Monday, March 24, 2008

What Hath God Wrought?

New York in the 1870s was a bustling beehive of activity - much of it fueled by the communications revolution of the telegraph. Railroad, shipping, and stock information was pecked out over wires strung like cobwebs throughout the downtown business area. But it was not all business! Period photos show that "pirate" lines were also put in up to the rooming houses in the 20s and over to the fancy digs on lower 5th Avenue. It seems that, for a slight fee, you could telegraph a billet-doux to a special team of hostesses who would telegraph back their amorous activities. Phrases like ".. . .-.. ..... . . ... . -- .. .. .- -. -.- - ." (I EXPOSE MY ANKLE) and ". .. .- ..... - ..- . .. ." (RAPTURE) would "do the trick" for the nerdy "wire- wankers" of the day. For a higher fee, a boy would be sent up the pole to cross wires and provide a primitive "chat-line". All this was swept away with the blizzard of '88, after which the lines were moved underground and out of the hands of the amateur "hacker".

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