The Quarantined Bride and the Phonograph

During 1901 and 1902, a story circulated in newspapers around the United States and beyond in which a couple whose wedding plans had been dashed when the bride was placed under quarantine went ahead and got married by phonograph, with the bride and groom speaking their parts of the ceremony separately.  This story was usually reported as straightforward news, complete with names, places, and dates.  However, I’ve found the same basic story linked to at least four different couples, and in each case the people named in it don’t seem actually to have existed, judging from my searches in census and other records, much less to have married each other in the unusual way being described.  All of the accounts thus appear to have been fictional.

But such journalistic hoaxes—if that’s indeed what these were—could still have made a real contribution to the discursive construction of phonography.  During this period, writers who wanted to explore as-yet-unrealized possibilities of the new medium had to choose among several established genres.  They turned sometimes to speculative essays, sometimes to science fiction (or at least proto-science-fiction), and sometimes to jokes.  But it seems they also turned, on occasion, to writings in the spirit of the Great Moon Hoax of 1835, the Balloon-Hoax of 1844, and so on: articles about imaginary what-if scenarios composed so as to be formally indistinguishable from real news items.  When hoaxes were big and consequential in their implications, as with the Great Moon Hoax and the Balloon-Hoax, they tended to get exposed and retracted in short order.  But when they were little and inconsequential, their status as fiction may mostly have passed unnoticed.  It takes some focused research even today to identify them for what they are, and it would be extremely difficult to work out what proportion of overall “news” they made up at any given time.  Neither editors nor readers in 1901 and 1902 would have had any easy way of checking the truth of the stories about phonograph weddings, which they may have taken for granted in practice, if they even cared.  Meanwhile, the appearance in the press of four variants of the story associated with different names and places so closely resembles the paper trail left behind by some so-called “urban legends” that I suspect these may manifest a narrative that was also circulating orally during the same period, written up independently by a few different people who thought the premise was too good to waste.  Or maybe the story had entered oral circulation from the first newspaper variant of February 1901 and had then made its way back into newspapers in turn, rewritten along the way.

It’s unclear how we can best account for the timing of the story’s popularity, which began in 1901, peaked in 1902, and evaporated in 1903.  It doesn’t seem to correspond to anxiety over any particular epidemic that was raging at the time, and the specific disease varies from version to version: first diphtheria, then scarlet fever, then smallpox.  However, it does involve one important principle that was becoming more urgent to work through at the start of the twentieth century as phonographs became increasingly common: performative fidelity, or the degree to which the playback of a mediatized action can be a satisfactory substitute for the original action.  For more details, see my article “‘Rise and Obey the Command’: Performative Fidelity and the Exercise of Phonographic Power,” Journal of Popular Music Studies 24:3 (September 2012): 357-395.  Briefly, though, the line of inquiry ran something as follows.  If phonographs could tell stories and deliver political speeches or sermons, what other kinds of talking could they legitimately do for people?  Could the speech that makes up a marriage ceremony be spoken through a talking machine and still count?  If so, what special circumstances might motivate someone to resort to a “canned” wedding?

There were many accounts of phonographs—and telephones, too—being used to carry out weddings under circumstances unrelated to quarantines, and if there’s sufficient interest I could easily gather more of these together.  For now, though, I’ll be focusing on the quarantine-related cases, starting with phonographs and then moving on to telephones.  Unlike the phonograph stories, the telephone stories generally appear to have been true.

First up is a prequel of sorts.  The earliest example I’ve found of a story in which a phonograph wedding was suggested because one of the contracting parties was affected by illness dates back to 1891, ten years before the first full-fledged appearance of the Quarantined Bride and the Phonograph.  It’s presented as a comic anecdote rather than a news item, though, with no names given and no reference to an official quarantine.  Moreover, the groom is the one detained by sickness rather than the bride, and the idea of using a phonograph to get around the problem ends up rejected.

THE BRIDE’S SUGGESTION.
[New York Herald, October 11, 1891]

Marriage by proxy is an old story, but marriage by phonograph is quite the newest wrinkle.  It seems the wedding day was set and all preparations made when the bridegroom became too ill to leave his house.  His fiancée insisted on having the wedding in the church, and proposed that he talk the answers to the service into a phonograph and that it then be let loose in the church at the proper times.

The young man said he would be hanged if he was going to allow his voice to be married separate from the rest of him.


#1: ESTELLA ROCKEFELLOW and H. ALLEN BUSH

Now we come to the first true version of the Quarantined Bride and the Phonograph.  The name of the bride is also given as “Estelle Rockefeller” in, e.g., the Interior Journal (Stanford, Kentucky), February 22, 1901, and the Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Kentucky) of the same date; and as “Estella Rockefeller” in, e.g., the Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake City, Utah), March 3, 1901, the latter identified as taken from the Chicago News.  I’ve found no trace of a Chicago bride by any of the variant names, or anyone matching the groom’s name and description either.  Note the Binghamton, New York dateline; presumably the wedding is supposed to have taken place in nearby Union, New York.

PHONOGRAPHS AT A WEDDING
Bride Had Diphtheria, So the Machines Were Used to Ask Questions and Record Answers.
[New York Times, February 22, 1901]

Special to The New York Times.

BINGHAMTON, N. Y., Feb. 21.—There was a novel wedding in the town of Union yesterday, when Miss Estella Rockefellow of Chicago was married by means of phonographs to H. Allen Bush of Westpoint, Ky., thereby overcoming a strict quarantine, and being wedded on the day fixed for the nuptial ceremony.

Miss Rockefellow and Mr. Bush had planned to be married at the home of the bride’s sister in New York.  Miss Rockefellow came east for that purpose.  She stopped for a brief visit with friends in Union, and was there stricken with diphtheria.  The house was quarantined, no one being admitted, but the bridegroom conceived the idea of a phonographic wedding.  He procured a clergyman and two phonographs.  In one of these the minister’s questions and Mr. Bush’s answers were recorded.

The cylinders were then transferred, and the machines sent to the bride.  When they were set in motion she answered the questions propounded through one machine into the mouthpiece of the other.


FEW OBSTACLES THWART TRUE LOVE.
Some of the Ways in Which the Blind God Won Victories.
[Chicago Tribune, March 29, 1903]

THERE are more ways than one of getting married, and that is said without reference to the different customs prevailing in different countries.  There are more ways than one of getting married in this country, where the appearance of bride and groom before a minister or justice with a marriage license is accepted as the proper way.

Accident has stepped in to prevent some of the weddings in which the persons chiefly concerned have refused to be delayed by circumstances and the marriage services have proceeded under difficulties and in strange forms, but still being marriage ceremonies.

