Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Gildner-Johnson Red Light Mystery - Solved

The NKHS Blog team put its crack researchers to work to uncover the real mystery behind the Gilder-Johnson Red Light.  The primary issue is whether the light in truth existed or was just another case of hometown lore?  And if it did exist, where was it located?

Richard Holstad and Bonnie Mack stayed awake nights trying to track down/recall the truth, and at last the full story is available.

The subject came up on the blog site months ago regarding the red light mounted somewhere on the corner of the Gildner-Johnson clothing store in downtown Northwood.  The light was allegedly controlled by the telephone operators whose offices were half a block south on the same side of the street.

Notice the wood pole in the bottom right of the photo below carrying an array of phone lines which undoubtedly emanated from the nearby telephone office and spread out around Northwood up and down the alley ways.

The story goes that if a Northwood resident called the phone operator with a trouble call, Mel Horgan, or the officer on night-duty would see the light and promptly check with the telephone office to see where and what the trouble was.  At the telephone office, there were live operators in charge of the switchboard 24 hours a day.  (The phone system back then is a whole n’other wonderful story of its own.) 

It goes without saying that this was the time period before 2-way car radios or cell phones. It is pretty sure that we had a fire siren that would wake the whole town if the emergency was that great.  In today’s jargon the light can be thought of as a very efficient, totally silent, very high-speed, communication interface link between every telephone in Northwood and the Police / Emergency Department.

Some Northwood trivia fans claimed “no knowledge” of the light. They contend that it is difficult to believe that Northwood was ever that unsophisticated.  But the “simplicity” of it all seems to resonate …. simply sophisticated. No moving parts.  Of course during the daylight hours the system wasn’t very effective.

But Larry Patterson’s Christmas Eve story about spinning doughnuts, in his car, in the fresh snow, on main street proved how effective the system worked at night.  Mel nabbed him, he went home, and Mayberry never knew the difference ….. except the operator’s switch board lit up like a Christmas tree for a short time.  

Comments on the subject ranged from, “Yah that’s a likely story”, to “We lived on the farm so we’d never see it”, to “There definitely was a light but it’s function was not generally public knowledge”.

It was a fun subject for awhile on the blog site, however, it was never really proven or disproven.  The matter was dropped and essentially nothing more was heard about it for many months …… until now.

On Dec 23rd Bonnie sent a frustrated message stating that the red light subject was taking far more of her attention than she could afford to spend.  She needed to get packed to leave for the Christmas Holidays with her family ….. but the red light subject kept surfacing, even in her subconscious.

She thought she could see something “curious” in the photo ….. if the photo were just “a little more clear.”  I was chuckling to myself because I have been hooked the same way when in pursuit of some detail like this.  But I had no idea that she was working on this riddle the whole time since it was first brought up to her.

I figured that this woman needs some satisfaction or it was going to make her crazier than she already is.  So I recommended she get herself packed and ready to leave …. In the meantime, I volunteered to enlarge the part of the photo that she was interested in .….  Then I would send the close-up to her.

It seemed to me that Bonnie needed to “let go” of this pursuit for a few days …. at least she shouldn’t lose any more rest over it.  Many people had already looked for the light and not found it …. I would humor her. Maybe she would have taken off by the time I returned the photo for her.

It wasn’t necessary to “zoom in” very much (see the photo below) and THERE IT IS!  Right along the roof line in the top left corner of the photo.

Click Photo for a Larger View
It is amazing how in the world the rest of us have not seen this before.  Looking at the photo now IT IS OBVIOUS.

The mystery is solved!

-- Richard Holstad, assisted by Bonnie Mack

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