Sounds of the Past

Before there were MP3 files, before CDs, before vinyl, there were waxed cylinders upon which were stored the faint tracings that could be replayed as sound.

Thomas Edison patented the first phonograph in 1880, and cylinders maintained their popularity until the 1910s when discs began to outsell them.   The University of California, Santa Barbara has archived and digitized over 10,000 of these cylinders and made them available on the web.

Rummaging through the collection gives a real taste of the turn of the (last) century. Most of the cylinders contain music. If you like marches, this was the time of John Philip Sousa. There are also some recordings of important speeches of the day, including several by Theodore Roosevelt, and a description of his journeys in Antarctica by Ernest Shackleton.

For the steampunk enthusiast, there’s also a recording from 1905 of a song titled, “Come, take a trip in my air-ship.” (And for a modern recording of this song, listen to Unwoman (a Steampunk favorite) sing it.  You can even buy her version on a cylinder, in case vinyl isn’t hip enough for you!)

Personally, I’ve used these recordings to give a bit of ambience as background music in a historic house museum I’m involved with. Most people don’t notice it, but it lends a bit more authenticity to the experience, I find. And I’ve spent a fair amount of time just perusing the archives, listening to the sounds of ghosts from the past.

Advertisements

Airships over California!

If you tracked the frequency of Google searches, you’d find a large spike last week for “Bay Area airship”, but not because of a sudden invasion of dirigibles over the San Francisco Bay.

The Germans were the acknowledged leaders in airship technology during World War I. But they lost the war anyways and as part of war reparations, Luftschiffbau Zeppelin built an airship for the US–USS Los Angeles (ZR-3).  After the successful tests of this airship, the US Navy commissioned two airships from the Goodyear Zeppelin Company. The two airships were christened the USS Akron (ZRS-4) and the USS Macon (ZRS-5).  The ships were huge, only slightly shorter than the Hindenburg.

USS Macon entering Hangar One

The Akron was assigned to Lakehurst, New Jersey. She had an accident-plagued career that lasted less than two years which ended with its crash into the ocean off the New Jersey coast with the loss of all but three of her crew. Continue reading

To Rule the Skies–Anteprologue

In anticipation of my upcoming novel To Rule the Skies, I present its Anteprologue, a little teaser which takes place immediately prior to the beginning of the novel, and introduces a few important characters and a bit of the world in which the novel takes place.  Enjoy!

Professor Boffin turned from his conversation as Lord Clarendon entered the room. He had expected Clarendon to attend the retirement dinner for the Captain, but he had not expected the person who followed him.

“Elizabeth!” he exclaimed, ignoring his benefactor and father-in-law altogether as he rushed to his wife. “What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to see you before you flew off. Father says that Flamel is to depart in the next couple of days.”

Boffin looked quizzically at Clarendon. “Is this true, sir? I’ve heard nothing of new orders.”

“I apologize, Nicodemus. I heard of it just before leaving Newton Hall this afternoon. I’m afraid all the details have not coalesced as yet. I am still waiting to receive the details from the Admiralty. Anyway, when I mentioned it to Elizabeth, she insisted upon accompanying me here to Croydon.”

Although Professor Nicodemus Boffin was the Expedition Commander of Her Majesty’s Research Airship Flamel, it seemed to him sometimes that he was the last to hear when Flamel was ordered on what was termed “extraordinary assignments” for the Government. And Boffin did not like the feeling of his position being ignored and disrespected. His wife saw the irritated look on his face and took him aside.

“Nicodemus, do not worry about what orders you may be receiving.”

“Why? Why am I the last to know? Do they not respect me at all?”

“Let tonight be an enjoyable time. For the captain.”

Boffin’s troubled visage softened. He could not resist his wife’s combination of logic and honest sentiment. He looked at her face, turned up to his with one eyebrow raised hopefully.

“Yes, of course, dear. Tonight is in celebration of the captain. I shall not let what may come tomorrow interfere with the festivities. But I do have some matters that I must discuss with your father before dinner.” Continue reading

Amazing Internet Archive of Historic Graphics

An American academic at Georgetown University, Kalev Leetaru, has started amassing what will ultimately be 12 million historic public domain images.

Located on flickr, the Internet Archive Book Image currently has 2.6 million images–photographs, graphics, maps, music, advertisements, bits of illuminated manuscripts–all downloadable copyright-free.  The images date from ca. 1500 to 1922 (when copyright restrictions begin).  The images are also searchable.

Some examples I found interesting on the first few pages of the archive.  I have a feeling that I’ll be perusing this site regularly.

Hillbook

watch

airship

 

Encyclopaedia Caledonica–The Air War

Note:  From time to time, I will be posting selections from my upcoming book, or entries from various fictional sources on background information on the world of my book series. (Are these blogs canon?  Sure.  For now, at least.)  I’ll denote them by using the Fiction tag and coloring the text blue.

 

The entry in the Encyclopædia Caledonica (1876 Abridged Edition for the British Public) for the “Air War” is as follows:

At the outset of the year 1863, the circumstances of the various German States and Principalities were such that the Kingdom of Prussia was the most powerful, but not of sufficient influence to induce a union of the states. Wilhelm, the King of Prussia, however, sought a way to unite the Germanic states into a single empire with himself as Emperor. While a decisive military victory over a convenient foe might bring the other states under their leadership, the Prussian military, while powerful, did not possess sufficient men and materiel to provide a quick military triumph. Continue reading

Thaddeus Lowe–Abraham Lincoln’s Aeronaut

Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe is one of those people that, by his accomplishments, everyone should know, but that somehow has been almost forgotten. He was born in northern New Hampshire in 1832, and at the age of 18, went with his younger brother to a traveling lecture and demonstration about lighter-than-air gases by one Professor Reginald Dinkelhoff. When the esteemed Professor asked for a volunteer from the audience, Lowe jumped up, impressing the lecturer sufficiently to offer him a job as his assistant. When the Professor retired a few years later, Lowe bought the show—and the title Professor of Chemistry—from him and continued working the lecture circuit.

Thaddeus Lowe, ca. 1855

Thaddeus Lowe, ca. 1855

After a while, he began experimenting with building lighter-than-air balloons, and incorporated them into the act, offering rides to passengers at county fairs and the like. Imagine the excitement of a rural New England farmer of the late 1850s at being able to rise into the air tethered by only a thin rope to the ground.

I’m always somehow reminded of Professor Marvel from The Wizard of Oz at this point in Lowe’s story. Continue reading