Sue Morrow: Memories of an exceptional education at Ford’s Greenfield Village
I was fascinated by a recent cover story in Time Magazine about legendary inventor Thomas Edison. The story detailed all of Edison’s successes, but what caught my attention was the section about the invention of the phonograph. According to the article, his assistants tested the device by reciting “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
Imagine my delight when as a kid of about 12, I heard those very words from the first test of Edison’s device.
This event occurred at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich., which auto maker Henry Ford founded in 1933 along with the Henry Ford Museum, also known as Edison Institute in honor of his great friend.
But at the time I heard the “Mary Had a Little Lamb” recording, Greenfield Village and Edison Institute were schools, with the latter used for high school classes and the former for elementary and middle school students.
Ford was an avid collector of historic objects, and that extended to buildings, which he relocated from their original locations. Among them was Edison’s Menlo Park workshop, which included the phonograph test.
Ford personally had input in which children were allowed to attend Greenfield Village and Edison Institute. It didn’t matter how wealthy one was. I remember the arrival of a Greek immigrant family – four stair-step-age boys. It seems the family was in bad straits financially, and Ford learned about them. He put the family up on one of his many farms and had the boys enrolled in Greenfield Village. I knew all of them and they were great kids.
Ford had firm ideas about certain things. No cola drinks were allowed on campus. Ginger ale was the approved beverage. There was also an old-time cider mill where one had only to pull a paper cup from a container and fill up, as often as one wanted.
There was the lovely chapel at the head of the village green where students attended services at the beginning of each day before class. We kids were selected to perform something such as reading a poem or singing a song. I remember a girlfriend and I decided to sing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” but she froze up and my terrible monotone voice burst over the microphone for all to hear.
Ford was sitting next to my mother in the balcony of the church – he often attended services there. Mom was understandably embarrassed by my godawful performance, but Ford looked at her, smiled and observed, “She sure has curly hair.”
The experience at Greenfield Village is one that will linger in my memory forever. Thanks to “Mary Had a Little Lamb” it resurfaced sooner rather than later.
• Sue Morrow is a longtime journalist and member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame. She may be reached at email@example.com.