Ghost Sites of the Web

Web 1.0 history, forgotten web celebrities, old web sites, commentary, and news by Steve Baldwin. Published erratically since 1996.

October 30, 2007 A Decaying Bone in the Craw of the Internet, a Decaying Bone in the Craw of the Internet, Shows Advanced DecayMirsky (and I never really learned his first name: sometimes it was Phillip, sometimes it was David, most of the time it was omitted) was one of those Ivy League-educated Kerouacian madmen who "burn, burn like fabulous roman candles" extinguishing themselves long before we even have an inkling that they exist. In Mirsky's case, bright-white fame came from the launch of his infamous "Mirsky's Worst Of The Web," in January of 1995, long before negativity became an authentic and bankable meme on the World Wide Web. But a deluge of hate mail caused him to stop producing WOTW by late 1996, passing the negativity baton to others (including this site).

Mirsky drifted for a few months, and even hooked up with the hapless crew for several months, producing strange, often-misunderstood ideas for commercial websites before he drifted back into self-styled obscurity. In November of 1999, his site announced what millions had waited for: a comeback in the form of a new site, featuring a line of completely blank T-shirts.

We all held our breath, and are still holding it, for eight years later, Mirsky's main site ( and, which featured a haunting audio track entitled "Lament for Maiden in Mirsk t" (Irish Folk Song Traditional) are, in Ghost Sites parlance, "dead, showing advanced decay. Mirsky, like other Forgotten Web Celebrities, has quietly turned his back on the Web's clamorous multitudes, and I imagine him drifting somewhere in the West, lost in the purple shadows, drawing his cartoons in the shifting sands.

He could have been rich, he could have been a kingmaker, he could have been Cyber-Seinfeld, but he chose, for reasons that he would never share, to simply be alone, a strength that the rest of us will never know.

Wikipedia has a good page on Mirsky at:'s_Worst_of_the_Web. Thanks to Bill Lessard, of, for pointing out the rubble of Mirsky's legendary electrons.

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August 30, 2007

WebJunk.TV Dies an Annoying Death

WebJunk.TV is one with the ages.
WebJunk.TV was a site supporting the VH1 series of the same name. In a message date-stamped June 15, 2007, WebJunk.TV announced that it is "going away for awhile," and that a new show/site called "WebStars" will take its place. The site has now disappeared completely, yielding a "site not found message." This is actually pretty lousy practice on the part of Viacom: why not keep the old site up and simply redirect it to the new one? I guess Viacom's Web team needs a refresher in SEO 101.

I actually saw the WebJunk show once or twice back in the days when I watched broadcast/cable television (today, I either watch YouTube or don't watch anything). I found the program incredibly annoying to watch, and it appears I'm not alone. Watching a television show about the Web is damned boring, whereas reading a Web site about television shows isn't so bad. Hmm - I wonder why that is?

In defense of WebJunk.TV, it did actually break some news this year by finding the elusive Forgotten Web Celebrity Jennifer Ringley, about whom I've written about on this site. Ringley is evidently employed and living somewhere in California as a Netslave... I mean, as a Web Developer. This is the first bona fide sighting of Ms. Ringley since she abandoned her famed Jennicam in early 2004.

You can watch a clip on IFilm devoted to Jennifer Ringley but again, the WebJunk TV show is so damned irritating that you have a good chance of breaking out in a rash. Only do this if you're still obsessed with Jenni or are a hard-core Internet Historian.

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June 29, 2007

Forgotten Web Celebrity Sighting:'s Mark Mc Elwain

I received a message very late last night that Mark Mc Elwain, one of Ghost Sites' Forgotten Web Celebrities and the former proprietor of the infamous Reality Voicemail site (which is no longer active but lives on at the Internet Archive) is still alive, still residing and working somewhere in the Southwest, and is happily dating at least one mentally healthy person of the opposite gender.

I am always happy to learn that people who have done significant things on the Web but then have inexplicably disappeared are in fact alive and well.

