by Joan Boer
Firefighters here muttered darkly Tuesday
over another challenge
To their famous light bulb, listed as world's oldest for several
Now in the Guinness Book of Records.
The challenge was revealed in a letter to
this newspaper from
Norris D. McWhirter, editor of Guinness Superlatives Limited,
Who had recently heard from a "disbelieving New Yorker."
"He says that it is 'impossible' that
the world's most durable
light burning in the Livermore Fire Station since 1901 is
genuine," McWhirter wrote.
"He seems to rest his case on the bulb
socket holder not
being of brass and also something technical about the
wattage," McWhirter continued with charcteristic British
He wanted to know if there had been "any
On this long-runing story, either regarding authenticity or in-
"Does the light still burn?" he
It burns, McWhirter, it burns. What's more,
folks around here
Are sure it's been burning continuously for 82 years.
McWhirter's correspondent turned out to be
one Jack Gasnick,
Proprietor of Gasnick Building Supply in New York City and
Owner of a pushy little city-slicker of a bulb burning since
He even tried to tell Abby our bulb had burned
Fire Chief Mike Sample rose to the occasion
then. In an
Illuminating letter to Dear Abbby dted Sept. 8, 1981, Sample
Said he hoped Gasnick wouldn't "blow a fuse," but that
To "dim his hopes" by reporting that the Livermore
Foiled, Gasnick has now taken another tack:
In a telephone
Interview Tuesday, the ambitious bulb-owner admitted he'd
Written to Guinness behind Livermore's back.
He said he's a mechanical engineer, one who
He said a picture of Livermore's bulb shows
it has a brass
Socket, and charged that would make it too hot to handle after
This time, contrary to a picture he once saw of someone
Reverently fingering the local heriloom.
Gasnick also said that the bulb rightfully
should have shown
Signs of carbonization, but he could detect no blackening of
Bulb in blowups he'd made of newspaper photos.
"Why isn't the carbon there?" he
demanded to know in an
insistent tone. "That's very, very disastrous to what the
is," he said with a hint of triumph.
Even if the bulb has dwindled to a dim five
watts, it should
Show some carbonization, he said. Butmaybe he just
Couldn't see it in the news photos. "If it's there. I'll
Gasnick added in a last-minute show of generosity. "If not,
A check of the bulb Tuesday failed to show
whatsoever. On the other hand, Gasnick's says his own bulb
Is filthy inside, and that seems to him adequate proof of its
Gasnick, 62, added that his bulb has been
burning ever since
He can remember, at least since about 1912 when his father
Bought it from Edison Bulbs. He backed that up by citing
Company records of business dealings with Edison.
But Livermore's historical record is at least
Several long-time firefighters have testified to the bulb's
Steady glow since before 1910, recalling it was a gift from
One Dennis Bernal.
Bernal's daughter, the late Zylpha Beck, confirmed
Her death in 1980, that her father gave the bulb to the fire
Department when he sold his Livermore Power and Light
Co. in 1901.
It has been a dutiful, if unimpressive, beacon
Except during power failures, the times the department
Moved and once when a Roosevelt-era WPA did a re-
You can view it today, glowing shyly at the
end of a cord
Dangling from the ceiling of Fire Station One on East Avenue.
After examining photos of the bulb, experts
Electric Co. have concluded the bulb was a hand-blown
Specimen once made by Shelby Electric Company.
The curly filament inside the bulb is made
They explained, which may help account for its
Contributing factors include the small amount
Generated by its tiny glow, and its steady burning.