9/30/16

'GOODBYE CENTRAL': THE DEATH OF THE DIAL-FREE PHONE



Here's an interesting and oddly moving film, courtesy of AT&T, about the last three places in America that still used a telephone 'central' to connect calls, rather than the automatic system that had become the norm in the rest of the country decades earlier . It turns out that as late as 1978, people on Catalina Island, Virginia City and St. Ignace (Michigan) still picked up the phone--in some cases hand-cranked it--and spoke to the local central operator, requesting she place their phone call. This methodology harkens back to the earliest days of the telephone and was responsible for cultural references such as the song posted below ('Hello Central, Give Me Dr. Jazz', performed by Jelly Roll Morton and his Red Hot Peppers). I particularly like the fellow at 3:30. His name is Jack Flanagan and he's the country assessor of Virginia City. He hand-cranks his phonebox and asks 'Marcella' to connect him to the Sheriff. In fact, phone numbers were barely needed at all. All you needed to do, apparently, was ask 'Marcella' (or  whomever) to connect you to the Jones/Brown/Johnson/Smith family and she'd hook you up. A look at a very different America, one that was fast vanishing as this film was made and that is now as dead as the rotary phone.



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