Of all these, one of the strangest is that of Mr. and Mrs. Allen Bush.  They were to meet in a city where the bride had friends and were to be married the following day.  Both carried out this part of the agreement, but two days before that set for the ceremony the bride was taken ill with diphtheria.

The house of the friend with whom she was stopping was immediately quarantined and the bridegroom was refused entrance.  That looked like a postponement of the wedding, but the bridegroom thought differently.  He set his wits to work and hit upon a plan.

Married by Phonograph.

Two phonographs were secured.  So were a marriage license and a minister.  Two cylinders were used.  In one the clergyman propounded the questions to the bridegroom and the man gave his answers.  The other cylinder was left untouched.

Both instruments then were taken to the bride’s sick room by the nurse.  They were placed on a table and the wedding began.  One phonograph spoke the clergyman’s questions, giving at the same time the bridegroom’s answers.

When the clergyman addressed the bride, through the phonograph, she answered into the cylinder of the unused one.  When he asked questions of the bridegroom the answers were given at once through the phonograph.

The minister and the bridegroom in reality were sitting below in the parlor of the house, probably smoking cigars and wondering how the ceremony was progressing upstairs.

Finally the nurse brought the two instruments downstairs and they knew that the service was over.  They knew that the other cylinder contained the bride’s answers and her final “yes.”  The clergyman shook hands with Mr. Bush and congratulated him on being a married man.  He also sent his best wishes to Mrs. Bush by the nurse.  Mr. Bush intrusted the nurse with a kiss for his new wife.  That is, he told her that she should kiss the bride.  It is not to be supposed that he did by proxy.

Any time Mr. and Mrs. Bush wish to hear the wedding service repeated all they have to do is to set two phonographs to going and the whole affair is gone over again.  That is a useful institution to have in a household on wedding anniversaries and the like. If the records last long enough the children of the two may be able to hear the service which united their father and mother.


#2: MABEL JOHNSON and H. F. BOSSOM

The dateline again identifies the story’s origin as Binghamton, New York.  I can’t find any trace of an H. F. Bossom in Colfax, Iowa, and we’re not given a place of origin for Mabel Johnson.

MARRIED BY PHONOGRAPH
COLFAX MAN SECURES BRIDE IN A NOVEL MANNER.
Bride to Be Was Afflicted with Scarlet Fever and She Was Quarantined, But Her Woman’s Wit Surmounted the Difficulty.
[Des Moines (Iowa) Leader, November 3, 1901]

Binghamton, N. Y., Nov. 2.—(Special.)—H. F. Bossom of Colfax, Jasper county, Iowa, was yesterday married to Miss Mabel Johnson by means of a phonograph.  Arrangements had been completed for the wedding and the groom arrived to find his fiance had been stricken with scarlet fever and was under quarantine.  Though the attack was slight the quarantine was strict, but they determined to go through with the ceremony.  The bride conceived the idea of resorting to a phonograph.  The instrument was procured into which the minister propounded the questions.  It was conveyed to the house and the answers of the bride recorded, then after it was fumigated the groom made his reply and the ceremony was ended by the minister filing a marriage certificate.


#3: NELLIE STONE and JAMES F. DUNCAN

This was by far the most widely circulated version of the story.  The texts below are the only ones I’ve found with significant original content, but the first one in particular often appeared in abridged or otherwise edited form.  Note that all three of the texts that appeared in January have Toledo datelines, even though Toledo is around 65 miles from Ottawa, Ohio, the nearest relevant place.  I’ve found no other trace of anyone matching the description of the bride or groom, although there was a Creighton family living in Ottawa.  Note that substantive details vary from account to account, suggesting that writers might have been associating pieces of previously-encountered variants of the story with a new pair of names.  (Example: was Nellie Stone alone when she spoke her part of the ceremony, or was she attended by a minister who happened to be immune to smallpox?)

EXCHANGED VOWS BY PHONOGRAPH
Unique Marriage Service Made Necessary Because Bride Was Quarantined
[Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan 27, 1902]

Special to The Inquirer.

TOLEDO, O., Jan. 26.—Miss Nellie Stone, one of Ottawa’s prettiest and most popular young ladies, was married yesterday at Oswego, by phonograph, to J. F. Duncan, of that city.  The regular marriage ceremony was impossible, owing to the fact that the home of the relatives with whom Miss Stone was stopping was suddenly placed under strict quarantine for small-pox.  The young lady was in such a nervous condition over the delay that her physician hit on the phonograph marriage, which, it is claimed, is perfectly legal.

The engagement is a romantic one.  Both are newspaper people and became acquainted through their writings.  Correspondence and exchange of photos brought about an engagement and Duncan has been a frequent visitor at Ottawa, Ohio, for the last six months.  Last Monday Miss Stone went to Oswego for the marriage.  A friend stopping with her relatives, the Creightons, was seized with small-pox of a virulent form, and though he was promptly removed from the house, the sanitary authorities insisted on a most rigid quarantine.

In her room at the Creighton home, where she was quarantined, Miss Stone in the presence of witnesses repeated into the phonograph the words “I, Nellie Stone, do take this man, James F. Duncan to be my lawfully wedded husband for better or for worse, till death do us part.”

The register was then removed, fumigated and taken to the Duncan residence where the groom and a clergyman performed their part of the ceremony.

The result on the young lady’s nerves was so serious that the phonograph marriage was decided on by the doctor and gladly assented to by the contracting parties.  The details were wired by the contracting parties to Ottawa relatives last night.


WEDDING VOWS BY PHONOGRAPH
Bride Is in Quarantine, but Ceremony Is Not Delayed
[San Francisco Examiner, January 27, 1902]

[Special Dispatch to “The Examiner.”]

TOLEDO (Ohio), January 26.—Miss Nellie Stone, a leader in society in Ottawa, this State, is the bride in a novel marriage with J. F. Duncan of Oswego, N. Y.  Mr. Duncan does considerable literary work and Miss Stone was first attracted by his picture, which appeared in an Eastern paper.  In fun she wrote.  Photographs were exchanged and the correspondence was a pleasure for both.

In time Duncan had business in Ohio and he stopped off in Ottawa and returned to Oswego an engaged man.  Miss Stone had relatives in Oswego and went there to see them.  Friday was the day set for the wedding.  Their home had been furnished.  Miss Stone was stopping with a family named Creighton.  Smallpox developed in the family and the house was quarantined.  Both were superstitious about the wedding.  On the eve of the wedding a phonograph was obtained and sent in by a physician, who was accompanied by a clergyman, an immune.  The minister asked her the necessary questions and they were imprinted on the cylinder.  Then he went to Duncan’s house and asked him the constitutional questions.  The cylinder was reversed and in the hearing of the minister and in the presence of Duncan and several friends as witnesses the answers were returned.  The minister pronounced them man and wife, returning to make the same announcement to Miss Stone, now Mrs. Duncan.


