By Steve Sears
When visiting the Thomas Edison National Historic Site in West Orange, New Jersey, you may “find” Thomas Edison himself inside his three-story library, which doubled as his office and research center in Building #5.
Theresa Jung, assistant superintendent at the site, explains, “It is rare to find a site that still has, not only the historic buildings but also the original furnishings that were in those rooms. It almost looks like Thomas Edison might walk around the corner and join the tour.”
Both Edison and his staff used the library regularly for 44 years. Usually the first room a visitor sees when they enter the main laboratory building, there’s too much to absorb during one visit. On the shelves are books and journals from around the world on scientific and technical topics, and on display are artifacts that will keep those with varied interests busy during a self-guided tour.
About 10,000 books populate the library, and as far as Jung knows, there is evidence that they used something like the Dewey Decimal System to keep books in order. And if that first number boggles the mind, consider this about the entirety of the Thomas Edison National Historic Site: there are 400,000 artifacts in the museum collection and five million documents in the archives; not all are on display; many are preserved in storage areas.
A few noteworthy things, among so many, wife Mina Edison sent a cot from their nearby Glenmont home in Llewelyn Park for her husband to nap on since he often worked many hours. It’s nestled between a set of bookshelves. Near the library’s third floor, a huge clock read 3:26, the hour and minute hands ceasing movement when Edison breathed his last at age 84 on Oct. 18, 1931. No explanation for the mysterious clock stoppage has ever been found.
Hanging on shelving near the entrance are the pictures of the five United States Presidents in office during a good portion of the years the plant was in operation: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover. It is not known if a president ever visited while in office, but the site has photographs of Franklin D. Roosevelt circa 1920 and Herbert Hoover from 1928 visiting the West Orange laboratory, perhaps during campaign stops.
The inventor’s desk, which was locked by his son Charles on the day of his death, but reopened by his wife in 1947 during the celebration of the great man’s 100th birthday, is also on view, its contents well protected by glass.
An honorary Academy Award received in 1929 due to his work developing motion pictures, signed by Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and other famed screen stars, hangs prominently along with other honorary info.
Jung offers a final perspective: “The fact that many of these rooms are still furnished the way they were when Thomas Edison walked through the halls makes it a truly inspiring place to visit.”
The site is open year-round, Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Entrance fee is $10, free for youngsters 16 and under. Park Annual Passes are $40. Glenmont Estate, Edison’s nearby home, is closed during the winter. For a calendar of events, visit www.nps.gov/edis/planyourvisit/events.htm, or call (973) 736-0550, ext. 11.