While getting together addresses and information to send out free copies of the documentary to interviewees, I have discovered the sad news that one of them, John Sheetz of New Jersey (K2AGI), passed away in January of this year.
Mr. Sheetz was a complete shot in the dark for me, interview-wise; in trying to make an episode about using BBSes for artwork, I wanted to show that this urge and approach was around long before people were using modems to connect to each other. I looked out on the internet and found out there had been Teletype art contests going back some time, which were run by Don Royer and others, and which were massive in scale. Mr. Royer had died some time ago, but Mr. Sheetz was around and when I called, he was obviously a little confused as to why I contacted him and the subject matter of this documentary, but he agreed to be interviewed for it.
I drove from Boston to his home in New Jersey, which also confused him (“You came all this way just to talk to me?”), but I saw that he had made the massive effort of bringing out stacks and stacks of Teletype art for me to see and take pictures of. I took a bunch of shots and then sat with him for an hour interview.
We talked about how all this art had come about, about the process of creating it using the technology of the time, and the unique ways people could use ham radio to send these pictures around. He talked about his own attempts to create these artworks, how a local business got in trouble using Peanuts Characters in teletype form for christmas calendars, and a bunch of other great stories.
We also checked out his garage and his old teletype machines which he still had. I took photos of these as well.
His interview made the perfect introduction to the ARTSCENE episode, and in fact a good 5 minutes of Mr. Sheetz discussing teletype art is in the documentary. He is one of the longest appearances of the 200+ interviews.
After interviewing Mr. Sheetz, I went into further interviews and editing, and we never talked again. I don’t know what he thought of the strange guy with long hair and the camera equipment who came to his house for a few hours one morning, but I thought he was a great person and worth every mile of the hundreds I drove to see him.
When a Ham passes away, he or she becomes known as a “Silent Key”, because you will not hear their call sign over the air again. I am truly sorry that he never got to see himself on film.
On the other hand, this is precisely why I started this documentary project in the first place. In 2005, there is no John Sheetz to talk about teletype and telegraph art. There won’t be in 2006, either, or beyond. The only regret I have is we talked for a mere hour, because my documentary was about a specific subject. I didn’t talk to him about his decades of being a ham, or his years working at Bell Telephone, or any of a bunch of other subjects that I wonder are now lost to time.
I try not to think about what’s happened to all those reams of teletype art he spent decades collecting.
We stand on crumbling sand.
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