Weds by the Phonograph
[St. Joseph (Mo.) Gazette-Herald, January 28, 1902; also Muscatine (Iowa) News Tribune, January 28, 1902]

TOLEDO, Ohio, Jan. 27.—Miss Nellie Stone of Ottawa, Ohio, and J. F. Duncan of Oswego, N. Y., were married yesterday under the most trying circumstances.  They had been engaged for some time and the bride to be went to Oswega [sic] to have the ceremony performed.  She stopped with a family, one of whose members was suddenly stricken with smallpox.

The quarantine of the house put the young couple in a quandary.  Finally a phonograph was taken to the young woman.  She spoke her marriage vows into the machine and it was taken to the office of the health department, where it was disinfected.

Armed with the phonograph Duncan sought a minister and made the responses in the marriage service, while the brass transmitter ejected the vows of the Ohio girl and they were pronounced man and wife.  The bride is a contributor to eastern papers and the groom is a newspaper man.


Married by Phonograph.
[Daily People (New York NY), January 28, 1902]

Oswego, N. Y., Jan. 27.—“Get married by phonograph; it is impossible to get a minister to perform the ceremony,” was the advice of her physician to pretty Miss Nellie Stone, of Ottawa, O., who did not intend to let her being quarantined in a small-pox house postpone her wedding to John F. Duncan, of this city.

Miss Stone took the advice, and she is believed to be the first “phonograph bride.”  Securing a talking machine, she repeated into it the customary wedding vow.  The record was taken to another house, where it united with the bridegroom and a clergyman in completing the ceremony.


WEDDING BY PHONOGRAPH
This Is a True Story With the Real Twentieth Century Flavor of How Modern Invention Makes the Road of Lovers Smooth.

[St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 16, 1902]

THE phonograph wedding ceremony is the newest thing in matrimonial novelties.  The inventor of this ingenious ceremony was Miss Nellie Stone of Ottawa, N. Y. [sic], who married J. J. F. [sic] Duncan of Oswego, N. Y., by phonograph last week.

Imprisoned by a smallpox quarantine, superstitiously unwilling to postpone the appointed day, Miss Stone spoke the memorable words into the phonograph, which was afterward fumigated.  The actual wedding took place later between the phonograph and Mr. Duncan.

Miss Stone was one of Ottawa’s brightest, prettiest and most popular girls.  Her acquaintance with Mr. Duncan dates back six months.  Not many weeks ago, on the occasion of Mr. Duncan’s last trip to Ottawa, it was arranged to have his betrothed visit relatives at Oswego.  Although friends were not let into the secret the lovers had determined to be married during that visit.  A few days after the young woman had arrived in Oswego the announcement was made that the ceremony would be performed on Friday, Feb. 24 [sic].  All preparations for the wedding were completed, the home for the young couple had been furnished and they were awaiting the happy day with impatience.

Then came the thunderbolt from a clear sky.  One of the members of the family where Miss Jones was a guest was seized with smallpox.  The patient had remained in the house one night before it was known that he was afflicted with the disease.  He was taken to the Contagious Disease Hospital.

The health authorities prohibited anyone either entering or leaving the house.

Miss Stone was imprisoned as closely as a criminal.  She could not even communicate with her prospective husband.  The day for the wedding was rapidly approaching and the young woman was frantic.  She pleaded with the authorities, but they would not listen.  The young woman did not give up hope, however.  She is somewhat superstitious and was firmly convinced that unless the ceremony was performed on the day originally set for it her married life would not be a happy one.  One night she hit upon the scheme for a marriage by phonograph.  She arranged every detail before she fell asleep, and the next morning made known her plans.

After a good deal of pleading on her part the authorities were called in.  They could find no law that covered the point, but at the end of a careful discussion they came to the conclusion that if the young people wanted to be married that way no objection could be raised to the plan.  Mr. Duncan, it is true, rather demurred.  He preferred to wait until he could stand beside a bride of flesh and blood.  He was opposed to marrying by machine.  By this time Miss Stone had fretted and worried until she was on the verge of nervous prostration.  Then, of course, the lover gave in.  He hustled around and borrowed the phonograph, which was sent to the residence where the bride was a prisoner.

Miss Stone sat on a chair in front of the machine.  A catch was pulled back, and the wheels began to buzz.  The bride-to-be put her lips close to the receiving device and slowly spoke the words, “I Nellie Stone, do take this man, James S. [sic] Duncan, to be my lawfully wedded husband, for better or for worse, until death do us part.”  The mechanism was stopped and the talking machine bundled up and removed to the health department, where it was carefully fumigated.  As soon as the health department had pronounced the phonograph free from all danger of germs it was placed in a carriage befitting a bride and transported to Mr. Duncan’s rooms.  The machine-bride was placed on a table and the groom took a position beside it.  The minister slowly repeated the words that were to make Duncan and Miss Stone husband and wife.

“James F. Duncan, do you take Nellie Stone to be your lawfully wedded wife?”

“I do,” said the groom.

The minister then turned and, facing the machine, slowly asked: “Do you, Nellie Stone, take this man, James F. Duncan, to be your lawfully wedded husband?”

An assistant, standing by the phonograph, pushed the lever and the wheels began to move.  There was a moment’s buzzing and then out came the words, almost as clear and distinct as though Miss Stone herself had been there: “I, Nellie Stone, take this man, James F. Duncan, to be my lawfully wedded husband, for better or for worse, until death do us part.”

The phonograph was stopped, and the minister, again turning to Mr. Duncan, said, “Then I pronounce you man and wife.”

“I had the most curious feelings while the phonograph wedding was in progress,” confessed the bride since her release from the quarantined house.  “It seemed as if some strange telepathic or clairvoyant sense were granted me on that day, so that I realized just what was going on.

“I knew when the phonograph was being fumigated, and I seemed to follow it from my shut-in room with some mysterious kind of vision while it was being carried to Mr. Duncan’s rooms for the wedding—that is, I suppose we must call it a wedding, though it does sound rather funny, when there wasn’t really any real bride there, doesn’t it?”

“Well, when they set the machine on a table, which they did very carefully, for they had a kind of tender regard for it, because you see, for the time being it represented me, I really had as much nervousness as if I had actually been arranging my orange blossoms and my train as real brides do.

“I think I was afraid the phonograph would not act properly or that it would forget its lines.

“And it would be a very serious matter if she—I mean it—had missed its lines or said them wrong.  Would that have nullified the marriage, do you suppose, or made it illegal?