For more on Mark McElwain and the Great Controversy of 2001, read:

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June 02, 2005

Forgotten Web Celebrities: Courtney Pulitzer

Once upon a time, a woman named Courtney Pulitzer, descendant of the famed journalist Joseph Pulitzer, became the most influential woman in Silicon Alley, and the most important Web Celebrity in New York.

Her beginnings were modest: in the early 1990's, she'd been a Web designer working for a small company with a couple of Madison Avenue clients. Shortly thereafter, she wrote a social column for @NY, a New York-based technology magazine with no real circulation beyond its Web site. But on August 9, 1995, Netscape went public, opening up an invisible channel linking the billions of dollars gathering lint in the pockets of Wall Street brokers with the Manhattan-based, mouse-wielding entrepreneurs who bravely stepped forward to spend it.

Music and revolution were in the air, and Courtney, pounding out her social column in her cramped cube, could clearly sense the changes in Manhattan's mood. One night, she ventured out into the darkness to sample this new world, awash in money, sex, and the sweet madness that only gathers when fabulously wealthy young people stride into the night to claim it as their own.

Being an attractive woman in a world where most men's experience of females came from the thumb-smeared advice columns of Maxim or the pixelated images of hard-core porn sites, Courtney found it easy to infiltrate the lavish parties given by freshly-minted Alley-based startups. She began carrying a notebook, and jotted down who was seen with whom, what they ate, what they drank, and what they talked about. She transferred her musings into an email newsletter she named The Cyber Scene and began firing it out to people she knew.

To the socially-starved geeks of New York, The Cyber Scene newsletter was a refreshing alternative to the flame wars, sanctimonious posturing, and mind-numbing, nit-picking technical squabbles that were endemic on New York's New Media mailing lists. The Cyber Scene's writing might have seemed goofy to those whose only daily chuckle came from studying broken IP packets, but most people loved it because it gave to each of them the sense that they weren't just cube-bound Netslaves trapped in a world of bits, but members of a "scene" with a world-historical mission. Membership soared and The Cyber Scene quickly became the most widely-forwarded newsletter in Silicon Alley.

For the next year, like some latter-day reincarnation of J.J. Hunsecker or Walter Winchell, Courtney Pulitzer raced up and down Manhattan in a limousine, chronicling the gin-soaked, IPO-stoked hedonism of New York's ascendant class of 20-somethings, telling told the world Who was Who. Her breathlessly hectic nightly journeys were best documented in a Business Week article entitled "Six Parties a Night? It's a Living."

But going to other people's parties wasn't enough for Courtney. She soon launched her own branded parties, dubbed "Cocktails with Courtney." These parties glued together the money men, the mouse-and-modem men, and the young women with dollar signs in their eyes who hoped to hook up with them, no matter how drunk they got, and were an instant success among the paper-rich and cyber-horny.

People - those with money and those who wanted it - flocked to the parties, and soon Pulitzer had become a Web celebrity in her own right. "In just a year," wrote Red Herring, "rubbing shoulders with Ms. Pulitzer and her cohorts has become a de rigeur for established executives and hopeful entrepreneurs alike." Wrote Business 2.0: "Courtney's monthly cocktail event is known as the newcomers' first stop when making their way inside the business and social network of the alley."

At the height of her fame as "hostess to tomorrow's billionaires," The New Yorker, whose coverage of the Internet had always been execrable, ran a full-page spread of her wearing a full-length, fire-engine red evening gown. At a black-tie dinner, Mayor Rudi Guiliani called her "Manhattan's Breath of Fresh Air." Soon she was hosting parties not just in New York, but in Atlanta, Boston and San Francisco. America seemed completely smitten by her hospitality -- would not the world be next?

Of course, that's not the way it worked out. When the NASDAQ peaked and fell in March of 2000, all of the partying stopped, and the big Internet hangover began. For someone like Courtney Pulitzer, who had done nothing to challenge the media's definition of her as "Silicon Alley's ultimate party girl," her suffering must have been acute.

Still, she tried to persevere. She turned her back on the party scene and tried to organize nanotechnology conferences. She archived the many hundreds of pictures taken at her parties and offered them to the world as a gift. She even launched a site called, a wistful gesture to a world that no longer cared about her.

