Sunday, August 15, 2010
Appliance ghosts and the demon pool cleaner
In Maryland to lead a playshop on the Power of Story, I am staying in a Georgian colonial manse that is now a B&B, not for the charm of the place (which is great, though challenged by the encroachment of nearby McMansions) but for the wonderful stone-bordered pool behind the house. I am told that Longwood Manor was built in 1827for Thomas Moore, a gentleman farmer who entertained Jefferson and invented the refrigerator. I'm surprised by the idea that refrigerators were available in Jefferson's lifetime, but merely file that datum away until later.
After a long swim and dinner, I sit out by the pool, serenaded by cicadas and frogs. Bruce, the owner of the B&B, comes to join me. I am steeled to hear stories of stately Southern ghosts, but when I ask him if people report seeing the shade of Jefferson, he says, "Nothing like that. But there was an episode with my wife's deceased mother and the appliances." He explains that long ago in the Midwest, his mother-in-law worked as a demonstrator, showing people the virtues of washing machines and dryers when these were still novelties. She visited Longwoond Maor after Bruce and his wife bought it. Then, on the anniversary of her death, Bruce and his wife were both startled when the dryer in the laundry room turned on, twice, without benefit of human hand.
While Bruce talked, I watched the curious behavior of another appliance, the heavy-duty pool cleaner that was rushing back and forth in the water. It looked like a strange hybrid sea-creature with big flat eyes, a squirter like a goeey-duck (geoduc) clam, and a tail. It coiled itself up like a sea-snake getting ready to strike, then streaked across the pool. It seemed to be attacking a lamp that was set on the rim of the pool at the far end. It raised up, and squirted alternately from its tail and that gooey-duck pecker. It plunged deep into shaowed waters, then shot up, part-way out of the pool, high enough to give the lamp a good whack that knocked it over.
"I think your pool vacuum is either a sea-monster, or possessed," I remarked to Bruce, who chuckled.
"We call him Wally. He has it in for the pool light at that end. He knocked it out of its socket. That's why it's on the rim. Wally will come and get me in a moment."
Sure enough, now its name had been mentioned, the pool cleaner left off attacking the lamp. It coiled and sprang, racing towards our end of the pool, flicked up its tail and sprayed Bruce.
When Bruce went into the house, I tried to get a photo of Wally in action. The pool cleaner was darn difficult to catch. Every time I got a good angle, it managed to throw me off by squirting from its pecker or spraying me from its tail.
In the morning, I read up on the inventor of the refrigerator for whom the house had been built. I discovered that what he actually invented was an icebox, a cedar box insulated with rabbit fur and sheathed in metal, which he designed in order to keep the butter from his cows firm on the wagon road from Brookeville to Washington. I examined a photocopy of a letter from Thomas Moore to Jefferson in which he respectfully invited the President to "examine the condition of butter in the newly invented refrigeratory [sic]." Moore got a patent for his "refrigerator", but this soon became worthless when the icebox was rendered obsolete by appliances with motors.
Moore probably never thought of trying to trademark the word "refrigerator", if such defense of intellectual property available in his day. If he had trademarked the name, then presumably he and his descendants would have received some remuneration every time a manufacturer used it to describe a product. Maybe through the squirts of the pool demon, the dead refrigerator guy is signaling he is pissed that he didn't get paid his due.