“But the phonograph was one of the best of its kind, and it was just as precise and demure as—well, I hope I should have been.

“I am rather inclined to be nervous, though, and I am perfectly willing to admit that the machine probably played the part better than I should have done.

“Neither Mr. Duncan nor I can regret very much that matters happened as they did, because it saved time, and because everybody seems to think it was rather picturesque in a modern way, and we shall have something to tell when we get to be old.”


MARRIED BY PHONOGRAPH.
SCIENCE AS AN AID TO SWEETHEARTS IN DISTRESS.

[West Gippsland Gazette (Warragul, Victoria, Australia), October 7, 1902]

One is accustomed to reading lucid accounts of strange proceedings across the water from time to time, and these are, perhaps naturally, sometimes accepted with reserve.  The following story from Canada [sic], though startling in character, has the merit, it is said, of being true.  Some instances of the kind have occurred elsewhere, but they are not so dramatic as the story printed below.

You may be married there without leaving your office or speaking a word.  It will be just as good a marriage as any other, just as difficult to dissolve.  And unless you care for the rather tiresomely theatrical features of the traditional wedding, [sic] ceremony, how much easier and simpler you will find it.

Absolutely, the only requisite for this new kind of marriage participated in so successfully one or two years ago by a Miss Stone, of Ottawa, and J. F. Duncan, of Oswego, was a phonograph.

The phonograph is, therefore, quite the newest thing in matrimonial novelties.  The inventor of this ingenious form of ceremony was the bride.  Imprisoned in consequence of ill-health of friends with whom she stayed, and superstitiously unwilling to postpone the appointed day, Miss Stone spoke the memorable words into the phonograph.  The actual wedding took place later between the phonograph and Mr. Duncan.  If Mr Duncan should ever claim that he was really married to the phonograph!  But that is something that Mrs Duncan says is too absurd to contemplate.

Mrs Duncan is one of Ottawa’s brightest, prettiest and most popular girls…. [The following part closely follows the text from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, quoted above, but then extends the closing quotation and continues as follows.]

“There is just one reason, though, why I would have liked to have the wedding go on in the ordinary way as we had planned.

“I dare say you can guess what that is.  My husband did immediately.

“You see, my wedding dress was as pretty as any bride ever had.  And it would have given me a good deal of satisfaction to wear it once and then keep it.

“A woman can’t help having some sentiment about her wedding dress, you know.”

THE WEDDING A JOKE.

Mr. Duncan considers the phonograph wedding was a great joke.  He has won a little reputation already as a writer of short stories, and he says that some day he is going to make an entertaining piece of fiction out of his own wedding.

The phonograph that played so important a part has been retained, it is needless to say, by the Duncans.  They think it’s a better souvenir than wedding cake or orange blossoms even, and Mr Duncan declares that the phonograph is going to rest on its laurels and never have to do another piece of work as long as it lives.


#4: NELLIE PARKER and J. L. WILLIAMS

As far as I can tell, there were no such Pennsylvania place names in 1902 as King’s Mills and Nicklinville (although there’s now a banquet venue called Kings Mills in Media), and the story presented here is a close match for the San Francisco Examiner version of the Stone-Duncan story, even unto some of the specific wording.

MARRIED BY PHONOGRAPH.
Lovers, Separated By Quarantine, Find a Way to Go on With the Wedding on the Appointed Day.
[Lancaster (Pa.) Examiner, April 9, 1902]

Standing before a clergyman in different houses on Friday, a phonograph recording their vows, Miss Nellie Parker, of King’s Mills, Pa., and J. L. Williams of Nicklinville, Pa., were made man and wife.  The young woman’s first knowledge of Williams was had through his picture in a newspaper.  She fell in love with the picture and wrote Williams.  He replied, and in course of time proposal of marriage and acceptance followed, and Friday was set for the wedding.

Miss Parker a few days ago visited friends, in whose home smallpox developed, and the house was quarantined.  She and Williams were superstitious in regard to postponing the wedding, and were chafing under the restraint of enforced quarantine, when the phonograph was suggested.  A minister, who is an immune, propounded the questions, and [these], with the answers, were imprinted on the phonograph cylinder.  Then the clergyman went to Williams’ house, and the phonograph recorded his vows, and, in the hearing of the minister, Williams and several friends repeated the ceremony in which the bride had figured.  The minister then pronounced them man and wife.


In addition to accounts of weddings by phonograph, we also find a number of descriptions of weddings by telephone, and a few of these also involve quarantined brides and non-quarantined grooms—limited, curiously enough, to the same two years, 1901 and 1902.  Here are two articles about one such case:

THEY WILL BE MARRIED OVER THE TELEPHONE.
Bride-Elect Now a Smallpox Patient in a Hospital.
[Pittsburgh Press, May 27, 1901]

Paterson, N. J., May 27.—John Ainscourt, a young machinist, and Sara Creathorn are to be married by telephone to-morrow.  A telephone ceremony is necessary because Miss Creathorn is in the pest house, suffering with smallpox, and the authorities refuse to let Ainscourt go to her, although he so desires.

The couple were to have been married last Wednesday night at Miss Creathorn’s home.  The wedding was postponed at the eleventh hour when the bride developed a case of smallpox.

Miss Creathorn was carried to the isolation hospital.  As the first opportunity Ainscourt got into communication with her by telephone.  He told the girl he wanted to keep his contract and the telephonic ceremony was decided upon.


WED BY TELEPHONE
SMALLPOX INTERFERES WITH MARRIAGE PLANS.
[Wichita Beacon, May 31, 1901]

New York, May 31.—John Ainscourt, a sturdy machinist, and Sara Creathorn both of Paterson, made all arrangements to be married last Wednesday night.

The wedding was postponed at the eleventh hour because it was found that the bride had smallpox.  The board of health laughed at love and said that the bride would have to be sent to the Isolation hospital.

Ainscourt declared, “I’ll marry her though she has fifty cases of smallpox,” and it took the combined efforts of all the doctors and the minister to dissuade him.

The bride was the first to acquiesce.  She said that she would not put her fiance in danger, and that waiting a little while did not matter, for she knew that Ainscourt would be true.

Miss Creathorn was carried away to the Isolation hospital, and the only communication that she can have with the outside world is by telephone.  Since she went there John has spent most of his time at the telephone.

They decided that they would be married and that love would laugh at the quarantine laws in the world, and they would be joined by telephone very soon.

Tomorrow is the date set for the telephone ceremony.  A minister has been secured, who, after consulting several lawyers, believes that a marriage ceremony can be legally performed by ’phone.

