Tuesday, May 31, 2016

It's a Trap! No, it's a Mystery Artifact. Well, it's both, really.

Today we get to tell you what this mystery artifact is:

We had a few guesses saying that this one was some sort of trap, And they were right!
Last week’s mystery artifact was a fly trap! Or a fly catcher, depending on who you ask. 

Though one of those refers to a plant and the other to a bird, both of which eat flies, our artifact is simply a trap to keep pesky flies away. They were made popular around the turn of the 20th century. Mostly they are used on farms or places like that where there are large conglomerations of pesky flies. 

How to use it is pretty simple. Some sort of bait is placed underneath the cone part of the trap, and flies are attracted to it.  Most sources say that a bit of rotten fish or meat, or even old fruit could be placed under the trap. After the flies are done eating, they fly up into the top of the cone. Why? They're flying towards light. Once they fly up the cone, they can’t figure out the way back out of the trap, and eventually die there.
  If you're curious to know more about how these look in use, the video below addresses using them from 1:14-2:00. 

Though our artifact is made of both metal and wood pieces, many similar traps have been made solely out of metal like this one: 

As you can see, with the one seen in the picture, the cone in the bottom can be removed for disposing of the flies. But with our trap, the flies were disposed of by opening the little lid at the top.

There are also glass fly traps that work in a similar way. They look like this: 

Interestingly enough, these kinds of fly traps are still being used. Some people use ones that work the same way but are made of plastic. But it seems that it is also common for people to build their own of the screened variety. There are a number of sites like this one that give instructions to make your own! Do you think you'll give it a try? Or maybe just stick with some flypaper? 

Thanks for reading this week's reveal! We'd love it if you came to visit to check out all our previous artifacts in person, or just to have a look around the museum. Starting this week, and all summer long, we will be open 10 am - 5 pm Monday through Saturday, and 1 pm-5pm on Sundays. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Think Outside the Box for the Newest Mystery Artifact

Good Afternoon and Happy Monday! 

This week we have a new mystery artifact, that looks like this:

It's essentially a box. The sides of the box are made of wire mesh, attached to thin pieces of wood by nails.

The bottom of the box has a large hole, from which a wire mesh cone protrudes up into the center. At the top of the cone, there is a small opening.

The whole box is about one foot tall, 8 inches wide, and 7 1/2 inches deep. The cone inside extends about 8 inches up from the bottom of the mesh. 

And finally, in the middle of the (solid wood) top to the box, theres a small lid, held onto the box with a few small pieces of wood. Those spin to allow this lid to be removed. 

This one might be obvious to some (we've already had a few correct guesses at the museum), so let us know what you think it is! You can comment here, on our Facebook page, tweet the answer at us, or comment on Instagram! Of course, you can always come see us and take a look in person! 

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Mystery Artifact Reveals the Fifty Ways to Churn Your Butter

This week’s mystery artifact (seen below) was a butter dasher! Does that name still confuse you? Well, the dasher is the part inside of a butter churn that moves and agitates the cream. The constant agitation of the cream in a churn separates the butter from the buttermilk.

Our mystery artifact does not look like the normal dashers you usually see in the “plunger” or “dash” type butter churn. Those mostly look more like the examples below. However, our records do claim that this particular artifact of ours is homemade, so that may explain why it seems unorthodox.

Butter has been around for a long long time. The word itself, seems to have come from an ancient Greek word "bou-tyron," which means "cow cheese." However, the Greeks mostly had goats and sheep, whose milk did not make butter. Most scholars think that they borrowed the word from the Scythians, who herded cattle.  
The earliest devices used to make butter were simply animal skins. They were used as bags, and cream could be agitated within those bags simply by shaking them around. Some were swung on an apparatus made of sticks, like the one in the picture below:

The dash or plunger kind of butter churn (the type our mystery artifact might have been used in) has only been around since the sixth century according to most. This artifact, found in Scotland, which has been determined to be a butter churn's lid, seems to confirm that fact. 

