Monday, August 22, 2016

Did This Mystery Artifact Catch Your Eye? Time to Reveal It!


Perhaps you guessed this one correctly, or perhaps you had no idea, but today we will be talking about this mystery artifact:

It’s a mousetrap! We got one guess of "animal trap" which was essentially correct! Hooray!

To be a little more specific, this kind of mousetrap is called a “delusion trap" and was invented in 1879. That name seems a little mean to me, but let’s look at exactly why they call it that. 

To start, we have to look at how exactly this trap works. The bait, usually cheese of course, is inserted  on the little ledge at the back of the left side of the trap. Then how are the mice trapped? The metal floor on the the left side is basically a see-saw. It is tilted towards the front normally, but as the critter walks toward its bait, the metal floor tilts toward the back of the trap, blocking the way back out. 

From there, they’d try to get out of the trap through a little hole to the side of the entrance, which can be seen in the photo below: 

They are then stuck in the left side of the trap for however long it takes for someone to notice they’re in there. Because the trap is set up like that, it’s possible for many mice to get stuck in the same trap. 

Or, here’s a much simpler description of what happens in this trap:

"The mouse goes in to get the bait,
And shuts the door by his own weight,
And then he jumps right through a hole,
And thinks he's out; but bless his soul,
He's in a cage somehow or other,
And sets the trap to catch another."

There is little information about what is done with the mice after they are stuck in the “holding area” in this trap. It seems there’s two ways the mice could be dealt with after being caught alive like this. One, the more humane way, is to let them go in the wild very far away from one’s home, so they can’t find their way back. However, there’s also the more permanent way of getting rid of these mice, by killing them. For the delusion traps, that was usually done by putting them in water so that the mice would die of drowning. 

Or something a little more unfortunate could cause the mouse's demise. As in the case of one particular catch-alive trap in a museum in England, it could get stuck in a mousetrap and be found a while later. How sad! This is a very strange story, you should check it out!

Thanks for reading about this Mystery Artifact! We'll be back soon with a new one. We'd love it if you came to visit to check out many of our previous mysteries in person, or just to have a look around the museum. The Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit Water/Ways won't be around at our museum much longer so check it out while you still can! We are open 10 am - 5 pm Monday through Saturday, and 1 pm-5pm on Sundays. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Guess What! It's a Mystery Artifact!

 I often say how obvious these are but I really do feel that way about this one! Still, it's an interesting little artifact so let's take a look at it! 

Here’s the next mystery artifact for you to puzzle over (or not):

It’s a small box (4 inches by 5 1/4 to be exact). The front, the base and the mechanisms inside are made of metal. The top, sides, and back are all made of wood. 

On the front is a large hole leading to a flat metal surface that goes all the way back to the back of the object. To the left of that, there’s a series of smaller holes cut into the metal front. 

Finally, there’s a panel on the top that can be removed to look into the inside. I could go on and on about the inside of this artifact, but I think that’s best saved for the reveal. 

What is it? Let us know what you think (or what you know!). You can comment here, on our Facebook pagetweet the answer at us, or comment on Instagram! Of course, you can always come see us and take a look in person!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A Mystery Solved is Music to My Ears.

Hello again!

Today I get to tell you a little bit more about this strange little mystery artifact. 

It’s a phonograph cylinder! Thanks to John for your guess on the blog!

But why is it a cylinder? Didn’t phonographs use old-fashioned records? The big flat discs? 

Well, yes. But before the invention of that kind of record, there were these things. They were small cylindrical records, that worked pretty much the same way. The lines around the outside of the cylinder are actually grooves, much like the grooves on a record. The phonograph was invented by Thomas Edison in 1877, while he was working on a way to transcribe telegraphs in order to play one on repeat. He first experimented with recording sound by embossing onto wax paper, then moved on to doing the same on cylinders covered in tin foil. The tin foil, however, only lasted for a few plays of the recording. The novelty of the invention wore off, and Edison instead started working on the incandescent lightbulb. 

However, eventually, new cylinders were developed for phonographs, made of three different types of wax mixed together. Most early wax phonograph cylinders were generally brown, and looked like this:

Our mystery artifact, though, is an example of the next step in these cylinders. Called “Blue Amberol Records,” they are made of celluloid, a type of hard plastic. The strength of these cylinders is that they were “indestructible,” or at least they were much less likely to break down or degrade in quality after numerous plays through. These are actually even more durable than the disc records that came after them!

These kinds of cylinders were played on machines that look somewhat like what you expect when you hear the word "phonograph." This particular one in our collection is called an Amberola (like the Amberol records!) and was made by the Edison company:

As you can tell, the cylinder would have been put on the apparatus in the center. Then, that would spin, and the needle would move down the cylinder to play the record.

Now, why exactly don't we use these kinds of records anymore? Rather, why did the big flat records win out over these? Much of the reason was because the record-players and records were easier and cheaper to mass produce. Also, flat discs were way easier to store.  In addition, as recording technology developed and the double-sided record was created, the simple fact of the longer duration gave disc records a clear advantage. Cylinders could only hold about 4 minutes worth of music (or whatever was recorded on them).  By around 1912, it was clear that cylinders were on their way out, and discs were here to stay (well, for a while anyway). 