At first, I wasn’t able to identify any real bride and groom with the names provided here.  However, I noticed that Will Carleton’s Magazine Every Where 8:5 (July 1901), p. 158, gave the names differently as “John Ainscourt and Elizabeth Ann Creathorn.”  Searching on “Elizabeth Ann Creathorn,” I then ran across a record of a New Jersey resident by that name marrying someone named John Ainscough:

By searching federal and state census records, I was further able to confirm that this John Ainscough was a machinist in Paterson, New Jersey, and the 1910 federal census shows him having been married to his wife Elizabeth for nine years, which matches the date of the projected telephone wedding.  So this account may well have been true.  On the other hand, it differs from the articles we’ve seen about phonograph weddings in that it describes a planned future marriage by telephone, and not one that has already taken place.  Here’s another article presented in the same way:

MAY BE MARRIED BY TELEPHONE
Already Cupid Has Found a Means to Overcome Difficulties of Quarantine
[Philadelphia Inquirer, April 27, 1901]

Special to The Inquirer

READING, Pa., April 26.—The wedding of Laverne J. Coyle and Miss Mame E. Wisler, which was to have occurred at noon to-day, may take place over the telephone.  Coyle is quarantined in the pest house with smallpox.

As soon as Mr. Coyle was placed in the pest house he at once ordered that a telephone wire should be run to the nearest line half a mile away.  Linemen at the same time were making a connection with Miss Wisler’s home.

Since then the prospective bride is almost constantly at the ‘phone, receiving words of love from her intended or reports as to his condition from the nurse in charge. Their friends think it more than likely that the Rev. J. R. Meredith will be called to Miss Wisler’s home and the wedding take place by means of the telephone.

The bride and groom in this case again turn out, on further investigation, to have been real people.  However, official records show that they ended up waiting a month before getting married in the usual way—by the same minister mentioned in the article—rather than using a telephone to get around the quarantine.  For all we know, John Ainscough and Elizabeth Ann Creathorn might have done the same thing.

Finally, here’s an account of a third case that’s a bit short on details but follows the same pattern as the other two.

GIRL IN QUARANTINE.
An Ottawa Man May Be Married by Telephone.
[Evening Herald (Ottawa, Kansas), October 9, 1902]

An Ottawa young man is in the hardest kind of luck.  He is to be married before long and the news has come that the home of his lady fair is in quarantine.  There is little prospect that the quarantine will be raised by the time the wedding is set to occur, and neither party wants to “take a continuance,” as the lawyers would say.

Negotiations are now being made to see whether it will be possible to be married by telephone or through an open window.

The bride and groom in the last case aren’t named, so there’s no good basis for further investigation.  However, a definite pattern emerges from the data I’ve collected thus far from the years 1901-1903.  Whenever we have an account of a phonograph wedding with a quarantined bride, it’s set in the past, as something that has already happened, but there’s never any other trace to be found of the bride and groom, suggesting that the stories are fictional.  But whenever we have an account of a telephone wedding with a quarantined bride, it’s projected into the future, as something a couple is thinking about doing but hasn’t actually done, and the names of the bride and groom—insofar as they’re given—match those of real people who did eventually end up getting married.  Perhaps couples who faced a real situation of this kind learned about the phonograph version of the story, saw no reason why a telephone wouldn’t be even more satisfactory (without the pointless complication of time-shifting), looked into this as a possibility, and then concluded that it wasn’t as definitely legal as it was cracked up to be, so that it was better to wait after all.

It’s noteworthy, too, that the first two variants of the Quarantined Bride and the Phonograph bear Binghamton, New York datelines.  If these datelines can be taken at face value, it looks as though some local author must have taken an interest in writing about weddings carried out by phonograph or telephone because of unusual circumstances, since I’ve found three other similarly-datelined examples, one from 1900 and two from 1903.  All three accounts likewise involve illnesses, albeit not of the bride and groom, and with no mention of quarantine.  In two cases, the sick party is the chosen officiant, while in the third it’s a wealthy aunt, with an inheritance on the line.

VOICE OF DEAD WEDDED THEM.
Miss Smith’s Father Said Service in Phonograph Before He Expired.
[Evening World (New York NY), February 24, 1900]

BINGHAMTON, N. Y., Feb. 24.—The voice of the dead pronounced the wedding ceremony of Edith L. Smith, of New York, and Frank T. Mercereau, who were married in this city last evening.

The voice was that of Miss Smith’s father, who died while she was in the South not long ago, and the medium by which it was preserved and reproduced was a phonograph.

The couple had been engaged and it was settled that the father would perform the ceremony.

He was taken suddenly ill while the bride was in the South and died before her return.  Before his death he recited the marriage service into the phonograph used.

It was probably the oddest marriage ceremony ever performed.  The bride and bridegroom answered the questions that came like a spirit voice from the machine and the spectators were strangely affected.


MARRIED BY PHONOGRAPH.
Iowa Girl Party to Unique Marriage Ceremony.
[Evening Times-Republican (Marshalltown, Iowa), June 17, 1903]

Binghamton, N. Y., June 17.—A novel phonographic wedding took place yesterday in which William Parsons, of Worcester, Mass., was groom and Miss Eva C. Harris, of Kellogg, Iowa, was bride.

The wedding was to have been performed by Miss Harris’ brother, but he was taken suddenly ill and unable to attend.  She insisted on having him perform the ceremony, and the groom’s business would not allow of a postponement.  The matter was finally compromised by the minister speaking into a phonograph, which was shipped in time for the ceremony.  The questions were asked by the instrument and answered by the pair.  Rev. Brown was present as an assistant, and the phonograph pronounced the couple man and wife.


MARRIED BY TELEPHONE.
Wedded In Haste to Get Fortune of Aunt.
[Selma (Alabama) Times, September 19, 1903]

Binghamton, N. Y., Sept. 17.—Thomas P. Baker and Miss Marie Wells, of Atlanta, were married by telephone, the bride being at Glenwood, Pa., and the broom in Buffalo, N. Y.

The couple had been engaged for some time, the wedding being a family match.  The date was set for Oct. 1, but it was learned that an aged aunt, who had set her heart on the match, had decreed in her will that unless the marriage took place before her death property to the amount of $20,000 would divert from Miss Wells to other relatives.

The aunt was stricken with apoplexy and pronounced dying.  The groom, who is a traveling man, was located at Buffalo, and the marriage arranged over the telephone.  A minister officiated at each end and the ceremony was concluded 10 minutes before the aunt breathed her last.


