May 24, 2023 at 1:57 p.m.
SCAHS phone booth plays informational recordings
Phone booths may be a thing of the past, but at the Sauk Centre Area History Museum, their Voices of the Past phone booth is now the way to give the past a call. At the push of a button, visitors can hear about the lives of Sauk Centre’s earliest historical figures, and there will likely be more recordings on the list in the future.
“We hope (the phone booth) will create some interest and get more people down here to see how it operates,” said John Rasmussen, Sauk Centre Area Historical Society’s phone booth committee member.
Mark and Gwen Kranz donated the phone booth to the SCAHS, and it was moved into the museum last year.
“That was a little difficult, getting it down the steps and around the corners,” Rasmussen said. “We had it down there, and then Gwen Kranz, who’s on the (SCAHS) committee, talked about one she had seen that was used in a museum in Lanesboro, Minnesota; you pushed a button, and it would tell you something about the history of Lanesboro. She thought it was cool and we could do it here.”
After exploring potential local options, the phone booth committee – Rasmussen, Gwen Kranz, Jean Yarke, Julie Jarvi and Pam Borgmann – talked to the Lanesboro Museum about who made their phone booth, and the museum connected them with The Magic Lantern in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They agreed to undertake the project. Because the phone booth was from the 1990s and had a push-button dialing system instead of a rotary dial, they could more easily find the same model phone to turn into the audio system and replace the original phone.
“We saved a lot of money because of the fact it was a push-button instead of a rotary dial,” Rasmussen said. “That would’ve been much more difficult to work with.”
Even so, The Magic Lantern’s quote for the work was out of the SCAHS budget, so Borgmann, along with SCAHS member Jim Umhoefer, found a $4,000 grant which made up the shortfall. Overall, the project cost about $2,740.
The remaining grant funds will go toward future recordings.
As for the booth’s current content, the phone booth committee decided it should have one- to two-minute recordings about Sauk Centre’s early historical figures. The recording roster features seven men and four women; Rasmussen recorded voices for the men, while Yarke recorded for the women. The recordings were sent to The Magic Lantern, who put them on a device, which is hooked up to the booth’s phone.
“In a few months, we’ll also have the ability to change those recordings. They’re not permanent,” Rasmussen said. “Right now, we have people from historical Sauk Centre – mainly the 1800s, but some into the early 1900s, as well.”
The phone has 11 spots for recordings, and the Sauk Centre historical figures currently recorded on the phone booth are Henry Capser, Samuel M. Bruce, Minnehaha Mullen, Tillie Guelsow, Edwin Whitefield, Wilfred Whitefield, Alexander Moore, Joseph Capser, Isabel Lewis, Emma Kaufman and Henry Keller.
“My wife always says, ‘Why have you not done Sinclair Lewis?’” Rasmussen said. “We’ve done his step-mom, she’s on there, but (Sinclair Lewis) really wasn’t an 1800s guy. He did most of his stuff in the 20th century. We will do him eventually.”
The phone booth committee will be meeting in June to talk about future recording possibilities.
“Maybe we’ll stick with individuals or maybe instead do something on businesses that have come and gone,” Rasmussen said. “We have all kinds of information on the old businesses in town.”
The booth could theoretically be removed from its place in the history museum, but the SCAHS does not want to do that until, hopefully, they are able to rehabilitate the old creamery building on main street into their new location.
“If we took it out of here, it would not come back down again,” Rasmussen said. “We had lots of guys who were involved in getting this thing down here.”
With the phone booth, the SCAHS is doing what they can with limited space. Should the creamery project move ahead, they hope to incorporate more audio-visual displays, but in the meantime, they are glad to provide visitors with a phone call to the past.