Eugenia Farrar

Eugenia Farrar (1875—1966), whose full name was Ada Eugenia Hildegard von Boos Farrar, was a mezzo-soprano singer and philanthropist. She was born in Sweden and lived most of her life in New York City. In the fall of 1907 she gave what is commonly believed to be the first live radio singing performance, when she sang over Lee de Forest's experimental transmitter located atop the Parker Building in New York City.

Eugenia Farrar
Farrar in 1911
Farrar in 1911[1]
Born
Ada Eugenia Hildegard von Böös

1875
Stockholm, Sweden
DiedMay 17, 1966
OccupationSinger
Known forFirst live radio singing performance (1907)
Spouse(s)Leonard C. Farrar (m.1903–div.1909)

BiographyEdit

Farrar was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1875. Her parents were Fredericka Wilhelmina Berglund and Count John Matthias von Böös,[2] whose title was through the German "House of Böös zu Waldeck".[3] After her father died when she was 17, she and her mother moved to the United States, settling in New York City, where Eugenia began to establish herself a professional singer,[2] specializing in religious songs. On November 26, 1903 she married Leonard C. Farrar.[4] She gave what is commonly believed to be the first live radio singing performance in the fall of 1907, when, while touring Lee de Forest's experimental radio station, she was encouraged by the inventor to perform two songs.

Farrar did extensive work with families of prison inmates, and in 1908 announced plans to build a small settlement, Brookside Farm, located in Bardonia, for spouses and children of prisoners.[5] However this effort proved unsuccessful.[4] In December 1909 she was granted an "absolute divorce" on account of her husband's infidelities. It was noted at the time that the couple did not have any children.[4]

She performed in numerous charitable concerts, becoming known as the "Angel of the Tombs Prison" in recognition of her work supporting families of prisoners incarcerated there.[3] However, she ultimately faced severe financial problems, which led to her declaring bankruptcy in 1916.[6]

The May 22, 1957 episode of the This Is Your Life television program honored Lee de Forest,[7] and Farrar was one of the featured guests. Joining her was Oliver Wyckoff, who had reported hearing her 1907 broadcast while a Navy radio operator stationed aboard the U.S.S. Dolphin, which was docked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.[8]

Farrar died on May 17, 1966,[9] and an urn containing her ashes was given to Oliver Wyckoff. After Wyckoff's death in 1973, the urn was transferred to storage at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In 2008, Navy Yard employees Melissa Dubbin and Aaron S. Davidson prepared a replacement urn, which was placed on display along with biographical information at the Green-Wood cemetery in New York City.[10]

1907 radio broadcastEdit

Although radiotelegraph communication using Morse code dated to the late 1800s, in 1907 radiotelephone transmissions were still in the experimental stage. In the summer and fall of that year Lee de Forest was busy preparing radiotelephone transmitter installations on the U.S. Navy vessels forming the Great White Fleet, and he established a laboratory atop the Parker Building in New York City. The earliest test transmissions from this site were phonograph records, spoken word, and electronic music produced by a telharmonium.[11] Farrar later recollected that she accompanied an unnamed "woman reporter" to visit the Parker Building facility. De Forest found out that she was a professional singer, so he invited her to sing into the crude transmitter. According to her, "I sang two favorites by Carrie Jacobs Bond--I Love You Truly and Just A'Wearying For You."[2]

In contrast to Farrar's more detailed accounts, Lee de Forest provided little information about her 1907 broadcast. In 1925 Radio News magazine ran an extensive multi-part biographical series, but it does not mention the Farrar broadcast.[12] A second detailed accounting of de Forest's life ran in 1942 in the Saturday Evening Post, but this also has no information.[13] In his 1950 autobiography, de Forest makes only a passing reference to the broadcast, stating: "The equipment was put on board the battleships in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and final tests were made on the eve of the ships' departure from New England waters. It was on that occasion that the first human voice actually sang into the radiotelephone transmitter. A handsome contralto singer by the name of Van Boos was invited to my laboratory to sing. The song she selected for this occasion was, I Love You Truly. It was heard by operators Smith and Wallace in the Brooklyn Navy Yard."[14]

Some accounts state that after Farrar's singing was heard by radio operators at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, they contacted the New York Herald, which ran a short review which was read by de Forest. However, no Herald article reviewing the broadcast has been found, which has led to doubts about its existence.[15] Moreover, in his autobiography de Forest does not mention seeing a Herald article reporting the broadcast, although in the book's previous paragraph he had quoted a September Herald article announcing the Great White Fleet installations.[16]

Although Farrar stated that her broadcast took place in the month of October,[2] the lack of a contemporary report has led to various dates being suggested, including February 1907,[17] a "Spring afternoon",[18] and December 16, 1907.[19] Also, in their individual accounts Farrar and Lee de Forest both stated that the broadcast originated from de Forest's Parker Building laboratory. However, other sources have placed the origin as the Brooklyn Navy Yard,[19] from aboard the Dolphin,[20] or from the Great White Fleet's flagship, Connecticut.[21]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Countess Farrar to Sing at Military Park Here", Newark (New Jersey) Evening Star, August 5, 1911, page 12.
  2. ^ a b c d "I Was First to Sing Over the Radio" by Eugenia H. Farrar, The American Swedish Monthly, January 1955, pages 10, 26
  3. ^ a b Countess Von Boos to Sing for Jr. O.U.A.M. Tonight", Newark (New Jersey) Evening Star, December 19, 1911, page 6.
  4. ^ a b c "Countess Obtains Absolute Divorce", Detroit Times, December 14, 1909, page 5.
  5. ^ "Countess Von Boos Farrar and Her Pet Philanthropy", Detroit Times, April 3, 1908, page 5.
  6. ^ "Angel of the Tombs Voluntary Bankrupt", Moscow (Idaho) Star-Mirror, April 10, 1916, page 2.
  7. ^ "This Is Your Life: Radio and TV Episode List" (classictvinfo.com)
  8. ^ "Society of Wireless Pioneers: Membership Application & History Sheet: Oliver A. Wyckoff, Sr." (pdf), July 30, 1969.
  9. ^ "Mrs. Eugenia von Boos" (obituary), New York Times, May 18, 1966, page 46.
  10. ^ "Eugenia’s Got A Brand New Urn" by Jeff Richman, July 29, 2013.
  11. ^ "Wireless 'Phone Transmits Music", New York Herald, March 7, 1907, page 8.
  12. ^ "The Life and Work of Lee DeForest" (Part IX), Radio News June 1925, pages 2213, 2325.
  13. ^ "'Magnificent Failure'" by Samuel Lubell, Saturday Evening Post, January 24, 1942, page 38.
  14. ^ Father of Radio by Lee de Forest (autobiography), 1950, pages 232-233.
  15. ^ "Media-Technology and Opera History: Opera, the Navy and Radio" by Mark Schubin, August 16, 2016.
  16. ^ "Wireless Telephones For War Ship Fleet to be Installed at Once", New York Herald, September 7, 1907, page 2.
  17. ^ "Singers on Radio" section by J. M. Dempsey, The Museum of Broadcast Communications Encyclopedia of Radio, 2004, page 1272.
  18. ^ "And an Angel Sang!" by Dick Dorrance, Radio Guide, August 18, 1939, page 12.
  19. ^ a b "In the United States, the first... Singer to Broadcast" entry, Famous First Facts by Joseph Nathan Kane, Fourth Edition (1981)
  20. ^ "Wavescan N282: Ancient DX Report 1907", Adventist World Radio, July 20, 2014.
  21. ^ Radio Broadcasting: A History of the Airwaves by Gordon Bathgate, 2020, page 22.