When I was about 8 years old, my parents were gifted some lakefront property in our hometown, on which they eventually built the house they now live in. They decided we should mark this momentous occasion by creating a time capsule. I can't quite remember what all we put in the time capsule—though I seem to recall adding one of my school pictures and some paraphernalia from the Bush/Dukakis election that was going on at the time—and I'm pretty sure my parents have since forgotten where they buried it. Perhaps someday it will be unearthed by a new set of unsuspecting homeowners.
I love the idea of leaving secrets in a house for future generations to find—and the more creatively they're hidden, the better. The couple featured the Old-House Living story of a Gothic Revival in the latest issue of OHJ are a great example—when they replaced the slates on the mansard roof of their Gothic Revival's tower, they had friends and family write messages on the back of each. Now that the slates are installed, the homeowners will probably never read those messages again—but when the roof eventually needs repairs, the home's new caretakers will get a sweet surprise.
What about you—what secrets have you embedded in your old house? And what secrets from previous homeowners have you unearthed during your restoration work?
Over the years I have been working on houses I have found lots of things. Nothing valuable but a lot of thing interesting. Two things come to mind. In one of the houses there was a room about 4' X 6' in the basement beside the coal room. I think it was a room to store canned food because it had shelves on 2 sides. The interesting thing was the walls were papered with pages from the local Denver paper from 1904. I spent hours reading the want ads and the advertising. The prices were very interesting as well. The daughter of the builder told me that's where the children were sent when they were bad. A educational time out.
The other memory is when I was working removing some extra wide moulding from a window. It was very difficult and I worked long and hard not to split the board. The house was built in 1880 and the square nails were rusted making removal very difficult When finished I sat down to take a break as I was suffering from a very bad day. As I sat there I looked at the back of the molding and noticed a pencil drawing. It was a stick man, from his groin down to his feet were drawn a small line of drops. In front of his feet was a large circle, inside the circle it said "pi$$ on this house". I guess I wasn't the first workman to be frustrated by that window.
That is a top-quality story, Lair.
My wife and I left two small time capsules in the house we used to own (a 1916 railroad worker's cottage). Both times we had a wall open for one reason or another and before we closed it up we stuck a note in a bottle. We described ourselves, wrote about what we were doing to the house, and our aspirations for the future. In one, after a year-long project stripping sky-blue paint from beautiful douglasfir, we placed a curse upon anyone who painted the woodwork again! We have never found too many things left from previous owners (besides remuddling). In the 1916 house, we did find a silver quarter and a button hook (a tool used to aid the lacing of women's high laced boots). In our current house, an 1885 Queen Anne, we have found children's grafitti in the attic from the original family. Some of it aided in dating the addition to the house in 1897.
After reading the current article in OHJ about finding the newspaper article in the attic of the turret, I was inspired and excited to see if anything was in the attic of my turret. Amazingly enough, I found it easy to access and the space was in remarkably preserved condition. There, however, was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING up there. Not even a dead bat. Sometimes our beloved old houses can be disappointingly un-inspiring!
We will have been in our house three years this coming May. The previous owners had hired a company to come in and clean out the attic and garage when they put the house up for sale back in the fall of 2006. From what i've been told many things were in the attic from the second owners of the house. The 2nd owners occupied the house from 1904 until 1961...i don't even want to think about what they tossed out... like all of the original interior shutters to the house, left over moldings, etc. Fortunately the clean up crew didn't realize there were three separate attics... the middle attic had stick and ball spandrels that had been taken down, porcelian wash tubs, picture rail molding and bits and pieces of furniture, rugs, papers, pharmacy bottles, victorian era curtain rods, rolls and rolls of wallpaper pre 1928., etc.
while insulating the basement a week ago i came across what i thought was a thin piece of wood, covered in a fine gray dust...tapping the item i saw there was writing on this warped piece of something... wiping it off i see what was written...
