If you recognize Craig Wirth, you probably remember him as a television reporter for NBC Overnight or for his Wirth Watching reports on Salt Lake tv, exploring the comedy of the mundane. Soap opera fans, may remember him as the florist, Mr. Lancaster, on the Young and the Restless. As a journalist, Craig has covered everything from the Berlin Wall's collapse to punk hairdos in New York City. From the Soviet Union to Japan to East Germany, Craig has covered news all over the globe.
But you only have to go as far as his home in Summit Park to get a taste of days gone by. Movie projectors, gramophones and old newspapers fill his house--it is, in a sense, his own time museum. Craig has collected everything from old beer cans to baseball gloves, from comic books to old radios and phonographs. He doesn't have the latest sound system or a high definition television, but he does have a version of the first electric radio from 1928 sitting in his living room. Next to his laptop is a black rotary dial phone from the 1930s and parked in Wirth's garage is his pride and joy: a buttery yellow 1932 Packard, fully equipped with a rumble seat and side view mirrors strapped to the spare tires.
Craig doesn't know exactly why he collects, but he does admit he has little willpower to resist buying when he sees a relic that captures the past. The Packard purchase was just one of those impulse buys that he can't really explain. "I was doing a story at a guy's house and it had nothing to do with the Packard; he opened up his garage door and there was the Packard," Craig recounts, "Something made me say, 'I would like your car.'" He didn't even ask if the car was for sale but, transfixed by the automobile, he knew he had to own it. The next thing Craig knew, he was down at the bank asking the teller for enough twenties to cover the price of the car (the owner insisted on being paid with 20 dollar bills). The next day Craig drove off in a car that served him no practical purpose.
Wirth lived in an apartment at the time and didn't even have a place to park it. "It was like buying a Rose Bowl Parade float...there is really not a lot you could do with it," Craig explained. A few days later, he offered to lease the car to his employers at KTVX, Channel 4 to do history reports on Utah. They accepted the offer and the car became a symbol for his reports on Utah s Centennial. The rest is history.
His inability to resist keeps him buying anything that gives him a taste of those wonderful and adventurous times. "I have purchased the darndest stuff. I have dozens of old 1930s movie posters. Anything with the 30s, I have no problem buying, I don't know what it is."
For Craig the 30s was a time when people lived on the edge: "When you took off in an airplane, you really didn't know if and when you would land...well, you figured you would land, but would it be where you wanted it to be? If you went skiing you didn't know if you would make it down the hill in one piece."
Actors, authors and musicians made it back then because they had talent and a work ethic and maybe just a good idea. Politicians were elected on their ideas and beliefs, not like today, where who you know and who supports you, makes or breaks a race. Now we live in a time where Pokemon, Spice Girls and McDonald's have reached the pinnacles of success; not because they are great inventions, but because of the way the way the companies sell their product. It is a time where a product's quality is immaterial and mass-marketing is a prerequisite for success, not talent or work. Back then, branding and cross-marketing were practices not yet tapped by capitalists.
"Decisions are made for you today, it's all who do you brand with and where, if you're a movie company, which food company is going to give out the cups with your name on it, it's who is going to market you that makes the difference of whether or not you are going to sell records or CDs."
But to understand his fascination with the past, Craig explains another connection that started in his childhood. If you look closely at his collection, you will eventually notice a pencil sitting on a phonograph with the name Thomas Edison lettered on. It is this three-inch writing utensil that gives Craig his greatest link to the past.
The pencil belonged to Edison and it was in the inventor's pocket when he passed away in 1931. Craig was born on the same day as Edison and his dog bears the inventor's namesake. As far back as he can remember, Craig has had a deep admiration, perhaps even an obsession with Edison. During his elementary school days, he voraciously read every encyclopedia and book about the great inventor.
"As a kid, I used to write all my papers on Edison, all my English papers were on why Shakespeare wasn't as good as Thomas Edison," Craig remembers. On the playground, one day, he and some friends started talking about reincarnation and Craig boldly announced that he was the reincarnated soul of the man who died with over a thousand patents to his name--phonographs, light bulbs and hundreds of other electrical applications.
Years later, Craig was assigned to do a report on the Thomas Edison museum in New Jersey. On their way to the museum, he told his photographer of this past life connection to Edison, who thought that was pretty funny. But when the tour guide took them into a laboratory, Craig's fantasy didn't seem so farfetched. The tour guide explained that the lab had been restored to the way it had been when Edison worked there. But Craig interrupted the tour and pointed to a blank wall, "No, there was a back door right here."
Skeptical of Wirth's comment, the museum curator pulled out the old blueprints for the lab and...sure enough, there was a back door exactly where Craig had indicated. Next, he told the museum personnel that Edison had performed his golden rod experiments in this room. The staff nodded; he was right again. Over the years, he developed a strong relationship with the museum and the staff eventually gave him the lettered pencil that was in the inventor s pocket when he died.
"I don't really recall carrying this pencil, so it probably puts a hole in my theory of being Thomas Edison reincarnated, but it makes for a good story."
If Craig Wirth wasn't the great inventor in a past life, he still has a great admiration for the man, who failed far more times than he succeeded. "He probably would have been fired from every company today because he wasted money doing experiments that had a very small chance of succeeding. But he dreamed; he thought ahead. Can you imagine running a company today where you are experimenting on something that you hope you can develop in 15 years? Today if you don't have something to show for your work in 15 minutes, you're out of there.
"So, I admire the fact that he had that sense of looking ahead and saying 'I could care less if this doesn't work.'"
And it's Edison s sense of vision that keeps Craig looking back to a time that seems just a little simpler.