Monday, September 1, 2014

Cape Breton, Day 3--Bell Museum and Sailing

Sunday we spent several hours in the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck,  one of the most interesting museums we've seen in a while.  While I knew that Bell had invented the telephone in Boston, I had no memory of learning all the other things he had done, or about his background.  He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, but his family eventually moved to Canada after his two brothers died of tuberculosis, and Alec, as he was known, became sick as well.  His father decided that the only solution was to move to a better climate, had visited Canada before, so moved here.  Before moving to Canada Bell's father was a teacher of elocution and declamation--what classics!--and was committed to the importance of correct speaking.  This led him to develop what was called "visible speech," an alphabet based on the sounds in one's throat made when speaking particular letters.  Indeed, as something of a parlor trick, he would invite native speakers of different languages to speak, then use his visible speech alphabet to write on a board the sounds they had made, and then call Alec and his brothers into the room where they could repeat whatever was said in whatever language, just by reading the visible speech letters.  This background, combined with the fact that Bell's mother became increasingly deaf, led Alec to a lifelong devotion to helping deaf people learn to speak.  And for all his remarkable prowess at inventing so many different things, he always considered his work to help deaf people to be his noblest calling and achievement.

He ultimately became a teacher at the Boston School for the Deaf, and had remarkable success with innovative methods to teach deaf people to communicate.  Here he also met and fell in love with another student, Mabel Hubbard, and, though she was not particularly interested in him at first, after a long courtship, she eventually came to love him and they were married in 1877, a year after he invented the telephone.  Her father was a patent attorney, and had the foresight to see the implications of Bell's invention and was instrumental in getting it patented, as well as leading an 18 year defense of the patent through over 500 claims by others that the telephone was their invention and not Bell's--Bell won all the cases.

Bell and his wife fell in love with Cape Breton, spending many summers here, where Bell felt so at home and his Scottish roots found fertile ground to grow.  Having acquired significant wealth from his telephone invention, they bought 800 acres and built a 37 room house.  Not content to rest on his laurels from his telephone invention, Bell had many varied interests and pursued numerous other inventions here.  He developed the tetrahedral cell method of construction, used it to make huge kites, which led to his fascination with the idea of flight.  He was instrumental in developing the airplane that made the first flight in 1909, he developed a hydrofoil, he invented what he called the photo phone, powered by the sun, sort of like the precursor to the cell phone, and many others.  He acquired a flock of sheep and became taken with the idea that he could help the sheep farmers bolster their economic position by developing a breed of sheep that always bore twins, so he spent considerable time with that, with some success.  Somehow he was able to figure out how to breed ewes who had 6 nipples, rather than two or four, which was more common, and many of these ewes produced twins!  He also was acquainted with Thomas Edison, who was frustrated by his inability to perfect his gramophone, gave it all to Bell, telling him it was his to do with what he wanted.  Bell figured out how to modify it by the use of wax to cover the cylinder, as well as how to make flat discs, called it the graphophone--when Edison realized Bell was making money with this he apparently became angry, so Bell gave it all back to him, patent and all.

This segues into the story I really never knew about Bell--he was the consummate humanitarian, giving back so much to his community and to society in general.  We watched a video with a series of interviews with his daughters, grandchildren, and people of Baddeck, and learned so much about what a remarkable man he was.  One local told of how his grandfather worked for Bell, how Bell one time asked him if he owned his house, and his grandfather replied that he could not afford it.  That Christmas, when it was time for Bell to pass out his traditional bonuses to all his employees, his grandfather opened his envelope and, to his astonishment, found the deed to his house, Bell having paid off his debt.  Bell also loved children, not only his 10 grandchildren, but any children he met.  Stories were legion of how he would gladly interrupt whatever work he was doing if a child wanted attention.  One wonderful quote we saw was to the effect that you should absolutely never ignore a child's question, as he believed not only in the importance of treating every child seriously, but also that a child's question could often lead one to come up with a different approach to a problem.  When we were in the gift shop after our tour of the museum, the clerk told us about her grandmother working for Bell all her life, and how he always paid his employees quite generously, but also told of how he fired an employee on the spot when that employee told a child he was too busy working to stop and answer the child's question!

