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1906 Edison phonograph finds a new home

It sounds primitive today, but a century ago Thomas A. Edison's cylinder phonograph was close to the state of the art.

The Niagara County Historical Society received a good-as-new 1906 Edison New Standard Phonograph from a Lewiston couple last month and showed it off Friday.

Mary Lou and William Hallatt donated the spring-powered, windup phonograph and about 70 wax cylinders, still in their original boxes. They include homemade recordings of a century ago.

"One is my mother at the age of 4 years, singing a little song about Lockport," Mary Lou Hallatt said.

Unfortunately, repeated playing wears out the soft brown wax cylinders sold for home recordings. "My mother doesn't sound too great anymore," Hallatt Lou laughed.

But the commercially made black wax cylinders, which include a range of turn-of-the-last-century music, are more durable.

"They are all in pretty pristine condition," said Douglas Farley, director of development for the Niagara County History Center. "We have marching band music, singers, what they used to call blackface music, religious music."

The Edison and Columbia cylinders in the collection had a playing time of about two minutes. In the early 20th century, cylinders were being supplanted by flat discs, whose speed eventually was standardized at 78 rpm.

The Edison, which retailed for $20 in 1906, is topped by a huge amplifying horn whose opening is like a rose petal. There is a smaller brass horn, too.

Mary Lou Hallatt said her mother, Helen Laydon Bartholomew, left her the phonograph when she died in 1991. Bartholomew's will specified that if she had left anything her heirs didn't want, they should let the Historical Society or the Tattler Club of Niagara Falls have their choice.

Farley said the machine is to be used in a luncheon sing-along from noon to 2 p.m. Feb. 17 in the History Center, 215 Niagara St. Reservations are requested; call 434-7433.


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