Her own site, Courtney Pulitzer Creations, is looking more than a little melencholy these days. CyberScene TV, a cable TV channel she attempted to launch, is completely dysfunctional and replete with broken links., a site prominently linked to from within her site, has been decomissioned. Her press clips area has not been updated in five years. And perhaps most sadly, her most recent CyberScene newsletter bears the date stamp of August 6th, 2004.

To many, Courtney Pulitzer is an unforgivable icon of yesterday: a painful time which the world, especially those still active in the technology industry, would prefer to pretend never happened. But those who witnessed the once-in-a-lifetime madness that overtook New York in the late 1990's, a hallucinogenic fever which had not happened since the Jazz age, will never forget her.

She beyond all the others realized that the real business of networking has nothing to do with RJ-45 connectors or Ethernet cards or Web sites or business plans, but with people, flawed, driven, desperately lonely, crowded into tight spaces, played upon by dancing blue lights, intoxicated by liquor, speaking in strange tongues of the future: America's one and only real God, that invisible force that can be placated only by work, a smile and a handshake, or a well-placed bet on a Lotto ticket or a penny-stock.

Times and technologies may change, but the principle that Courtney Pulitzer discovered is forever unalterable. Using nothing more high-tech than old-fashioned gossip, an unquenchable instinct to party and a brilliant smile, she was the one who made much of what became New York's New Media scene happen for as long a time as Fate would allow it.

Unfortunately, as Walter Winchell noted, "nothing recedes like success."

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May 26, 2005

Forgotten Web Celebrities: Cybergrrl's Aliza Sherman

If you buttonhole a young person on a Manhattan street corner today and ask her "hey - what do you think of Aliza Sherman," you'll be greeted with a blank stare. But ten years ago, Aliza Sherman's name danced about the lips of everyone who mattered in the superheated temples of New York's New Media industry, and if she ever deigned to grace you with her presence on a panel, you knew you were blessed, for Aliza was the "it" girl of Cyberspace.

It all began in 1995, back when compelling Web content was as thin as the hairs on a baby's ass, when Aliza launched three sites,,, and, all of which presaged the much larger, more cynically calculated, bigger-budgeted gender-specific properties such as iVillage,, and Oxygen Media that would roll out in the next few years.

In 1998, Aliza wrote an influential book, much derided but also much beloved, called "Cybergrrl! A Woman's guide to the World Wide Web," a topic which was perfect fodder for the mainstream media, which was desperate to print Web-oriented stories that steered clear of the obvious, painful truth about the technology business: in the main, it consisted of surly, burly, blue-shirted male geeks with Paleolithic social skills.

Aliza Sherman's story -- the fact that women were important and didn't have to be intimidated by all that male-oriented, hierarchically-architected directory tree nonsense underlying the Web -- was like a breath of fresh air in a stale locker room, and quite naturally, the media went wild: "It's a man's world out there in cyberspace," wrote the Wall Street Journal, "but not if Aliza Sherman has anything to say about it." Newsweek went even further, anointing her as "one of the "Top 50 People Who Matter Most on the Internet."

For the next five years, Aliza Sherman had a wild ride. She acquired a talent agent, a literary agent, a publicist, and her name and visage soon appeared in People, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, US News And World Report, CBS This Morning and CNN. She ran a large gender-specific network called "Cybergrrls" with 100 local affiliates. Books, articles, and quips flowed out of her like elixer from an endlessly bubbling fountain. She dabbled in performance art, appearing with newly minted Web celebrities Kyle Shannon, Steven Johnson, Jason McCabe Calacanis, Austin Bunn, Stacy Horn, and Omar Wasow at The First Annual Silicon Alley Talent Show. She began wearing a hot pink cape around Manhattan; on one memorable occasion, on Wall Street, she stripped off her Armani business suit and revealed the cape to a stunned crowd, running her hands over it as if she were stroking the future itself.

