Brian Jones plays his electric dulcimer at San Francisco's Cow Palace on July 26, 1966. A month earlier a Maryland teen named Eddie Merrigan had stolen it in a fit of anger after a concert in Washington. Eddie later returned the unique instrument. (Photo © Kevin Estrada / Media Punch /IPX)
4 min

Finally, we can get some satisfaction. The full story of Brian Jones’s stolen dulcimer can be told.

Last month, I wrote about how on June 26, 1966, a unique dulcimer was taken from an equipment van parked outside Washington Coliseum after a Rolling Stones concert. News of the theft spread through the local teen community. A letter even appeared in the Washington Evening Star imploring the thief to return it, lest the Stones decide never to return to our fair city.

I had part of the story, the part about how an employee of Empire Music in Bethesda named Mike Burke was surprised when, a week or so later, a kid walked in with an odd instrument that he seemed eager to be rid of. The kid left the dulcimer with him. Mike called the Star’s music columnist, Ron Oberman, who brokered a deal to get the dulcimer — the only electric one in existence, made especially for Brian Jones so he could perform “Lady Jane” onstage — to the British Embassy and on to the touring Rolling Stones.

But who had stolen the dulcimer in the first place? It was a scamp named Eddie Merrigan.

“I can see the whole thing going down,” Eddie’s sister, Rosalie Merrigan Moulton, told me.

She was there that day. And she was meant to be keeping an eye on her younger brother.

“We were out back with a lot of people, waiting to see the Rolling Stones come out,” Rosalie said. Rosalie had already called a cab to take them back home to Chevy Chase, Md.

With them was a friend named Bruce Grant, who had his hand casually resting against a van parked behind the venue.

“This guy came over and smacked [Bruce’s hand] with what looked like a screwdriver or something,” Rosalie said. “That made my brother angry.”

What happened next went by in a flash. Eddie reached through the van’s open window and pulled out a loose bag sitting on the front seat. The cab rolled up. The kids jumped in. The cab took off. Rosalie turned to Eddie and said, “What the hell did you just do?”

Eddie wasn’t quite sure himself. When Rosalie asked what was in the bag, he confessed he didn’t know.

“We get home and he zooms upstairs,” Rosalie said.

Rosalie’s reaction when she saw what was inside? “Oh [bad word].”

Eddie thought he’d taken something that belonged to the van driver. It was Jones’s dulcimer.

“I convinced him he had to return it,” Rosalie said.

But first, they wanted to play it. Rosalie already played piano and guitar.

“I was surprised how fast I could pick up ‘Lady Jane,’” she said. “I didn’t have a way to plug it in, but I figured it out … It was a beautiful, beautiful instrument.”

You know what happened next: Eddie took the dulcimer to Empire Music, and Ron Oberman ushered it back to the Stones.

But there’s another twist: Eddie made Ron promise to do something for him. The Beatles were coming to town in August to play at D.C. Stadium. Eddie and some of his friends already were planning an audacious caper: They would try to sneak backstage by pretending to be the Cyrkle, the opening band.

Eddie would hand over the dulcimer if Ron promised to write about their Beatles prank, if it proved successful.

“Ron said, ‘Okay. I’ll write about that, if you return [the dulcimer] in same condition that you found it,’” said Tom Hinton, who, with Eddie and four others did — and with the help of a rented limousine, a police escort and a lot of chutzpah — get backstage at D.C. Stadium. Tom and Eddie even managed to meet the Beatles in their dressing room.

Said Tom: “Eddie was a very persuasive young man.”

Their goal: Meet the Beatles on tour in 1966. Their solution: Impersonate the opening act.

Oberman was true to his word. His Aug. 20, 1966, review of the show ended with seven paragraphs on the caper. They began: “The success story of last Monday though, has to go to six Montgomery County youths who impersonated the Cyrkle, one of the acts on the bill, to gain admittance to the stadium complete with motorcycle escort.”

Eddie Merrigan went on to become a chef. He died in 1990 of a heart attack.

Rosalie, who lives in Pennsylvania now, said Eddie didn’t mean to cause such a fuss. He was just angry his friend had been struck by a member of the Stones’ road crew.

“My brother was so mad that Bruce’s hand was bloody,” she told me.

It would be three years before the Stones toured the United States again. As it happened, they didn’t stop in Washington in 1969. They played the Baltimore Civic Center.