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Word of Mouth
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6.18.14: Elevators, Life Once Removed & Abolishing 'Happy Birthday'

Michael Salerno via flickr Creative Commons

Going up? Today on Word of Mouth, we're lifting you to new cultural heights with a look into the history of two architectural advancements in history - the elevator and escalator. We'll hold the door for you when we stop on a story about a family of mannequins. Last stop, a discussion about why we should all stop singing that pervasive birthday song.

Listen to the whole show and click Read more for individual segments.


  • From Willy Wonka’s glass contraption to the blood-filled nightmare from The Shining, the elevator has played a pivotal role in scenes from film and literature. Surprising, given its compact size – but as a social space, the elevator really is unlike any other.  Depending on the context, it can be intimate… or claustrophobic.  Frightening… or comic. Embarrassing… or sexy.  Putting aside our modern perception of the elevator, let’s imagine how these cramped cabins would have seemed to a person stepping inside one for the very first time in the mid to late 19th century.  Andreas Bernard is a professor of cultural studies at the Leuphana University Of Luneburg –his new book is called Lifted: A Cultural History Of The Elevator.
  • Roman Mars of the design and architecture podcast 99 Percent Invisible brings us this story of an imperfect product, a music critic, and the sweet, sweet sounds of a broken escalator.
Andreas Bernard, author of "Lifted: A Cultural History of the Elevator"

99% Invisible with Roman Mars

Life Once Removed

  • A woman, her husband and daughter, neatly dressed and coiffed in front of the Eiffel Tower and other Parisian landmarks. The woman is smiling, emphatically. The husband and daughter remain expressionless. In fact, they’re mannequins… props, dressed up and posed in photographs projecting familial togetherness. The "familyquins", as they are called, appear in a vacation snaps, holiday dinner pictures, and Christmas cards for a series called ‘Life Once Removed’ by the artist Suzanne Heintz. Heintz says it’s about ‘spinsterhood and the American way’. Her work will be featured in a short documentary called ‘Playing House.’
    Suzanne Heintz

Stop Singing 'Happy Birthday'

  • Happy Birthday …a song created for kids, that’s revived annually until you die. It’s automatic… co-workers, family members …even random strangers sing it if in the vicinity when the tune begins. The Happy Birthday song has been around since 1893, and guess what – anyone who sings it is supposed to pay royalties to its publisher. Here with more on the song’s history is Scott Keyes, senior reporter for Think Progress. He wrote the article, ‘Why We Should Stop Singing Happy Birthday’ for Pacific Standard Magazine.
  • Plus, our own brand new rendition of "Happy Birthday"! Tell us what  you think on our Facebook page!  Or send your own version at an Mp3 to wordofmouth@nhpr.org, or call and record it on our listener line at 603 223 2448!
  • WOM040714D.mp3
    Why you should stop singing "Happy Birthday"...

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