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TOH wants to know about your house's "mystery" details

Boot scrapers (photo attached): not something you see every day anymore. But some old houses still have them at their entries.

Do you live in an old house? Are there details built into the house that always made you wonder what they were? Our editors want to know about them.

Post your photos here,
send them to [email protected] with subject line “What Was It?”

You might see your photo in TOH magazine’s June issue.

Re: TOH wants to know about your house's "mystery" details

I think just about every old house has a mystery light switch that doesn't seem to control anything.

Re: TOH wants to know about your house's "mystery" details

Yeah... I have a couple of oddities.
1) A built-in light timer, that I have no idea which lights it's supposed to be "timing"? I've turned it on/off and checked all the lights, but nothing is different

2) A switch, by the front door, that turns on an ominous red-led right below the switch, but nohing else. I thought it may be tied to the light timer, but endless experimentation has not led to an answer

3) The secret alarm box. We have all the windows alarmed, and thought it would be easy for ADT to just update the box. Unfortunately after 1hr of searching, we were unable to find the old alarm box. Cables go into the wall, but there is no access panel anywhere.

Flyboy Tom
Re: TOH wants to know about your house's "mystery" details

I am in the selling/buying a house process on Cape Cod My wife and I looked at a house the other day that has the chimeney running straight through the middle of one of the upstairs bedrooms. You could walk completely around it. the bedroom was pretty much useless.

Re: TOH wants to know about your house's "mystery" details

Have a similar "mystery" electrical switch. Finally traced it to an electrical outlet on the outside of the house. Made Christmas light operation much more comfortable.

Remembered having an apartment with a similar switch by the door that controlled an interior outlet - could shut off a lamp just before leaving.

Re: TOH wants to know about your house's "mystery" details

We had a timer switch in the garage, you used when you were just going to pop in there quick or it would turn the light out after you left in your car. It also had an over-ride switch so the light would stay on if you were going to be in the garage for a longer time.

We've had 2 switches with red indicator switches. One for the light in an outdoor sauna (the switch was in the garage, the sauna was a separate building 15' away from the garage service door) and one for an outlet under a mobile home which controlled the heat tape on the water line.

Re: TOH wants to know about your house's "mystery" details

We live in a small farmhouse, with a two-bedroom addition that appears to have been added somewhere between 1915 and 1920. I have one "mystery" item, and two oddities. If I can figure out where the batteries in my camera keep going (I'm suspecting a certain gadget geek in my household is responsible :mad:), I'll get some pictures posted.

The "mystery" item is a red glass bulb sitting in a cone-shaped cup attached to a post by my stairs in the basement. I have no clue what it is. My dad says it's some kind of fire extinguisher.

The first oddity (to me, anyway) is a very small room in the basement, built with the same cement bricks as the foundation. It appears that the last people used it as storage, but was there another reason for it? Was it a storm room, or a special root cellar?

The other oddity (to me, anyway) is the basement window that opens to underneath the addition. If the original owners intended it to be access to the crawl space, couldn't they have replaced it with a door? The window (along with one close to it, but on the wall facing the front of the house) keeps coming open. At first, I suspected animals were pushing that window open, but now I'm not so sure.

Re: TOH wants to know about your house's "mystery" details

i have a guess on the small room in your basement. it cold have been a coal storage room. my last house had one, a small foundation surrounded room with a door and a window. the window was used for the coal guy to deliver the coal through. when we bought the house i had to shovel about 3 wheelbarrow's full of coal out of there. then i filled it with shelves and made it a storage room.

Re: TOH wants to know about your house's "mystery" details

You could be right about that room, MLBSF. The previous residents did the same thing with that room and used it as storage. That room in particular gets too damp to use for much of anything useful.

Here's the pic my guy took with his cell phone of water globe thing. Is it some sort of fire extinguisher?

Re: TOH wants to know about your house's "mystery" details

The mystery globe indeed appears to be a fire extinguisher, similar to what I saw in the Uppertown Firefighters Museum in Astoria, Oregon. It most likely contains Carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) as an agent. CCl4 is associated with liver and kidney damage, as well as damage to the central nervous system and possibly cancer.

EDIT: This would be an "automatic" fire extinguisher that works much like a modern sprinkler system. In the event of a fire, the heat will cause a pressure buildup in the bulb. When it gets hot enough, a fusible link will melt and release the agent to extinguish the fire.

Re: TOH wants to know about your house's "mystery" details

My Maternal Grandparents' San Francisco Victorian has a basement - with a small room for coal or storage; I am not sure which. The unique thing was the ceiling tiles that lined the ceilings througout the basement. It was made from printing tintypes from the San Francisco Call Bulletin the local daily newspapers! I have no idea where they came from or why they were tacked to the ceiliing - they could not have offered much insulating quality, not like all the newspapers stuffed into the walls! How I wished I had taken one of those tintypes with me before they both died!


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