Friday, December 26, 2014

Out of the Fire

We hope you enjoyed this weeks mystery artifact. If you'd like a chance to see it in person, come visit the museum before we close for the winter on January 1st! 

Any last guesses on what it could be?

If you googled the patent information you might have had a good hint. This object is a meat broiler.  The side hinges so it can be opened, and have meat placed in side. The cook would then lower the basket part of the object over the heat, and hang it on a bar or hook to let it broil over the fire.  The iron strips would have provided the signature grill marks we like to see on our steaks today. 

This style of grate cooking with parallel grid bars started in the 1830s and slowly grew in popularity form there. Lewis Holmes improved on the original idea in 1868 by creating this basket like style that could be held over the fire at whatever angle might be best in the situation. 

Come visit us before the museum closes on January 1st and get a last look at our Home Grown exhibit! 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Into the Deep

Hello Readers! Hope you all are enjoying the holiday season.  We’ve been incredibly busy around the museum getting ready for all the exciting things we will be bringing you next year. Don’t forget that the next couple of weeks are the last to come visit the museum before we close on January 1st. So come take this last chance to see the Home Grown Exhibit!

We will reopen again March 1st of 2015, and soon after that we’ll have the grand opening of The Grand Prairie Story, our brand new main exhibit, on March 15th and then Hidden Underfoot: Historical Archaeology in Illinois will open on April 19th. We hope you’ll come visit us for those as well!

We had a lot of great guesses on the last mystery object, and several people on social media guessed correctly!  Hopefully we get some good guesses this week as well with the new object. Here it is:

This object is made of metal and has two oval sections, with 7 metal bands. It’s hinged at one end with a simple lock on the other. There is a long wire handle attached at the other end.  It’s roughly 2 feet in length.

The object also as the words “Lewis Holmes, Keene, NH” and “Patented March 24, 1868” written in raised text on the edges of the object.

Here’s another look from the side:

Do you have any guesses as to what this object might be?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Keeping Warm in the Cold

We had some good guesses this time around for the identity of the cold weather item we posted on Monday. Guesses included a holder that could contain brandy while stored clandestinely  and a foot warmer.  The foot warmer guess was correct!

The foot warmer is used by placing very hot water inside of the opening beneath the brass screw top. The hot water radiates through the ceramic vessel, keeping it warm for extended periods of time and giving the user radiant heat that they could place their feet on or next to.  A person could wrap a blanket around their feet and the foot warmer to help insulate even more, and women’s long skirts could accomplish the same task. 

They came in a variety of sizes and varied from utilitarian in nature to quite decorative. This particular foot warmer features pretty detailing on the handles:

Other foot warmers even featured descriptive ads and information on their sides:
(Photo courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons, Joe Mabel)

Ceramic foot warmers like this were popular in the 19th and early 20th century. They were good not only for home use, but for a variety of other situations which might feature cold or drafty rooms during the winter such as a meeting house, or church. 

A very popular use was for travel during the winter. Whether in a carriage or a rail car, the user could keep their feet safe from the drafty cold by carrying one of these along with them. The hot water could be replaced as needed, making a long journey in winter a little bit more comfortable.  

Come check out the foot warmer and other previous mystery objects at the Museum along with our holiday decorations.  Don’t forget that this weekend, Saturday December 6th from 2-5pm is To Grandmother’s House We Go!  The program will feature an afternoon of holiday fun including storytelling, caroling, and graham cracker houses and popcorn garland!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

Hello readers!  Hope you are all staying warm in the month of December!  We’ve been very busy at the museum getting ready for new exhibits next year, so we apologize for the delay here on the blog. Thankfully we are back to Mystery Mondays!  

Here is the latest mystery object: 

Many years ago, on a day like today you might want to have one of these handy. They could be used in the house, or even when traveling.  Can you guess what it is?

The object is ceramic, half cylinder in shape and features a small brass screw top opening.  There is a decorative handle on either end of the object.  It is a little longer than a foot in size. 

Post your guess in the comments! 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Lifting Spirits: Mystery Artifact Revealed

Hearty congratulations to our anonymous guesser, who correctly guessed that this artifact . . .

. . .was used to lift the hot lids off of wood- or coal-burning stoves.  As this advertisement from the 1897 Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog shows, they could be purchased for the bargain price of 3 cents and were guaranteed to be "always cool."

