To people at the turn of the twentieth century, phonographs must have seemed…magical. They transported voices from different times, far-away places…and even beyond the grave.
This voice belongs to Pope Leo the thirteenth, who recorded the “Ave Maria” months before his death in 1903. It was released soon afterwards, leading to the dramatic advertisement “Science Triumphs Over Death! The Living Words of Pope Leo the thirteenth.”
Some of the rarest of these early recordings were made by wealthy New York socialite Gianni Bettini whose social standing got him in the door with politicians, celebrities, and…the occasional Pope.
A typical cylinder of the time sold for about fifty cents. Bettini, marketing to a slightly different crowd, sold his for six dollars, about a hundred and forty bucks today.
Pope Leo’s voice occupies another very special place in recorded history: he was the first Pope to be recorded on video as well. The clip below features Leo in 1896, seven years before the Bettini cylinder.