The plunger type churn, while it probably the most well-known and identifiable type, it is not the only device used to churn butter. Other machines used to make butter were invented after hundreds of years using the plunger-type churn. They made the process a lot easier, and a lot less work. Here are a few examples(though there's not fifty ways, like this post's title suggests):

If you've been to our Prairie Stories event in September you may have seen someone using a paddle churn. With these guys, there's a crank on the top that spins around a paddle on the inside of the jar (or whatever the cream is put into). The paddle works much like a dasher, moving the cream to separate it. These are mostly small, and were likely much more convenient to keep around the house. 

Another variety of butter churn is the barrel churn, which agitates the butter without a paddle or dasher moving around within it.These, as you can see, were named for their appearance, and were mostly used during the 19th century. One kind of this churn works like a paddle churn in that a paddle moved the cream around inside of the barrel to make the butter. These could perhaps be seen as a much larger, less household-friendly version of the paddle churn.
Another kind of barrel churn turns end-over-end with the use of a crank on the side.  They provided a much quicker way to make butter. They also did so without the use of anything like a dasher or paddle agitating the cream within the churn.

An end-over-end barrel churn. 

One last type of butter churn is the rocker churn. These also did not require anything to move the cream around. They can really be seen as a more modern and sophisticated version of the ancient animal skin method of churning butter.

These rocked back and forth with the help of the wires on either side. 

I could go on and on about all the different types of butter churns there are in the world(yes, there's more!), but you probably get the idea. People had many ideas about how to make this food, and they all worked on the principle of moving things around to separate the buttermilk from the butter fat. Still, the most ubiquitous type is the kind the mystery artifact would be used in.

Thanks for reading this week's reveal! We'd love it if you came to visit to check out all our previous artifacts in person, or just to have a look around the museum.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Do You Have This Mystery Artifact Pegged?

Happy Monday, readers! 

Here’s the mystery artifact for this week!

This artifact measures just a little more than 27 inches long and is made of wood. 

At the bottom of the artifact, there are 7 pegs, also wooden, running through and sticking out of the shaft. Four go one way, and the other three run perpendicular to them. 

The opposite end is a little darker and shinier, most likely worn down from use. 

Do you know what it is? Do you have a guess? 
Let us know in the comments here, on our Facebook page, on our Twitter, or even on our Instagram (yes, we have one of those now)! And as always, please feel free to come to the museum to check it out yourself!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Great Balls of Fire! A Mystery Revealed

If you visited the museum to look at this little guy or perhaps if you had really good eyesight and could read the labels in the pictures in the first post, you might have been able to tell that this mystery artifact calls itself a “fire ball.” What a strange name, right? What that really means is that it is supposed to be used to start fires. Most likely those fires would be in a fireplace in one’s home. Essentially, this “fire ball,” is a replacement for traditional kindling, and supposedly it is meant to be much less fussy.

The full text on the label is as follows:
“For Kindling fires without Kindlings, shavings, paper, or any combustible matter. Costs but 25 cents and lasts a life time.

Directions for Use: Place the Fire Ball in a Wide mouth bottle and fill with Kerosene Oil, above the ball, no…ing the cork so that the wire may extend out of the bottle, and keep corked so that the oil may not evaporate. If oil is objectionable Turpentine or alcohol may be used in the same way, when lighted, hold the ball point down until completely on fire, then hold or place under the fire with moderate draft, and in three minutes it will produce a brilliant fire. Chinese Fire Ball Co., Sole Prop’rs, Augusta ME.

While researching, I couldn’t find anything about this particular name referring to the firestarting item (I found a lot about a kind of dragon in the Harry Potter series). Instead, this artifact could be called a “Cape Cod Firestarter.” 

Many Cape Cod firestarters like this were made with pumice stone, which is porous, so it could hold a lot of the oil it needs to start the fire.  Others are made of soapstone, which we believe our “Fire Ball” is as well. Soapstone is a soft stone, so it would easily be shaped into the “ball” at the end of the wire  on our artifact.   It is also a very heat resistant substance, so it can be soaked in a flammable liquid, and the stone itself will not be harmed, even at very high temperatures, which is why the Fire Ball claims it will “last a life time.” 

Other examples of these objects look a lot fancier than our example, with their own little pot, kept by the hearth, and some are still being sold and used today!

What it looks like in use!

I hope you enjoyed learning about this unique artifact as much as I did! If you're curious, you can come see this artifact and tons of other cool stuff at the museum.