Matt Driscoll

Saga of Hilltop man’s stolen sousaphone ends on a mysterious note

Saga of Hilltop man’s stolen sousaphone ends on a mysterious note

Earlier this summer, someone stole Pat Van Haren’s prized sousaphone. This week, under peculiar circumstances, he got it back.
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Earlier this summer, someone stole Pat Van Haren’s prized sousaphone. This week, under peculiar circumstances, he got it back.

Reunited, and it feels so good.

That’s the memorable chorus from a late-1970s Peaches and Herb hit.

And while the song probably doesn’t translate well on the sousaphone, for Tacoma’s Pat Van Haren, a self-described “tuba guy,” it probably sounds just right.

That’s because Van Haren got his prized sousaphone back Wednesday night.

“I’m doing pretty darn well,” he told me the next morning, exuberance in his voice. “I’m driving around with my cherished sousaphone.”

“How did you get it back?” I asked, in moderate disbelief.

“Well,” he answered, “it’s a weird little story …”

Last month, I wrote about Van Haren’s heartbreak. His 1928 sousaphone, which he discovered in the music room of Ilwaco High School in 2013 and painstakingly restored in the years that followed, had been stolen from his garage while he was on vacation.

Strangely, it was the only thing taken. In Van Haren’s most dispirited moments, he feared it would be sold for scrap metal.

“I was grief-struck, shocked, whatever,” he told me at the time. “I just felt so despondent.”

“I think as strange as it sounds, if I don’t get it back, I just hope somebody’s playing it,” the long-time musician admitted then.

Hearing the story, I couldn’t help but feel for Van Haren. And readers seemed to feel the same way. In the weeks since the column ran, I’ve received numerous phone calls from people wanting to help.

A man from Spanaway, whose health prevented him from playing his own 1930s-era sousaphone, called to offer his horn to Van Haren.

A few weeks later, a gentleman staying at a local homeless shelter called to say he thought he’d seen the missing sousaphone. (Turns out, it was just the ornamental horn Van Haren keeps affixed to his front porch.)

For Van Haren, however, the best call of all arrived Wednesday morning. It came from a man who identified himself only as Billy, and said he might have a lead on finding the stolen sousaphone.

“Is the horn still missing?” the mystery man asked Van Haren.

Indeed, it was.

OK, Billy said, give me a few hours.

It seemed so random. I was trying to not be too excited, and just see how this played out.

Pat Van Haren describes his reaction to the phone call he received Wednesday morning

“It seemed so random,” Van Haren said of the strange phone call. “I was trying to not be too excited, and just see how this played out.”

A series of phone calls and texts continued throughout the day. With each, Billy told Van Haren he was getting closer to securing the horn – like some bizarre, low-level-crime screenplay.

Billy provided few details, Van Haren said, other than to say someone had contacted him about the sousaphone and that he suspected it was his.

Then, on Wednesday night, as Van Haren played at a gig with the Tacoma Concert Band in DuPont, the text message he’d been waiting for came in.

“Hope this is yours,” the message from Billy read. “It’s in my living room. Come get it.”

There was a photo.

“It looked like mine,” Van Haren said, “but I couldn’t really tell.”

Excitement building, he got Billy’s address. In an admittedly curious development, Billy lived “like two blocks from my house,” Van Haren said.

Van Haren’s wife wouldn’t let him go alone, fearing the unknown. So she accompanied him.

The couple knocked on the door. Billy’s roommate answered, and said he’d fetch him.

Finally, Billy appeared.

“And he was wearing my sousaphone,” Van Haren recalled.

An emotional type, Van Haren acknowledged he “cried a little bit” at the sight.

Van Haren said Billy “didn’t want to get into any more details.”

With his sousaphone back in his possession, that was fine by Van Haren. He said he plans to give Billy a couple hundred dollars for his work.

“He did not want to elaborate (on details), and I’m just good with that,” Van Haren said. “Regardless of how this happened, it got back to me, and somebody deserves to be rewarded for it.”

Hope this is yours. It’s in my living room. Come get it.

The text message Pat Van Haren received Wednesday night

With the saga of his stolen sousaphone now happily ended – what Van Haren called the “feel-good story of the summer, at least to me” – I asked him if he’d ever given up hope.

“I was resigned that I probably wouldn’t get it back,” he admitted. “I was ready to move on.”

“And now that I’ve got it back, boy, I’m not going to let it out of my sight.”

Wednesday night, Van Haren returned to his Hilltop home, horn in hand, triumphant. Though it was late, he couldn’t help but march down his alley, blowing a familiar tune.

It wasn’t Peaches and Herb. It was a traditional New Orleans number Van Haren knows well.

“When the Saints Come Marching In.”

His neighbors heard the impromptu music, and came down to celebrate.

“I was choking up with joy,” Van Haren said. “Trying to hug people while wearing a sousaphone was a little tricky, but we pulled a few of those off.”

So,” I asked him, what’s the moral of Van Haren’s sousaphone story?

“I convinced myself that it was OK, and it wasn’t the end or the world,” Van Haren said of the horn’s disappearance.

“But, I’ve got to tell you: Yeah, getting it back restores your faith in mankind. It makes you realize that in the face of everything that’s going on in the world, and in our country, there are still good people, and good things can happen.

“I feel pretty blessed.”