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Old Timey Ads and Joel Chandler Harris’ Fear of Electricity


Written on November 6, 2008 at 2:52 pm, by Amelia

Today Boing Boing led me to this delightful Edison Electric ad.

Edison Electric Light 19th century ad

Man, I love old-timey things.  If only I could find a job that supported my interests!  Oh well.

What I especially love about this are the reassurances in the ad.  Electricity was a very new and very foreign thing in the 19th century, after all, and not everyone was ready to drink the Kool-Aid.  Or, since Kool-Aid didn’t exist, toddies.

Believe it or not, Mr. Joel Chandler Harris himself was one of the wary.

Gasolier in the Wren's Nest House Museum

Above is the gasolier in the West Parlor.  Our gasoliers – aka gas chandeliers – have gas lamps on top and electric fixtures on the bottom, making them a unique artifact and representing a very specific slice of history.

Now, to be fair, Harris didn’t purchase these (for every room of the house) simply because he thought this electricity business was a fad.  When electricity was first offered, it only came in during certain hours of the day, and no one wanted to be left in the dark after the electric company called it a day.

Logic-based, that’s our guy.

Or… not.  You see, Harris was also “cautious” about riding a streetcar while wearing a wristwatch, convinced as he was that these two would combine to make him explode. Or stop time.  Or create a black hole.  We’re not really sure.

So what does a well-respected man do to hide his crazy?  Why, he buys identical wrist watches and builds a secret drawer in his desk, of course.

Mr. Harris' desk from the Atlanta Constitution, complete with hidden drawer

That way Harris could slip off his watch before boarding the dreaded streetcar, and surreptitiously replace it once he got to work.

Don’t worry, Mr. Harris.  Your secret is safe with me.

6 Comments to Old Timey Ads and Joel Chandler Harris’ Fear of Electricity

  1. andrew says:

    He didn’t do that because he thought all the rumbling of the streetcar would make his watches less accurate?

  2. lain says:

    That’s not the story I heard, andrew, but that certainly seems plausible.

  3. Amanda says:

    When you guys have children Im totally going to sneak in between the sheets with a bonnet on my head and pretend to be one of the brood just so that I can hear the coolest bedtime stories ever.

    I need more stories like this! Keep ‘em coming!

  4. [...] — And finally, one reason the Republicans got clobbered is they are selling fear rather than hope. And at the Wren’s Nest, they remind us that people once feared electricity. Even Joel Chandler Harris was worried that if he wore a wristwatch on the streetcar, the combination of the two might make him explode. So he came up with a very unique solution that involves a secret desk compartment. Don’t worry, Joel, your secret is safe with me. Bookmark It [...]

  5. Kirk says:

    He was a man before his time, he just didn’t know that you have to be in a DeLorean to go back to the future.

  6. Joe Thorpe says:

    Old fashioned watches were very susceptible to even tiny magnetic fields. An electric streetcar would cause them to stop, I imagine. When I was a kid, I couldn’t wear them unless they were an antimagnetic model, ’cause my own magnetic field would stop them within an hour or two.

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