Friday, April 4, 2014

the undiscovered country

In our three years in the house I've made a point of never fully cleaning out the shelves in our basement. They were to be our last great hope, our rainy day fund, the last of the discoveries after finishing the rest of the house. For a person like me, living in a house like this, facing the fact that at some point there will be nothing left to find is a terrible thing - I relish the possibility and decrepitude far more than any finished room, which is perhaps why there are far more befores than afters on this blog.

no, this wasn't staged...

However, for work to proceed, sacrifices have to be made - in this case, for the electrician to work on the wiring mentioned a few posts ago, things from the sacred shelves had to be moved out of harms way. The shelves in questions are in the first room of the basement. This room includes such charming features as the "keep out room," (created in part from what we think are boards from our butlers pantry), suckers and stems from the now removed sassafras tree that refuses to go down without a drawn out battle, and a hefty helping of cobwebs and compost from decaying who-knows-what on the shelves.

The green thing is actually an antique oak pie
safe, I found part of the door frame while cleaning

On the other hand, the shelves did not disappoint. There were pieces of gas light sconces, 20 original swing arm curtain rods of different designs (no mounting brackets though, anyone know where I can get those for a reasonable price, metal shop maybe?) a copper engraving plate with the name of someone who lived nearby in the 20's, many antique canning jars, and various controlled substances - my favorite of which was a full antique bottle of chloroform.

Yes, my house plays the part of the creepy mansion to a T... While we're on that creepy note, how about this?

Yes, that would be a pinned and labeled bug collection from 1965 in a cigar box. It had been on the top shelf, and the evil monkey had just come down to see how the cleaning was going. I asked him to clear off the shelf so I didn't have to set up the ladder (he's exceptionally tall, perhaps the whole reason I keep him around). He reaches up, produces this box, peaks inside, and excitedly closes it and tries to hand it to me saying "this is so cool." To which I reply "it's a box of spiders isn't it?" I have ESP. The box has now been returned to the (much cleaner) top shelf, where it will continue to horrify owners for decades/centuries to come. Also returned to the top shelf, all the chemicals, and the hilariously labeled Fine Dry Wine from Futryk (the owners of the house from the 50's until us) Vineyards of Edgewood PA. Strange that our friends didn't want to come over for a wine tasting.....

Perhaps the most miraculous find however I have the evil monkey to thank for. Also on the top shelf, laying in the dirt in the corner (blending into the shelf well enough that I would never have noticed it while cleaning from the ground) was a piece of glass.

The glass, and also a pirate ship I stole from my cousin's
pirate themed Bar Mitzvah - it's labeled Queen Anne's Revenge,
so I clearly had to have it.

Yes, a piece of purple rippled stained glass that most likely came from one of our five missing stained glass windows (pieces of which we've been finding buried in the back yard). That folks is not the wondrous part though. The wondrous part is that the glass is an exact match to the three 5 foot long transoms I was given when I bought all those wavy glass windows a few months back.

The universe is a pretty cool place....
This is slightly better, I promise

And yes, the view from our garret remains the same, skeletal trees and mud, oh spring...


  1. That reminds me of when I went on some urban exploration with a friend and we walked into an abandoned (and open) 1929 mansion.

    In the cellar we found a fully stocked bar with almost 1000 (yes, thousand!) wine bottles. That was weird enough, but the labels had the name of the house owner on them. Who definitely wasn't a professional wine-maker but in fact an architect, whose father had built the house.

    Other people were there as well and took pictures.

    The property is owned by a developer who built 6 new houses in the garden and renovated the old place (not quite done yet). I suppose it won't retain much of its original interior since it was in such bad shape (incredibly bad water damage top to bottom).

    1. It always makes me happy to find houses that people respect enough to leave untouched (unless demolition is pending), glad to hear at least the shell was saved - although I hope the bathrooms didn't end up in a dumpster.

      You ought to update your site!

    2. The plural isn't quite appropriate... this grand old mansion had a whopping total of one bathroom on five floors if you count the semi finished basement! Only tiny half-baths (quite appropriately carrying the old European term water closets) on the other floors.
      Unfortunately I fear nothing was saved but I don't know for sure.

      I know I should update my blog but after terrible water damage in our main home work on the house has pretty much ground to a screeching halt.

      BTW, I can relate to your story - in February we decided to go through the attic and see what we could get rid of because the roof framing needs to be treated for powder post beetle damage. I'm fairly sure we dug through the entire contents of the attic before and we still managed to find some "new" stuff like four incredibly tacky heavy chairs (I suspect 1970s vintage baroque revival) or a grand total of almost 100 cassette tapes. Almost half of them are shot (eaten tape) but it was fun going through them. Each tape is neatly numbered and labeled and there's a small booklet with info on the recordings.

    3. Powder post beetles, one thing we don't have to deal with here much. Sorry to hear about the water damage, hope you get it dealt with soon!

    4. Thanks, but that's already mostly over. We still need to repaint small yellow spots in two rooms but that's about it. I moved back into my room last August but getting the furniture back up and moving my various belongings took a LOT of time. We hope that this summer we can make some nice progress on the other house again. Actually my blog doesn't show the current state, in the meantime we got some flooring down and the bathroom is semi-finished. We hope to get done with the tiling next week but we'll see.

  2. I love that cache of elixers and potions. What cool archeological experince. Not much of that fun stuff can be found in a 1979 tract home.

    1. Yeah, our last house was a 1986 tract home in Miami, nothing to find inside, and nothing but coral rock if you dug outside...


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