While going through the collections for our upcoming exhibition From the Vaults: Wonders of the World's Fair, the team found this object:
Here's what we know about it: it has something to do with the fair (that would be the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the original source of The Field Museum's initial collections). We had our anthropology curators and archivist look at it, but nobody knew quite what it was. Which is understandable: we're a natural history and anthropology museum, after all. Sarah C., who is assisting with development of the show, decided to call up someone who is always helpful--or at least tries to be: Dad.
She sent him the pictures and gave him a call. Unfortunately we don't have a photograph of Sarah's Dad and his colleagues looking at the thing, but if we did have that photo, Sarah said you could caption it like this: "Six General Motors electricians munch on chili-dogs as they crowd around a laptop scrutinizing photos of an unidentified widget said to be from The World's Columbian Exposition. Chewing into the phone my dad enthusiastically exclaims, 'Collectively, we have 120 years experience!'
I haven't yet heard whether our Detroit colleagues have been able to identify it, but we're grateful for the help, nonetheless. I'll follow up later with the answer. The suspense, I know, is killing you.
In the meantime, if you happen to be a connoisseur of 19th-century electrical hardware, and know what this might be, please let us all know. You will get a gold star and the ringing of the prize bell at full volume.
Before signing off, thought you might be interested in seeing where said Developers work. Here's a shot of 'the row' with morning sunlight coming through the eastern-facing windows. Their view, incidentally, is as gorgeous as mine (see very first blog post, on 2/8/13).
Those tubes way in the background are prototypes for a mechanical interactive that lets visitors explore the relative drag of small and large bodies moving through water. The clear stuff is some kind of viscous goo. Not water.