Did you know that from the late 1800's through 1910 towns and cities in the United States and Europe were lit by giant arc lamps that sat on posts sometimes 300 feet tall? Neither did I. I've asked a number of people if they'd ever heard of moonlight towers and nobody knew what I was talking about. Of course, in my case that's often been true so it doesn't bother me anymore.
I was wandering around the nets a couple of days ago and found a web site that probably should be better known called 'Low Tech Magazine'. The first story I read was the one about the moonlight towers that appeared for a while to replace darkness and gas lamps in Victorian times. They were carbon arc lamps that appear to have been much like modern searchlights except they pointed down onto streets and docks instead of up into the sky to notify the public about new supermarket openings. Ooops, that's become a thing of the past now too, hasn't it?
Paris had hundreds of them by 1877, including a dozen on the Eiffel Tower. No wonder it became known as the City of Lights. Still, it was a surprise to learn that by 1907 the US led the world in lighting the outdoor darkness with 700,000 of these things in operation. One can imagine walking along a well lit boulevard only to turn a corner into total darkness to understand why their popularity was intense but short-lived. It was the development of skyscrapers that eventually led to the abandonment of these spectacular light shows - that and the discovery of incandescents by Edison (although it was Tesla who invented AC - another story).
Anyway, the web site is really fascinating for anyone interested either in the brilliance of our forebears or the possibilities for utilizing new versions of old methods for getting things done in a world where we're finally learning the true cost of cheap power. Besides. it's fun. If you don't believe me check out 'Tiles as a substitute for steel: the art of the timbrel vault'. I may have to think about passing on painting until I build my own inspiring studio with a very impressive perch for Crow.
(Only Austin, Texas still has 17 of its original 31 moonlights but uses different power.)