Also fascinating was the remarkable life of Bell's wife, Mabel.  For a wedding present he gave her 90% of the stock in his fledgling telephone company, and she eventually became the one who managed all their finances, as well as the Baddeck estate, doing all this even though she was completely deaf.  She was a strong and powerful woman, pursuing her own interests as well as supporting Bell's work.  She was the one who piloted the hydrofoil most often--apparently it was so noisy Bell and others couldn't take it, but since she was deaf, the noise didn't bother her at all!  She told Bell she was painting his portrait for him, but since he was such a night owl, often working late into or through the night on some new idea, that the portrait turned out to be that of an owl!  It hung in his office for the rest of his life; she also famously walked out to his kite house or the other outbuildings where he conducted his experiments every day at 5:00 PM to get him to come home for supper.  Several of the photos and stories of them together showed a tenderness and love they shared--so sweet.  So often you read of people who were successful in their life's work, and find them so totally devoted to their work that they ignored their family, but Bell was the consummate family man.  Just remarkable.  He died in 1922 of complications from diabetes and his wife died 5 months later from pancreatic cancer, though her daughter often said she really died of a broken heart after Bell died.  All in all, just a fascinating learning experience at this museum, e.g., never knew that he was the co-founder of the National Geographic Society.

Sunday afternoon we took a delightful sail aboard the Amoeba, sailing around Bras d'Or Lake, and getting a closeup look at Bell's estate, still owned by his family.  A number of other homes are on the estate, a few occupied year round, but most as summer homes.  A beautiful day for a sail, and the captain was just hilarious--made the trip really entertaining.  A great way to spend part of the day!!

Bell Museum

Beautiful flowers at the entrance to the museum

Looking across the lake from the museum--beautiful scene!

Bell, with his wife and Helen Keller, who credited Bell with so much of her achievement
Painting of Bell with the first telephone

This was so funny to us, especially since Trisha likes to say she can understand "doggish," knowing exactly what the dog is saying when she barks!!
Pretty cool wedding present!

His father's "visible speech" alphabet
The Bell's flock of sheep on their estate, the big house in the background
Mabel's portrait of Bell, the night owl
One of his big kites, using the tetrahedral cell method of construction
Photo of the Silver Dart, the plane flown for the first time in 1909 in Baddeck--it actually took off from the ice on the lake in front of their home
Replica of the Silver Dart
Replica of the HD-4, the hydrofoil Bell invented that Mabel often piloted
3 of his grandchildren, followed by one of the sheep, on their estate
One of many photos showing the love and tenderness Alec and Mabel shared

Remarkably foresightful of him!
In honor of our sister-in-law Colleen, a pioneering midwife in her own right!
Great philosophy!
The devoted couple!
Mabel, on her way at 5:00 PM to fetch Alec for supper
A replica of a shelter Bell made, using his tetrahedral method, that's outside the museum
the Amoeba
The Comfort Zone, a boat owned by a man from Sydney, who we met on the dock as we waited to board the Amoeba

Leaving the dock
The crazy Captain, in his cap and dreadlocks, holding up the Sailing for Dummies book!!  What a hoot!
Some of the lovely homes along the harbor as we motored out to where he could unfurl the sails

Captain John, giving a blast on his conch horn

Here we are on the bowsprit of the Amoeba--we're the king and queen of the world!!

Beinn Breagh--means Beautiful Mountain--the Bell estate home.  You can see where they are doing some renovation work on the main chimney.  No one actually lives in the home any more, but some of the descendants still use it for large family gatherings from time to time

Red rocks below the home
Eagle's nest near the home
Some of the other homes on the land, this one from 1890
This one is the summer home of the CEO of the National Geographic Society, a relative of Bell's
Some of the sailboats owned by Bell's descendants, who still spend some summers here
These brightly colored adirondack chairs along the water are such a typical sight in Nova Scotia--these were as we got off the boat, walking back up the dock to the parking lot
Some views of our campground

The Cape Breton flag, at our next door neighbor's site; he is a retired coal miner from near Sydney
Looking down toward the lake
Blew the focus on this one, but wanted to get the scene of the chairs by the lake at the campground
Looking out over the lake
My two girlies!!
Sophie reigns!
Trisha and the latest of her Knitting Wonders--this beautiful scarf she finished on this trip!

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