Has anyone checked to see if it was issued on one of Eddie Smith's records?
It sounds like one of his stunts. Seriously.
From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of ADRIAN COSENTINI
Sent: Monday, February 11, 2013 5:40 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] The Walt Whitman - Edison Controversy
I've worked on several hundred cylinders. The earliest I worked on was from
1886, an Edison white wax. There is no way that this recording is from a
Someone is reading the poem with cylinder noise mixed in. That voice is an
At some point in time there might have been a cylinder recording of
Whiteman, but this ain't it.
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On Feb 11, 2013, at 10:36 AM, Steve Ramm 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:
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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 Baxter_
> . 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._
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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.