Then, on a dark morning in March, 2000, when the NASDAQ took its first precipitous dip towards the stygian depths, her once-glittering career hit the very same wall that pulverized the dreams of so many first-generation cyber-visionaries. Suddenly, and it seemed to happen in mere moments, Aliza Sherman no longer mattered, nor did the Web, nor Silicon Alley, nor anything at all save for the nauseating, sucking sound of trillions of dollars of paper wealth being pulled down the great interactive sinkhole.

Standing amidst the rubble of her cyber-career, aware that in New York, those whose identities are defined by yesterday's hottest crazes might as well be dead and buried, Aliza made what in retrospect was her smartest career move: she left town and moved to a place about as far from cyber-hype as you can get: Alaska.

Unlike other forgotten Web celebrities, Aliza has proven she's not a one-trick pony. In the years since her self-imposed exile from New York, she's branched out considerably, writing books on non-Internet topics such as adoption, violence against women, miscarriage, and other topics, and producing radio segments for her local NPR affiliate and documentary films on how global warming is affecting Alaska.

"I always wanted to get away," Aliza told a USA Reporter in late 2000, and while it's hard to believe that she wouldn't have stayed in Gotham had not the fortunes of the entire I-generation turned so irredeemably sour, one can hardly argue with her choice. Frankly, if more Silicon Alley people had followed her example, far fewer of them would have been driven insane or into the depths of drink or antidepressant drugs.


May 19, 2004

Forgotten Web Celebrities:'s Jennifer Ringley

(Article updated 8/28/2007) Embedded in the Web's crumbling walk of cyber-fame there are many stars. But none glowed so brightly and for so long as Jennifer Ringley, best known as "Jenni" of the Jennicam. For seven long years she lived with a Webcam, drew worldwide adulation, but then, in December of 2003, summarily shut down her camera and disappeared from cyberspace as mysteriously as a goddess summoned back to Valhalla.

More has likely been written about Ringley and her Web cam than anyone short of Bill Gates or Tim Berners-Lee. One journalist credited her with being the "inventor of reality television" and there is more than a shred of truth in this observation. Long before the genre had been conceived as a bankable concept in the U.S., Ringley was proving its worth on the Web, and she was doing it in 1997, years before Survivor, Mad House, or The Apprentice.

Feminist academics wrote that the Jennicam represented a "complex dialectic between woman as subject and woman as object, woman as both consumer and consumed." Others placed the Jennicam in the pantheon of Conceptual Art, a genre pioneered in the early 1970's by such artists as Sol Lewitt and Gilbert and George.

But CNN best put her experiment in the language of the masses: "Ringley is the "Ed" of the Internet. She has dedicated her life to being an open book, a voluntarily Orwellian existence that allows strangers a peek of her at the height of passion, or more likely, sitting in front of her computer, staring blankly at the screen as she works at her real job, a freelance gig designing Web sites." Even The National Review - a publication not renowned for its technology coverage or for the hyping of cyber-trends, called her "The Milton Berle of the Web," in other words, a genuine pioneer in a nascent medium whose form was molten, uncertain, and mind-boggling.

At her peak in the early 21st Century, Ringley, newly anointed "The Darling of the Internet," reportedly attracted more than 100 million visitors a week. Incredibly, the word "Jennicam" was at one point a more popular search term on than "Linux." (When this fact became known among porn vendors, the use of the term "Jennicam" became a widespread Metatag-based scam used to lure fans of the Jennicam to hard-core porn sites. Even today, there are many such sites whose Metatags contain the word "Jennicam" - an odd but not unique case of meta-information outliving the information to which it originally (and erroneously) referred).

Within just a few years, Ringley's Jennicam had became a worldwide brand (although not a universally beloved one. As one critic noted, "the only thing really being published at is pictures of empty chairs, empty rooms, empty walls, or sleeping jennis"). But mention the term "Jennicam" to anyone today outside of Media Studies departments, and you are likely to receive as many blank stares as you'd get by mentioning "Moxie" or Burma-Shave, or LaSalle.

