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The Mojave Phone Booth was a solitary phone booth located in the Mojave National Preserve in California. After the number for it spread online in the late 1990s, people began to call the booth as well as visit it, camping out with the hope of answering a call. Though the booth was removed in 2000, the number was revived in 2013 by a white hat hacker who redirected it to a conference call system.
In May 1997, a blogger known as Deuce of Clubs received a copy of the independent zine Wig Out! at a show for the punk band Girl Trouble. In the Letters to the Editor section, a letter from Californian Mr. N. described a telephone located in the middle of the Mojave desert, 15 miles from the main highway. After going on a trek to find it, he learned the booth was put there after World War II for the people working in a nearby mine that ceased operations in the 1960s. Finding that it was still operational, Mr. N provided the number, (619) 733-9969, for anyone interested in calling. The number later changed area codes from (619) to (760).
Deuce of Clubs began calling the number every day for approximately a month before someone answered the phone. Soon after, he launched a website dedicated to the phone booth to share his personal calling experiences as well as draw more attention to the lone booth.
Deuce of Clubs made several pilgrimages to the booth between August 1997 and July 1999, chronicling each one with photographs on his website. In On September 18th, 1999 The LA Times ran a feature story on the phone booth, noting its popularity online. In November 1999, the fan site Cinder Peak Phone was created, giving the booth a new nickname. In January 2000, the booth’s story was featured on Salon.
In May 2000, superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve, Mary G. Martin, ordered that the booth be removed. Despite appeals from fans, including an online petition, the booth was removed on May 17th. In a joint statement from the National Park Service and Pacific Bell, the “increased public traffic had a negative impact on the desert environment” giving them no choice but to remove it. The removal made headlines on the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian and the Detroit Free Press that month. In October 2000, Desert Tripper created a page as an ode to the booth, sharing photos of a memorial (shown below, left) made with volcanic cinder by its remains (shown below, right).
In 2006, an independent film titled Mojave Phone Booth was released, weaving the tales of four people whose lives are connected due to the booth. The film won twelve awards at film festivals in 2006 and 2007, including two Best Feature awards and two Best Screenplay awards. However, as of August 2013, the film has only received a 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
On July 31st, 2013, white-hat hacker and phone phreak Jered Morgan announced on the Hacker Quarterly 2600 Facebook page that he had managed to resurrect the phone number (760) 733-9969 as a conference call system. Initially, callers were asked to “insert a quarter,” code for inputting special tones, but it now goes straight through. Morgan told the Daily Dot that a group of phreaks had been waiting for the number to be vacated since May 2000. After it was ported out to a local exchange carrier in March 2013, he ordered the number along with other numbers in the -99xx range.
Mitch Alboum – Detroit Free Press: The Web Giveth, The Web Taketh