In 1904, another group of reports appeared about a couple that resorted to a telephone wedding to get around a quarantine—as in, they actually did it, and didn’t just plan to do it.  In this case, however, all the vital details appear to match those found in official records: as far as I can tell, this story is a true one.  The parties were a second-generation German-American woodworker named Frederick Mehren, sick with smallpox; his bride Eva Harvey (Woodward) Lyon, the widow of Daniel Smith Lyon (although newspapers often give her name as “Lyons”); and John Mecleary, the Philadelphia magistrate who officiated.  As an aside, I’ll observe that Eva Lyon and her former husband had also been in the news back in 1900 when she’d taken him to court on a charge of bigamy (see “Would Not Lend His Trousers,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 10, 1900; “Says She Wedded a Married Man,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 17, 1900; and “Lyon Faced Two Wives In Court, But Was Acquitted of Bigamy,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 19, 1900).  It’s to this earlier episode that I owe the portrait of Eva Lyon inserted below.  This story differs from the others we’ve seen in that the officiant was brought in via telephone while the bride and groom were physically together in the same place.

Portrait of Eva Harvey (Woodward) Lyon from the Philadelphia Inquirer, May 19, 1900.

WOMAN TO MARRY SMALL-POX VICTIM IN CITY HOSPITAL
Young Widow Will Brave Dangers of Disease to Wed Man She Loves
TO GET MARRIAGE LICENSE THIS MORNING
Grief Stricken Woman Says She Would Rather Die Than Live Without Him
[Philadelphia Inquirer, October 19, 1904]

Swayed by a love that fears not even death in a terrible form, Mrs. Eva Lyons, an attractive young widow, of 2446 North Twenty-ninth street, will to-day brave contagion from a malignant disease that she may fulfill her promise, made three months ago, to become the bride of a man who now lies critically ill from small-pox at the Municipal Hospital.

So great is her devotion to the man, Frederick Mehren, aged 31 years, of 2252 North Lambert street, that she will go to his bedside, where he is believed to be dying.

Her only fear is that the health authorities will at the last moment refuse to allow her to run the risk of sacrificing herself to her love.   But she has already obtained permission to join her fiance from Superintendent J. William Morgan and Chief Resident Physician Benjamin F. Royer, of the Municipal Hospital.

George Sunderland, Assistant Director of Public Health and Charities, said yesterday that the young woman would be permitted to enter the institution provided she would be willing to remain there until such time as would enable the health authorities to determine whether there was any danger of her contracting small-pox or of carrying the germs of the disease away with her.

Brunette of 25 Years

Mrs. Lyons is an attractive brunette of 25 years.  She wears pinc[e] nez before eyes of a dark hue.  She is very intelligent and she fully realizes the danger she will invite by entering the doors of a pest house.  She first met Mehren three years ago, shortly before the death of her husband.  She was, before her marriage, Miss Eva Woodward, and since her husband’s demise she has resided with her mother at 2446 North Twenty-ninth street.

It was when Mehren lived at the house adjoining that of her mother’s that she first became acquainted with him.  During the first months of their acquaintance she, still mourning the loss of her husband, lived in seclusion and saw but little of him.  But gradually they became more friendly, and when, a few months ago, Mrs. Lyons went to Maryland to visit relatives there, her friendship with Mehren had developed into a closer tie.  Upon her return to her mother’s three months ago, Mehren told her that he had loved her from the first day he had met her.

She realized that her heart had been won by Mehren, and she consented to become his bride.  The couple often discussed their approaching marriage, which was to have taken place in a month or two, and it was not until ten days ago that a shadow fell upon their happiness.  Then it was that Mehren became ill, and though it was not believed at first that his illness was serious, last Thursday his family physician found that he was suffering from small-pox.  He was then separated from his bride-to-be for the first time in nearly three months, and taken to the Municipal Hospital.

Since then Mrs. Lyons has called at the institution three or four times a day to make anxious inquiries as to the condition of her lover.  She has turned away weeping time and time again when Dr. Royer was compelled to tell her that Mehren was rapidly becoming worse.  Finally, when she learned that death might part her from her fiance at any time she decided that she would marry him.

‘Phones for Marriage License

She induced her family to consent to her heroic plan.  She has had the active support of her brother.  She called up Clerk Goebel, of the Marriage License Bureau at the City Hall on the telephone yesterday and stated her wishes.  He listened to her in wonder and admiration, and when she had concluded he offered to do everything in his power to assist her.  She said that she and Mehren desired a marriage license without delay, as it was feared that his death might occur at any time, and that she would call at the bureau at 9 o’clock this morning for the license.  Elated over the encouragement she had received from Mr. Goebel she then hastened to the Municipal Hospital, accompanied by her brother, at 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon and held a long conference with Dr. Royer in regard to her plans for her extraordinary marriage to-day.  She requested Dr. Royer to tell Mehren of the kind words of Mr. Goebel, and when she left the institution she was smiling through her tears.

Prays for His Recovery

“I shall marry Fred to-morrow,” she said at her mother’s home yesterday, “provided that he is still alive.  And I cannot believe that he is going to die.  I know he will live.  My heart tells me so, and I am sure that all the happiness we planned for ourselves will yet be realized.  This is an hour of great trial for both of us, but I feel positive that the end will not be a sorrowful one.  I have prayed God to spare my Fred, and I am sure that He will answer my prayers.

“But rather than that Fred should die without our being married I am fully prepared to go to his bedside and be united with him there.  What do I care that he is ill with a disease that may strike me as it struck him?  I would rather die with him than live without him.  I am not afraid to go to him, for I know that God will take care of me.  I am sure that my presence will cheer him up, and when he learns that my love for him is so great I think it may be the means of saving his life.  If he must die, then I am going to be with him when the end comes.

“Dr. Royer and the others have been very kind to me and have assured me that they will do everything in their power to assist me to carry out my wishes.

“Oh, I wish I had gone with Fred in the first place, when they took him away to the hospital.  I had no idea that his condition was so serious, and as soon as I learned that he might be taken from me at any time I at once made up my mind that I would fulfill that promise to be his wife that I made to him three months ago.

“I cannot tell you all.  That I shall marry Fred and that he will recover and we shall soon be living happily together I feel positive is God’s will.”


MAGISTRATE MARRIED BY ‘PHONE SMALL-POX VICTIM AND FIANCEE
Frederick Mehren on Cot at Municipal Hospital Was United to Mrs. Eva Lyon From Mr. Mecleary’s Office
[Philadelphia Inquirer, October 20, 1904]

Standing in the telephone booth of his office at 1319 Filbert street, yesterday afternoon, Magistrate John Mecleary officiated at the ceremony that united in marriage Frederick Mehren, a small-pox patient at death’s door, and Mrs. Eva H. Lyon, as they clasped hands at the Municipal Hospital, four miles away.  Superintendent J. William Morgan and Chief Surgeon Benjamin F. Royer stood by Mehren’s bedside as the witnesses to the odd marriage ceremony.  The Magistrate’s witnesses at his office were Constables Seth Buckley, Thomas H. Patterson and State Senator Horatio B. Hackett.

