Ah, Christmas-time illness–the gift that keeps on giving, and giving, and giving….. How many times have I attended holiday family reunions, listening to people hack up bits of lung, complain of being feverish, or, heaven forbid, saying things like “well, I don’t think it’s stomach ‘flu”–and known that we would be bringing home more than presents from Grandma and Grandpa’s house.
Oddly enough, this leads to the discussion of yet another holiday horror–first linked, I believe, in this article from The London Evening Standard:
CHRISTMAS DAY ABROAD.
(From our Correspondent.)
VIENNA, Wednesday Night.
There is hardly a family in Vienna whose customary gathering on Christmas-eve has not been marred this year by the absence of some member on account of an attack of the influenza. Homes where the children have all remained well count themselves exceptionally fortunate. Princess Stephanie, who has been suffering from the malady, recovered sufficiently to enable her personally to superintend the preparation of the beautifully-adorned and splendidly-lighted Christmas-tree of her little daughter, the Princess Elizabeth, now six years old. Among the numerous presents received from the various members of the Imperial House and others for the young Archduchess is a speaking doll, fitted with a phonograph cylinder, which is calculated to create no small astonishment. Among other things, the doll will be able to recite a poe, composed by the Archduchess Marie Valerie in honour of Christmas-eve.
I know, your first thought upon reading this is: “How remarkable! I had no idea talking dolls were around so long ago!” But just think a little bit longer…..
Yup. That’s right. That very special present in 1889 was just an early version of over a century’s worth of toys that would eventually lead to horrors like this:
One has to wonder how many days it took before Princess Stephanie was so sick of hearing that poem over and over and over again, that she arranged to have the Archduchess’s governess “accidentally” drop the doll in a snowbank. Or a fountain. Or under the wheels of a carriage. None of us could blame her.*
In 1889, the phonograph was 12 years old, but still very much a novelty, even when it wasn’t inside a doll’s head. People didn’t usually have one at home, but it was shown off at exhibitions, used in business and for legal purposes, and was, thanks to the prescience of Thomas Edison, his sound engineer Theo Wangemann, and his UK representative Colonel George Gouroud,** fast becoming a means of documenting history through the voices of the famous. For example, the poet Robert Browning died on December 12, 1889, but thanks to the phonograph, his voice was recorded in May of that year, an event mentioned in the Pall Mall Gazette:
The most unique, and in some ways the most precious, memorial of the dead poet now existing is one which is preserved in Edison House, Northumberland-avenue. This is a phonogram of his voice. Mr. Browning once spoke into a phonograph for Colonel Gouraud, who has carefully treasured his words. Science has few greater marvels to record than its power of thus preserving “the sound of a voice that is still.”–December 21, 1889
Would you like to hear it? It’s wonderful (credit to transformingArt on Youtube):
And here is an 1888 recording of none other than Queen Victoria, recorded by Sydney Morse (credit to Twiddlybobby on Youtube). Somehow, her voice sounds like I thought it would….***
The only mention of the phonograph–or gramophone, as Holmes called it–occurs in “The Mazarin Stone,” which takes place in 1903, and which some of you no doubt find more horrific than a dancing, squawking Elmo. But phonographs–or rather, phonograph records–can do more than save the Great Detective from Count Negretto Sylvius. They can, and have, preserved the voices of great Sherlockian performers for posterity–and for you, should you win this drawing. All you need to do to enter is to answer the following question:
Why didn’t Percy Phelps just copy the treaty in his uncle’s private room?????
OH, WAIT–THAT’S JUST ME–THE ACTUAL QUESTION IS:
How did Holmes take notes when he interviewed Percy “Tadpole” Phelps? And why would Mrs. Hudson (or, rather, her laundress) not mind at all?
Note that this time, there are two prizes, as each record will be drawn for separately. If you have a preference, please note it in your answer. Otherwise, it will literally be the “luck of the draw.” Be aware–I don’t have a record player, so I have never played these. I bought them at an Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis auction and stored them well, but I have no idea what condition they are in. Good luck, and happy listening!
Prize 1 (front):
Prize 1 (back):
Prize 2 (front): PLEASE NOTE THAT, DESPITE THE COVER, IT’S ORSON WELLES, AND NOT WILLIAM GILLETTE!
Prize 2 (back):
And we have another two-time winner! Jim McArthur wrote in:
” I caught glimpses of . . . what seemed to be a suit of Japanese armour at one side of it.”
The armor flanked a high white marble mantlepiece in a house a half mile from the Beckenham train station, where the criminals had taken Mr. Melas in The Greek Interpreter.
*And it didn’t take long to get to the phenomenon of the Creepy Talking Doll. This article also appeared in 1889, in the Globe, December 14th. I have no way of knowing whether or not any of it is true.
**Col. Gouraud was a Civil War veteran
***Here is the story of how it was recorded, along with other information and links to historically fascinating recordings: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/in-search-of-queen-victorias-voice-98809025/