Turning the Century: Essays in Media and Cultural Studies

By Carol A. Stabile | Go to book overview

1
Sound Out of Time:
Modernity's Echo

JONATHAN STERNE

A phonograph industry periodical no doubt hoping to amuse its readers printed this report of racial difference in the spring of 1897:

Long Island City has placed nickel in the slot machines at the train station. Lately one of these machines played the popular negro melody 'All Coons Look Alike to Me'to a genuine Alabama coon, and those who were in the station at the time will not soon forget this little concert, although none but the coon heard a note of the music.

It was at a popular train hour and the station was thronged with people, when a typical Southern darkey sauntered into the building. A long blue frock coat, a pair of light trousers which went almost twice around him and were well fringed at the bottoms, a broad-brimmed, grease coated felt hat which had once been of a light color, and an odd pair of number 12 shoes, made up a costume which inspired a smile all 'round before he had a chance to say a word or do a thing. As the boys say charcoal would have made a white mark on his face and his ears were all that stopped his mouth from going clean around his head.

Mr. Darkey jerked a huge brass watch out of one of his trouser pockets, pried the case open and compared it with the big regulator in the station. Satisfied that he had some time to while away, he began to look around and see the sights.

After a couple of turns around the station, he brought up in front of one of the phonographs. He evidently mistook the thing for a corn sheller judging from the way in which he twisted the crank, but the more he twisted the more mystified he became. At last his curiosity got the best of whatever timidity he may have had and he hailed one of the doormen, who was passing, and inquired as to the nature of the machine.

-9-

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