Q. There are numerous hard cylindrical objects that look like tiny metal domes located throughout the floor area in the Church of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville. Most are under pews but are still clearly visible because of their size. What is their purpose?
— N.S., of Millstadt
A. Church sexton Steve Schaefer probably wishes he had some awe-inspiring answer to what he says is the most frequently asked question by those who either attend Mass there regularly or visitors who simply stop in to appreciate the church’s beauty. You know, maybe on very special occasions they are used to project holograms of the Virgin Mary to make the worship experience even more stirring and meaningful.
Alas, the real story is terribly mundane. In any forced-air heating system, you have registers through which hot air from the furnace is blown combined with return air ducts that suck up cooled air and send it back to the furnace to be reheated. Well, instead of placing small wooden or metal grills all over the place, the folks who designed the church’s heating system decided to use these tiny domes as covers for the return air system.
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Just try to resist the urge to scare your kids into thinking that these things will suck them in if they fall asleep during the service.
Q. I was wondering if you could find a copy of an article with pictures that was in the old St. Louis Globe-Democrat back in 1964 or 1965. It concerned Victor Ribbing, who was rehabbing a house at 630 N. 8th St. in East St. Louis. The picture was of Victor and his seven children in front of the house. I ask because Victor was my father-in-law, who has passed, and I would like to show my son this story.
— Bonnie Ribbing, of Columbia
A. Trust me, there’s nothing I’d rather do than instantly reconnect you with this cherished family treasure, but that will take a lot of work on your part.
The Globe-Democrat folded its tent in 1986, but I was hoping that some intrepid Globe librarian had clipped the article and filed it in the paper’s morgue, which may have been given to an area library or other institution. Then, someone there would be able to quickly retrieve the historic article on what may be its golden anniversary and send me a copy.
Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. The Globe-Democrat morgue is now part of the Mercantile Library, which has moved to the Thomas Jefferson Library on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. But when I called to inquire of your need, they told me the article was not part of the surname or subject index nor could it be found on the part of the morgue that has been electronically digitized.
Your only hope is to go through the paper’s microfilm issue by issue in search of the story. It will be a bit of a daunting task, but since you apparently have it narrowed to a couple of years, it won’t exactly be like looking for a needle in a haystack and spotting that picture might be easy. You can find the microfilm at Mercantile and likely at more nearby St. Louis libraries, including the one downtown. (Call to make sure.) Perhaps you might want to try scrolling through a couple of months at a time over a period of several weeks to avoid the nauseousness that often overwhelms me after long periods in front of the reader. Or assign certain months to several family members to hasten the task.
If you want to double-check my findings, you can call the library at 314-516-7240 or go to www.umsl.edu/mercantile for more information. I sincerely hope you find it.
Q. Here’s something I’ve always wondered: What kind of life insurance could the first astronauts who landed on the moon buy?
— Robert Snider, of Marissa
A. Whether via sympathy or lawsuit, the government likely would have compensated families had disaster struck. After the shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas in 2003, for example, NASA settled out of court by paying families of the seven astronauts who died $26.6 million through a special 2004 congressional appropriation.
But the first astronauts to land on the moon didn’t take any chances. Rather than relying on a simple (and expensive) down-to-earth insurance policy, they went went with an alternative scheme that likely would leave their families flush financially forever — autographs.
“These astronauts had been signing autographs since the day they were announced as astronauts, and they knew even though eBay didn’t exist back then, that there was a market for such things,” space historian Robert Pearlman once told National Public Radio. “There was demand.”
About a month before the launch, Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins in their free time began signing hundreds of covers — special envelopes postmarked on important dates. They gave these to a friend, who took them to the post office to be postmarked on the red-letter days of the launch and the lunar landing. They were then given to the families so they could be sold in the event the astronauts did not return. In the 1990s, Pearlman says, the covers began showing up in auctions, where they still can fetch an out-of-this-world $30,000 each.
Where would you find the world’s largest strawberry?
Answer to Saturday’s trivia: Anyone who has taken a high school literature class likely has heard of the Brontë sisters — Charlotte, Emily and Anne. In the early 19th century, the English trio turned out a series of novels that have turned into classics, including “Wuthering Heights,” “Jane Eyre” and “The Tenant of Wildfall Hall.” However, like many women writers at the time, they used male pseudonyms early in their career, because they feared readers would not take women writers seriously. They became the Bell triplets — Currier, Ellis and Acton. But you may not have learned that there really was one son among the six Brontë children, and he, too, was a writer as well as a painter. He was named Branwell after his mother’s maiden name. Although he showed some promise, he died at age 31 of tuberculosis, likely aggravated by alcoholism and addiction to opium and laudanum. However, in Elizabeth Gaskel’s “The Life of Charlotte Brontë,” an eyewitness said that to show the power of the human will, Branwell insisted on dying while standing up “and when the last agony began, he insisted on assuming the position just mentioned.”
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427, email@example.com or call 618-239-2465.