Mystery switches, gizmos,doors and wiring

What have y’all found deep in the caverns of your house that doesn’t seem to serve any discernible purpose ?
I love old wiring and switches to nowhere.,I’ve found many odd keys that fit no lock, and plenty of old connectors screwed into the basement joists. My top find was a workstation built into my attic (which incidentally has it’s own fuse box, separate from my circuit panel) with five places and wiring used to teach sewing to immigrants at the turn of the century. The former owner explained that to us. I remember the tale of a poster who found a mystery door and was wondering if anyone else was as lucky.

You might enjoy this story out of the MIT AI Lab (when it housed a PDP-10) about a switch labeled Magic.

(Not me. Not my story.)

Our house in King George, VA, had a mystery switch in the hall. It was across from the laundry room and just outside the powder room, sharing a switchplate with the powder room light switch. We lived there 3 years and never did figure out what that switch did. Best guess is that every time we flipped it, somewhere in the world, a light went on or off…


“I have a switch in my apartment… it doesn’t do anything… Every once in a while, I turn it on and off… One day I got a call… it was from a woman in France… She said “Cut it out”…”

  • Steven Wright :smiley:

I had one of these on the dash of an old car of mine. It was a secondhand car, and I think a previous owner must have installed it. It was a three position switch IIRC. I occasionally randomly flipped it, but it did not seem to do anything.

The previous owner had worked for an airplane maker in electronics. He had a do-it-yourself burglar alarm system in the house using stuff taken from work that he put in the contract that he could take with him when he sold. Left a lot of the wiring around though.

I took out as much as I could find and saved it for my own little projects. That was decades ago.

Just yesterday I found a chunk of it next to the dryer duct when I was replacing the outside hood vent.

At least I recognized it and knew what it was. The next owner isn’t going to have a clue.

I can’t even begin to tell you the number of people that think that that switch is standard on every new car.

In one of the server rooms at Best Buy HQ, there’s a great, big red button about 4" across, halfway down the wall with a conduit going up to the ceiling. It’s not labelled. Nobody knows what it does. The urge to hit it is nigh-overwhelming.

My apartment has a non-functioning switch on the wall near the front door, and one in the bedroom, which do nothing; I figure they were originally to turn off one of the wall sockets. They couldn’t be arsed to keep it that way when they upgraded the wiring. There’s a buzzer over the door that’s been painted over so many times you can’t make out any of the features. I was told when I moved in that the buzzers don’t work any more. Gee, I wonder why?

I have a switch at either end of my hallway, and a light fixture at either end of the hallway. Neither fixture has power to it. The switches are hot, but they don’t turn anything on. There are two switches in the living room that don’t do anything. The box where the ceiling fan is mounted is always hot. All of these fixtures have 3-wire running to them, so my only guess is somebody tried to wire them 3-way, couldn’t figure it out, and gave up.
I guess that doesn’t make them mystery switches. Still, I curse the idiots and/or assholes who got a hold of that house before me.

Halon maybe? Though those are usually pretty thoroughly labeled.

Our master bathroom has one light switch near the door; it’s for the main bathroom light. Further in, near the shower, there’s a gang of three light switches. One of them controls the light near the shower, another controls the ventilation fan. The third switch doesn’t appear to do anything, and I can’t imagine what it might ever have done.

My husband years ago was restoring a vintage Corvette Sting Ray. It would start fine, but about fifteen seconds or so later it would always stall out. He ruled out mechanical problems and figured it might be something electrical. He traced down each and every wire under the hood, and finally found one that was not standard. It led to the glove compartment, not to the light, but to a toggle switch way in the back. The switch controlled the fuel pump; if you didn’t have it turned on, the car would quit after using up any fuel remaining in the lines. It was a great anti-theft device installed by the previous owner.

Halon, master power switch, call the fire department, giant pre-recorded whoopee cushion… who knows? Our own sense of enlightened self-interest and lack of a desire to get fired kept us from finding out.

Psshht. Pussy.


The house my roommate and I moved into a few months ago is full of surprises. Aside from a switch in the bathroom that doesn’t do anything, and a switch in my bedroom that controls the hallway lights, there’s a toggle switch by the stove with a chrome backplate that says it controls the hood fan - except that there is no hood fan, no room for one, and no other sign that there ever was a hood fan.

When I first moved in, the cable jack in my bedroom didn’t work even though all the others did. When we called the cable guy out to take a look at it, he discovered that it had no signal and, as far as he could tell, wasn’t attached to anything on the other end. He ended up slicing it open and discovering it was an ancient copper wire from when they first started wiring houses for cable back in the day, and that even if it were still connected, it wouldn’t work with their system these days. All the other wires in the house, aside from that one, were modern.

Lastly, there’s this contraption mounted to the hallway wall right under the smoke detector. What is it? I have no idea.

The doorbell? And a lovely artdeco one at that?

Or maybe mid-century. I’m not an expert on design.

Yep, that’s a doorbell all right.

Definitely a doorbell! We used to have one like that, in the early sixties. Nu-Tone!

In my current house, we have a switch in the hallway that never worked for anything. Then one day, it magically started working! To the wall socket. Then one day it quit again. :frowning:

David Mitchell (the actor not the author) has a switch in his apartment he’s never flipped in 11 years and refuses to do so. (Link goes to video of him talking about it)

It’s actually sort of weird that there’s no such switches or gizmos or wires in my house. The house is old and shittily maintained (before I got here!)

I did hear a mysterious noise for a few hours one day. But that’s because I’d run my shoulder into the whole house fan switch and it turned on, but the belt is off. But I know what and where all those pieces are.

Check the top and bottom sockets to see if the switch works. It is possible to wire a “half hot” outlet, so that the switch only controls one of the sockets and the other is left continuous.

I have a three-switch panel next to my front door. One switch controls the outside light, one switch controls the light in the foyer, and the other switch…

I haven’t been able to figure it out. I thought it must control an outlet but I tried all of them and couldn’t find one.