Research Help

June 01st, 2009 | Category: Marginalia

I often hear or overhear interesting anecdotes that, if they stick with me, I later attempt to locate sources for. Well, I am currently in need of two citations, and for the life of me, I can’t find them. I need proper accounts of and sources for these stories:

  • When Thomas Edison demonstrated his original recording of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” a prominent figure heard it and was absolutely appalled. He couldn’t sleep that night for fear that Edison was conjuring the dead with his invention (or some such nonsense).
  • It has been said (somewhere) that good architectural engineers put sidewalks in last because then you know where they belong from the trails left by the traffic of feet.

If you have any idea where I can find the original (or secondary) accounts of these stories, let me know. I’d greatly appreciate it.


  • Roy Christopher (author) said:

    Oh, I’m also looking for the story of actress Hedy Lamarr and composer George Antheil and their discovery of (a version of) frequency hopping. I read about it in a book completely unrelated to either piano or torpedoes, and I can’t remember — or find — what it was.

  • Roy Christopher (author) said:

    Thanks to Josh Gunn and Wally Grotophorst, I have citations for the Edison story and the Lamarr and Antheil story. Thanks so much to you two.

    Also, I found a bit about what are called “desire lines” or “desire paths” that hints at the sidewalk anecdote, so that one could be locked soon as well (I’m going to the library proper tomorrow after Josh’s class).

    I’ll keep you abreast of this chicken (I know you’re all on the very edge of your seats).

  • Mark Wieman said:

    Not sure if this helps, but Stewart Brand mentions the campus pathways story on p.187 of How Buildings Learn:

    “PAVE WHERE THE PATH IS. An oft-told story (perhaps apocryphal) tells how a brilliantly lazy college planner built a new campus with now paths built in at all. She waited for the first winter and photographed where people made paths in the snow between the buildings. Next spring, that’s where the paving went. Some design is better if it’s postponed.”

    Christopher Alexander also talks about the concept of “desire lines” in The Oregon Experiment.

  • Roy Christopher (author) said:

    Thanks, Mark:

    Perhaps the story is apocryphal, hence my not being able to find it. The Stewart Brand citation will work nicely. I’m working on the chapter about “space,” and the desire line idea perfectly illustrates the tension between built and native environments.