Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Last Switchboard in California

On Tuesday, I went to the Crockett Historical Museum, where local archivists boast that the town was the site of the "last switchboard in California," which had fourteen operators manning a 1923 switchboard. Throughout the museum, which also documented the life of a company town that existed in the shadow of a C&H Sugar refinery, there were many reminders of the human costs of automation and computerization and of women's role in the labor force of communications technologies.

Next to the now mothballed switchboard, a local news clipping shows the women blowing a final kiss to the camera on their last day at work as telephone operators.

Not far away was the factory's first computer complete with its punch-card rack and line-up of Texas Instruments switches. A label taped to the device ruefully read: "THIS IS C&H FIRST COMPUTER, IT REPLACED 9 NINE EMPLOYEES, NOV. 18, 1976."
The museum was also filled with adding machines and other office equipment that would normally be relegated to a storeroom or the trash. Some carried signs in handwritten script with messages such as "C&H Adding Machine. Who knows when?" The typewriter below seems to be intended for spreadsheets or other large-format documents.

The museum also contained a number of photo collages from bars that had long since closed. It made me think about the genre of bar photography in general and about similar assemblages that I had seen over the years and how different these visual artifacts may be from a Flickr stream, because there is a sense of permanence and a continuous record of "regulars" and feats of prowess that are memorialized on a physical wall.

As I discovered from strolling around the streets near the museum, there is also a lot of vernacular art in Crockett, although -- as these photographs show -- much of the public art in the town takes the form of tributes to the dead.

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