Stoves such as the ones advertised in the same catalog (photo below) could be ornate or utilitarian, but all promised functionality with hard or soft coal or wood.  One even promises "flues of such large capacity as to insure a quick, strong draft and perfect operation, even with the poorer qualities of coal."

The stove in the museum's collection is of the more utilitarian variety, but it is a lovely shade of blue (a perfect accent to any turn-of-the-century kitchen)!

You can see our stove on display in our Home Grown exhibit for another month.  Keep in mind that the museum closes December 31st and will reopen March 1. 

Stay tuned, as we have many exciting plans for new exhibits and programs in 2015!

Monday, October 20, 2014

To Lift Your Spirits!

Hello, all!  Here is a new mystery artifact for you to ponder as fall gets into full swing.

The item is cast iron, and it is a little more than a foot long.

As you can see, there is a rectangular opening on the end to the left in the photos.  The other end is somewhat rounded and curves upwards, as can be seen in the second photo. 

What is this object?  What was it used for?  This week's mystery artifact is on display in the museum, so come on out and take a closer look, then post your guesses in the comments section of the blog or on our Facebook page!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Let Them Eat Pie!

Have we left you in suspense long enough? Have you figured out what our latest mystery object is? Tis the season to grab this tool and get cooking! Technically, this is called a "jagging wheel" but a pie crimper is also an appropriate name. Wheels like these can make all sorts of beautiful designs on a pie's crust!
These wheels are made for crimping!
 This particular jagging wheel is carved with leaves and flowers but there are all sorts of designs! Here's an example of an wheel in the shape of a sea serpent made from ivory.
How neat is that?

Stop by the museum and check out our collection of jagging wheels on display in our "Homegrown" exhibit!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Monday Mystery!

Good morning readers! What could it be? Can you guess this weeks mystery artifact?

This artifact is wooden, although other artifacts like it are made of fancier material- even ivory! The "wheel" is carved with a beautiful leaf and flower design. This artifact dates to the early 1800's and is only about 5 inches long. 

What is this artifact? What is it used for? Let us know your guesses in the comments below or on Facebook!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Stretching for an Answer?

For what was this week's mystery artifact used?

Carol R. guessed:

"Based on what appears to be a ratcheting bar that extends the 2 prongs forward, or brings them closer to the saw bladed arm behind it, I'm guessing that the tool either stretches something or pries two things apart. Since the points on the blade face forward, the tool was more likely used to stretch something by digging the saw bladed points into something, then putting the prong end just in front of the saw bladed bar, then using the handle to ratchet the prongs forward, stretching the something wider. Now, just need to figure out what could be stretched back in 1887."

Well done, Carol!  This artifact is a carpet stretcher, used to stretch the carpet before tacking it down while installing it.

This advertisement for a similar item ran in the Spring and Summer 1895 Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalogue and Buyers' Guide:

It reads:

"Tack the carpet firmly at one corner, set teeth of the drawbar through the carpet, drive the hook into the floor close by the baseboard, as shown in the cut; then by means of the lever pry the drawbar forward until the carpet is sufficiently stretched, where the gravity drop will hold it until tacked.  Set the stretcher at intervals until the carpet is laid."

Note the bargain price of $.40 for one, and $4.32 for a dozen!

Check in next week for another mystery artifact!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Another Monday Mystery

Hello all!  Can you guess this week's mystery artifact?

It is an iron object with a wooden handle about 16 inches in length.  Both horizontal and vertical iron cross pieces have a saw-tooth edge, and the front piece has two prongs, as you can see below:

A close look at the widest saw-tooth piece reveals letters reading "PAT. SEP 20, 87."  Here are a couple of close-ups of the lettered piece:

A quick hint:  this object's name describes its function.

As always, post your guesses in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.  Stay warm and dry out there tonight!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Weighing In: Mystery Artifact Revealed

I didn't anticipate how difficult it would be to guess this mystery artifact, but the item above apparently left our readers stumped!  Does this photo give you a hint?

It features a hitching post in the town of Intercourse, Pennsylvania, which is deep in Amish Country.  It is not unusual to see horse-drawn wagons and buggies there on any given day, and visitors might see our mystery artifact in use there, as well.