What accounts for the forgetfulness of world-hyped aesthetic revolutions of just a few years past? Are we so overloaded by information that we are now suffering the social equivalent of Alzheimer's syndrome? Perhaps the spirit and temper of the world of 1997 through 2000 - the one in which the Jennicam resided - is so radically discontinuous to that of our own time, in which images of mass murder, political scandal, and nightmarish terror assault us each day, that we literally cannot recall that such a time existed. Perhaps we are ashamed of having even being alive in such an era, one typified by the kind of "cool" subjectivity shown in this random sample from's diary section:

Anyway, given that it's now after 4 in the afternoon and so far I've done nothing more than having breakfast and finishing this journal, I probably ought to try to make myself useful. Not much time to get all this work done before I head back out on my last planned travel for a while (though I'll probably be in Pennsylvania for a few days in either February or March for the filming of the movie Hollywood PA - I should find out more about that at my meeting on Monday), and the great thing about the Shout2000 trip to San Francisco is that my Ricochet should work from a lot of places around there. We're spending the last two days with our friend Courtney, since the company would only pay for two nights of hotel and we're going to be there four, and she lives in Sacramento where Ricochet may not work, but I'll still have the cam up from her home (though she has a cam site of her own as well - these things breed like bunnies!). So anyway, the laptop seems to now be functioning 100%, so I'm praying this trip goes off without a hitch. I'm off to pick up my mail and try to get some vacuuming done. Until tomorrow...

Was this kind of passage an exercise in high-concept minimalism? Well, maybe. Or was it just low-concept, or maybe even no-concept exhibitionism steeped in banal self-indulgence? Well maybe that too. One could never be sure - and this ambiguity, based in the user's own clammy sense of insecurity, a direct product of cyber-voyeurship, was central to the experience of the Jennicam. Jenni knew why she was there, shimmering on your screen - Web cams really didn't seem to bother her one whit. But what were you doing there? Who were you, anyway? A connoisseur of conceptual art? A craven, oversexed geek looking for porn? A lonely nerd looking for a friend? One could not be a party to Ringley's seven-year non-event without having the Jennicam experience reflect directly onto the dark contours of one's own soul, and in this sense, to paraphrase Nietzsche, "when you peered into the Jennicam, the Jennicam peered back into you."

Whether consciously or through sheer instinct, Jennifer Ringley showed us - through megabytes of abysmal minimalism - exactly what kind of world the West was becoming in the late 1990's, when 100 million weekly visitors routinely buzzed around a site where absolutely nothing was happening beyond a few grainy ferrets moving around under a bed where an ordinary girl lay, asleep. A world where the details of Monica Lewinsky's slip were, in much of the popular mind, deemed more important than the names of those slaughtered in the Balkans and where millions of otherwise sensible Americans tuned into Seinfeld or Friends to celebrate the final victory of the ironically ersatz over the true and the real.

While Ringley publicly claims that a new anti-nudity policy enforced by Paypal was the proximate cause of the shutdown, it is likely that the roots lay much deeper, in her own inward awareness that the world, for better or worse, had changed irrevocably. Despite the prediction of several pundits, shortly after September 11th, 2001, that "irony was dead," this new, terrifying world did not render irony, banality, or self-indulgence obsolete. It simply relocated these qualities from the private to the public spheres, projected them on real actors in a real world, crowded out playfulness, created the foundations of a real-world Panopticon in the form of such public sector projects as the Office of Total Information Awareness, and moved on.

Today, the same Webcams that once were directed inward, at living rooms and pet cages are increasingly being directed outward, toward parking lots, traffic intersections, and airport runways, where it seems, we hope to catch a fleeting image of an evildoer and push a button that will stop him from wreaking some senseless act of suicidal havoc. Of course, subjectivity and self-indulgence continue to thrive in the so-called Blogosphere, an area of cyberspace so completely wrapped in the self-involved, self-referential world of innerness that it may someday grow to inhabit its own special escapist planet.

