Telegraph Stories

Lost and Found Sound: Ode to the Code & The Tale of Two Twitching Fingers

A drawing of the first Morse Code telegraph receiver from 1844.

hide captionThe first Morse Code telegraph receiver of 1844. Now it's just about extinct.

Courtesy of The Horn Speaker
Jonathan Kern at age 15, sitting in a room filled with radio equipment and holding a microphone.

hide captionJonathan Kern, age 15.

Jonathan Kern

The words "What hath God wrought!" resound in our ears as the world famous message sent via the telegraph. Dots and dashes communicated between the U.S. Capitol in Washington and Mount Clare Depot in Baltimore May 28, 1844. Now the medium is all but gone. Lost and Found Sound presents two stories of lost technology.


Story 1: Ode to the Code

Ode to the Code was Produced by Jonathan Kern. The Tale of Two Twitching Fingers was produced by Gregory Whitehead.

All Things Considered editor Jonathan Kern recalls how the telegraph and its Morse Code were an important part of his childhood — a language that united him with his father.

Story 2: The Tale of Two Twitching Fingers

In the 1930s and through the mid '40s, Western Union telegraph operator Alexander Shannon tapped away, transmitting news of Boston's sports teams to news wires, and on to people across America. While his work for Western Union was tumultuous, his arrival at home afterwards could be downright unpleasant - his wife Helene was a huge Red Sox fan. Each night of a Red Sox loss, Alexander Shannon faced an unsettling dilemma: tell the truth about the game and risk upsetting Helene, or tell a lie to avoid trouble.

Producer Gregory Whitehead traces the career of his grandfather, Alexander Shannon, and the love of the Red Sox so prominent in his grandmother's life. Along the way, he chronicles telegraphy's remarkable impact on the way we have communicated throughout the 20th century.

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