Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sepia Saturday #151: A couple of Nutts

After studying this week's photo of the lady telephone operators and googling a little I learned the original telephone operators were teenaged boys, most of them former telegraphists, who turned out to be unsuitable for the job because they were sometimes rude, playful, pranksters. They acted too much like.... teenaged boys.

The first female telephone operator was Emma Nutt hired in 1878.

The second female operator was Stella Nutt, hired a few hours later. Just a couple of Nutts, these ladies met the requirements for the job: they were single, looked good, had long enough arms to reach the top of the board, were courteous and had pleasant voices.

The Nutts and a couple of lads, likely on their way out

Before I learned about the Nutts, my favorite telephone operator, like many contributors to Sepia Saturday was Ernestine, the Lily Tomlin character from Laugh-In. "One ringy dingy, two ringy dingys..snort, snort" Who could resist her?

Not usually one to fight technology, for some reason I was late to use a cell phone and relied on phone booths when I was on the road. I knew where booths were located on familiar routes, mostly in gas stations or Denny's restaurants. Over the years, these phones gradually deteriorated - outdoor booths became three-sided shelters, lighting disappeared, the phone books would be in tatters - soon after there were no phone books, only a chain sadly dangling. Graffiti and hammer marks showed up on some of booths I frequented. Feeling unsafe standing in the dark using such phones, I finally succumbed and signed up for a cell phone. Frankly after more than a decade I'm still not used to the thing - forgetting to recharge it, fumbling to find it when it's ringing in my purse, clumsy at retrieving numbers, avoiding the extra features rather than exploring their convenience. We semi Luddites have little no choice now but to carry a cell phone because public phones have virtually disappeared.

I wondered what's happened to the remaining phone booths - have they simply landed on the junk heap? Here's what I found....

A couple have been used experimentally as pop-up libraries. John Locke, a Columbia architecture grad working in Manhattan has created a little bookcase that will fit over the phone and provide a few shelves for a take-a-book, leave-a-book library. 

Some have found homes in restaurant design, inside as a novelty or outside for entryways:

In Britain, the Red Phone Box company restores old red phone boxes and customizes them to your use. A few they mention in their interesting website: cocktail cabinet, washing machine, freezer, ice machine or bird cage. They mention that the Queen has a few preserved at Sandringham. More here:
Red Phone Box

In Japan, several booths have morphed into aquariums:

Here's a conversion into a homeless shelter: 

Probably one of the more practical conversions -  an electric car charging station in Madrid:

And finally and logically, wi-fi hot spots in Manhattan. These are FREE and viable for 100 to 200 feet
around the booth. 

And the big question -where does Clarke Kent go to change in the future? Poor thing - he'll be
running from phone booth to phone booth finding aquariums, showers, car charging stations and
meanwhile the world will go to hell in a handbasket!

Phones ringing! Gotta go.


  1. I'd love to have a customized red phone booth. I think I'll go for the Self Contained Cooking Hob.
    What's a cooking hob???

  2. Anonymous5:45 PM

    what are luddites? am i one? i hope so? very witty and funny blog helen beth c