In 1993 I bought a box of unlabeled Sony dictation machine tapes from a Volunteers of America thrift store in Binghamton, NY. They contain what is surely Carl Sagan's voice dictating his personal notes, correspondence and business instructions, from around 1984. They are pretty compelling. What should I do with them?
I like the idea of donating them to Cornell but I feel like I would be foolish not to try for some personal gain.
I could put them on YouTube or Archive.org but they are, after all, his personal letters. I've never bumped into anything even remotely scandalous in there, but I have not listened to anything like all of them. Plus, even if there is nothing prurient, it still seems rude. I don't know.
eBay feels rude for the same reason, and just for the general capitalism of it, but they really are neat. He speaks extemporaneously about aliens, time travel, nuclear winter, the Cold War, etc etc etc. It is the words and his actual voice, unedited and undistilled, of one of the patron saints of the internet, and one of the brightest lights in popular intelligence, at the peak of his powers. I can see them being pretty valuable. Wouldn't I be dumb to not just sell them?
Evidence and provenance (such as it is):
Here's a picture of all of them
Here's a picture of one tape, unlike the others, that says something about Carl
. It sounds different too. It's a tape recorder hooked up to a phone.
Nearly every dictated letter ends with the words "with every good wish cordially". Here is a picture I found on the internet of a letter from Carl Sagan
that closes that way. There are many others out there.
One of the tapes that I listened to years ago says something in a letter about how he doesn't know the people that he (the corespondent) mentions, but that Sagan is such an uncommon name he is certain they are related. I don't know which tape that is.
Binghamton is an hour from Ithaca, I can imagine any number of plausible scenarios where those tapes ended up in the VoA. I bought one to play on my college radio show (WHRW, maaaaan), without any idea what it was, listened to it on the way home in the car, heard how NUTS it all was (time travel, space, nuclear winter, et al) and turned around and bought the whole box. I didn't decide it was Sagan until later.
But I am sure. It is Carl Sagan. Feel free to bunk and debunk, but there's no doubt in my mind. Here is one brief sample
. It's his voice, it's his subject, it's his sign-off.