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Urban Archeologist: A Cure for All Seasons

Sales are slowing down, but there's still treasure to be found.

As the colder days settle in, the good sales go south for the winter, or somewhere. Not to say that treasure can't be discovered in the fall, it just becomes a little more of a challenge to find. Every street corner seems to have a sign, unfortunately, they all end in “Vote for _____.” Cold and wet weather combine with shorter days to threaten and shrink the possibilities.

On the positive side it only takes one sale, one dig, one item to make it worth my while. This past weekend I managed to find a local estate sale in a unique home — actually, they're all unique. As I explored each room, finding a different selection of items in each, I couldn't help describing the display as an eclectic's eclectic collection. There was a cacophony of old instruments and so many cameras that I shuttered to think of what I would do with them all.

Nothing grabbed me until I was told that everything was __ price. This usually signifies that the sale is coming to an end and the estate sale service is motivated to move it all. The “Vi-Ray-O Junior” is one of these contraptions that I have seen at a few other sales and has always excited the gadget-ologist in me. For $5 I decided to satisfy my curiosity and, as a plus, it supposedly worked.

With standardized medicine still barely accessible to most, the advent of electricity gave birth to numerous devices guaranteeing to cure a myriad of ills. The idea that if you could hold the magic of electricity in your hand you might wield the power to silence your nagging back, ease your lumbago, clear your catarrh and banish your boils, etc. The promise of ultra violet light as a cure-all is nothing short of quackery, but it is estimated that 50,000 of these units (similar to this one) were sold during the first half of the 20th Century. 

The images show that although the unit appears to be a fire hazard, I was able to plug it in, power it up and torture a small orange. The gas inside the glass tube glows in the appropriate color and give small electric shocks with accompanying similarly colored sparks. There is a definite odor of ozone as the unit buzzes and crackles, and my wife, who snapped a few of these images, was quick to point out the next day how I had scarred a tomato and summarily banished the device from the house. 

Though the leaves may be falling and the signs disappearing, if you look hard enough you may be able to find something to stun and amaze your family and friends... well, certainly stun them. If you really want to be stunned take a look at this panoramic postcard from Danbury and tell me how old it is, or read this postcard and learn why your daughters should be wary of traveling salesmen.

Greg Van Antwerp is a Brookfield resident and blogger, who can be found on the weekends in search of a good “dig” or a good story. You can read more about his adventures by visiting his blog.

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