It is a tether weight or buggy anchor and was used, much like a ship's anchor, to hold the horse and buggy in place if a hitching post was not available.  The driver would throw the anchor overboard, as it were, and with the chain clipped to the horse's harness, the horse would be held in place by the weight.  Well-trained driving teams of horses would not move far without a command to do so, but the weight ensured they would stay nearby even if spooked.

It certainly seems a more humane way of tethering than hobbling, in which a rope is tied between the horse's front and back legs (look closely at the mule in the photo below for the hobble rope).  With the rope in place, the horse can only hobble from one spot to another while grazing rather than running off.

Tether weights came in all shapes and sizes, like the ones pictured below:

Tune in next week for another exciting mystery artifact.  Until then, we hope you'll join us tomorrow at our Prairie Stories event!  You can find more information on our website, and here is a schedule of activities to help you plan your visit:

Demonstrations & Activities
10:00 am -5:00 pm Blacksmith
10:00 am -5:00 pm Cooper
10:00 am -5:00 pm Basket weaving
10:00 am -5:00 pm Pottery-making
10:00 am -5:00 pm Weaving
10:00 am -5:00 pm Outdoor Games

12:00 pm-5:00 pm Hands-on Activities

12:00 pm-5:00 pm Archaeology Activities
1:00 pm-2:00 pm Central Illinois English Country Dancers
2:00 pm-4:00 pm Banjulele

Schoolhouse Fun!
12:30 pm-1:00 pm Quill Writing
1:30 pm-2:00 pm Spelling Bee
2:30 pm-3:00 pm 19th Century Fashion

Bring out the whole family for a day of fun! We hope to see you there!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Weighty Mystery

Hello, readers!  Any guesses as to what this Mystery Artifact might be?

The artifact is made of cast iron and painted black, with a set of two circular areas mounted onto a larger hexagon.  A section of linked chain terminating in a clasp is attached to a loop at the top.  This object weighs about 20 pounds.

What is this item?  For what purpose was it created and used?  Let us know your guesses in the comments section on Facebook or on the blog below!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

An Illuminating Artifact Revealed!

We had a few guesses for our most recent Mystery Artifact.  Jess C. was probably closest in her comment that "their main characteristics are they're small, adorable, highly reflective in a warm brassy way, and non-flammable. These qualities make for a delightful housewarming gift - you put a little tea-light there in front and the flame reflects from both surfaces to create a touch of symbolic warmth (as well as some mood lighting to heat things up in a more figurative sense)."

The non-flammable aspect of these little brass boots is a clue to their function.  These are a matched set of spill holders.  Before matches were available and affordable for everyone, people used spill holders like these to help transfer flame.  The vessels contained rolled papers or thin sticks, called spills, used to transfer fire from the fireplace to candles and lamps or vice-versa. Spill holders come in all different shapes and materials.  Here are just a few examples:

The first is from our collection:

This hollowed-out section of birch log had a handle attached, and -- as you can see -- is still full of spills.  The word spill comes from spile, a word used to describe the spigot or plug used as a stopper in a barrel or cask of liquid.  It is now used to describe the spout used when drawing sap off a maple tree.  The word originally meant "splinter or peg" in earlier Dutch and German dialects, which became spyl or speil in the East Frisain and German dialects.  Borrowed to English, these little firelighters became spills.

Here is another lovely example of a spill holder, this one in pewter:

Most spill holders, like the ones above, resembled vases in form.  However, a few were made to be wall-mounted. 

This one is allegedly made of paper mache! 

There are many beautiful examples of spill holders out there, but the brass booties in our collection remain my favorite.  Having just finished the run of CUTC's Mary Poppins, I think our matched set of spill holders are "practically perfect in every way!"



Friday, August 1, 2014

An Illuminating Artifact!

Another mystery artifact from our collection - or actually, two mystery artifacts - chosen by one of our Education Program Specialists, Susan V.!  This lovely little set of boots is practically perfect in every way:

Now, obviously this matched pair of brass artifacts was made to look like boots of the sensible kind, with copper buttons for decoration:

The boots are about 5.5" high.  As you can see in the photo below, the front of the "boot" is flat, with a half-cylinder and stand attached to the back.

