What are the odds?
Aug 5, 2008
|A chance encounter with two friends from home - Tuesday, August 5
In the town of Baddeck there's a National Historic Site of Canada dedicated to the life and work of Alexander Graham Bell. In planning our visit to Nova Scotia, Madolyn had asked me if it was something I wanted to see. I responded by saying, "It's not high on my list of priorities."
We can now add that statement to the growing list of STUPID THINGS I'VE SAID AND DONE. Madolyn had read about it and she wanted to go, so we went, and from the moment I entered the door I was mesmerized.
When people know you've made a trip like this one, their first question is often, "What did you like best?" It's a good question, but one that's impossible to answer. How can you compare Williamsburg, Independence Hall, and a Broadway Play with Hatteras, Cape Breton and the Bay of Fundy? Each experience is a treasure unto itself, and to make any attempt to rank them is an exercise in futility.
Still, when someone just asks, "Where did you go?" or "What did you do?" the highlights become evident in the answers you blurt out. From now on when someone asks me those questions, one of my first answers is going to be "The Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Nova Scotia!" It was that good.
Like every school kid I learned that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. I'd heard the story of him calling out, "Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!" and how those words became the first human sentence transmitted over wire. Even as a kid I thought that was pretty amazing, but for me the story ended there, and if there was more to the man I never learned it. That is unfortunate because even to the man himself, the invention of the telephone was only a prelude to the rest of his life.
Bell was a true Renaissance Man, and ideas flowed from him as water flows from Niagara. When asked his occupation he would always say he was a 'teacher of the deaf', and indeed this was a lifelong passion he never abandoned. One of his early students became his wife, and Mabel was his soul mate after that in everything he undertook. And Alexander Graham Bell undertook enough projects for ten men.
After inventing the telephone in 1876, he became a famous and wealthy man, and a generous one. At his marriage he gave Mabel (a woman from a wealthy family herself) 90% of his stock in the telephone company, keeping only 10% for himself. From then on she managed their financial affairs with a quiet competency and generosity herself.
In 1885 the Bells visited Nova Scotia for the first time, and by 1893 they had bought property in Baddeck and had built a 37 room home overlooking Bra 'd Or Lake. They lived here for the rest of their lives, and it was the site of Bells continuing work in the fields of aviation and hydrofoil boats.
While making considerable contributions to other fields, Genetics, Medicine, Forensics, and Animal Husbandry to name a few, Bells primary passion became aviation first and later the development of hydrofoil watercraft. In these projects he was assisted by able men who went on to become famous in their own right. Casey Baldwin continued working on hydrofoils for many years after Bell's death, and Glenn Curtiss went on to found Curtiss Aircraft Company in the United States.
Both men had not only a working relationship with Bell, but a deep and abiding friendship. He was much loved and respected in Nova Scotia - even if the locals at first thought he was a little crazy. In 1909 they all turned out to watch his Silver Dart make the first controlled, powered flight in Canada and the British Empire, and kids got out of school and afterwards the whole town threw a party.
In 1919 his fourth hydrofoil boat set a world speed record of a blistering 71 miles per hour, a record that would stand for 10 years in an age when technological progress was advancing at record speed itself.
The museum tells Bell's story with such energy and wit and creativity that you come to the end finding yourself wishing it could just go on forever. There are videos on every subject, and hundreds if not thousands of artifacts that his family has donated to the nation.
The most spectacular of these are the remains of his last hydrofoil boat, and a full scale replica that fills a huge and wonderful viewing arena, but not to be forgotten are items like his x-ray machine (he took Canada's first medical x-ray) or the metal detector he built to hunt for the bullet that assassinated President Garfield.
There are many activities and exhibits for children, and indeed, one of my favorite exhibits in the whole museum was a 'book' of drawings and writings made by a class of local school children. Some of these are in the pictures attached.
We ended our visit in a gallery devoted to the Bell's home life. There were dozens of pictures and a couch where you can sit and watch videos of his daughter, his granddaughter and townspeople who knew him talk about the family and share their memories.
As we were doing that a couple approached and sat down next to us. I glanced at them and thought, "Pretty woman - and she looks kind of like someone we know" before returning my attention to the screen. But a moment later I heard Madolyn talking to them and I turned to see that it was our friends Dana and Jim Stagg from California! Unbelievable!
They're here to visit Jim's father and they came to the museum for something to do. They spotted us and decided to surprise us, and this they surely did. It was so good to see them, and such an amazing coincidence. We visited with them for half an hour and had our pictures taken, then reluctantly let them go and continued on to the 'teashop' where we spent an enjoyable half hour visiting with an elderly couple from Ohio.
The museum and seeing Dana and Jim was enough to make this day a great one - but the day wasn't over and we still had a ways to go. I will put that on another page so the map will show it, and so this one will not get so long it crashes the server!