Oh, and if you were wondering what was on this particular cylinder, see for yourself!

Thanks for reading! We will be back soon with a new mystery artifact so stay tuned! And as always, please come and see us, these interesting mystery artifacts featured here on the blog, the new Water/Ways exhibit, and much much more! 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Small, Dark and Mysterious: What's this Artifact?

Hello dear readers! Sorry for not posting last week, we were busy with all our Water/Ways preparations and excitement! Just so you know, we have a ton of Water/Ways-related events and programs coming up for the next few months. Keep track of them on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

Now, onto the main event of the Mystery Artifact!

This one is hard to tell the specifics in the photos, but someone still might know what it is right away. 

The artifact is a hollow cylinder, black on the outside, white on the inside (actually, if you look really closely, it's very very dark blue). The outside has very small lines going around it most of the way up. There's also some writing on the top, but that will probably give it away pretty easily!

The inside has a few wide grooves. 

To give you an idea of the size, it’s about 4 and a half inches tall and 2 inches in diameter. 

Do you know what it is? Let us know in the comments, or on any of the social media channels you’d like. Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Water/Ways Finally Opens!

Water/Ways Opening! The Smithsonian has finally arrived! 
Opening from 10-4 Saturday July 16, 2016

The Museum of the Grand Prairie is delighted to be hosting the Museums on Main Street Exhibit Water/Ways as jointly sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution and the Illinois Humanities Council.

Join us to explore the Smithsonian Water/Ways, and learn how water impacts our local community in the companion exhibit, The Worth of Water

As a part of the Museum of the Grand Prairie’s opening celebration of Water/Ways:​​
  • ​​Sara Grady, storyteller and water advocate, will present:  Water, Wonder, Words: Language, Stories, and the Cradle of Life at 2:00 pm
  • ​​Tours of the new exhibit will be given hourly.
  • ​​Interactive stations set up in and around the museum from 1-4pm, including a water table from the Illinois State Water Survey, and participation by the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy, Prairie Rivers Network, the Mahomet Aquifer Consortium, IDNR, and the USGS Ground Water Section.​

Refreshments will be served before the presentation. 

For more info: (217) 586-2612 or

Water/Ways is produced by Museum on Main Street, a partnership between the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and Illinois Humanities.

Monday, July 11, 2016

You Can Breathe Easy, this Mystery has Been Revealed!

As Kate answered on Facebook (Thank you for your answer!), this is a Kerosene Lamp Vaporizer from the late 1800s. Specifically, this artifact is a “Vapo-Cresolene Vaporizer.” Now what does that mean, exactly?

Most of you reading probably deduced that the lamp-like part of the object was used for heat. The flame from the lamp heated up the apparatus above it, which was meant to be filled with Cresolene. Cresolene was a sticky black liquid, made from coal tar, used as a disinfectant. This substance was used these kinds of vaporizers, supposedly meant for medicinal purposes. On the object’s box, it describes Vapo-Cresolene as “a germ destroying liquid to be vaporized.” Here's how it was meant to be used:

The Vapo-Cresolene Vaporizer that we have in the collection (actually, we have a few of them) is advertised to aid in relieving a number of ailments such as colds, asthma, whooping cough, croup, catarrh, pneumonia, “the bronchial complications of scarlet fever and measles” and  could be used “as an aid in the treatment of diptheria.” Essentially, these kinds of “lamps” were meant to help with any and all respiratory diseases. And don’t just think we’re talking about human respiratory diseases! Oh no, it was also advertised that Vapo-Cresolene could be used as help for horses, dogs and “fowls” with various breathing problems.

Though the manufacturers would like us to believe that this strange substance, Cresolene, was imbued with extraordinary healing powers, the American Medical Association disproved them in a 1908 report. Even so, there were “Vapo-Cresolene” vaporizers still being manufactured until the 1950s.

An electric vaporizer from the '50s!

These days people use humidifiers in much the same way that these vaporizers were used at the turn of the twentieth century. Personally these little machines seem a lot safer to me than inhaling coal tar and sleeping with a lit kerosene lamp next to my bed!

I hope you enjoyed learning about this little artifact as much as I did! Stay tuned next week for another mystery artifact! And as always, if you're interested in a closer look at this or any of our recent mystery artifacts, please come visit us and take a look around the museum too! 

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Can you Shed a Little Light on this Mystery Artifact?

After that long weekend we are back with another new mystery artifact. Here's what this week's "mystery" is:

This mystery artifact is made of a few parts. The first is a small lamp, with a clear bowl, which you can see a wick inside. It also has a small white glass chimney.

The second part is the metal stand, which holds the lamp at the bottom.

The third part is also metal. It is a small bowl at the top. The bowl rests on the top part of the metal stand, and hangs above the top of the lamp chimney.
This artifact is actually rather small, measuring only about half a foot tall, and 2 ¾ inches wide.

What do you think it is? If you have a guess, let us know by commenting here, on our Facebook page, on our Instagram, or by tweeting the answer at us. We really like to know what your guesses are!

There’s some writing on this artifact that I tried to keep out of the pictures, so if you want to try to figure that out, you should definitely come check it out in person. There’s also lots of other great stuff at the museum to check out! See you soon!