6 May 2015
Edison dolls, probably haunted, resurrected to moan another day
Do you love the glowering expressions and metal bodies of Thomas Edison’s failed line of dolls but wish you could hear their keening, wraithlike ululations? Then you’re in luck, because those dolls are saying things for the first time in over a century, and they sound every bit as lovely as you’d expect.
According to the website of the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, the famed inventor’s 1890 foray into the toy business lasted just six weeks before production was halted due to low sales. The dolls’ looks were fairly standard for the times, but their voice boxes’ hand-cranked operation pretty much insured they’d sound terrifying to those children who had not yet developed an appreciation for the language of the dead.
Wrote one Washington, D.C. reporter who should have been a blogger in a review headlined “DOLLS THAT TALK. They Would Be More Entertaining if You Could Understand What They Say”
From the Thomas Edison National Historical Park’s site:
…Talking doll No. 2—so its placard announced—was accustomed to say, “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.” As was the case with No. 1, the poem in question was printed out in full, so that the listener should be able to follow without difficulty the verses, which were as follows:
That last “Yah-yah” was “Amen!”You would never have guessed it, however, unless you had been so informed.
The dolls’ more idiosyncratic qualities did, however, secure them a sort of secondary fandom, with older children dissecting them to see how they worked and “ladies of social prominence” giving them to one another as ironic wedding gifts.
Most of these keening curios have remained silent in the century or so since their creation–the ones who weren’t ritualistically burned, that is–as collectors didn’t want to damage the rudimentary phonographs inside them, which are widely believed to be the first mass-produced sound recordings in history. But just last year, a government laboratory finally came up with the technology required to play the discs without touching them. Via The New York Times:
The technique relies on a microscope to create images of the grooves in exquisite detail. A computer approximates — with great accuracy — the sounds that would have been created by a needle moving through those grooves.
The resulting tracks, for which now-long-dead girls were instructed to bleat out nursery rhymes in the most demonic voices their little throats could muster, are truly a thing of beauty: