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What is the Mojave Phone Booth?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Mojave Phone Booth was a payphone booth located in the Mojave National Preserve in California which attracted a great deal of public attention in the late 1990s. The legacy of the famous phone booth lives on in numerous websites and in several films documenting the history of the phone booth and the people who contributed to its popularity. This ultimately ended up being its downfall.

The phone booth was installed in 1960 near Baker, California, a small and rather remote area. Notably, the Mojave Phone Booth was put in an extremely remote area, quite a distance from the interstate and human habitation, and it was probably used infrequently until 1997, when several people stumbled across it and thought it was an interesting curiosity, given its remote location. The phone booth's number was published, and its brief popularity began.

A number of people started calling the Mojave Phone Booth, in the hopes of talking to people who happened to randomly be in the area, and recordings of these calls were made and circulated. People also traveled to the phone booth to make and receive calls, since it had become something of a cult landmark. The phone booth came to be slowly decorated with graffiti and commentary from visitors who wanted to leave their mark.

In 2000, the Mojave Phone Booth was removed by Pacific Bell at the request of the National Parks Service. The Parks Service claimed that the popularity of the phone booth was causing a negative environmental impact in the area, as visitors failed to clean up after themselves. Fans of the Mojave Phone Booth have suggested that there is a more sinister conspiracy involved in the phone booth's vanishing act. They installed a plaque on the site, which was later removed, and memorialized the phone booth online in a number of locations.

The disappearance of the Mojave Phone Booth took place within the larger framework of a slow dismantling of the payphone system in America. Many phone companies have abandoned the payphone business because it is no longer profitable, leaving their phones behind to become vandalized and useless, and other firms have been contracted to either take over these phones or remove them. Payphones across the US are being decommissioned, making it rather challenging to find a working payphone, something which fans of the payphone find greatly upsetting.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon332667 — On Apr 30, 2013

My wife and I were two of those people who went there to answer the phone. In 12 hours over two days, we recorded 178 calls from a drunken bunch of people in Poland and a polite girl in Switzerland, to a little old house-bound lady in Los Angeles who called once a day as her way of not feeling trapped. This was no digital dream. The entire planet reached out to us in analog, live, real-time and we got to touch them back. One of the most magical moments I've ever had.

By anon279414 — On Jul 12, 2012

At least just the art deco object, the phone booth should have been preserved. Sponsorships could be had from different corporations and businessman. Even online fund raising could have done the trick. Something that creates curiosity and excitement in the human mind should be there for everyone to see and enjoy, not to be destroyed for the sake of some other issue.

By anon31219 — On May 01, 2009

Think? We don't do that anymore. We just trust the Government to do what's right for us, cause they know best.

By ampersand — On May 01, 2009

Given the extent of remote areas, the probability of stumbling across a pay phone in a crisis is exceedingly low. The pay phones would become oddities and most likely either receive the same treatment as the Mojave phone booth, or be neglected completely. The cost of installing and maintaining the remote phone booths would not be justified by the returns.

By anon31146 — On Apr 30, 2009

I can understand the National Park's concern re cleanup, but what if one is traveling in a remote area and needs help and the cell phone can't find a signal? I'm thinking of the payphone booth as a safety measure. What do you all think?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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