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January 26, 2013

On the Go: Old houses have history to share

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The Daily Star

---- — My house lives and breathes history. 

Built in the 1850s, my house has witnessed the Civil War, both World Wars, and 9/11. 

A classic Victorian, my house has been home to many people over the years. I like to daydream about the people who lived here before me. I wonder how they dressed, where they played, how they celebrated life, what books were on their shelves, what food in their pantry, how they played in the yard, and if they made fires in the winter. 

Did a little girl learn to braid hair outside on the foyer steps? Did a young man hang his diploma on the parlor’s walls? Did a maid lay in bed at night worrying about her child? Did a big family eat dinner in the dining room every Sunday like mine does? My questions greatly outweigh my answers.   

One of my favorite oddities found in my home is a signature scratched into our kitchen window. “A. Newman, 1879” Who was A. and why did he or she sit in the kitchen writing his or her name on the window? 

My mom and I were recently reviewing the abstract and we found the name Martin Newman listed as an owner. We were able to find him in an 1870s census. He was married to Melissa with three boys.

 In 1879, the son Lorenzo would have been 28 years old, Arthur would have been 21, and Aden would have been 17. This find was very interesting except it failed to clarify A’s identity. Would it have been so hard for Arthur or Aden to add a middle initial?

In our basement. we have a large safe. It was caked with mud and dirt, partially from being more than a century old and partially from being submerged in the 2006 flood. I randomly got the urge one day to go down and look at it again. I brought bleach wipes and started wiping it down. 

The front is black with writing. It was a Bachmann & Co. sold by general agent H. H. Warner. The company was based in CIN’TI. O. (Cincinnati, Ohio). This specific safe was sold out of Rochester, N.Y. 

I wiped off the top, right corner to find a combination scratched into a painting of a river and its bank. On the metal it said, “4R 92, 3R 31, 2L 64.” The lock caught after a few tries and I was able to pry the heavy and extremely thick door open. It revealed another, smaller door. This handle turned without a combination, although it had a key hole so it once had the potential to lock.

Nothing. 

A large fortune would have been ideal but I would have been happy with a big, red X to mark the spot.  

I did some research with the information on the door and found that Warner only sold safes for Bachmann for a nine-year window from 1870 to 1879. This meant that A. lived here when the safe was delivered through a long-gone bulkhead. Why did Martin Newman need such an impressive safe? I still can’t answer that, but it’s something to think about at night before I fall asleep.  

I realized when I was little that the ceiling in my closet is just a row of boards that fit snugly together. The boards can be shifted, however, to reveal a perfect, big hiding spot. I’ve hidden things there myself but I’ve never looked way into the dark corners. 

With a helpful flashlight I recently checked again. Laying flat in the corner was something. I pulled it out to find it was the front of a box of cereal. Price Chopper brand rice squares. No name again and nothing to tell us the date but we think it is from the 1980s. A word of advice, if you plan on leaving a memento hidden for a future person, name it, date it, and maybe even write a note.   

When I was in pre-school, my dad redid the ceiling in our breakfast nook. I remember tracing a dinosaur cookie cutter on the note I left (along with my name and date, of course.)   

All of our inside doors have old-fashioned keyholes. We are fortunate enough to have the keys too. All of them say “Paris.” My mom used to assume they were made in Paris, France, but eventually she realized they were personalized for Dr. Paris who lived in our house after the Newman family did. 

There are some other unique things about my house because of its age. For instance, there is a maid’s room upstairs. Under the stairs there is a closet. Within that closet there is another closet. The doors swell when it rains and the floor isn’t level. 

My house is very vocal too. In the song “Little Talks,” by Of Monsters and Men, it is best explained. One singer says, “The stairs creak as you sleep. It’s keeping me awake.” Another responds with, “It’s the house telling you to close your eyes.”   

My house has a personality of its own composed of more than a century and half’s life experiences like breathing, crying, dreaming, sighing and laughing trapped under one roof.

Kate Ahearn is a sophomore at Unatego Junior-Senior High School. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/teentalk