I’ve been looking forward to this for a while – the post where I tell you about all the weird, cool, and gross stuff we have found in the house so far.
Most of these things came from under the floor of the back additions of the house. We brought down the ground level by 6 inches or so, to make room for a new cement slab in the crawl space. At first we were very careful and treated it like an archaelogical dig – we even sifted the dirt, looking for artifacts, which is how we found most of the small stuff below.
That method quickly got old though, when it became clear that we had a huge quantity of dirt to move. My archaeologist pals Joe Bagley and Jen Poulsen will cringe to hear me say this, but toward the end we were just shovelling dirt into a wheelbarrow and dumping it in a pile outside, only pausing to pick out larger pieces of pottery and the occasional shiny thing. Don’t tell them I said so!
Here are some highlights of what we found…
Forks, spoons, and other metal stuff. One of these spoons has a “W” monogram on it. Or is that an “M”? I have a pretty complete record of everyone that has lived in this house, and there aren’t any W’s or M’s.
What looks to me like an ink well, and what I thought might be a pen? I’m no expert.
We have buckets full of hand-cut nails. Here are a few choice samples:
an old leather shoe…
lots and lots of broken pottery….
What looks like an old bean pot (or is it three?) – here we are holding the pieces together:
I will have to ask Joe and Jen if I allowed to superglue this back together.
A sweet little play teacup and saucer – found in two different piles of dirt and reunited in our sorting…
Joe and Jen tell me that these are likely playing pieces from some game, made out of pieces of broken pottery:
Various bottles of unidentified substances. Is that…. tumeric? Is that one… iodine? Our tests have been inconclusive.
a bunch of coins from the 1820s-1860s. These are “Liberty Head” cents, in pretty bad condition. There were other coins (or were they buttons?) that were in worse condition, and not recognizable.
This is a pretty interesting thing, it took me a little while to figure out what it was. This is called an embossed shell card, and was kind of token made to advertise businesses or commemorate events. This one has the date 1776 on it, but it’s actually from the mid-1800s.
the “coin” is only one-sided. It’s a thin sheet of metal that would have been pressed to a wooden backing, which is now missing. Here’s what it looks like from the back:
I have also, unfortunately, learned a lot about the kinds of things that rats will steal and hide in their nests. We found cozy little spots in the walls filled with insulating materials like chewed up newspaper, bits of cloth and pantyhose. In the midst of finding all these treasures from the mid-1800s, I pulled out a chewed up Reader’s Digest magazine from 1995, buried about a foot deep in the dirt under the crawlspace. That one was a real head-scratcher. The only way it could have gotten there is for an animal to drag it down there to use for bedding. I didn’t snap a photo of it.
There were also remnants of snacks, like clam shells and crab or lobster claws. Rats apparently like seafood. The other thing they like? Shiny things. Mixed in with the bedding and crap were shiny baubles presumably stolen from inside the house, including plastic Mardi Gras beads, and this sparkly cat toy:
And amazingly, this pretty blue glass necklace. I imagine someone missing this off their dresser and never finding out where it went! I put it in my pocket while we were working, and then ran it through the washer and dryer with my pants. I broke off a little chip of the blue glass in the wash, but at least it’s clean now.
All the animal life under the house did result in one happy accident. There was a problem of what to do with all the dirt we were excavating from the former crawlspace. I sent off a sample to be tested for lead, along with soil samples from around the yard. The test results were incredible. The “dirt” from under the house was off the charts on every kind of soil nutrient important in the garden. I will leave it up to your imaginations how it got that way. Fortunately, it didn’t contain any more lead than the rest of the garden soil, so we treated it like fertilizer and spread it over the front lawn. I now have the greenest patch of weeds on Pleasant Street.
Up in the attic, while pulling out the old insulation and vacuuming up the mouse droppings, I came across many papers and pieces of things, including stuff like this:
Among the papers I found in the attic were these letters. They were folded up and too delicate and brittle to unfold, so I gave them to Joe, who is also Boston’s City Archaeologist. He unfolded the pieces and scanned them for me. I can’t really tell who they are from or to, but one page at least is dated 1881. The topic seems to be the construction of a town house in New York, complete with a floor plan – exactly the kind of letter my own brother might write to me!
Buried somewhere under the construction debris are a pile of very old newspapers, which were tacked down under floorboards and behind walls, every time a room was changed. In the 1930s, an upstairs room was divided into a closet and a bathroom, presumably when the house was divided up into 3, then 4 apartments, reflecting the financial hardship of the time. The partition itself was built not from lumber, but recycled antique doors from elsewhere in the house, and lined with newspapers under the paneling. One of the articles I could read described the new chancellor of Germany as kind of a disagreeable fellow – understatement of the century?
Maybe my favorite find was this big, heavy piece of a grinding wheel that my contractor found among the foundation stones of the rear-most addition. The stone is carved on both sides with the name R. Walker and the date of 1867. Could Mr. Walker have been the one that left behind that spoon with the monogrammed W or M? This stone settled one mystery: it seems to be pretty good evidence of the date of the last addition. Nowadays carpenters just sign their names on the the back of drywall with a sharpie.
When my house was built in 1804, Thomas Jefferson, our third president, was in office. When the last addition went up, Abraham Lincoln had just been killed, and Andrew Johnson was president. Kind of boggles the mind.
Things we haven’t found:
- Anything dating the foundation to the original 1630s Jones house. Apparently most of this pottery and stuff is from the 1800s, or 1700’s at the latest. Since this is thought to be the site of an earlier house built in the 1630s, we are interested to see if there are any artifacts from that time. Once the dust settles from the renovation, Joe and Jen might come by to dig some holes on the south of the house, and see if we uncover anything interesting there.
- The big pile of money that I know must have been left behind here somewhere! We’re still looking!