June 19, 2010

RECOVERED: Thomas Edison’s words.

The unlikely resurrection story began when archivist Chris Hunter grew curious about 13 undocumented film canisters tucked away on a bottom shelf among 5 million items in the basement archives of the Schenectady Museum & Suits-Bueche Planetarium.

Hunter had no idea what they contained, aside from a few vague jottings that indicated they involved radio programs from the 1920s.

There was an even bigger obstacle to solving the mystery. He had no machine that could play them.

He might as well have been looking at ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. The canisters were not going to give up easily their mute secrets. . . . DeMuth accepted the challenge to try to unlock the film canister mystery. Using modern digital equipment and tinkering for hundreds of hours spread out across two years of nights and weekends, he created what is believed to be the only functional pallophotophone in the world.

With that, the trio magically loosed Edison’s voice, which had essentially been frozen in time for more than 80 years.

Cool.

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