This surprisingly reasonably-sized complex located in a residential neighborhood is not just a simple testament to the life and accomplishments of George Eastman. It’s the epicenter of everything Kodak and George Eastman once proudly stood for.
It houses one of the biggest collections of photography equipment in the world. The ever-changing photography exhibits are unique, different, and expansive. It’s home to the third largest film archive in the world, including the private collections of Ken Burns, Spike Lee, and Martin Scorsese. After a twelve and half million-dollar expansion in the late 1980s, it also became a hub for film preservation technology. The Dryden Theatre brings film and photography luminaries from across the world to Rochester for special programs, screenings, and award ceremonies.
The house itself was completed in 1905 with an assortment of modern marvels, including a central air conditioning and vacuuming system, internal telephone wiring with 21 stations and a huge pipe organ located in the middle of the central room.
Eastman was also an avid explorer and huntsman. He would go on regular safaris to Africa, bagging himself elephants, rhinos, and antelope. He would then would use the taxidermied animals as decorations, ashtrays, and umbrella holders, which are all on display. (The elephant head is a facsimile based on a plaster cast of the original. Legend has it that the real elephant head is buried under the Rochester Zoo.)
On March 4th, 1932, riddled with a degenerative disorder that affected his spine and rendering him hardly able to walk, he went into his bedroom and shot himself in the heart. He left a note that read, “To my friends: my work is done. Why wait?”
You are able to enter his bedroom which is now a hands-on mini lab to see how photographs used to be made, and the note is on display in the second floor East-front sitting room. Unfortunately the gun disappeared shortly after his death.
The Aeolian Pipe Organ is a “player” instrument much like an old fashioned player piano complete with paper rolls that activate the sounds of the pipe organ. The organ is undergoing a complete restoration, but with 72 of its 132 sounds now playing you would be hard pressed to think that anything was missing. The pipes of the organ completely surround the central room of the mansion creating a magnificent surround-sound experience available no where else.
The organ is played at random times as well as most Sunday afternoons at either 3 or 4 PM.