This mystery machine came with no explanation. Photo: Rural Life Museum of Trappe

Eastern Shore Museum Gets Mysterious Antique Artifact, Launches Investigation

A history mystery is unfolding right now in the small town of Trappe, between Easton and Cambridge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The Rural Life Museum of Trappe had an unidentified item show up on its campus, and nobody knows quite what it is or where it came from.

Local man Charles B. Adams, Jr. launched the Rural Life Museum of Trappe in 2006, after his father, Charles Bennett Adams Sr. insisted that “there ought to be a museum around here.” The museum’s board met monthly until the COVID-19 pandemic, and then Adams, Jr.’s daughter-in-law, Linda Elben-Adams, kept the mission going through Facebook posts. Museum president Elizabeth Ferguson says of Elben-Adams, “Her posts developed a wonderful following that made a revival of the museum possible.”

The Rural Life Museum encourages the public to contribute items of historical significance, including photos, documents, household equipment, and farm machinery. The newfound following and requests for donations may have served as inspiration for the museum’s latest donation. In August a mystery item showed up at the museum, brought to the grounds by an anonymous donor who has yet to take credit. But his or her identity is only half of the mystery. No one who has seen it can identify the piece of equipment that stands waist high. It is made from scrap wood with one moveable piece made to drop a wooden peg into a round hole.

When the museum posted a photo on its Facebook page requesting help to identify the object, the quest turned into a tri-county guessing game including media exposure that none of the volunteers expected. The page was flooded with suggestions, with some threads as long as 65 replies: Could it be a tool for bailing hay or pine cones? Was it a device used in leatherwork? Perhaps it was food-related, used to crack Eastern Shore black walnuts or to shuck corn. Maybe it was used in a canning house, or for making butter or cheese. Someone tossed in a joke, suggesting the punch could be made to turn biscuits into doughnuts. When Ferguson turned to technology, even the power of Google Lens came up short. 

The mystery machine was in good shape, with only one broken part. To repair it Ferguson enlisted the aid of a member of Queen Anne’s County’s Rural Life Museum. “When Bill Lampman and his wife came to town on one of their visits, I found out he was also a woodworker so I invited him to look at our mystery machine and see if he could replicate the only broken part, which he did,” she says. 

Next month, the mystery item’s identity might finally be discovered. On October 14, beginning at 11 a.m. until “2-ish,” Ferguson tells us, “the Rural Life Museum of Trappe will host a fundraising event to test out the guesses submitted for the machine. The mystery surrounding the machine provided the perfect opportunity for a fundraiser to help save Defender House, the largest of the museum’s four small buildings,” Ferguson says.

In addition to the main event, music, food, and a silent auction will be part of the day’s festivities with music by Makayla Lizzy, and chicken and beef dinners on sale by the Lions Club of Trappe. Silent auction items include services from a local hair salon, gift certificates to a movie or restaurant, and the donation of the use of a dumpster. Anyone interested in donating a product or service to promote their business can text or call 410-476-4857 or email [email protected].

Click here for more information about the Rural Life Museum of Trappe.

-Niambi Davis