My oven is haunted

I woke up this morning to a strange sound from my kitchen — an angry churring, punctuated with little squeaks. My first thought was that a squirrel had gotten in, or perhaps a large bat, so I investigated. The sound was coming from my oven, an ancient GE electric model. It sounded like it was coming from inside the oven, so I cautiously opened it, prepared in case an angry rodent leapt out at me. Nothing. By now the noise had been going on so long and was so repetitive that I was suspecting it might be something mechanical, but I did have one final test.

I set the oven to broil, 500°F, and waited.

Hey, I’m a scientist, baby. Gotta do the straightforward experiment, no matter how cruel.

(I would have turned it off if I heard screams from inside.)

Anyway, I got it hot, to a temperature no mammal could survive. As the temperature rose, the noise continued unchanged — no frantic scurryings, no rise in pitch, and most importantly, no screeching beast with eyes ablaze and fur smoking erupted from the works, hot for revenge. The oven just kept chittering at me.

Then, after reaching the appropriate temperature and sitting there for 5 minutes, it stopped. The beast within was satisfied. Maybe it was just cold? Or maybe it’s something mechanical. I’m looking at this antique timer built in to it, which doesn’t work. Maybe something ticked over inside it, and it decided to finally let me know the turkey from Thanksgiving, 1961 was done with its dying, febrile buzzer.

This is in many ways an unsatisfying outcome. It would probably be easier to get a demon exorcised from this hulking ugly beast that was installed in the 1950s than to get it repaired or replaced.


  1. Larry says

    If history (of movies) has taught us anything, it is to never, but never, look inside the basement, closet, attic, or oven, if you hear weird and strange noises emanating from within. Most teenagers know this instinctively but they look anyway, because, hormones. Those days, PJ, should long be behind you and common sense and self preservation should prevail. Your safest course of action should be, naturally, to nuke it from space, just to be sure.

  2. quotetheunquote says

    Very loud thermophilic bacteria?

    Or does it have a convection feature? (Tend to doubt it, at that age, but I can’t tell based on the one photo). Maybe the fan got turned on accidentally?

  3. says

    I think it was installed when the house was built, in the late 1940s. No, it’s not a convection oven.

    There are other relics in the kitchen, like a wall plate with buttons that used to control a stove top…stove top was replaced, but the buttons still sit there, since removing them would require tearing apart a wall. There’s also a metal hatch for dumping garbage, that would drop trash down into an incinerator, which is also long gone.

  4. Bruce Fuentes says

    That oven probably consumes enough energy to power a small town. The timer reminds me of the oven we had in our house when I was a kid growing up in PA in 60’s and 70’s.

  5. Owlmirror says

    It would probably be easier to get a demon exorcised from this hulking ugly beast that was installed in the 1950s than to get it repaired or replaced.

    You might want to weight the pros and cons of keeping the demon. On the one hand, the oven will heat things faster and longer. On the downside, there’s the danger of burning, the risk of generating Pure Evil, and the fact that everything will taste of brimstone ¹.

    1: Of course, there are those (and their dependents) that are into that sort of thing.

  6. raven says

    I’ve got about the same model and year GE stove as PZ, something from the 1950’s..
    There is a light in the oven that goes on when you open the door.
    It still works.

    My parents still have the old 1950’s refrigerator in their garage that we
    had when I was a kid growing up in that era.
    It also still works.

  7. simonhadley says

    PZ, you may have a serious issue to check out. The terminals on old electric ovens sometimes work loose inside the body and can short out. Normally that would trip a breaker in the house but not always. A line could be loose and arcing against its terminal which can make some pretty weird sounds. If it is possible to pull the oven away from the wall and check the main line where it goes in please do that.

  8. PaulBC says

    It was the invisible hand of the free market trying desperately to warn you that if you only buy an oven every 70 years you’re going to destroy the freaking economy.

  9. edrowland says

    From the description of the sound, it sounds like a rotisserie – a motor-driven rotating spit for turning a chicken as you bake it. There should be a switch to turn it off somewhere on the control panel.