The arrangements to have the ceremony performed by telephone were made yesterday morning.  Mrs. Lyon, after securing the license to marry Mehren, explained to Superintendent Morgan the difficulty with which she had met in finding a clergyman.  Magistrate Mecleary was appealed to, and consented to unite the couple by ’phone.

He later received word from the Municipal Hospital that all would be in readiness for the ceremony at 2.30 o’clock.  At that time Mr. Mecleary went to his ’phone, and received direct connection with the ward in which Mehren’s bed stood.  Mecleary, with a copy of the book containing the prescribed marriage rites, in his hand, stood in his bo[o]th while at the other ’phone, Superintendent Morgan repeated the words of the Magistrate.

First of all, Magistrate Mecleary asked the usual questions of the contracting parties.  The age of Frederick Mehren was given as 31, his residence at 2252 North Lambert street.  Mrs. Lyon was born in January, 1880, and resides at 2446 North Twenty-ninth street.  Her former husband died four years ago.  Both Mehren and Mrs. Lyon were born in this city.  This information given, the Magistrate was told that he would be called up again in ten minutes to perform the actual ceremony.

Promptly at 2.40 o’clock, Magistrate Mecleary began reading the ceremony.  His words were repeated by Superintendent Morgan at the other end of the ’phone.

Everything went without a hitch, until the questions of love and devotion were reached.  “Do you swear to keep her in sickness and in health,” asked Mecleary, in a voice filled with emotion, of the dying man’s proxy.  The question was repeated to Mehren, who was equal to the emergency.  “I will,” he exclaimed through the transmitter, loudly enough for the Magistrate to hear distinctively.  Mrs. Lyon answered the question herself.  She spoke in firm tones, as though the possibilities of her brave action being rewarded with death had no terrors for her.  “The laws of the State having been complied with, I now pronounce you man and wife,” said Magistrate Mecleary, in conclusion.

After kissing her husband good-bye, the woman was led away to a fumigating bath.  She will be kept at the hospital for the next fifteen days, and if she shows no indication, at that time, of having the small-pox she will be discharged.  The physicians are in no sense hopeful of Mehren’s recovery.

The bride had only been discharged from a small-pox quarantine twenty-four hours before the wedding.  She and Mehren were on their way to a theatre on Saturday evening, October 8, when he complained of feeling ill.  He returned to his Lambert street residence, where, on Tuesday of last week, his case was pronounced small-pox.  The next day he was sent to the Municipal Hospital.  Two days later the home of Clarence Wilkinson, at 2828 Albert street, where Mrs. Lyon was temporarily boarding, was placed under quarantine as a contact case.  The young woman and the three members of the Wilkinson family were discharged at noon on Tuesday.  She immediately went to the hospital, and was told that Mehren was at the point of death, and his constant request was that he might wed before he breathed his last.

“Then I will marry him,” exclaimed the young widow.  The dangers of a death-bed ceremony under such circumstances were explained to her.  “I do not care for the danger,” said she.  “I will brave everything to marry the man I love.”  Permission for the ceremony was given by Dr. Edward Martin, Director of the Bureau of Health and Charities, after he had carefully considered the matter.  To prevent a small-pox scare in the Marriage License Bureau, Clerk Goebel issued the license in the Bureau of Health office.


[Bedford (Va.) Democrat, October 27, 1904]

Mrs. Eva Lyons, a young widow of Philadelphia, braved danger and death in marrying Fredrick [sic] Mehren, a patient in the Municipal Hospital ill with small-pox. His condition is critical and no persuasion of friends could induce the young widow not to marry him and nursd [sic] him. A prudent magistrate performed the ceremony by telephone the bride and groom being reported to him, while he remained in his office. Now there is an example of love and devotion. Hope that fellow will get well.


TELEPHONE BRIDE A WIDOW
Husband Died of Small-pox Seven Hours After Marriage.
[Republican and Herald (Pottsville PA), October 21, 1904]

Philadelphia, Oct. 21.—Braving the dangers of small-pox by entering the Municipal Hospital and wedding her sick lover, Frederick E. Mehren, by telephone, Mrs. Eva H. Lyons was again made a widow by the death of her husband seven hours after the ceremony was performed.

Mrs. Mehren, virtually a prisoner at the city’s hospital, is completely prostrated by the death of her husband.  The shock when the end came caused her to faint, and her mental anguish is affecting to the physicians and nurses of the institution, accustomed as they are to scenes of sorrow.  She did not realize the serious condition of the man she loved when she entered the hospital, and was unprepared for his death, having hoped that her presence would cheer the patient and assist in his cure.

From the moment Mrs. Lyons reached the cot of Mehren, where they were later made man and wife by Magistrate Mecleary, she did not leave her husband for a moment.  The odd wedding ceremony was performed at 2 o’clock, and the physici[a]ns who were present noticed that the excitement told on the strength of the sick man.

At 7 o’clock Mehren’s condition rapidly grew worse.  He began to sink, and lapsed into unconsciousness.  The bride, who a few hours before was smiling and happy in the thought of her husband’s speedy recovery, cried bitterly when a doctor informed her that the end was drawing near.  Mrs. Mehren sat at the bedside fanning her dying lover’s face and ministering to his wants as the nurse directed until death came.


MARRIED BY PHONE HUSBAND IS DEAD
Falls Victim to Small-pox and Faithful Fiance is Heart-Broken Over the Outcome
[York (PA) Daily, October 21, 1904]

Philadelphia, Oct. 20.—In a ward at the Municipal hospital, where she virtually is a prisoner, Mrs. Eva Lyons Mehren weeps for the husband who was taken from her by death not seven hours after she had married him, by means of words said by a magistrate over the telephone, as he lay on his bed of sickness.

This outcome of the ravages of small-pox, though it was expected by the young woman, nevertheless caused he[r] such a shock that to-day her condition was a subject of concern with the physicians and nurses.

Mrs. Mehren will be detained in the small-pox ward 14 days.  Before entering the pesthouse she was vaccinated and her garments were changed, and it is believed she will not contract the disease.


Last Scene in Telephone Wedding
[Philadelphia Inquirer, October 22, 1904]

In the midst of the heavy rain storm of yesterday morning, the body of Frederick Mehren, the smallpox victim, who married Mrs. Eva H. Lyon [sic], over the telephone, was interred at Cedar Hill Cemetery.  The body was removed from the Municipal Hospital in a plain white box.  Short religious services, at which no minister officiated, were held at the hospital.  His bride of seven hours was present. She has so far escaped the disease of which her husband died, and the physicians believe that she will be discharged from the hospital in twelve days.


