General” that took place during the American Civil War. It’s the second silent movie Strony has presented since locating to the area two years ago. In March, he accompanied “The King of Kings,” 1928, to an enthusiastic audience.

“I’d really like this to become a major, classical happening here in Grass Valley, that we can continue to expose people to the variety of wonderful silent films that were made,” Strony added.

Keaton was a silent-film icon known for evoking a range of emotion with his dead-pan face. “The General” was Keaton’s favorite film. Though the picture was panned after its release and bombed at the box office, critics now consider it a classic.

Strony will play classical and period music during “The General” to highlight the action and underscore the actors’ emotions. Works will include “The William Tell Overture,” played during the famous train-wreck scene. Others include “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Dixie” and more music from mid-1800s America.

For many silent films, Strony creates his own score. But unlike many silent-era films, “The General” comes with an original cue sheet that guides theater musicians in the selection and timing of music, Strony said.

Organ Fund Event

This event links to a fundraising campaign to replace PEACE Lutheran Church’s aging digital organ with a combination digital-pipe organ. The present organ is more than 25 years old and nearing the end of its reliable span. In addition, the organ is limited by the technology of its time – much like a 25-year-old home computer.

Parishioners envision an organ that could eventually accommodate real pipes. A new organ also would improve the sound in the sanctuary, which hosts community events including Music in the Mountains concerts.

Tax-deductible donations to the PEACE Lutheran Church Organ Fund will be accepted gratefully. Anyone wishing to donate may leave a gift in the basket available in the church lobby. Please write checks to PEACE Lutheran Church and write “Organ Fund” in the memo line.

Background: True train story

Keaton’s “The General” is based on a true story that would have lived in the memories of oldsters of his time: “General” was an American-type steam engine built in 1855 as No. 3 for Western & Atlantic Rail Road, based in Georgia.

The Great Locomotive Chase of 1862 commenced when Union spies sought to disrupt Confederate railway networks by stealing “General.” Pursued by W&ARR No. 49, “Texas,” the engine eventually ran low on wood and water, slowed to a stop, and the Union forces abandoned it.

Seven of the Union raiders were hanged in Atlanta as spies. The Congressional Medal of Honor was created that same year, and four of the raiders were the first to earn it.

Today, “General” is preserved at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Georgia. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Keaton, who co-directed “The General,” used two Civil War-era engines to film in pine forests near Eugene, Ore., biographer Marion Meade wrote in 1997. He sent a third engine hurtling down a canyon for the wreck scene; it drew tourists until salvaged for iron during World War II, Meade wrote