If you’ve walked or driven around Washington, DC, you’ve probably noticed these things.
Cast-iron boxes installed on street corners all over the city, sometimes with art or a
little neighborhood history inside.
They’re clearly pretty old and not being used for their original purpose anymore.
But what are they?
And why are they everywhere?
事实上 在电话问世之前 这些铁制固定装置在华盛顿之类
It turns out these cast-iron fixtures were vital for rapid communication in cities like
Washington before the telephone was invented.
They’re fire and police call boxes.
and they’re really old.
Some of the original fire boxes, like this one in DC’s Cleveland Park, even date back
to the 1860s.
You can tell the original ones by their harp shape.
By 1890, the Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph Co. had installed call box systems in 500
This map from 1891 shows where they were installed throughout DC.
The red dots are fire boxes, and the blue dots are police boxes.
If you saw a fire in your own house or on the block, you could run down to the corner
and pull the fire alarm key.
It was a telegraph system.
A huge network of underground cables connected every box in the city to the central alarm center.
There is a fire alarm box on every block of the great city.
The number that the box would tap out matched a location on a giant map, so the fire department
was able to pretty quickly figure out where to send fire engines.
It could be nothing serious.
It could be a false alarm.
The police boxes worked a bit differently than the fire boxes.
They came a little later and had an oval shape.
They were initially intended just for policemen doing their rounds.
They would have to go to a call box, every, maybe,five or five blocks.
to let police headquarters know everything was calm in their district.
Like the fire boxes, the police boxes had numbers corresponding to their location.
And police stations expected to hear from their officers on patrol from a different
box at scheduled times.
警员会核实情况 报告一切正常 或者呼叫后备警员
Officers would check in and say all is well, or they could use the box to call for backup
or receive updated orders for their patrol area.
Using the call box system, the Metropolitan Police Department was able to keep track of
their officers throughout the city before the invention of two-way radio.
Technology eventually caught up, though.
More people got phones in their homes, and the 911 system was invented in the 1970s to
link the fire and police departments.
The boxes slowly lost their purpose.
But they’re not totally obsolete just yet.
比如 在旧金山和波士顿之类的城市 你依然可以通过电报
In cities like San Francisco and Boston, for example, you can still reach the fire department
在地震或洪水来临 电力 手机服务中断时
In situations like earthquakes and floods when power and cellphone services are knocked
out, these boxes are still reliably connected to emergency services.
A second alarm has been transmitted from box 2598.the address is…
but most cities don’t use them any more.
Here in DC, the call boxes were abandoned in the late ’70s.
And they were just kind of … left in place because it was cheaper and easier just to
leave them in place.
And then people just kind of forgot about them.
They took off the boxes themselves that had the little telephone in it.
So it just kind of looked like a little blank piece of Victoriana street furniture that
… a lot of people had no idea what that was.
不过到了2000年 事情有了转机 华盛顿非盈利文化旅游组织的会员
But that changed in 2000 when members of the nonprofit Cultural Tourism DC founded a project
called “Art on Call.”
They gave city officials a cheaper and more creative way to deal with the iron relics:
turn them into art.
The city liked the idea, and even helped out by stripping the lead paint and priming over
700 boxes before handing them over to the neighborhoods.
The idea was not to just refurbish the boxes, but for neighborhoods to come together and
decide on what they wanted their call boxes to look like.
We really want neighborhoods to meet and kind of convey
what was important in their neighborhood history-wise as well as artistic.
These call boxes have watched over the same street corners for more than 100 years.
And even though they’re not saving lives anymore, they continue to serve their communities
as carriers of culture and local history.