TELEPHONE BRIDE TO LEAVE HOSPITAL
Mrs. Mehren Has Shown No Signs of Small-Pox, and Is Anxious to See Her Children
[Philadelphia Inquirer, November 2, 1904]

Mrs. Eva W. Lyons Mehren, who was married in the Municipal Hospital while the magistrate read the service over the ’phone, and whose husband died in the institution from small-pox the day after the ceremony was performed, is expected to leave the hospital in a few days.

During the two weeks’ time Mrs. Mehren has been confined in the institution, she has shown no signs of small-pox, and she will be released at the end of the week.  During the time she has been quarantined she has studied the methods of the nurses and taken the greatest interest in the work.  Despite this, however, Mrs. Mehren is anxious to return to her home at 2448 North Twenty-ninth street, where her two small children, whose father was Mrs. Mehren’s first husband, anxiously await her.


SHE MARRIES IN A PEST HOUSE TO HER LOVER
Young Lady Wedded to a Smallpox Patient Who Dies Soon Afted [sic] and Relatives Contest It
[Fort Worth Star-Telegram, November 15, 1904]

PHILADELPHIA, Pa., Nov. 14.—Mrs. Eva H. Lyons Mehren, the brave and pretty young widow who was married by telephone to Fred Mehren, a smallpox patient at the municipal hospital on October 19, left the institution only to be brought face to face with a situation many times more trying than any of those she had passed through in the last few weeks.

The risk of sacrificing her life in entering the hospital to marry Mehren and her incarceration there for two weeks after his death, to bear her sorrow alone, were nothing compared to the course events are said to have taken in the outside world.

It is said that the relatives of the dead man intend contesting the validity of the marriage.  Efforts will be made to prove that the novel ceremony over the telephone was illegal, because, it is claimed, Mehren was unconscious when the ceremony was performed and had to be prompted to answer the questions put to him by the magistrate.

When Mrs. Mehren left the hospital she was in comparatively good health and went to her mother’s home, at 2442 North Twenty-ninth street.  It was there soon after that she received the rumor of the impending torture, which acted like a sledge hammer to her so far remarkable constitution.

So affected was she by this action on the part of her dead husband’s relatives that she broke down completely and was compelled to seek rest out of the city.

I’m afraid that wasn’t a very uplifting story, and perhaps it was even depressing enough to have caused a moratorium on whimsical tales of quarantines and mediatized weddings for some years to come.  By the same token, it may also have discouraged people from actually attempting weddings of this kind.  In any case, it isn’t until the era of World War One that another comparable account surfaces, and this one has a happier ending.


WEDS SOLDIER BY TELEPHONE.
Kansas City Girl Becomes Bride of Quarantined Man.
[Kansas City Star, January 9, 1918]

ALEXANDRIA, LA., Jan. 9.  A ceremony performed over the telephone was the means employed today to overcome the barrier to their marriage imposed by the quarantine for spinal meningitis at Camp Beauregard by Private John B. Caldwell, whose home is in Little Rock, Ark., and Miss Lorene Smith of Kansas City, Mo.  The ceremony was performed by Judge W. F. Blackman, the judge, the bride, her mother and witnesses being gathered around a telephone in the court house here, while Caldwell and his witnesses were gathered around a telephone at Camp Beauregard.

In an opinion requested by Judge Blackman and announced last night, Attorney General Coco stated that marriages by telephone were “against the declared policy of the state,” and “should be discouraged, although they might in some cases be legal.”

The name of Miss Lorene Smith does not appear in the Kansas City directory.

In spite of the editorial skepticism implied by the last sentence, John B. Caldwell and Lorene Smith seem really to have existed, to have settled in Kern County, California, and to have had a daughter named India Joyce.

I’d half expected to find a resurgence of the Quarantined Bride and the Phonograph linked to the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918-1920, but if there was one, it doesn’t seem to have left any trace in newspapers.  Telephones were used and promoted for keeping up interpersonal communication by voice during that pandemic, as recounted in an interesting article published just a few days before this one (which even mentions the Caldwell-Smith wedding); but the phonograph, by contrast, was cast only in its role as a provider of prerecorded music to bored people trapped indoors.  I’ll close with one of the best accounts I’ve found of how Americans kept themselves entertained during the 1918 flu pandemic, describing how things went in Independence, Kansas, with phonographs playing a prominent part.

TIME DRAGS SLOWLY
Closing Order Has Changed the Diversions of People.
PHONOGRAPHS ARE USED
Most of Them Work Overtime in Helping to Pass Time Away—Motoring Increases Gas Sales
[Independence (KS) Daily Reporter, October 28, 1918]

“What shall we do tonight?” is probably the most repeated phrase used in Independence during the influenza epidemic.

With the moving picture theaters closed, the dance halls not open and even the doors of the churches locked, people of all ages are finding the problem of amusement a big one.

Book stores report the largest sale of books, games and magazines since the extremely cold weather of last winter, when the majority was kept indoors by the low temperature.  Playing cards and other games are now used by many to pass the evenings.

Phonographs Are Busy.

Persons lucky enough to have talking machines are in great demand by their neighbors.  Record dealers report the largest sales of records in the history of their business.  War songs and military marches with lots of snap and “pep” in them are in the greatest demand while operatic and classical records follow a close second.  The comic songs and novelty records have taken a position far down on the popularity list and the general public seems to want something with a great deal of “pep” rather than comical and laugh-provoking.

The sale of talking machines of all makes, especially the smaller models, is also reported.  In one neighborhood one family owns a talking machine and several of the neighbors take up a collection twice a week to buy records for the machine.  The children of the neighborhood furnish needles by saving pennies.

This is a good example of a “community phonograph,” though the community idea is also carried out in card games and parties.

More Motoring Now.

Some furniture stores report an increase in the sale of easy rocking chairs and davenports, but the time for porch swings and hammocks is about over.

Gasoline filling stations have noticed a large increase in their sales, due to the greater use of gasoline in motor cars, both for delivery and pleasure purposes.

War maps and newspapers keep the news dealers busy, while candy sales have also picked up.  Cigar and tobacco dealers say that their sales have also increased on the better grades of tobacco, and add, “probably the woman of the house object to some of the strong smelling cheaper cigars.”

Just what to do is causing a great deal of thought for many people, but the American public must be amused now [sic] matter how big the difficulties appear, and they are furnishing their own amusement as best they can during the general quarantine.

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