Santa’s in the Victrola: Spooky

The male heir to the Zero to 180 fortune insisted that his father write a history piece centered around a nearly 100-year-old Christmas song that, for today’s generation, inspires apprehension and consternation — but was that the intent of Arthur A. Penn, the songwriter responsible for “Santa Claus Hides in Your Phonograph“?

Editorial comments from those old-timers at Archive.org show that the unsettling feelings evoked by this recording are actually a cross-generational phenomenon:

This is one of the more unusual of Edison’s records.  Listen to Santa’s sinister laugh he makes as he tries to sound fun, loving and kind.  The www.menloparkmuseum.com staff agrees — if we were kids, we’d run!

“Santa Claus Hides in Your Paragraph”     Harry Humphrey     1922

Rebecca from the Jolly Reindeer blog puts it another way:

An obvious indicator of how far we’ve come since the days of Edison is represented in the recordings themselves. While it’s no surprise that the sound quality has improved, it’s interesting to note one particular improvement as well:

Santa is less creepy!

In 2009, “Santa Claus Hides in Your Phonograph” would make the #9 spot in ListVerse‘s Top 10 Eerie Recordings.

This is a 1922 recording made by Thomas Edison of Harry E. Humphrey.  It was intended to be sold to owners of Edison’s phonograph so that their children could have some Christmas joy.  In fact, on the contrary it is rather awful.  If I were a kid, this would put me off Christmas forever.  That laugh!  Ugh!

Click on image to view in ultra-high resolution

Robert Helpmann” would magnify the creep factor when “he” incorporated an excerpt from “Santa Claus Hides in Your Phonograph” played backwards in “his” edgy and/or disturbing video [caution to the easily-spooked] “Daisy Helps Out in the Kitchen” — as well as 11 other short films uploaded simultaneously on one day, July 12, 2015, on YouTube?  Who, exactly, is “Robert Helpmann” and is this a ‘Paul Is Dead‘-like hoax?  Inside a Mind, in their investigative video, seems to have figured it all out.

Jerome from Watch Tower History points out that Harry Humphrey (“monologist, elocutionist, actor and recording artist”) and his association with Edison goes all the way back to 1912, when Humphrey made his first recording.  Jerome, too, helpfully demystifies the technical aspects around the recording process in that era:

In those days, raw sound with its limited frequency range was literally collected by a horn and sent to equipment that vibrated a cutting stylus.  Recording artistes sometimes had to virtually put their head into the recording horn and shout to get an acceptable result.

Speaking of primitive sound technology, have you ever seen a cylinder record being played back?  Play the video below and also be sure to click on the link above to enjoy “thematic playlists” of recordings that go as far back as the 19th century, thanks to the fine folks at the UC Santa Barbara Cylinder Audio Archive.

“Santa Claus Hides in Your Phonograph”     cylinder record     1922

How cool to discover that the Library of Congress catalog record for this 1922 recording by Thomas Alva Edison also includes the ability for anyone to (a) play a copy of the original recording and/or (b) download this 12.8 GB file to your own computer!

The US National Park Service has also posted this recording on its website for the Thomas Edison National Historic Park in West Orange, New Jersey.

I wonder if the Arthur A. Penn Estate is aware that someone named Alan Brown has taken credit for having written a song with a nearly identical title — “Santa Claus Hides in The Phonograph” — that was released in 1923 for the US and Australian markets on the Brunswick label.

But wait, it turns out that Okeh had released “Santa Claus Hides in the Talking Machine” – penned by Arthur A. Penn but performed by Ernest Hare – in 1921, meaning that Harry Humphrey, alas, did not record the original version.

Check out the Art Deco label art on this 78