Jennifer Ringley shut down the Jennicam on New Years Day, 2004, and this event did not go unnoticed by the major media. But nobody connected the dots between the two eras stridden by her project. Sadly, Ringley's role as the instigator of the meme that soon became so mainstreamed that it is hard to imagine a mediascape without it today is often overlooked. Fortunately, historians of Ringley's experiment have much to pore through, first, in numerous snapshots taken by the Internet Archive, by a moth-eaten network of unofficial fan sites that persist, a defunct USENET group, and, of course, by the welter of news articles written about her experiment (Google the term "Jennicam" and you'll be greeted by more Jennicam-related information than you can read in an evening).

Perhaps the strangest artifact left behind by Jennicam-mania is the now defunct Jennicam Activity Meter, an automated program that produced graphs of on-screen activity at the Jennicam. According to the Activity Meter's programmer, "It was possible to tell from this when Jennifer had got out of bed, when she'd been in the room and when she was working at the computer" without watching the Jennicam at all.

The Jennicam has been dead for almost six months now. While Ringley has apparently disappeared completely from cyberspace (an e-mail I sent her requesting information about her current status was not responded to), it is too early to say whether her self-imposed invisibility is permanent, a phase that she's now going through, or something that she's planned for a long time. If one takes into account the fact that Ringley has reserved the domain until January of 2009, it is likely that we have not heard the last from her and her personal Panopticon.

Postscript 06/04/05: Since writing this piece a year ago, I have received more e-mail from people asking me about the current whereabouts and disposition of Jennifer Ringley than I have about any other topic. Sorry, folks: I don't know where she is, nor has she made any efforts to contact me. But this torrent of email is sure proof that in the hearts and minds of those who experienced her in her virtual prime, Jennifer Ringley will not soon be forgotten.

Update 8/28/2007: In June of 2007, information about Jennifer Ringley's current whereabouts were revealed. Click here to read more about this development.

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May 08, 2004

Forgotten Web Celebrities: PsychoExGirlfriend's Mark McElwain

Just about seven years ago, a guy named Mark McElwain came up with a stunningly simple idea for a Web site: take a bunch of old voicemail messages, convert them to MP3's, and upload them for the multitudes to listen to. What made McElwain's project, dubbed, a bona fide Web sensation was the bizarre and troubling content of these voicemails, which were claimed to have been left by an estranged female lover who begged, cajoled, screamed and raved through fifty of these 45-to 120-second psychodramatic recordings before lapsing into a catatonic funk.

Media pundits were quick to dub PsychoExGirlFriend part of a new wave of sites inverting the public and private spheres, and McElwain soon became the most sought-after man in cyberspace. Were the recordings real or fake? Had the girlfriend committed suicide as she often threatened to do on the voicemail system? Was McElwain the most cosmically callous lover since Hamlet or an earnest, heartbroken Dallas IT professional seeking psychic release by sharing the rantings of this charmingly desperate woman in a post-new age rite of catharsis?

Nobody really knew the answer. Soon an investigative Web journalist offered what appeared to be undeniable proof that was nothing more than a sinister hoax meant to lure browsers into the clutches of an evil ring of pop-up advertising vendors. Others deemed the messages real but the purpose of the site vile, abusive, sadistic, and oppressively mysogonistic.

The spiralling cycle of uncertainty and confusion propelled the site's popularity to hitherto unknown heights, as did's preemptory decision to close down the online store associated with after receiving a blizzard of furious anti-abuse e-mails. Now "corporate censorship" added itself to the poisonous cloud of issues swirling around McElwain, further driving traffic and media attention from such press organs as Wired, USA Today, and even Good Morning America (which subsequently declined to interview McElwain after he failed to produce his allegedly "psycho" ex-girlfriend. The end result soon made, in McElwain's words, "the most viewed non-commercial website to date."

Today, little Web matter beyond several hundred broken links marks the place where once stood. The original URL is unoccupied (albiet still reserved by someone who's very hard to track down), yet original copies of the controversial MP3's can still be listened to, thanks to their being mirrorred by fans of online psychodrama as well as being spidered by the Internet Archive. McElwain himself has dropped off the Web's radar screens, although it is not impossible that he is at this very moment gathering additional libraries of emotionally-charged voicemails that may someday appear on the Web.

