I bets it's real.
Please pardon the misspellings and occassional insane word substitution I'm on an iPhone
On Feb 11, 2013, at 10:36 AM, Steve Ramm <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> This is just one of the articles in the newest issue of the Edison Papers
> Project Newsletter. I'm not sure it settles the controversy but it's worth
> reading. (The full newsletter is located at: _http://tinyurl.com/a2tdl3d_
> Steve Ramm
> Edison and Poetry: Did Edison Record Walt Whitman?
> In the early 1980s, the scholar Larry Don Griffin was conducting research
> for a paper on the quality of Walt Whitman's voice when he came across a
> cassette tape in the Midlands (Tex.) College Library that purported to include
> a recording of the poet reciting the first four lines of his poem
> Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
> All, all alike endear'd, capable, rich,
> Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
> A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
> Chair'd in the adamant of Time.
> Walt Whitman (1888)
> _Listen to the recording, courtesy of The Whitman Archive _
> The cassette, which also included recordings of James Whitcomb Riley, Edna
> St. Vincent Millay, and William Carlos Williams, was commercially produced
> in 1974 and made generally available to libraries across the country. It
> had not elicited any real scholarly interest, however, until Griffin
> mentioned the Whitman snippet in an article in the Winter 1992 edition of the Walt
> Whitman Quarterly Review. Griffin's revelation soon excited a lively debate
> on whether the recording was authentic.
> The question of authenticity immediately led to the question of provenance,
> which eventually led to Thomas Alva Edison. The first clue in the chain
> emerged from the cassette itself. The narrator who introduces the Whitman
> recording also introduces himself—Leon Pearson, the brother of the columnist
> Drew Pearson. He notes further that technicians at NBC had transferred the
> Whitman recording to tape from a wax cylinder.
> The Library of Congress, which is a repository of the NBC archives, was
> able to identify the program— "Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow"—originally
> broadcast in 1951. The wax cylinder in question, in the meantime, was purported to
> have come from the collection of a retired elevator operator and collector
> of such recordings, Roscoe Haley of New York, who died in 1982.
> Essentially, the chain of provenance ends there. The original wax cylinder, which
> Pearson had said was badly damaged, has not been found. It could simply have
> disintegrated, as some wax cylinders do if they are not cared for properly.
> Nor could researchers trace the cylinder to Haley's collection. The only
> evidence that this is where NBC got it is the broadcast itself, though it
> seems unlikely that Pearson would have fabricated such a detail.
> It is at this point in the story, in 1992, that Edison comes into the
> picture. Archivists at the Thomas Edison National Historic Park at West Orange
> turned up two documents relating to a potential recording of Walt Whitman.
> Both are dated 14 Feb. 1889. _The first is from Edison's private secretary
> Alfred O. Tate to the Boston-based journalist and Whitman admirer Sylvester
> (http://edison.rutgers.edu/NamesSearch/SingleDoc.php3?DocId=LB028222) . Tate writes that Edison himself had received Baxter's letter of 8
> February "in regard to obtaining a phonographic record of the poet Whitman." He
> then notes further that Edison "is very much obliged for your suggestion,
> and will endeavor to carry it out."
> _Later the same day, Tate prepared a letter for Edison to Jesse H.
> Lippincott, the head of the North American Phonograph Co._
> (http://edison.rutgers.edu/NamesSearch/SingleDoc.php3?DocId=LB028223) Lippincott had recently
> purchased the Edison Phonograph Co. and represented Edison's phonograph
> interests. Tate attached Baxter's original letter and asked, on Edison's behalf,
> if Lippincott wished "to act upon this gentlemen's suggestion, and obtain a
> phonogram from the poet Whitman?"
> Edison representatives during this period are known to have made a number
> of phonograms of prominent figures, including P. T. Barnum (1890), British
> Prime Minister William Gladstone (1888), Otto von Bismarck (1889), and Field
> Marshall Helmuth von Moltke (1889), as well as poets Robert Browning
> (1889) and Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1890). They were chiefly used for the purpose
> of demonstrating the phonograph. A recording of Whitman likely would have
> been used for the same purpose.
> Lippincott's response, unfortunately, has not been found, and to date the
> tantalizing paper trail ends with Edison's letter. With no ironclad proof as
> to the recording's authenticity, scholars are left to draw their own
> conclusions, marshaling such arguments as they can. Those who doubt the
> recording is really Whitman, beginning with historian Allen Koenigsberg, have
> argued that since the wax cylinder can't be found, there is no proof that it is
> an Edison cylinder at all, so that even if Edison had followed up on his
> desire to record Whitman, the recording in hand—whatever it may be—might not
> have been made for Edison. Then, too, since no follow-up to the Edison
> correspondence has come to light, there is nothing to show that Edison made
> any recording of Whitman.
