Saturday, June 5, 2010

Did Edison play table tennis?

Today was Edison Day, the special event at Thomas Edison National Historic Park that includes free admission to the park, kids activities, live sound recordings on vintage media, lectures, tours and a bunch of other fun stuff. I've gone to many of them in the past, so I was kind of psyched to help out for this year's event, even though it meant I missed the lion's share of activities.

Midway through the day, I was stationed in Building 5, the largest building on the property, and the site of much of Edison's thinking and doing. Since the building appeared to be pretty well staffed, I planted myself on the second floor, in the precision machine shop, where no other volunteer or ranger happened to be.

People milled in and out, but there were occasional periods where I was the only person on the floor. I took the opportunity to commune a bit with the spirit of invention, walking among the machinery behind the fence that separates it from visitors.

It was at one of those points that I heard a brief rolling noise (like a small ball going through a tube) in the ceiling in the opposite corner. Then, out of nowhere, a ping pong ball dropped from the ceiling, bounced a couple of times on the workbench below, and rolled out of sight.

Hmm. That's odd. Perhaps it came from the third floor? At about that spot, rangers were supervising young kids in science experiments. Maybe something dropped?

I went upstairs to find out. Sure enough, there was a large-enough hole in the floor next to a heating pipe; a small ball could reasonably pass through it. No, the ranger told me. They didn't have any ping pong balls up there. Uh, but there had to be. This one looked new -- not something that might have gotten dislodged after being up there for a while. And wouldn't they have found it during the renovation?

The ranger and I looked at each other, wide-eyed. Then we laughed. The ghost of Edison, playing table tennis. And here we just thought he liked parcheesi.

Now, I do have an explanation for this one, but I'm not telling.

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