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‘The devil's fiddle.’

The year 1921 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the introduction of the ‘devil's fiddle’ in Medford, and, in fact, in neighboring towns, for its discordant tones were everywhere heard.

‘Never heard of it,’ does some one say? But any that heard it did not soon forget it. It was not a remarkably melodious instrument, any more than was the ‘horse fiddle’ used in certain ‘Calithumpian serenades’ that were an opprobrious feature of other days.

What bright or mischievous boy invented it (and where) cannot be told, but one April day Medford awoke to its realization; it couldn't do otherwise. Its construction was simple and its manufacture increased rapidly, as few materials were required. Given a tin can (such as spices or baking powder are sold in), or mother's pantry shelf afforded, a half-yard of string and a pinch of rosin, there were but few boys that couldn't make one. [p. 39]

A hole punched in the bottom (geometrical centre not necessary), a knot at one end of the string, which was inserted in said hole from within, and the instrument was complete. The urchins' fingers formed the bow by which it was played. They ‘rosined the bow’ and made application lengthwise the string, and oh, the result! The sacred writer of ancient days wrote, ‘Make a joyful noise’—‘Play skilfully on an instrument of ten strings’; but in this case the one string made noise anything but joyful, and increased by numbers and diverse in quality, no wonder that people attributed it to his Satanic majesty. The dignified editor of the Medford journal, in his ‘valuable paper,’ made editorial comment of its appearance, saying that the next concert of the ‘Mustard Pot Band’ would be on Saturday afternoon. It may have been, and again it may not. The craze soon died out. The manipulation of the string was too much for the cuticle and epidermis of the artists, and the sore fingers that resulted required the application of grandmother's salve and time to cure. So the devil's fiddle's discordant sounds soon ceased to distract people's ears. But there were those that thought about it, and found that two similar tins attached by one taut string would answer each other without injury to any finger tips— and four years later came the telephone.

But who amid the nerve distracting sounds of 1871 would have dared to prophecy what is fact in 1921, and here in Medford? ‘It has taken the telephone fifty years to reach its present state of perfection. Wireless telegraphy has been known only half as long, and the wireless telephone but a few years.’ Who would then have dared to predict that fifty years later the following bit of history would be found in public print?

Radiophone concerts are given regularly every Wednesday evening at 8.30 . . . at Medford Hillside. Thousands of amateurs, within a hundred miles radius of Boston, are able to ‘listen in’ on these wireless concerts.—Boston Transcript, June 11, 1921.

It is a far cry from the concert of the ‘Mustard Pot [p. 40] Band,’ noted by Editor Usher, in which ‘devil's fiddles,’ big and little, screeched and squealed, to such as are noted above.

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