> Koenigsberg encapsulated his findings in an article "Walt Whitman (1819–
> 1892) Speaks?" which appeared in the Winter 1992 edition of Antique Phonograph
> Monthly. He notes that in the extensive contemporaneous documentation of
> Whitman's life from 1889-1892, no one has found any mention of a recording.
> This documentation includes not only Whitman's own correspondence but
> extensive letters and memoirs by Whitman's friends and frequent newspaper
> reports, as well as the nearly daily account of Whitman's activities in Camden,
> N.J., and Philadelphia that his friend Horace Traubel kept.
> Koeningsberg and other critics have also pointed to the high quality of the
> recording as evidence that it is a fake. Analysts for both the Library of
> Congress and the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives consulted on the case and
> agreed that the clarity of the recording was beyond what could be achieved
> in 1889 or 1890. Experts at the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives also
> noted that there was much more bass response than one could expect from a
> century-old recording. Of course, the recording was not taken directly from the
> wax cylinder, but rather from the tape of a 1951 radio program that had
> presumably been rerecorded on cassette in 1974. Nonetheless, the sound
> analysis along with the documentation difficulties led Koeningsberg to conclude
> that "the supposed Whitman recording is a fascinating fake."
> Those who believe the recording is authentic, beginning with Ed Folsom, the
> editor of the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, have developed counter
> arguments. In his article "The Whitman Recording," which appeared in the Spring
> 1992 edition of the WWQR, Folsom reveals that the clarity of the recording
> might actually connect it to Edison. He quotes his own expert, Dave
> Beauvais of Magic Media Services, Amherst, Mass., who says that in making his
> cylinders, Edison used a vertical cut technique that made "near-perfect
> equalization" inherent in his process. Beauvais writes that the analysts at the
> Library of Congress are "certainly not the first ones to disbelieve their ears
> when stumbling upon vertical-cut artifacts."
> William Grimes, who covered the 1992 controversy for the New York Times,
> notes that the voice heard on the recording has a marked New York accent in
> certain words and is consistent with Traubel's description of Whitman's
> "strong and resonant" tenor. Beauvais meanwhile concludes that the accent is
> "a soft mix of Tidewater Atlantic and an Adirondack dilution of the
> contemporary New York accent." One does note a certain southern lilt mixed with a
> more Northern accent, a hybrid that perhaps derives from Whitman's New York
> upbringing and from the many years he spent in Washington, D.C., in the
> 1860s and 1870s, then still in many ways a Southern city. As Beauvais notes,
> "it strains credulity" to think that someone would create such an accent in
> order to perpetrate a fraud.
> Further evidence in favor of the recording's authenticity comes from the
> poem itself. "America" is not one of Whitman's better-known works, and its
> obscurity, says Grimes, militates against the idea that it would be a "likely
> choice for anyone concocting a fake." The poem would have been a much more
> likely choice for Whitman himself to have made, though. "America" first
> appeared in the 11 Feb. 1888 edition of the New York Herald and was then
> reprinted in an annex to the 1888 edition of Leaves of Grass. For Whitman,
> then, the poem would have been new and therefore fresh in his consciousness in
> 1889 or 1890, the very time when Edison was contemplating making a
> Although no correspondence has as yet come to light beyond the two letters
> of February 1889, there is another interesting connection between Edison
> and Whitman in this same period. In May 1889, Edison filed a famous lawsuit
> against both his erstwhile best friend Ezra Gilliland and his own personal
> attorney John C. Tomlinson for having entered into a secret side deal with
> Lippincott in order to profit from the sale of Edison's phonograph rights.
> Edison felt betrayed and swindled after it became apparent to him that
> Gilliland and Tomlinson, who had acted as his agents in selling the Edison
> Phonograph Co., had acted to benefit themselves.
> Edison hired the prominent New York attorney and free-thinker Robert G.
> Ingersoll to help with his lawsuit. Ingersoll also happened to be a good
> friend and warm admirer of the poet Walt Whitman. It was Ingersoll who gave the
> keynote address at Whitman's seventieth birthday celebration in
> Philadelphia on 31 May 1890 and later gave the poet's funeral oration in 1892. By the
> time he gave the birthday address, Ingersoll would have been
> well-acquainted with Edison's phonograph, having served as the inventor's attorney in the
> phonograph lawsuit the previous year. It is not inconceivable that
> Ingersoll arranged for Whitman to record a few lines on the occasion of his
> It would not have been difficult for Ingersoll to make such an recording.
> Edison had spent a good deal of effort in 1887 and 1888 making his
> phonograph more "user-friendly." As Paul Israel has noted in his book Edison: A Life
> of Invention, the new phonograph was "designed for use by a single person
> working in the quiet of an office." It was also highly portable, so that
> Ingersoll himself or anyone else might have brought along a phonograph and
> recorded Whitman at his birthday celebration or at any time after 1888.