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Opinion >  Column

100 years ago in Spokane: A talking skull, a disembodied voice and a phantom-like doll spooked a correspondent until he learned the science behind the tricks

 (Spokane Daily Chronicle archives )
(Spokane Daily Chronicle archives )

A correspondent was shocked by what he saw at the big Electric Show, a six-day exhibition in Spokane.

A skull, resting on a black pedestal, asked him “the time of day” and asked how the correspondent “liked the show.”

In another aisle, a contraption seemed to be distilling “as many knockout drops of moonshine as one could desire.”

In another aisle, a Kewpie doll seemed to shimmy and shake – but when he grasped the doll, it was not moving at all.

Finally, an exhibition guide explained it all.

The skull was talking through a novel use of the “wireless telephone.”

The “still” was distilling water for use in batteries, not moonshine.

The Kewpie doll was “shimmying” because of an optical illusion caused by cleverly arranged light.

The “wireless telephone” also created a sensation at the beginning of the show.

Mayor Charles Fleming gave his opening speech remotely, from the offices of the Western Electric Company.

“Mayor Fleming’s voice was distinctly heard in all corners of the big showroom and his words were loud and distinct.”

This was a hint that, in 1921, the age of radio was right round the corner. Amateur radio equipment was on display, able to capture music “sent out by the wireless telephone from San Francisco.”

Most of the show was devoted to displays of labor-saving appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers and vacuum cleaners.

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