Saturday, October 8, 2016

Out Of The Ashes - A Snippet Of My House's Past

I know very little about the history of my house. I know it is old, we think about 80 to 100 years old. I know that it was said that the original owner is the same man who built it. He did decent job on the brick work and foundation but was a shoemaker as the old saying goes. Windows are odd sizes, the roof has a very angled peak, there was a pseudo-fireplace, built out of brick, in the basement with no outlet and other oddities. Then again, we have a dry basement where others are often damp and musty, he did an excellent job on drainage. Yet, he might have done better sticking to his profession or trade than building houses but honestly he did better than, much better, should I attempt the same.

I know that he lived in my house, when it was his house, until his death. I know he was married and had a son. I know it is said the son was off kilter and so too was the owner and his wife. I know that up until the time of her death, his wife lived in the house, I think alone except for several cats, numbering above 10 and no more than 20 and they lived on for at least a few to several days after she died with no one caring or them except themselves (it took some doing to get rid of their, shall I say, aroma). She was supposedly very looney near the end.

We heard the son was booted out for being on the wild side and having trouble with authorities and his parents. I forget their name but think it was a German name; I can go outside to see the son's initial carved or scratched into our bricks. Some were there when we got the house and a neighbor said the son had done it, said he saw him doing it; there are swastikas too. Apparently he, or someone emulating him, comes by now and again and does that anew.

Tonight, I discovered that they had not cleaned out the fire place overflow  (trap) in the basement. The access to the bottom of the trap is in the room we use as a pantry in the basement, the same room I have been giving a thorough cleaning over the past two days due to a recent mouse infestation. Evidently there was a trapdoor in the bottom of the fireplace (I do remember that) which you could open and then sweep ashes into it. Then you could go to the basement, open a small door, for the trap, in the wall and clean out the ashes down there. I guess that was so you would avoid getting a mess in the living room. Truly pretty neat. It had to have been cleaned over the years but probably had not been thoroughly cleaned in a long lone time, I found that out tonight when I tried to open the door and I will show you why I think so in a moment. The door did not budge, it is iron and its latch is rusted shut. I was able to reach through a hole in the wall above it, a hole cut there to run gas and electric lines up to our gas burner in the fireplace. When I reached in, I realized how full it was and started to awkwardly scoop out pieces of charcoal, partially burned wood, ash, old iron nails, a few pieces of brick and mortar and a small snippet from an old newspaper. I did not get all the ash and debris but retrieved that piece of paper from about a depth of 8 to 10 inches in the trap. There probably is another couple to few inches left that was under that.

Click it to big it.

Anyway, what I found is what is pictured. It's an old, yellowed, torn and partially burned fragment from an old newspaper. Specifically, it is an advertisement, or what is left of it, for a product called NuJol. It is touted as "For Constipation". Rather appropriate considering how plugged up was the fireplace trap. It has a copyright date on it of 1936. Wow. I wonder if the old lady had old newspapers laying around and used one shortly before passing. Or maybe the newspaper page, on which that little piece of paper had been on the bottom corner, was used to start the fire in the fireplace back in 1936. It is rather amusing, for whatever reason, to think it was used back then and survived all those years under the ashes. Anyway, there is no doubt it has been down there for over the 20 plus years that we have lived here.

I checked out NuJol in a Google search and discovered it is still in use. I don't know if it is the same product today but the intended use is the same. The generic form of the product is mineral oil. My mother used it and cod liver oil when I was a kid. That cod liver oil tasted terrible, as did mineral oil, and was probably overloading my liver with vitamin A.

I did some further checking and found out what likely was the word under the copyright in the ad, Stanco or an abbreviation for Standard Oil Company who made the product. Here is a link to an ad for NuJol by Standard Oil. The add to which I linked is 20 years older than the copyright date on the snippet but I imagine it the same stuff.

I once found a couple of old black & white baseball cards behind the house's original  molding when I was replacing it. One was paint laden from the original paint that had run down behind the molding when I was panted many years ago and the other had been used as a bit of a wedge and had a nail driven through it. Had they been pristine, each would have only been worth maybe $5.00 or $10.00 when I found them. I forget the players names and lost the cards but it was kind of neat to find and research them a bit. If I recall correctly they were from the 1920s or 30s. So, I may have to dig out all the rest of the ash and debris in the fireplace trap to see if I come up with anything else of any interest.

All the best,
Glenn B

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