Visitors to the museum here have reported a number of strange events over the years, from an electrical presence that causes hair on arms to stand on end to the voices of ghostly beings that cannot be seen. Could the place actually be haunted.... or can the phenomena be traced to Edison's most unusual inventions? A machine to communicate with the dead.... The Spiritualist faith had begun its revival shortly after World War I and in 1920, communication with the spirits became an obsession for one of the greatest scientists of all time, Thomas Alva Edison. Edison was a self-taught genius who believed that he could build anything if he had the right components to do it. Edison was an agnostic all of his life, never disputing the teachings of organized religion, but never embracing them either. He believed that somewhere in the universe was a great intelligence but he doubted that it had any interest in man. He claimed that when a person died, the body decayed, but the intelligence that it possessed lived on. He though the so-called "spirit world" was simply a limbo where disembodied intelligence waited to move on.
He took these beliefs one step further by announcing that he intended to device a means of communication with the spirit world. In October of 1920, an article appeared in American Magazine entitled "Edison Working to Communicate with the Next World". This was one of the many magazines who were trying to confirm that Edison was indeed attempting to communicate with the dead.
"I don't claim that our personalities pass onto another existence," Edison later told Scientific American. "I don't claim anything, because I don't know anything.... for that matter, no human being knows. But I do claim that it is possible to construct an apparatus which will be so delicate that if there are personalities in another existence who wish to get in touch with us... this apparatus will at least give them a better opportunity."
The news of Edison's coming invention made front page news around the world. The story was not treated skeptically either as some of the day's greatest scientists were then interested in piercing the mysteries of the unknown.
Edison began corresponding with the British scientist Sir William Crooke, who had developed the vacuum tube that Edison adapted into a light bulb. Crooke was deeply involved in paranormal research, especially in Spirit Photography. Crooke's collection of photographs that allegedly showed spirits of the dead prompted Edison to believe that if ghosts could be shown on film, then his device might actually work.
According to his journals and papers, Edison began working on the apparatus. The famous magician, Joseph Dunniger, claimed that he had been shown a prototype of the machine, but few others say they ever saw it. Edison reportedly continued working on the machine until his death in October 1931. At the precise moment of his death, clocks all over his house and workshop reportedly stopped working.
After his death, the plans for the apparatus could not be located. Many have searched extensively for the components, the prototype or even the plans to the machine but have never found them.
There is another story however.....
In 1941, ten years after Edison's death, the great inventor reportedly made contact at a seance that was held in New York. The spirit reportedly said that the plans for the machine were with three of his assistants. According to the story, the machine was finally built but it did not work.
Edison came through at another seance and suggested a few changes to the device. One of the members of the seance circle was J. Gilbert Wright, the inventor of putty. He claimed to have made the changes and then contacted the spirit of inventor Charles Steinmetz, who suggested further improvements. Wright reportedly continued to work on the machine until his death in 1959.... when the apparatus vanished.
Did Edison's machine actually exist or did the invention never go beyond the dreams of the great inventor? In the years that have followed Edison's death, neither the machine nor the plans to build it, have ever been found.... making his "Machine to Communicate with the Dead" one of the greatest mysteries of Edison's complex and interesting life.
The Edison Birthplace Museum is located in Milan, Ohio, which is southeast of
Sandusky. It is located east of Milan on Highway 113 and is open to the public.
Copyright 1998 by Troy Taylor
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