Mysteries about Glensheen Mansion are continuously being discovered. On Thursday, one of those mysteries, a diving bell, was recovered from beneath the old boathouse where it had been submerged for decades.

Crews began working on restoring the Glensheen boathouse this week after the October 2017 storm knocked the door down and filled it with beach rock. Almost a year later, a second storm brought in even more beach rock.

Before the storms, those who took the Glensheen Nooks and Crannies tour would be able to go into the boathouse and tour guides would explain that what was thought to be a diving bell — an open-bottomed chamber supplied with compressed air, in which a person can be let down underwater — was at the bottom of the boathouse, underwater, but all that could be seen were the lift wires poking out of the water.

Thursday was the first time in modern history that the diving bell was seen in its entirety.

 Glensheen staff discuss the diving bell that was dug up inside the Glensheen boathouse Thursday. They are unsure of its age but know that it was owned by Clara Congdon's nephew Alfred Bannister. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com
Glensheen staff discuss the diving bell that was dug up inside the Glensheen boathouse Thursday. They are unsure of its age but know that it was owned by Clara Congdon's nephew Alfred Bannister. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com

Glensheen director Dan Hartman said they don't know much about the diving bell. Before Thursday, some of the people who work at Glensheen were skeptical that it even was really a diving bell.

"Family legend was that Alfred Bannister was the one that used it," Hartman said.

Alfred Edward Bannister was Clara Hesperia Bannister Congdon's nephew. He came to live with the Congdons after his mother died during childbirth when he was 6 years old. After receiving his college degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bannister returned to Duluth and lived at Glensheen until 1929, according to an August 2000 Glensheen newsletter. That same newsletter said Bannister used the bell for underwater repairs of the family yacht, the Hesperia.

Hartman and other Glensheen employees marveled at the diving bell Thursday afternoon as it sat on the shore of Lake Superior next to the boathouse. Hartman said he doesn't know what's next for the diving bell, which is more than 7 feet in height, but his hope is that it won't remain at the mansion.

"My hope is to have it in some other museum with climate control," Hartman said. "My next steps are to call around to local museums to see who is interested and go from there. It can handle being outside for a few days but not long term. It would be great to have at a local museum."

But for now, the diving bell will stay where it is, available for the public who visit the mansion to enjoy.