RGI Museum Newsletter 2000

Two New Rare RGI Recordings Debut at Museum

Thanks to the generosity of a Texas donor, year-2000 visitors to the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum will be able to hear not one but three rare recordings of Ingersoll’s own voice – recordings engineered by none other than the inventor of the phonograph himself, Thomas Alva Edison.

Since shortly after it opened to the public in 1993, the Museum has featured an Edison recording of Ingersoll’s “Creed” which patrons could hear by picking up a telephone handset. That recording was made near the end of Robert Green Ingersoll’s life when he visited the Menlo Park, New Jersey, laboratories of Thomas Edison. Edison was one of Ingersoll’s passionate admirers; moreover, early prototypes of the phonograph were complete. What could be more natural than to record the voice of America’s foremost orator for the ages?

Edison’s Ingersoll recordings fell into obscurity. (As late as the 1950s, RCA was still making the claim that the Ingersoll cylinders were the oldest recordings in its historic Camden, N.J., vaults.) In the early 1990s, freethinker David Thielking gave Free Inquiry a decades-old 7-inch, 45-rpm disc he had found in the attic of a fellow freethinker in Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada. Published by a now-defunct New York label, the record bore a scratchy copy of Ingersoll’s “Creed.” Carefully remastered by the late Paul Squire, this became the recording available at the Museum for the last several years. From time to time rumors would fly about additional Ingersoll recordings in the Library of Congress.

Then we heard from Texas freethinker Darrin Rasberry, who forwarded cassette copies of two previously-unknown recordings, “Liberty” and “Hope,” which he had obtained from the Library of Congress. Thank you, Darrin, for this dramatic addition to the available corpus of Ingersollia!

The newfound recordings are of dramatically higher quality than the “Creed.” In particular, the bass response is much improved; Ingersoll’s voice does not exhibit the “reedy old man” quality many listeners have remarked on in the “Creed” recording.

For the first time in the year 2000, Museum visitors will be able to pick up a telephone handset and listen to all three priceless Ingersoll recordings one by one. Text of each except is posted by the phone so that listeners can follow along. (At some points, especially during the “Creed,” printed text may also help listeners determine exactly what Ingersoll is saying; despite careful re-recording, these pioneer wax-cylinder recordings are still authentically noisy.)

This new exhibit is typical of the Robert Green Ingersoll Memorial Committee’s efforts to locate, preserve, and make available every possible item pertaining to the Great Agnostic’s vanishing legacy. If you have – or know of – any rare Ingersollia please contact

Tom Flynn
Museum Operations Director
P.O. Box 664
Amherst NY 14226
(716) 636-7571 ext. 213
Email tflynn@centerforinquiry.net


(The first recording, installed 1994)

While I am opposed to all orthodox creeds, I have a creed myself; and my creed is this. Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy to be here. The way to be happy is to make others so. This creed is somewhat short, but it is long enough for this life, strong enough for this world. If there is another world, when we get there we can make another creed. But this creed certainly will do for this life.

— 1882

Recording gift of David Thielking
Historic recording re-mastered by Paul Squire,
Squire Recording Studio,
Buffalo NY



O Liberty, thou art the god of my idolatry! In thy vast and unwalled temple, beneath the roofless dome, gemmed with stars, luminous with suns, thy worshipers stand erect! They do not cringe, or ????, or kneel, or crawl. The dust has never held the impress of their lips. Thou askest naught from man except the things that good men hate — the whip, the chain, the dungeon key. Thou hast no popes, no priests, who stand between their fellow men and thee. At thy sacred altar virtue does not tremble, hypocrisy does not crouch, superstition’s feeble tapers do not burn, but Reason holds aloft the inextinguishable torch whose holy light at last will one day flood this world.

From “Myth and Miracle,” 1895



The prejudiced priest and the malicious minister say that I am trying to take away the hope of a future life.

I am not trying to destroy another world, but I am endeavoring to prevent the theologians from destroying this.

The hope of another life was in the heart, long before the “sacred books” were written, and will remain there long after all the “sacred books” are known to be the work of savage and superstitious men. Hope is the consolation of the world.

The wanderers hope for home. — Hope builds the house and plants the flowers and fills the air with song. The sick and suffering hope for health. — Hope gives them health and paints the roses in their cheeks.

The lonely, the forsaken, hope for love. — Hope brings the lover to their arms. They feel the kisses on their eager lips. The poor in tenements and huts, in spite of rags and hunger, hope for wealth. — Hope fills their thin and trembling hands with gold.

The dying hopes that death is but another birth, and Love leans above the pallid face and whispers, “We shall meet again.”

