Douglas Keister

Memories of the Phonograph

     

 

By Douglas Keister

A Field Report on Obsessive Phonograph Collecting Disorder Submitted by Douglas Keister HSD AAC

My first encounter with this relatively rare (and under-reported) disorder was when I first encountered the Boilesen Clan at their compound at 544 Lyncrest Drive in Lincoln, Nebraska. The family appeared normal; perhaps too normal. Mom (Betty), dad (Axel) son (Doug, henceforth named DB) and sister (Bev) were right out of a textbook for the perfect baby-boomer mix of occupations, avocations, genders and ages. But the family held a secret; a secret that was, at least for a time, kept in the cellar. As time went by, the thing in the cellar crept up the stairs and slowly invaded, then eventually took, over the entire household. Eventually I too was infected.

Axel Boilesen became, as time went on, my second dad. And he was, admittedly, a kinder, gentler and more benevolent father that my own. He never ordered me to mow the lawn, rake leaves, shovel snow or do any of a host of disciplinary chores. He was perfect. DB was the perfect brother. We never quarreled about ownership of sports equipment, whose turn it was to do a multitude of household tasks or who got to use the car. Bev and Betty somehow didnít figure in the mix too often. Axel, DB and myself had manly duties to attend to that did not require the participation or contributions of females.

My first real phonograph specific memory was when I was invited (or rather commanded to go) into the Boilesenís cellar. What I encountered was hardly a cellar in the traditional sense. Basements in Lincoln were consigned to workshops, laundry rooms, places to toss the kids and temporary shelters when tornado sirens sounded. The Boilesenís subterranean sanctuary was a grotto of religious reverence. All manner of phonographs were displayed on individual shrines, their importance carefully marked according to age and historical significance. Smaller items such as needles, wax cylinders and miscellaneous artifacts were displayed in their own secure cases that could only be accessed by the Boilesenís themselves. I believe there may have been a special shrine to Saint Tom himself with an empty reliquary awaiting the arrival of a shard from the Alpha phonograph or perhaps a wisp of the saintís hair.

After I had exhibited what was deemed the right amount of appreciation, reverence and enthusiasm for the assorted paraphernalia (and this took more than a few indoctrinations) I was invited to participate in a HUNT. These expeditions occurred at selected and random times during the year. It was impossible to tell when and where they would be as they were a closely guarded secret among the Boilesens. The only clue I ever had was that they would NEVER be during a University of Nebraska football game, a sub-religion to the phonograph cult. These hunts were always centered around finding and securing rare and elusive phonographic items. Sometimes lesser prey, such as duplicates of items they already had, would be bagged to be used as a later time as barter items when visiting shrines of other members.

The destinations of these expeditions varied from rural estate sales, garage sales, antique stores and basements of unsuspecting dowagers. During these hunts I was advised not to compete with Axel or DB, for they were seasoned hunters and could easily out maneuver me if I spied a pristine Uncle Josh cylinder or an ancient emblem. I was advised to bring along a few small coins and encouraged to purchase shiny things made of chrome or plastic. I usually came away with items like old suitcases, beer signs and ceramic bedpans.

In the ensuing months and years our friendship as well as my collection of polystyrene discards grew. My memories of the phonograph are less about hardware and more about people. The Boilesen phonographic collection, while certainly impressive, will never be as formidable as the bonds I feel with the Boilesen family.