Aztec Museum Has Last Public Phone Booth
By Bill Papich

The mannequin, that is the lady in the telephone booth at the Aztec Museum, looks like she just received some unsettling news.

Maybe she was on the phone with someone who told her that phone booths will become museum artifacts – that there won’t be any more enclosures in public places that have folding doors with windows, in which a person can sit comfortably while having a phone conversation that nobody can hear.

It may be safe to say that Aztec Museum has San Juan County’s last public phone booth, because the museum is a public place. There may be some privately owned phone booths in people’s homes. Wooden phone booths like the one at Aztec Museum are for sale on ebay.

People who are at least thirty or forty-years-old probably have used a phone booth, or at least seen one at some point in their lives. That leaves a lot of younger people who may have only seen a phone booth in old movies and photographs.

So maybe some of the younger generation should visit Aztec Museum and see a phone booth in person. Phone booths are

 

part of our history, of world history, so to have never seen a phone booth and to know there is one on display at Aztec Museum, and to not go see it, would this not be voluntarily ignorance of the history of the telephone?

There also may be young people who have never seen, or heard, a rotary dial pay phone. The phone booth at Aztec Museum has a rotary dial pay phone and museum visitors can reach inside and give the dial a whirl.

The sound the dial makes could bring a tear to some of the older generation. Putting your finger in one of the numbered holes on the dial and giving it a whirl can bring back memories, maybe even the telephone number of an old girlfriend or boyfriend.

William Grey invented the first pay phone in the United States in 1889. Phone booths were soon to follow. By 1902 there were 81,000 phone booths in the United States. In 1925 there were 25,000 phone booths in New York City alone.

There are still non-enclosed pay phones in use, but not many phone booths. In 2009, in Manhattan, only four outdoor phone booths were still in use.

Phone booths began disappearing on a large scale after 1973, when the first mobile phones appeared. The decline of the outdoor phone booth also can be attributed to vandalism, maintenance costs and because phone booths often were used as bathrooms and trash receptacles.

In the 1950s, telephone booth stuffing became a fad, mostly among college students, who would pile into a phone booth to see how many could cram inside. The record is 25.

Look inside the phone booth when Aztec Museum opens in May, 2014.


Article appeared in the Talon, February 1-15, 2014. Volume 22, Number 3.

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