Hope is the consolation of the world.

Let us hope, if there be a God, that he is wise and good. Let us hope that if there be another life that it will bring peace and joy to all the children of men.

And let us hope that this poor earth on which we live, may be a perfect world — a world without a crime — without a tear.

From “The Foundations of Faith,” 1895
Gift of Darrin Rasberry;
Remastered by Inquiry Media Productions


RCA Vault,
Where Are You Now?

Thanks to freethinker Catherine Fahringer, the Committee has an undated news clipping, thought to date from the 1950s and obviously based on a RCA press release. The story, a puff piece about the archivist who then kept RCA’s vaults of historic recordings, mentioned that an Edison recording of Ingersoll was the oldest item in the RCA collection.

RCA’s vaults in Camden, N.J., were known for decades as a repository of priceless industry memorabilia. The trouble is, when RCA Records was sold to Germany’s BMG group a couple of years ago, no one seems to know where the famed RCA Vault went! The Committee has made inquiries to General Electric (which owns the rest of RCA) and to BMG (which owns RCA Records). If anyone at either place knows who owns the RCA Vault now – or where it went – they’re not talking.

Rare Cartoon Gifted to Museum

Presents RGI Among Controversial Figures of His Time

A spectacular gift by Philadelphia freethinkers Margaret Downey and George Kelley puts Robert Green Ingersoll in his place among the most controversial figures of the late 19th century – in a rare full-color news tabloid cartoon. It was presented to the Robert Green Ingersoll Memorial Committee during the Ingersoll Cententary Celebration held last August in the New York’s Finger Lakes Region (see related story in this issue).

The cartoon comes from The Judge, a national political and satire publication popular in the later years of the 19th century. Amazingly, its garish tabloid colors remain vibrant after more than 100 years. Titled “Dress Parade of the Awkward Squad,” it shows Uncle Sam reviewing a line of caricatures the cartoonist captioned “The National Cranks,” figures from the scandal-ridden Grant administration, third-party presidential candidates, and controversial social reformers.

It is a measure of Robert Green Ingersoll’s prominence in post-Civil War America that he is one of just twelve public figures to appear in the cartoon. It is a measure of the high regard in which Ingersoll was held (if grudgingly, among the religious) that he is not shown among the “National Cranks.”

Instead, he and Henry Ward Beecher (kind of a 19th century Billy Graham, only with more libido) share what’s captioned as the Gospel tent. Beecher, a high-profile Presbyterian preacher, shared many of Ingersoll’s progressive moral and social views even though they disagreed about religion.

When Beecher died in 1887, Ingersoll gave the eulogy.

This one-of-a-kind cartoon is displayed with pride in the Piano Room, the first large display room entered by visitors to the Museum. It’s accompanied by a graphic key identifying each of the caricatures with a brief biography.

“Dress Parade of the Awkward Squad”
from The Judge (U.S., late 19th century)

poster1200.jpg (104948 bytes)
click to see larger, black and white size

Who’s Who in the Cartoon?

(in tent, from left)
1. Robert Green Ingersoll

2. Henry Ward Beecher was the best-known Presbyterian preacher of the time (and a noted ladies’ man). In 1872 revelations about his affair with a married woman rocked his career, but did not sink it. Despite their differing views, Ingersoll and Beecher had high regard for each other. They spoke on the same stage in 1880; when Beecher died in 1887, Ingersoll gave his eulogy.

(Awkward Squad, from left)
3. Samuel Tilden, Democratic presidential nominee in 1876, lost to Rutherford B. Hayes on the basis of disputed electoral votes.

4. Roscoe Conkling, U.S. Senator from New York and Republican Party power broker. The “306” medallion refers to the number of votes Conkling secured in an unsuccessful effort to “rig” the 1880 Republican convention in favor of Ulysses S. Grant. James A. Garfield, not Grant, was nominated (and elected); the next year, Garfield was assassinated by a member of the pro-Grant faction. (When Conkling died, in 1888, Ingersoll gave the eulogy at his funeral also.)

5. Ulysses S. Grant. Civil War general and 18th president of the U.S., also wears the “306” medallion. His administration and its members were tarred by numerous scandals, including the famous Whisky Ring and Credit Mobilier scandals.

6. James G. Blaine, most popular Republican of his time, served as U.S. Congressman, Senator, and Secretary of State. Ingersoll cemented his oratorical reputation with the 1872 “Plumed Knight” speech proposing Blaine for the GOP presidential nomination. (Though the speech was lauded, Blaine did not become the nominee.) Blaine and Ingersoll split after 1881. Blaine led the push for prosecutions in the “Star Route” postal scandal; Ingersoll considered the defendants unfairly accused and conducted their legal defense. When Blaine became the GOP presidential nominee in 1884, he was the only Republican presidential candidate for whom Ingersoll ever refused to campaign. Blaine lost to the Democrat Grover Cleveland.

