Thursday, May 15, 2014

Baddeck and Alexander Graham Bell

Back in 1972 Mom and Dad took us around the Cabot Trail. I have three memories of that time. The first is the beautiful views of the ocean from the road (not to mention being a bit nervous about being so close to the edge of the cliffs at times), the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, and my youngest brother and the Chinese food breakfast.

When we traveled out east that year we did so in an old '68 Custom 500 and a soft top tent trailer. Dad, being the creative and organized person he is, had developed ways with custom made wooden boxes to have a place for everything and everything in its place. I am amazed to think that I packed all I would need for five weeks into one wooden box. Anyone seeing what all I take with me on trips now would never believe that. We got up early that particular morning and headed to Baddeck. I am not sure why we didn't eat breakfast before we headed out. We stopped in Baddeck at a Chinese food place. My youngest brother absolutely refused to go inside. Mom and Dad left him in the car. They were quite worried that they were raising a racist son. Anyone who knows my parents would know how much that would bother them. Finally Dad went out and talked to him. The reason he wouldn't come in was that he didn't want to eat Chinese food for breakfast. Once Dad convinced him he could eat "normal" food all was well and he came inside to eat.

The thing I remember about the museum was the models of flight things hanging from the ceiling. That was basically it for memories. I knew that Bell was credited with inventing the telephone and I had a vague memory of him having worked with the deaf. Those things were about all I knew before this trip. I quite enjoyed building on the knowledge during our visit to the museum.

I am finding in the Maritimes that cruise ships play a big role in things being open. About eighty cruise ships dock during a season. This affects Charlottetown, Sydney and the Cabot Trail, and Halifax. We lucked out with a cruise ship docking in Sydney and bussing people to Baddeck. This meant the Alexander Graham Bell Museum was opened for the day.

I was particularly interested in Bell's work with the deaf. As a teen-ager I hung around with a group of other teen-agers who were deaf. I knew the alphabet and some of the sign language. I had also read about Helen Keller who was deaf and blind. In the museum I read with interest that Bell's father, Melville Bell, had developed a phonetic alphabet. It was based on this that Bell tried to teach the deaf to speak.

As children, Bell and his brothers (who died early from TB) tried to teach their dog to speak based on the their father's studies on phonetics. Bell senior had developed something called "visible speech." It looked a little complicated to me. It has something to do with what part of the vocal organs are used to produce various sounds. A single sound will often use more than one portion of the vocal organs. Using this Bell and his brother manipulated their dog's mouth to produce almost human sounds. People would come to hear this dog say "ow-ah-oo-gamma." Taken with a bit of imagination this could be taken to mean "How are you, Grandmama?"

Bell developed a talking glove. He inked letters at certain positions on the glove to help one of his students learn to "speak."

This also worked well on the hand.

This fascinated me because I remembered that this was the way Helen Keller learned to communicate. Helen and her teacher, Ann Sullivan, did meet with Bell in his home just outside of Baddeck. Helen attributes much of her ability to communicate to that meeting with Bell.

Of course the thing we remember Bell for the most is the telephone. This grew out of his work with the deaf. Could there be such a thing as a "talking wire," a device that worked like the human ear? Bell set out to answer this question. He worked with a very capable assistant, Thomas Watson. One day Watson accidently (I love how so many important things in history happened by chance), jiggled a transmitter wire on the device. Bell, in an other room, heard the vibration on the device and wondered if the vibrations in speech could trigger the same result. He spoke and there was some muffled sound transmitted.

There appeared to be some issues as to a patent. It was during this period that Bell learned to keep meticulous notes on everything he did. He finally received the patent in February 1876. Then on March 10 he uttered the famous words, "Mr. Watson, come here, I want you."

Bell had married one of his students, Mabel Hubbard. One day Mabel, before they were married, told Bell she was painting a picture of him. Finally the painting was done. It arrived at Bell's place and was unwrapped.

She had painted a white owl. This is because Bell had the habit of working late into the night, often into the early morning hours.

Bell experimented with a number of modes of transportation. One of the big ones was a Hydrofoil. This interested me because I had just seen a model of a Hydrofoil at the Maritime Museum. The Military had developed one in the sixties and worked on the idea for a few years. This grew out of Bell's work.

And last, but not least, is the plane I remember from 1972 (or something very similar to it). The Silver Dart.

The first successful powered flight in Canada took place on February 3, 1909. The pilot was J.A.D. McCurdy who flew 800 metres at a top speed of 65 km/hr and brought the Silver Dart to a smooth landing.

Love and Prayers,

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