T. Harry Fries placed this card here on the 6th of February 1901. Wow...its been sitting on the sill of the foundation for 110 years? T. Harry was actually Theodore Harry Fries, original owners son, who also cut his name in a piece of exterior molding on the house, was born in the house in 1882, which would have made him 18 when he placed that "card" on the foundation sill in 1901.
Excavating the ground for gardens or flower beds always turn up bits of china, a skeleton key, rusted metal, coal, sometimes porcelian doll parts found a arm and a leg in the front bed.. power washed the front sidewalk going from the front steps to the driveway and found a 1893 or 1895 liberty nickle.. i still have a feeling that there are many things yet to discover...
I have not added any capsules yet but thought about it.
I have however found some pretty cool stuff in my attic. Including a metal toy car from the 1920s in amazing condition. My attic was finished when I moved in, and I decided to un-finish it and found a lot behind the walls and in the wall cavities. When I demo the upstairs attic ceilings, I expect to find even more that had fallen under the attic floor.
This rolled out toward me as soon as I removed a piece of wall-board. It was dark up there and I could hardly see anything behind the walls. It was covered in an inch of dust. And I was afraid I might run into some critters up there as there was about 3 tons of poop on the other side of the attic. So when this came rolling toward me in the dark, it scared the crap out of me. I had to go downstairs and come back w/ a flashlight to investigate and couldn't believe my eyes.
And then a wee little man stuck his head out the roadster's window and said, "Hi, Beautiful, going my way?" LOL
Today we may have found a portion of a trash pit or latrine while excavating to underpin a crawlspace foundation wall. An old license plate, some chards of Owens bottles (circa 1942), and quarter-sized pieces of newspaper are all we could try to recover.
At a previous home, I buried a glass jar, inside a plastic Folgers coffee container, inside a plastic bag with current-year currency and stamps, a photos of the house (inside and out), a picture of my wife and I, and a letter about us and our house. This time capsule was an afterthought after excavating about 6'0" down to retrieve a meter long metal rod picked-up by a metal detector. Still don't know why the square-cut rod was there.
My favorite finds were from a childhood home in which a paint pigment (powder) salesmans "briefcase display" were found under the attic floorboards along with a case of drafting instruments. Under the attic steps a copy of The Hygiene of Marriage was found!
In our second old house an 1809 colonial I found a ton of newspapers under the pantry cabinets put in the 1950's. Those newspapers along with a bunch from the current day were walled up as I finished an interior wall in the kitchen. During another project in the hallway I put probably $40 in coins in a section over a doorway. One day a workman will think they hit megabucks in Las Vegas as that moulding is taken down. I found a nail pouch filled with rosehead nails and some other kind of leather pouch in the carriage shed of that house. The old cape we own now, during the living room renovation I took down a piece of trim over a door only to find fifteen negatives of our house from 1932 when it was a poultry farm. I always write something on the walls as I close them up for future owners and workers to find. I remember the day I bought my old colonial house in 1985, the seller told me after the closing, "Remember you're only a renter here." I believe he was telling me that there would be plenty of other owners coming after I've moved on. I always keep that in mind as I'm working away on our place, leaving little tidbits for future owners to discover.
We've been renovating for over 9 years now, one room at a time. Each room we do we try to leave a time capsule, note, or memento somewhere hidden in the room. This can be something simple like a hand written note on the back of some paneling, or something more complex like a time capsule with photos, notes, a DVD, or whole newspaper. We always try to give an update on our lives, the house, allude to other projects or hidden items, or just give a little more insight to what we've been up to.
One of the best things we did was write a note on the back of one of our pieces of siding along with all of the people that helped us on the project. It included my and my wife, several friends, and one wonderful neighbor who has since passed. It always makes me happy to thing we have his signature on our home, and I'm pretty sure he was very happy to participate.
We've hidden things in ceilings and walls with the hopes that people 100 or 200 years from now will find it. I think the worst case would be someone (the next owners) finding these things in 20 years or less. I'd hate it because it would mean that the new owners were probably ripping apart something that we put an awful lot of energy into.