An apparently unrelated site called continues to function (although its badly bitrotten Weblog section, last updated in April of 2001, suggests that its spirit may be seriously ailing). It does not seem that was a "rip off' - an all too typical occurence on the Web - of McElwain's original project. In fact, the Internet Archive contains proof that actually predated by at least six months, a fact suggesting that McElwain may have been influenced by it when considering the purpose, if not the actual morphology, of the project which ulitimately became

Despite the predictions of some journalists, "jilted lover" sites such as never caught on as a genuine Internet meme. Perhaps it's because too many of these disappointed people have moral scruples about uploading their intimate recorded moment to the Net to be pored over and passed around by guffawing strangers. In my view, however, the fact that has no descendants has nothing to do with morality: it's simply because most voicemails left behind by jilted lovers are just too depressingly pedestrian to listen to.

If you have information about the current whereabouts of Mark McElwain or any amplifications/corrections to this article, please send e-mail to Steve Baldwin and I will include it as time provides.

(Update 6/29/07: A page on the partially-restored site contains an interview with Mark McElwain, plus an extensive discussion of his site. This page was originally published on March 26, 2001).

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May 03, 2004

Forgotten Web Celebrities: Lunch Menu Man

Over the last 10 years, the Web has propelled hundreds of people to instant cyber-stardom and while it's true that a handful of them have have stayed there, most have fallen back into obscurity, leaving nothing more than a ghostly skein of broken links to mark their brush with greatness. Who were these people, how did the Web create them, and what's become of them now? In this new feature, Forgotten Web Celebrities, Ghost Sites will dig through the wreckage left behind once the engines of hoopla and hype ran out of fuel.

Lunch Menu Man, AKA Dave Price, was one of the first humans to suffer the joys and indignities of being shot out of the Web's fame cannon. Surprisingly, Price didn't even even have a Web site when cyber-notoriety knocked in early 1996; what he did have was a a voicemail service that students could call to hear him read the lunch menu for a North Carolina School district. Price's way of reading the menu was so wackily over the top that the phone number began to be passed around on e-mail lists and USENET groups, and within a short time calls to the Lunch Menu Line grew from 200 to 18,000 a day.

That's when the journalists pounced. First NPR's All Things Considered, Hotwired, Time Inc's The Netly News, and Salon came to call, and by the end of the year Price had radio airplay, an agent, offers from Good Morning America, Jay Leno and David Letterman, a book contract, and high hopes to be, in his words "a national icon".

Price did actually publish his book ("A collection of wacky jokes, song parodies, and short stories about lunch (that) includes tidbits on such celebrity foods as 'Okra' Winfrey and 'Johnny-Cake' Depp"), which, although out of print, is still on sale at But it's hard to find much other evidence on the Web of what once appeared to be an inevitable date with immortality. Today the phone number that was once so popular (704-377-4444) directs to a plain-vanilla line at the Charlotte Observer (which once hosted a page devoted to him at The Netly News is gone, and Hotwired's servers contain no mention of him. Even Yahoo's listing of Lunch Menu Man in its Humor/Food_and_Drink/Lunch category yields nothing more than a "This Page No Longer Available" warning.

The best evidence that there ever was a mass phenomenon called Lunch Menu man is in an old Salon article by Dave Eggers that miraculously persistes more than eight years after its posting. It's a good story that captures Lunch Menu Man-omania at the absolute pinnacle of his cyber-fame.

Today, sadly, only one lonely audio sample survives to remind people of the man who Eggers dubbed the world's first "voicemail superstar".

What are we to make of the Lunch Menu Man saga? Well, it's proof again that the Web is both Warholian, in the sense of giving people with interesting ideas their "15 minutes" (or megabytes) of fame, and also Orwellian, in terms of the fact that most of these people are forgotten just as quickly.

If you have information about the current whereabouts of Lunch Menu Man or any amplifications/corrections to this article, please send e-mail to Steve Baldwin and I will include it as time provides.


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