With his music box collection, gifts of aesthetics and volunteer of time, Mr. Leo St. Clair made the world a more beautiful place.
A collection inside the Sulphur Springs Public Library can share stories from across the globe, and it doesn’t involve a single book.
It’s the St. Clair Music Box Collection, and it’s made up of hundreds of music boxes from across the globe.
“I have not heard of a music box collection, and to have all these items here…it’s really such a piece of unique history,” said Hope Cain, Director of the Sulphur Springs Public Library.
The St. Clair Music Box Collection is named after Leo St. Clair, who spent his life collecting music boxes.
More about Leo St. Clair:
Leo St. Clair was born in Sulphur Bluff, Texas to a storekeeper. And in 1919, he joined the Navy where his love for music boxes began.
“During one of his first assignments, he was boson for the Royal family of Belgium on their visit to the states, and he dropped one of the pieces of luggage,” said Hope Cain, Director of the Sulphur Springs Public Library. “Horrified to hear the clink of a music box falling out of its case and begin to play its tune on the ground, he apologized. As a token of goodwill and to commemorate the occasion, the family gave him that box. It’s The Queen’s Throne, a royal chair that tips backward to play ‘Faust’ from the opera. So began Mr. St. Clair’s collection.”
After the Navy, St. Clair went to work at Bucks Inc. department store as a design director for animated displays in Wichita Kansas from 1925 to 1961.
“The purpose of living is to meet as many people as you can and make them as happy as you can.” – Leo St. Clair
After retiring back to Sulphur Springs, he volunteered his services in community organizations in decorating assistance, organized direction for local arts and crafts shows, volunteered in programs for needy children and helped with Christmas displays for commercial areas. Mr. St Clair was awarded Top Civic Award in 1975 by Sulphur Springs Chamber of Commerce.
At some point during his return to Sulphur Springs, he opened the St. Clair Music Box Collection in the Sulphur Springs Public Library. While he was alive, he would have school children visit and give them tours through the music boxes.
“I think [having the St. Clair Music Box Collection] gives us a sense of pride and community,” said Cain. “[St. Clair] was born here, he was raised here, and he came back here and really gave to the community at that time. And he left a piece of himself.”
More about the St. Clair Music Box Collection:
“There’s approximately 300 music boxes,” said Cain. “About half of them are on display because they’re of [more] visual interest of have some historical interest.”
The music boxes are from all across the world, and most of them date back more than a hundred years.
The oldest piece in the collection is the Silver Shadow Box, which contains a cross dating back to 1588.
“The cross was worn by a sailor with the Spanish Armada in 1588,” said Cain. “The ship sank in the English Channel and the sailor swam to English shore. He settled in England and married and raised a family. The [cross] was given to Mr. St. Clair by a 10th generation of the sailor’s family in 1942. Mr. St. Clair made the box to feature the cross and later, in 1950, it was blessed by Pope Pius at the Vatican in Rome. It plays ‘Holy God We Praise Thy Name.”
“The reason for a hobby is to create a diversion, to take the mind off one’s troubles – to take the nose off the grindstone, so to speak.” – Leo St. Clair
Other pieces in the collection date back to the 1800’s.
“Most of them are over a hundred years old and some of them have degraded so they do not play anymore,” said Cain. “But in 2009, Texas A&M at Commerce digitized this collection which means they filmed each item and if it played they have a recording of the sound.”
The collection is completely free to view.
The Sulphur Springs Public Library is located at 611 North Davis Street.
Their hours are:
Monday – Wednesday: 9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Thursday: 9:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Friday: 9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Saturday: 9:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.
with The East Texas Weekend