7. Benjamin Franklin Butler, controversial Civil War military officer, governor of Massachusetts, U.S. Congressman, and a third-party Presidential candidate. As a Congressman he played a leading role in the 1868 impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. In 1884, he made an unsuccessful presidential bid as the candidate of the Anti-Monopoly and Greenback parties.

8. John Kelley was known as “Honest John” after he wrested control of New York City’s corrupt Tammany Hall political machine from abusive William Marcy “Boss” Tweed.

9. Carl Schurz, German-born antislavery activist, reform advocate, U.S. Senator, Secretary of the Interior, and newspaper editor. He famously (and unsuccessfully) opposed U.S. involvement in the Spanish-American war.

10. Peter Cooper, manufacturer and philanthropist, oversaw construction of New York City’s modern water supply. In 1876, at the age of 85, he ran for President as nominee of the Greenback Party – despite the fact that he had never held public office before.

11. David Davis, noted attorney, Supreme Court Justice, and U.S. Senator. In 1872 he was nominated as presidential candidate of the Labor Reform Party, but declined to run when the Liberal Republican Party did not nominate him also.

12. Wayne McVeagh was President Garfield’s attorney general and laid the groundwork for the politically divisive Star Route trials. After setting the trials in motion, he retired to private life, leaving James G. Blaine and others to take the heat for the lengthy and unsuccessful prosecution.

Historical research by Timothy Binga
of the Center for Inquiry Libraries,
Tom Flynn, and Margaret Downey

Ingersoll Descendant Joins Museum Staff

Buffalo-area painting contractor and architectural preservationist Jeff Ingersoll has joined the Museum staff with a truly invaluable volunteer contribution: he’ll be sending a construction crew to the Museum as needed to help keep the circa-1830 building up to snuff. Already Jeff and his crew have rebuilt a troublesome section of roof over the Local History room, helped to finish off the new bathroom, and repainted a badly-peeling exterior wall.

Jeff is an Ingersoll descendant and president of Ingersoll Painting in Buffalo. He is also engaged in restoring a historic winery in the Hammondsport, N.Y., area, just “one lake over” from the Museum’s location on scenic Seneca Lake. Around the Buffalo area he’s better known for helping to preserve that city’s Union Station and other historic structures.

The Ingersoll Committee extends its thanks to Jeff and his crew for their invaluable support. By their generosity they’ll help to reduce the Committee’s operating costs and ensure that the Ingersoll birthplace will be preserved for years to come.

Freethinkers Nationwide Attend RGI Centenary

More than 80 freethinkers from all over the country attended last year’s Robert Green Ingersoll Centenary Celebration. The event was held August 6-8 at the Ingersoll Museum and at off-site venues in Geneva, Himrod, and Dundee, N.Y. Speakers gave presentations on Ingersoll’s life and times; his early years in Peoria, Ill.; and his freethought legacy. Additional presentations focused on the Finger Lakes area, which was home to several famous religious reformers. Nearby Watkins Glen was the site of a famous 1880 freethought convention at which prominent freethinkers were arrested on obscenity charges.

Other highlights included Roger Greeley’s full-dress performance as Ingersoll, an outdoor concert by a band formed by students belonging to the Campus Freethought Alliance, and the presentation of a rare full-color 19th century political cartoon featuring Ingersoll (see related story in this issue), plus a bus tour of area historic sites including nearby Seneca Falls, N.Y., cradle of the woman’s suffrage movement.


The Robert Green Ingersoll Memorial Committee extends its thanks to all of its supporters. Gate receipts pay only a tiny fraction of the Museum’s operating and maintenance costs. More than 90% of the Museum’s annual budget must come from donations by enthusiasts determined that Robert Green Ingersoll shall not be forgotten. To ensure that our benefactors are not forgotten, for 2000 we’ve commissioned a second “Honor Board” where we record the names of donors who give $500 or more. (We filled the first one.)

Special thanks are due to Rochester, N.Y. freethinkers Ralph and Katherine Reynolds, the Ingersoll Committee’s Supporters of the Year, who made a $5000 gift to the Museum while attending Free Inquiry’s conference in Los Angeles this past May.

2000 Hours

The Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum will be open from 12 noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day weekend through Hallowe’en (May 27 – October 29, 2000).