The question this week is what is the proper name of this set of artifacts?  And for what purpose were they used?  There is a clue in the photos above, if you look closely.  I will freely admit, however, that this one might take a bit of research.  Good luck!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

If the Shoe Fits: Mystery Artifact Revealed

Our readers took a look at our recent mystery artifact and guessed correctly that it had something to do with transportation:

After the clue that you would need eight of these to do the job properly, many readers guessed that this metal item had something to do with wagon brakes.  This was a great guess, although not exactly the function of this item.

This is a shoe for an ox.  Because oxen have cloven hooves, they need a shoe on each part of their hoof to protect the hoof from damage or splitting.  With all those nails driven into the hoof  to attach the shoe it may look like being shod hurts the ox, but because the hoof is made from material similar to human fingernails, it is no more painful than clipping fingernails would be to us!

This image was taken from a website called Draft Animal Power Network, and it shares several photos of cattle being shod.  Here is a link to the forum :   Below is another great image from the site, showing the tongue, similar to the one on the shoe in our collection, protruding from between the ox's "toes."

Oxen were very important to European-American colonists and settlers in our region.  When yoked together, two oxen could pull loads of several tons, making them more efficient than a horse team for pulling heavy wagons loaded full of supplies and household possessions.  They were hardy creatures with bodies well-suited to process scrubby brush and plants found along the trail, so they were easier to feed than horses.  While oxen pulled at a slower pace than a horse team, they pulled more steadily and could average 16 to 18 miles a day.  Additionally, if an ox was injured or died while on the trail, it provided a good food source.

Oxen played a different but equally important role on established homesteads.  They were useful in clearing trees to create farm fields, moving building supplies, and plowing the tough prairie sods for planting.  Below is a link to a video from Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, showing a woman plowing a field with oxen hauling the plow:
Plowing a Field with Oxen
It looks like hard work - I think I would be more tired than the oxen at the end of a day behind a plow!

Did you know some ox breeds are in danger of becoming extinct?  As oxen on family farms were gradually replaced by first horses, then later technology including tractors, historic bloodlines have been lost.  However, historians at Colonial Williamsburg are helping to revive a couple of rare breeds while teaching more about the large animals and their importance in early American life.  Here is a link to an article on Colonial Williamsburg's website describing their work:
Smart as a Ox

Stop in at the Museum to take a close look at our ox shoe and maybe catch a sneak peek of our next mystery artifact!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

UFOs at the Museum!

Hello, all!  Can you guess what this week's Mystery Artifact might be?

If I were out excavating an archaeological site and found this item, I might joke that it is a UFO - an "unidentified ferrous object" (with ferrous meaning an object containing iron).  As you might guess from the rusty color of this artifact, this object definitely contains its fair share of iron!

The crescent-shaped object has a somewhat pointed end bending up at a 90-degree angle from the flat portion of the plate.  It also has five rectangular holes pierced along its outer edge.

Do you know what this object is?  As always, post your best guess in the comments section on the blog or on our Facebook page.

And - speaking of archaeology - be sure to stop by the museum to take a look at the artifacts excavated by our archaeology campers in early June!  They are on display in a case near the front desk of the Museum.  Hope to see you soon!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Traveling in Time

It's finally time for the big reveal.  This week's mystery artifact is called a traveler, and the metal wheel was used to measure a specific unit of distance (for this artifact, about 24 inches).  You might see a similar tool being used today to by modern surveyors measuring distance, like the one below.


These helpful metal tools were used to measure the circumference of a wagon wheel to make sure the iron tire placed around the wheel would fit.  The wooden wheels were reinforced with iron tires to make them sturdier as they navigated rough and bumpy terrain. 

The iron tire would be heated and fitted to the wheel, then quenched in water quickly to keep the wooden wheel from singing or being damaged.  The quenching also caused the iron to shrink tight around the wooden wheel.

Wagons were extremely important in the expansion of the United States.  The wagon was a moving truck, chapel, and house for weeks or months at a stretch.  This original mobile home helped European-Americans move west and settle across the breadth of the continent.

The computer game Oregon Trail often played by schoolchildren features a wagon as the mode of transportation, with the players acting the part of settlers forging their route westward through an unforgiving terrain.  As we all know from classic Westerns, wagons would travel in groups called wagon trains.

Travelers were important tools used by early blacksmiths to help make wagon transportation safer and more efficient for the earliest settlers of the majority of our country.