Luke Pappaspanos, Staff Writer
What is there to do in St. Louis, Missouri? Most people would do one of the following: go to a Cardinals game, see the Blues play, visit the Arch, Busch Brewery, Botanical Gardens, the zoo or the art museum. Answer the call for adventure by visiting the Jefferson Barracks Telephone Museum tucked away in the Jefferson Barracks Park area on Hancock Avenue.
The Jefferson Barracks Telephone Museum looks like a house and is run by volunteers who are retired and are former employees of Southwestern Bell Telephone Company and The Yellow Pages.
“The Telephone Museum took 13 years to complete; all renovation work is done by volunteers,” states Carol Johannes the tour guide. “The volunteers are members of the Telecom Pioneers, who put in 66,500 hours [of work].”
This museum has four rooms which are jammed packed with historical artifacts and are changed periodically due to the fact there are so many donated items to display.
The museum also shows how communication and technology has advanced from the beginning to the present. The admission to the museum is five dollars. The first room contains a vast number of old phones of different shapes, sizes, and styles. Some have hand cranks. Some have batteries the size of large soup cans. There are two phones, each with a plastic circle in the middle called a rotary dial. Each finger hole has a series of numbers, 1-9 plus zero and letters A-Z. All phones have a description card near the base.
“I typed up 1,200 telephone description cards,” Johannes told the group,
The second room contained a wooden telephone booth from the 1940s. On top of one of the glass counters in the room, there is a payphone without a cover. It has slots for coins: five cents, 10 cents and 25 cents. Every time a coin was deposited into the slot, a bell would ring. One ring for a nickel, two rings for a dime, and a bong sound for a quarter. This let the operator know the amount inserted into the payphone in the past. On another counter sat models of the Princess telephone first to be given a name. The Trimline telephone was the second to be named. These phones show a giant step in the advancement of Alexander Graham Bell’s phone.
The last room held more surprises for visitors. There were a variety of modern types of phones, a sculpture, a telephone used by various U.S. presidents, and a payphone from the old Bush Stadium. Novelty phones with characters were displayed such as: Kermit the Frog, the Star Trek space ship, Superman, a baseball stadium and even a basketball. There is also a Disney collection which includes, The Little Mermaid, The Incredibles and Mickey Mouse.
Also, on display is an ancestor to today’s cell phone commonly called a “brick” phone from the 1980’s.
When the old Bush Stadium was being torn down, volunteers from the museum asked for one of the stadium’s payphones for their exhibit. It is located in the corner of the last room.
Since Jefferson Barracks is and was a military base years ago, they had a special phone for when the president would visit. The operators knew when the President of the U.S. made a phone call to disconnect all other calls. The phone has POTUS on it meaning the President of the United States and FLOTUS meaning the First Lady of the United States. Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter used this phone, as well as their first ladies.
There is a wooden telephone pole in the museum. Johannes said, “The telephone poles are buried 6 feet underground and the above ground part is 36 feet.”
A life size sculpture of Alexander Graham Bell is displayed on a surfboard with the globe in one hand and one of the first telephones in the other. It was made by Jan Brander-Kinnison, a Mehlville Senior High School art teacher.
Alexander Graham Bell would be completely amazed his invention has skyrocketed and enhanced the world of communication technology. It would be a missed call not to walk through this quaint museum in Jefferson Barracks Park. It will bring back memories for the older folks, amaze the young and teach everyone something they did not know about Bell’s greatest achievement of all time.