Friday, August 17, 2007

The Case of the Mysterious Doorbell

Ever since I moved into this house the doorbell hasn’t worked. I put a sign over the button warning people it didn’t work and that they needed to knock. Sign fell down. If someone’s coming over, I have to keep an eye out, because they’ll stand on the porch ringing the bell futilely.

A related oddity is that there is another doorbell button on the kitchen pantry door. It’s clearly an old button, many times painted around, and when pressed, activates nothing. Again, it’s on the inside of the house, leading to the pantry closet. A mystery that has no ready explanation.

Today the carpenter came to the house to lower the microwave, and after it was all done we talked about the broken doorbell. He said it might just be transformer problem, easy to fix, and where was the doorbell chime? I suddenly realized I’d never seen the usual ceiling-mounted doorbell appliance anywhere in the house.

But there was an odd little metal box in the hallway close to the floor. Again, like the pantry doorbell button, this metal box looks like something from the 50s; it's that funky old dull aluminum or tin material they used to make pie pans out of. I hardly even noticed it unless I was sweeping the floor and it caught my eye and I’d wonder what the heck, and then forget about it. The carpenter took the box casing off and there it was: a loose wire and some strange looking mechanism. He reconnected the wire and voila! Doorbell works.

Although it’s not actually a doorbell—it’s a buzzer, in every respect a relic from another place and time. Imagine Ethel standing at Lucy's door and hitting the button--that's the sound we're talking about. The wire may have been disconnected on purpose because it’s loud as hell. I’ve found a wav file that approximates the sound.

And one final bizarre note: the button on the pantry door is LIVE as well.

Why would anyone have a doorbell on the inside of the house? Even if this were once the back door it makes no sense. A friend mentioned possibly it was to summon a servant or to get people to come to the dinner table--again, rather idiotic in a house this small.

I'll have to ask Bertha, my 90-year old neighbor. She may have some insight into the past.

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