From what I can discern John Olmsted’s Earth Planet Museum had two main focuses. The first being the History of California and the technology of man that followed that evolution and the second being recorded sound. While tidying up the Earth Planet Museum over the last few days we found, what seemed to be, an infinite amount of phonographs, record players. gramophones, and records occupying every crevice. Record needles were also not a scarce commodity and could be located on shelves, the floor, inside drawers and boxes, and atop organs and books.
Alden Olmsted, John’s son, stopped by just in time to see us standing over one of the record players from the 1930’s listening to “Poor John” by Ada Jones on 180 gram (see video on the “news” page). He may have mentioned that John had a self-proclaimed recorded sound obsession. Alden also shared a great story about John harvesting cacti needles on a camping trip in the desert so they could listen to a portable record player. “The needles only lasted one or two songs, but they worked, and he had collected hundreds of them.” It seems to me there wasn’t anything about recorded sound John didn’t collect.
I interviewed a couple of John’s friends on my last trip up to Grass Valley, where the museum is located. One of them is living in John’s house currently and he gave me a walk-through. When we reached the living room we were confronted with rows and rows of vinyl records occupying almost the entire square footage of the room, none of which are in the Earth Planet Museum. The records in there are strictly 180 gram and 78s. I asked John’s friends what kind of music he listened to, hoping to glean something from the collection in the museum. They said old stuff that wasn’t their style. I had to situate myself to understand what “old stuff” meant as a young 20-something talking to wise Californians, but I understood this week when all the records and recorded voice cylinders were time-stamped in the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s.What really drove it home for me was the paraphernalia related to every recorded sound producer in the museum. Advertisements wielding phrases like “the NEW Talking Machine,” and “Need Elegant Entertaining for Your Friends? The Edison Phonograph is Here to Help!”
Roula and I have had some great conversations sparked by the items in this museum and the man who collected them. Every collector has his reasons and we’ll explore that more in depth as we go deeper into the museum. For now, however, it seems the recorded sound aspect of this museum occupies the personal history of a man’s passion, while the vision of the museum represents a tool for a life’s work.
Thanks for Reading. Over and Out. AMANDA