HSP HISTORY Blog
Interesting Frederick, Maryland tidbits and musings .
Mr. Bell, Phone Home
So I panicked the other night, while in the produce section of a grocery store. I was given a short list of items in the morning, and forgot one of five simple things I was supposed to come home with after work. I immediately went to my modern day “life-line” and security blanket in the form of an Apple I-Phone. I placed a call to my wife, knowing that I’d get a bit of playful razzing, but my short-term memory loss here should not be cause for a dinner mishap. Heaven forbid, I did not like the remote chance for a forced return to the market.
Unfortunately, the phone just rang several times and went to voicemail. I tried again to no avail. I then called the archaic, and seldom used/answered, home phone line. Instant success came as my stepson Jack actually answered. Unfortunately, my wife had taken the other boys to a baseball practice, and inadvertently left her phone on the kitchen counter in her haste. I desperately hoped Jack could provide guidance, but this was a pipe dream as I caught him at a time of video game-induced coma by something called League of Legends. He could barely remember who I was, let alone grocery items of survival required for the household. As I hung up, I caught myself aimlessly staring at a bountiful stack of organic broccoli in front of me, and silently thought to myself, "I’m screwed.”
Oh, the power and wizardry of smart phones—one of the most amazing inventions in my lifetime. Where would we be without them? How could we function at all? And this, coming from a guy who thought cordless household phones were God’s gift to mankind in the early 1990s. Actually, I take that back, I was quite impressed with earlier technological advancement in telephony with the advent of "call-waiting" and, best of all, the coiled phone cord extension of 30+ feet. This simple upgrade guaranteed a perpetual “cocoon of privacy,” a vast difference from the traditional norm of being tethered within a five-foot radius of the hard-mounted wall phone of my childhood. You could actually travel to a spot "two rooms away." This was especially helpful in the early forays of talking to girls while under the surveillance of parents, and worse yet, being under siege from two younger brothers whose intent was humiliation through catcalling and mimicry. The only downside of the 30+ phone cord extension was the accidental “clotheslining” of a hapless, elderly relative with cataract issues—but that's another story for another time.
Speaking of other times, and phones, I found out recently that Frederick, Maryland once hosted the original inventor of the telephone as a tourist for a weekend. Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel took in our ample historic sites and recreated in the beautiful surrounding countryside, all while staying in one of the many downtown Frederick hotels of the period—the City Hotel.
The brief weekend stay occurred just over 101 years ago, in late April 1915. Simultaneously, a “World War” was occurring over in Europe at the time, and America was contemplating a potential jump into the fray.
It had been 29 years since Mr. Bell, a native of Scotland, had made his own impact on both national, and international levels. He was at the forefront of the revolutionary change in communications, thanks to a landmark demonstration in which he would “place a call” on March 10, 1876 to assistant Thomas Watson in Boston.
Bell first successfully transmitted speech, saying "Mr. Watson, come here! I want to see you!" using a liquid transmitter. This was the first successful demonstration of what we would come to know (and love) as the telephone. Five months later (August 10, 1876), Alexander Graham Bell made the world's first long distance telephone call, about 6 miles, between Brantford and Paris, Ontario, Canada.
Mr. and Mrs. Bell departed Frederick in their automobile on Sunday evening (April 25, 1915). Although not mentioned, I assume that another structure of interest to them must have been the Maryland School for the Deaf. And this would not be simply for the sake of history, as countless visitors have been impressed with the important past roles played by Frederick's historic "Hessian Barracks."
No, I would think the Bells would have admired the school itself, with its grand façade and canopied turrets. More importantly, the important work being performed here by Maryland educators was what would have been most important to the tourist couple.
You see, Alexander Graham Bell had started his working career in deaf education, and his inventive spirit was more rooted in helping those who couldn’t hear, than assisting those who could (as he did with the telephone). This came honestly as Bell’s mother was deaf, along with his Alexander's beloved wife Mabel, the latter having been deaf since infancy and a terrible bout with Scarlet Fever.
Over the next forty years since Alexander Bell's visit to our town, Frederick continued to retain its hometown, rural charm, although a new wave of residents had come from around the country due to events tied to a Second World War in the 1940’s. Many of these people were bright scientists and pioneering inventors like Mr. Bell. They had come to study and experiment within the field of biological warfare at Fort Detrick. Life-long residents ingratiated the new-comers, and could sense that a major change was coming to the sleepy little town of “clustered spires, green walled by the hills of Maryland.”
Another first for Frederick took place on June 6, 1954. This event didn’t bring the same fanfare associated with Alexander Graham Bell’s 1915 visit, or the excitement "voiced" in 1876 with the invention of the telephone—but no one can deny that this day would certainly “relate” on more levels than anyone could have possibly known at the outset.
The C&P Telephone Company sponsored a special event at the junction of US routes 40, 240 and 340, where they had freshly installed Frederick’s first telephone booth. The location was specifically chosen to assist motorists in being able to stop their travels and “phone home” in style.
To inaugurate this new service and "christen the dial," company manager Walter Lanius would hail down one lucky motorist and give them the opportunity to call anyone, anywhere in the US on the phone company’s dime. A man was stopped at the light here and flagged down by Mr. Lanius, however he became suspicious, thinking the event was a rouse. He stepped on the gas and sped off, disappointing the throng of spectators and media gathered for this event.
Mr. Lanius went back to finding his contestant. The second recipient of his offer was a finely dressed woman en-route to Mercersburg, PA (from Washington, DC) to pick up her children from a private school for the summer break. After listening to the offer, she immediately accepted being delighted to be asked. The lucky lady revealed that she was Carol Grosvenor Myers, wife of a prominent Washington physician. Her pedigree doesn’t stop there as her father was Gilbert H. Grosvenor, longtime president of the National Geographic Society and editor of its prestigious magazine. As if this wasn’t enough, her mother was Elsie May Bell Grosvenor, a daughter of Alexander Graham Bell!
The stunned crowd would watch Mrs. Myers, the legendary inventor’s granddaughter, place her call to an aunt living in Miami, Florida. The recipient of the first phone call from Frederick’s first pay phone (and phone booth) would be Mrs. David Fairchild, aka Marian Bell—youngest daughter of Alexander Graham Bell.
After that story, I'm sure you would be willing to believe the forgotten item on my grocery list. That would be bell peppers, needed for making Italian sausage sandwiches.
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5/26/2016 04:09:48 am
Loved the history lesson this morning.
5/18/2023 03:26:57 pm
Great article. The details are amazing. I am registered for Frederick History 101. Can’t wait. I met you at the Great Frederick Fair last year.
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