One of the great advantages of working or volunteering at Campbell House is that the opportunities for learning more never cease. While all our volunteers know a great deal about the Campbells and St. Louis, there are always subjects that someone else is an expert in. So when we encounter a conundrum that we just can’t figure out, we know exactly what to do: go to the experts. In this instance, we’re putting a call out for you, our knowledgeable and erudite visitors, members, and general fans, to help us identify…this:
This object can be found in the basement beneath the parlor, and we aren’t 100% sure what it is. The exterior portion is about 44″ wide and 30″ tall from the floor. Perhaps the most unusual thing about it is that it is cut into the floor. Just how far down it extends is difficult to determine, given the build-up of sediment, dust, dirt, soot, and who knows what else (we pulled out a manual from our 2000s Restoration, and obviously there is that Coke can in there). Given what we can see, the unit is cut at least 20″ below the floor.
The container itself is pretty beat up, with a pretty big dent in the side and the metal on top torn and bent. Oddly, there seem to be two openings, one of top and covered with wood, the other on the front. There is also an uncovered gap on the front. Was it always there? Who knows?
The machinery on the inside is even more interesting. There are two “turbines” connected by a central shaft. The shaft is apparently powered either by the two motor-like objects, or by the belt pulley on the right side. Judging by the remnants of metal, the belt pulley was once cordoned off. If it is a belt pulley, what was the belt connected to? There is no obvious anchor on that side for another motor or wheel for the belt to connect to. Each of those “turbines,” meanwhile, has fins on the inside. When activated, the entire contraption would spin.
That’s what we know for sure. Museum lore (of the “I had someone on a tour once who said it was this” variety) claims the object is an air cooling unit. We know that the house had a Frigidaire of some kind in the mid-1930s, thanks to expense account references to “frigidaire air conditioning equipment”. However, our research efforts to connect this bit of trivia to the object in the basement have come to naught.
We’re willing to bet that someone out there knows what our mystery object is. Even if you don’t know for sure, maybe you have some idea on what function it serves, or how it works. Either way, we’d love to hear from you–and put one Campbell House mystery to rest.