Wednesday, June 11, 2014

House History/Mystery

The other day I was listening to an episode of This American Life called The House on Loon Lake. It was the story of a young boy and the abandoned house he and his friends would break into from time to time. Here's the synopsis:

Adam Beckman tells the story, about how, back in the 1970s, he and his friends broke into an abandoned house in the small town of Freedom, New Hampshire. The home turned out to be a perfect time capsule, containing the furniture, letters and personal effects of an entire family...abandoned for decades. It seemed like the family just vanished one day, leaving salt and pepper shakers on the table, notes on the bedroom mirror, and a wallet with money still inside. Adam and his friends read the letters, saving some as clues, and never forgot.
There's something so intriguing about discovering such personal items in an old home and trying to envision the lives of those who lived there. My own experience couldn't fill an hour-long podcast, but it's worth a blog post.
When we purchased the home that we eventually knocked down, we had Habitat for Humanity come by and take everything they could sell. They ended up removing the kitchen cabinets, and found a bunch of greeting cards underneath the drawers - they had likely fell behind over-stuffed drawers and were long forgotten. The notes and names in the cards tell just a snippet of someone's life story, and provide an interesting peek into the life of a previous owner.
The house we bought was a 500 sq. foot bungalow (seen below). It had been rented out in recent years, but before that, it was owner occupied by a woman who was an avid gardener. By the time we bought it, the backyard was seriously overgrown with tall grasses, weeds and ivy. We were told that the previous owner (avid gardener) had been disappointed that the buyer (before us) ended up renting it out and hadn't taken care of her much-loved back garden. Apparently after selling it she had peered over the fence and voiced her displeasure to a neighbour at the sight of the neglected yard.
Vines were overtaking both the back of the house (below) and the fencing. I never took a pre-demolition photo of the backyard.

And here we have the kitchen, where the cards were found once these cabinets were removed.
We also found some pretty retro wallpaper behind the cabinets...a mix of golden ferns and fleur-de-lis.

And here are the cards left behind. The only one with a date inside is the one with the red roses on the bottom right. It's dated April 24, 1990, received 24 years ago. The postcard in the top left corner is from Manitou Springs Mineral Spa, but the back of it is blank.

I'm fascinated by the names listed on a few of the cards. This one is from Ken and Shirley, and their kids: Xanadu, Natalia, Philomena and Anastasia.

Here they are again sending Thanksgiving greetings. It's different handwriting this time...did Ken perhaps sign the one above and Shirley the one below?
And here's where we get a look into the lives of Ken, Shirley and their uniquely named offspring...
It continues on the back.

Ken had it pretty darn good - he goes away on sailing trips and gets to go to Hawaii while Shirley sells Avon and stays home with the barnaclesque Anastasia. Xanadu is a Broadway star in the making with his pageant role as lead angel, Philomena dances and Natalia is in a swim club. There's no lack of after-school activities here.
In an interesting twist, another Mother's Day card is signed by Brian and Shirley. Where did Ken go? Or did Brian come before Ken? Or is Brian Shirley's brother?
The grand kids send Grandma a Valentine's Day card...
The one dated 1990 clearly predates the interweb. A son writes his mom telling her his travel dates to come visit her from Toronto. I can't quite make out his name...Rob perhaps?

And lastly, the cutest card among them is this thank you card to Granny and Uncle from Xanadu. The style of the card appeared to be pre-1990. I knew that Woodsey toys weren't a part of my 80s childhood, and found that Fisher Price sold them from 1979 to 1981.
No amount of Googling combinations of Ken, Shirley, Xanadu, Anastasia, Philomena and Natalia presented me with anything to go on. What I did learn is that Anastasia, Philomena and Natalia were all named after saints, which seems to corroborate with the Sunday school upbringing. Was this grandma the same woman who kept a beautiful, well tended garden years ago? Or did she come before that owner? How old are all these kids their 40s? Where did they live and where are they now?
I'd love to hand over these cards to the family one day, so if you happen to know a clarinet playing, Broadway star named Xanadu, or a jazz/ballet dancer named Philomena, have them get in touch with me :)



daringtobe said...

I loved that episode of This American Life! I listened to it as I drove to work one day last week and it made my hour commute feel only a few minutes long. Too bad you don't have a last name for the oddly named children, bet you'd find them in a heart beat.

Mary said...

So cool! I love this stuff!! I'm a Google maniac... when I have a few minutes, I'll find these people haha!

Also - do you have insider information into Young House Love? They posted a similar post right after you did!

Cathy said...

My suggestion is to show a long time neighbour your find. It would be so nice to turn over the small treasures found in the old house. Perhaps the gardener lady with the lovely front yard and back garden would remember? Good luck!

Jules said...

Brea - so true, just one last name could solve the whole mystery! I'm going to ask the next neighbour I meet (like Cathy suggested).
Mary - I just read that post by Young House Love - so crazy/coincidental! It's obviously a pretty universal subject when it comes to old homes! I just rewatched Amelie the other day and had forgotten that part of the plot was Amelie trying to find the owner of a box of antique trinkets she found behind a tile in her apartment.

Mary said...

I LOVE that movie!!!