Monday, October 17, 2016

....And we're back with a new Mystery Artifact!

It's been a little while, but we're back with another edition of Mystery Artifact! Wooooo!
Did you miss me? Well, even if you didn't, here’s this week’s artifact:

It’s a big grey metal box!
Just kidding, I know you can tell it's much more than that!

There are three cylinders that protrude from this artifact. One sits in the center of the front of the object, and the other two (which are smaller) sit towards the front on the top. They each have a circle of glass sitting within them.  

Also of note is the back part of this strange object! …. This section can slide back and forth on a track, which reveals an apparatus that can be seen in the photo below:

Lastly, I want to mention that this artifact has an electrical cord and plug, seen here:

I know you can see the name of this artifact in the pictures, but try to guess what it is without googling that name! Let us know what you think on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. And of course, you can always comment on this post with your guesses. If you need a closer look at this artifact, please come visit us! We are open 1-5 pm daily. The answer will be coming soon!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Did You Pick Out the Correct Answer for this Mystery Artifact?

I’m here again to let you know some information about an artifact from our collection. It’s last week’s mystery artifact and it looks like this:

We had some pretty good guesses: an egg mixer, a rug beater, a lightbulb changer…but this artifact is in fact a sort of seasonally appropriate artifact, as fall is about to start. It's an apple picker, or an "apple-picker basket." 

Maybe you’ve seen something like this before. If you’ve been to an apple orchard where they let you pick your own apples, they might offer you a tool that looks like this:

This one has a little piece of foam at the bottom for a safe place for your fruit to land.
With both the one seen above and our mystery artifact, you use it to pull apples or other tree-fruits from high branches. How do you do this? It’s pretty simple: you place the picker around the apple you’d like to pick and gently pull away from the tree. If the fruit is ripe enough, it should drop right into the basket of the fruit picker, and you can put it in your bag for safekeeping. 

There are other types of apple pickers, including this one, that allows you to clamp onto the fruit and twist it to get it to release from the branch. 

Also, there are varieties with a cloth bag instead of a wire basket, which allows for less bruising of the fruit when it drops. 

Most of these types of tools have very long handles so that someone can pick high up fruit from standing on the ground. What's strange is our example, the Mystery Artifact is actually not that long. We're not quite sure what that is. It's possible someone who owned this one added a shorter stick. Even though this wouldn't help them get fruit from the highest branches, it would definitely help with things that are out of reach, and perhaps even would help quite a bit when using a ladder.

Have you ever used one of these before? Does this make you wanna go out to your local orchard and pick apples? Let us know what you think about this mystery artifact, and stay tuned for a new one soon. Of course, you can always come in to the museum to check out this artifact, a number of our past mysteries, and so much more. We're open daily 1-5 pm. Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 12, 2016

C'mon and tell us what this Mystery Artifact is!

It's Mystery Artifact time!

Here's this week's object: It has a wooden handle and a top section made of wire. 

The basket on the top of the artifact is sort of egg-shaped. It has an opening in the front and loops that come to a point on the sides. It's about 9 inches from top to bottom, and less than 6 inches wide. 

The handle on the bottom is wooden, square, painted red, and about 26 inches long. 

It's a pretty simple artifact, so perhaps it's simple to figure out its use? Let us know if you know what it is! You can let us know your guesses/answers here on the blog, by telling us on Facebook, tweeting at us, or even by commenting on our Instagram

If you need a closer look at this artifact or just want to check out some of the other recent mystery artifacts (or any of our great exhibits), you can always come to the museum. We're open daily from 1pm - 5pm. Come visit us!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Red Hot Mystery Artifact Reveal...

Hello again! Last call for any guesses on this here Mystery Artifact? We got a guess for the lantern on an old firetruck, but it's a little stranger than that...

This is a heater for a car...more specifically, for the engine block of a car. Perhaps the patent for this mystery artifact can explain it better: The invention relates to portable oil burning heaters of the distillate type which are especially adapted for keeping warm the motors of automobiles and airplanes when stored in unheated garages or parked in the open in localities subject to low temperatures. 

The way you use this artifact is to hang it by the hook under the hood of one's car. Though this might seem weird now, the patent is from 1940, when the hoods of cars were much more likely to fit something like this heater. 

The canister at the bottom is meant to be filled up with kerosene, and inside the cylindrical part on the top is where the flame sits. The can-like cylindrical part on the top of this object is actually just a snuffer, and it would be used with the screen underneath exposed. The patent for the artifact says this is ok because: "air can enter through the screen but flame cannot pass from the interior to the exterior of the screen there is no liability of explosion or danger of accidental fire."
These days, a very similar kind of thing is used, but without the flame (which seems a little scary, right?). Many people, especially in northern states here in the U.S., Canada, Scandinavia and so on, use something called a block heater, which is a heater inside the hood of their car. These block heaters are powered by electricity, and is usually plugged into an outside outlet, like this:

A block heater in use in Sweden.
Both the modern block heaters and these kerosene ones were meant to keep a few things in particular warm. Block heaters keep coolant warm. I know, that sounds weird, doesn’t it? The coolant spreads the heat that it receives throughout the engine block, and that makes it easier for the car to start. One of the most important things that gets heated in this process is the motor oil, which can congeal at low temperatures. If it gets too cold, it's pretty much impossible for the oil to do its job of lubricating the engine. So, perhaps the heater doesn't keep the engine "red hot," but it does keep it warm enough to keep your automobile working safely. 

I don't know about you, but I found this artifact pretty fascinating (and a little dangerous). I'm pretty glad it doesn't get quite cold enough here in central Illinois to need one of these heaters!  Stay tuned for another mystery artifact! 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. We are now open 1-5 pm 7 days a week. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Does this Mystery Artifact Raise a Red Flag?

Good afternoon! 

Are you ready for a new mystery artifact? Here’s this week’s challenge!

It’s a metal artifact. It has two sections, the first being a wide base that has been painted red. 

 One side of this base part has a small handle attached. There's also a twist-on cap on this part, opposite the handle.  

There's also a sticker label that should be on the front here, where the red is a lighter shade.

The second part is the narrower top section, also made of metal, but without a paint job. 

This section has a removable cover, and under the cover, it looks like this:

Lastly, towards the bottom of the upper section of the artifact, a wire is connected on either side, which extends to a hook at the end. 

What is your purpose, little hook?

Just so you know the scale we’re talking about, here’s the measurements:  It is about 8 inches tall, the diameter of the red base part is about inches and the diameter of the top part is 3 1/4 inches. The wire is 8 inches from its connection to the artifact to the end of the hook. 

Do you have a guess as to what this mystery could be? We always like to hear to your guesses, so don't be shy!  You can comment here, on our Facebook pagetweet the answer at us, or comment on Instagram! Of course, you can always take a look in person and see all the great stuff happening at the museum!

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!