Even doll partisans—those of us who defend doll life from slander and prejudice and unfair film portrayals—have to admit that they’re sometimes terrifying. Indeed, I think it would be fair to say that the Edison Talking Doll is one of the scariest things ever made by man or demon. You have been warned.
The Edison Talking Doll is just what it sounds like: a doll, with a small phonograph in its body, mass-produced by Thomas Edison’s lab in the 1890s. Although it was a progenitor of Chatty Cathy and a hundred other loquacious toys, the Edison Doll didn’t catch on, for the simple reason that it opened a howling portal to hell. (Well, they claimed the relatively high price was a factor.) While we may assume that the poor sound quality is a result of wear and tear on the original wax cylinders, apparently that’s not the case; as the Thomas Edison National Historical Park’s site explains, “Even with a brand-new, unplayed record, the sound emitted by the talking doll was always distorted and unnatural.”
That’s putting it kindly. The doll … shrieks. It’s like an unearthly Carol Kane screaming in a wind tunnel, trapped in the body of a lifeless totem. Listen at your own risk.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.