"Updates under way at Thomas Edison lab in New Jersey," by J. J. Thompson, Associated Press, from Dallas News Oct. 28, 2001
EDISON, N.J. - When New Jersey dedicated a monument to Thomas Edison at his former laboratory site in 1938, the 130-foot concrete column towered over the town. For years the monument served as a reminder of what the inventor accomplished. It was here that Edison received more than 400 patents for his inventions, including the phonograph, electric rail car and incandescent light bulb. It's a problem museum director Jack Stanley has been working to correct with several new projects, including an exhibit of Edison's death mask and plans to construct a replica of his lab to house the museum. "This museum was kind of forgotten," Mr. Stanley says. "It's the place that everyone talks about, but no one can find."
Edison moved to Menlo Park - now part of Edison Township - in 1876, and he and his staff produced a series of inventions from his laboratory that made the world take notice. In addition to the phonograph, incandescent light bulb and the electric train, he also conducted early experiments in wireless technology. Several other buildings were constructed, including an office, a machine shop, and a glass house. Edison's large home was nearby, along with a boarding house for lab workers. But as "The Wizard of Menlo Park" became involved in the electrical industry, he spent more time away from the site and little was happening there by 1883. After Edison's wife, Mary Stillwell Edison, died in 1884, the inventor returned just three times. The lab - which was eventually turned into a chicken coop - collapsed in a storm in 1913. None of the other buildings still stands.
The Menlo Park Museum and Thomas Alva Edison Memorial Tower were built in 1937 and dedicated a year later. The tower stands where Edison's laboratory was located, although visitors currently must view it from a distance because of falling cement. The existing museum is adjacent to the monument. Housed in a small, nondescript building, it displays phonographs, photographs of the laboratory and products from the Thomas A. Edison Co. There also is a scale replica of the laboratory that was constructed entirely with materials from his original lab. One of the newly added exhibits is Edison's death mask. A mold of his face was made upon his death in 1931 by noted American sculptor James Earl Fraser, but its existence was forgotten until curators came upon an old newspaper clipping a few years ago. The mold eventually was located, and 23 masks were made before the original was destroyed. One of the replicas was purchased and given this year to the Menlo Park Museum by Ron and Jennifer Rohrenbacher of Pomona, Calif. "I'm seeing the efforts they're putting into restoring the site, and I think it's great," says Mr. Rohrenbacher, a collector of Edison memorabilia.
There are plans to construct a new $4 million building to house the museum. The outside of the new structure would be a replica of the old laboratory. About $200,000 has been raised so far. An archaeological dig is also planned for Menlo Park with Richard Veit, an assistant professor with Monmouth University's history and anthropology department. Mr. Veit, who hopes to begin preliminary work this fall, said the dig will concentrate on the boarding houses where Edison's employees lived. The employees did a lot of the work, but were overshadowed by Edison, he says. "They're a hidden part of the Edison story." The group also will look around the laboratory, which Mr. Veit said is accurately touted as the world's first research facility. Any artifacts found will be given to the museum. "It's going to be part of the whole revitalization of Menlo Park," Mr. Stanley says.
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