  10. Chelydra says

    Some of those ovens with a built-in rotisserie motor don’t have an exterior control – the motor starts in response to the spit being plugged into the hole in the back of the oven. The motor could also be controlled by the oven timer, and will start in response to a cook time being set. Might want to turn the cook time to “off”.

  11. PaulBC says

    So a 70-year-old rotisserie that has been quiescent the whole time PZ has lived in his house suddenly began to move? This is at least as spooky as the “haunted oven” hypothesis. I’m not even sure they had home rotisserie ovens in the late 1940s, but I’m often wrong about consumer technology. I did find an ad for a separate GE rotisserie in 1958.

  12. says

    Did you put on your best white lab coat and stethoscope, then check the oven’s heart beat?

    Seriously, those old mechanical clocks ran a synchronous motor to convert 60Hz to oven time, and the gears and bearings eventually run dry. Either give it a bit ‘o lube or disconnect it.

  13. PaulBC says

    Seriously, those old mechanical clocks ran a synchronous motor to convert 60Hz to oven time

    Now I feel very old. Electrical clocks based on 60Hz motors were ubiquitous at least through the 1990s. They kept excellent time too, provided your utility was doing its job.

    (Reminded also of listening to a speech from at my daughter’s middle school graduation where the speaker referred to John Steinbeck as a “writer from the 1900s”.)

  14. chigau (違う) says

    I just discovered that my fridge makes a beeping noise if I leave the door open too long.

  15. magistramarla says

    LOL We just bought a house that was built in 1956 – the same year that my husband and PZ were born and the year before I was born. Luckily, the kitchen appliances, as well as many other aspects of the house, have been updated. That being said, the house is extremely well-built and snug.
    PZ, I think that it’s high time that you replace that beast. Is there still a Sears near you? I would highly recommend a Kenmore Elite. You can buy one with convection oven capabilities and a built-in thermometer for that turkey!

  16. brain says


    It would probably be easier to get a demon exorcised from this hulking ugly beast that was installed in the 1950s than to get it repaired or replaced.

    Actually, items built before the ’80s are much easier to repair than more recent stuff. They were designed and built to be disassembled and fixed, they were built out of steel and wood (and bakelite). Modern stuff is all glue and brittle plastic, and it’s designed to be thrown away at the first problem (I restore stuff as a side hobby). You must only be careful with electric parts (safety has greatly improved), lead paint, and find spare parts.

    @6 Bruce Fuentes:

    That oven probably consumes enough energy to power a small town

    Not actually. An electric oven is basically a resistance, so it converts 100% of the incoming energy into heat (well, almost 100%: a tiny fraction of it goes into light and other non-heating wavelengths, and possibly into vibrating energy if the resistance buzzes). Apart from that it’s only a matter of oven insulation and air circulation to reduce cooking time. Oh, and obviously the fact that electricity is not the optimal solution for a domestic oven from the energetic standpoint, but this applies to modern ovens too.

  17. wzrd1 says

    Want a real solution? Retire the stove/oven, get a more efficient model.

    That said, while hearing a detonation noise here, we searched and at dinnertime, found the source of detonation – a roll of biscuits.
    Annoyingly, a forgotten roll. We both love those cheap assed things, with a smidgen of butter and some preserves in the morning.

  18. birgerjohansson says

    I recently discovered the narrative universe of the SCP Foundation. -The chunk of hardware mimicking an “oven” needs to be contained safely, as soon as possible, being an obvious non-natural entity.

  19. brain says

    @22 wzrd1

    Want a real solution? Retire the stove/oven, get a more efficient model.

    This is a solution to an undefined problem, therefore could worsen it.
    To solve the “strange sounds in my oven” both repairing and replacing are equivalent.
    If you say “more efficient” you must define what you mean: from an energy consumption point of view? Or maybe an oven with more functionalities (like a programmable timer, different cooking settings etc)? In both cases it all depends on many factors:
    * average usage of the oven by PZ family (hours of usage per year)
    * energy consumption of current oven vs a new oven
    * the value attributed by PZ’s to keeping an oven out of the 40s

    Just to say: if the oven is not used a lot, it could well be that the environmental and energetical cost of replacing it with a new one is much higher than keeping it. Also considering that this one, if repaired, will probably last another 30 years, while a new one will be fried in 5-10 years.