Any Supernatural fans out there? If so, you may remember the episode where the Winchesters went to the Edison museum to check out the “Ghost Phone”. It turned out that the ghost phone was not the actual culprit for what was going on, but it has intrigued me ever since and I thought I would see if it was a real thing, and lo and behold, it is, sort of.
Technically, it is not real because no blueprints or prototype were ever found. However, in October of 1920, Thomas Alva Edison told a reporter at American Magazine that he had been working on a “spirit phone” for quite some time. He was trying to find a way to communicate with “personalities which have left this earth”.
That announcement created quite a stir and became a national craze. World War I had just ended and it was time of great spiritualism, people wanted to believe in it so they could talk to those they’d lost.
Edison was 84 years old when he died in 1931. At that time, he already had 1,093 patents in his name, 389 for electric light and power, 195 for the phonograph, 141 for storage batteries and 34 for the telephone.
The spirit phone was not actually that farfetched of an idea. Edison had already invented the phonograph, which in itself could produce the voices of the deceased, as did his invention of the motion picture camera.
In addition to that, in the prior twenty years there had been a slew of new inventions from many different inventors that people had not even conceived of in the nineteenth century.
For example, in 1901 the vacuum cleaner was invented, 1905 windscreen wipers, 1907 electric washing machine, 1911 stenotype machine, 1913 brassiere, 1920 hairdryer and submachine gun and in 1927 the videophone was invented.
Although, Edison was ridiculed frequently early in his career, once he made his visions a reality, he instead became a national hero.
Edison did encounter some serious mishaps along the way. He designed a fluoroscope, which uses x-rays to take radiographs, and that fundamental design is still in use today.
Clarence Dally was Edison’s assistant and made himself a guinea pig for the project. He was exposed to a poisonous dose of radiation and died of injuries related to that exposure. Edison completely abandoned his project after that incident.
But, let’s get back to the spirit phone, one version of the story about it involves a rivalry between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. Apparently, there was an issue over which of them were the greater inventor and when Edison heard that Tesla was working on a way to contact the dead, he came up with a prototype of the spirit phone.
According to the book, Edison vs. Tesla: The Battle Over Their Last Invention, Edison invited mediums and scientists over to observe his experiment with his prototype, however, no ghosts were willing to participate, and the guests left disappointed.
My favorite explanation about the Spirit Phone is Edison’s response to the New York Times in 1926, “I really had nothing to tell him, but I hated to disappoint him so I thought up this story about communicating with spirits, but it was all a joke.”
Whether or not Thomas Alva Edison truly did try to find a way to communicate with the dead is of minor consequence considering all of the other amazing things that he did accomplish in his life. And who knows, he may very well be up there right now, trying to find a way to communicate with us humans.
I’m currently working on the next novel in the Devereaux Chronicles and, although there is no actual “ghost phone” available, I’m finding some interesting and unpleasant ways to show how spirits do make contact.
Thanks for joining me and I hope you stay tuned for that.