Nights in the city are orange. Have you seen? Watch what happens:
You throw back your head and look to the heavens and the universe is not actually there. Gone are the Pleiades. The Big Dipper. No flicker of Rigel, Bellatrix or Betelgeuse. You’ll never see a comet. It’s just a thick wash of pumpkin colors where the sky used to be – or other shades. We could say camel, ginger, burnt umber, caramel, amber. Paint-color names. A big marshmallow dome of orange poked by skyscrapers. That’s it.
A constellation of streetlamps – that is modern star-gazing.
This is the kind of light that “bathes” people when it bounces off their skin. I know all about it. In the summer our arms and legs and faces look like polished furniture, waxed, from the sweat. And in the winter it’s the eyes – watery marbles full of reflected stuff all cast in sepia tones and that is all you can see; there’s no exposed skin.
In 1879 Thomas Edison gave me the means to write that paragraph for you. Thank you. In 1879 Thomas Edison was in Menlo Park, New Jersey and he flicked on an incandescent lighbulb – filament and glass – and suddenly the whole world would someday know that nights in the city are orange. In 1879 Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb.
This is a sentence dedicated pointedly to Nikola Tesla.
And this, here in 2013, is a book dedicated to the glowing invention that would usher in the modern age:
Join author and historian Ernest Freeberg tonight at The Filson Historical Society as he presents his book, The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America and illuminates the transformation from wood, oil and wick to a simple switch-flick.
Describing the cultural and social ramifications of Edison’s little lightbulb, Freeberg’s The Age of Edison details how the birth of the electric grid would reshape the face of the contemporary city. With the advent of electricity, millions of Americans would flock to city centers, pushing society away from scattered rural homesteads and towards the urban-dominated landscape that has come to define the modern age.
Both a Distinguished Professor of Humanities at the University of Tennessee as well as a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians, Freeberg has earned several awards for his work, including the Dunning Prize from the American Historical Association and the Eli Oboler Award from the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Roundtable. The author of the books Democracy’s Prisoner and The Education of Laura Bridgeman, Freeberg has also served on the editorial board of the History of Education Quarterly and produced several public radio documentaries on a myriad of historical themes. He lights up the night with The Age of Edison starting tonight at 6pm.
It’s cold outside. And rather on the cloudy side – timberwolf, steel, charcoal are the words we can use – but when the sun we can’t see goes down for the day, watch what happens: you’ll be out on the streets, probably scampering super fast in the bitter wind, and you’ll suddenly realize that all the world is tawny-colored. Everything. Even you. Because this what cities do in the dark. Like living inside a Jack-o’-lantern. This is 1879 Edison glowing for us in 2013.
And this is another sentence dedicated pointedly to Nikola Tesla.
The Filson Historical Society is located at 1310 South Third Street. This event is free, but reservations are suggested.
Image: Courtesy of Amazon www.amazon.com