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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Conjuring the Past (photographic and video evidence!)

The hobby/obsession allows me to see things I never would have expected to see. Old films, buried stories, books with odd titles, or things left inside them.  The search for the forgotten and the peculiar just gets better and better. This image above is only a part of what's out there - or, in there.

This is an interior doorway to a beautiful old and closed up home, that will be open for an estate sale this weekend on France St, in Norwalk, CT. I took this picture because of the unique design. Moving upstairs I found a negative that when held up to the light struck me for its similarity.
 I decided to layer both and see how well the 2 lined up, and the first image above is the result. I used the image to start off a short documentary about the home. Thanks to New England Estate Sales, Brian and Bill for giving me the green light to join them on their first look through this 120 year old home.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hidden Gems

Connecticut has a lot to offer the digger, treasure hunter and picker. Some may say that the kind of homes that offer great finds are becoming fewer and fewer, but I don’t see it that way.

Over the past few weeks I have visited 2 homes being readied for estate sales, these plus a third sale promise to keep offering one good find after another. Along with these discoveries I am able to see parts of the region I never knew existed.

One of these sales is happened this past weekend in Gaylordsville, CT. and was managed by my good friend Justin Krul, of Just In Antiques & More. Even though the sale is over, Just the trip alone is a scenic wonder along the Housatonic River ending near the famous restored Merwinsville Hotel.

There was more to see than I had time to explore at this sale, but the stand-out items were - A collection of books, tools and benches from what appeared to be a lifetime of Jewelry making, there was also auto racing items which included car club, and Lime Rock raceway memorabilia and two BMW engines. Antique wooden storage boxes and barrels and many other unique antiques.

Watch the video and then plan a trip through one of Connecticut’s gems to a natural setting. (Don’t forget to look both ways at the railway crossings which still dot the back roads.)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

On Tour: New City, NY "Sharing the stories of Urban Archeology"

This post is an indication that the enjoyment I get not only comes from finding, holding, and researching my discoveries, but also by sharing them.  The more I can connect with readers, the more I learn about what I have found and what has yet to be found.

September 13th, I was happy to be the guest speaker at the New City Public Library. I was given an hour to share as much as I could about my weekend obsession for finding artifacts and stories form the past.

Every time I give one of these presentations I come away with more information and a better understanding of why I love to search and share. The New City audience was chock full of experience. Some members of the audience had experienced first-hand the very subjects I was covering. 
Sharing the story of an 80 year old train journey, which took place in this region of NY

After the talk I provided time for questions and answers, and after that, many audience members stayed to chat with me personally.  These talks are more of an exchange because I learn as much from the audience as they do from me. It's a sweet deal.

I have several speaking engagements scheduled in the coming months. The next one, which is free and open to the public (With a suggested donation toward a Senior Center Van) will be in Roxbury, CT  3pm in the Town Hall.  To find out about arranging to have me visit your location email: uagregva(at)gmail.com

Thursday, September 11, 2014


If you noticed the address bar (and, really, who doesn't?) you'll see that I have secured a URL (Universal Resource Locator) more in tune with the contents of this site. Please note the new address:
What is an urban archeologist?  Good question. Please look though the site and/or come see one of my multi-media presentations on Urban Archeology:
  • September 13th at 2pm  - New City Free Library, New City, NY
  • September 28th at 3pm, Roxbury Town Hall, Roxbury, CT

More talks coming soon 

For now, please read my latest article on Patch.com here

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Take a 70 year Train Ride on the Feather River

Trains deserve a better place in history, not that they aren't looked favorably, or lovingly upon now. Every time I see an add for railway service, or see it depicted in a movie, I look at it like "Yeah, I would do that, I would travel by train."

Resurrecting a local line is discussed every few years as gas prices increase and traffic increases, but the conversation seems to come and go like a train traveling through a station complete with the Doppler effect "wwwweeeeeROOOOWWWWeeeeeeerrrrr"  

I found, still in it's brown envelope, a large floppy commemorative book someone might buy to remind them of the trip they took, or the one they want to take.  A 1944 picture book of the Western Pacific Feather River Route.

First, the book has clearly never been looked at and likely never saw the light of day.  The images are as bold and bright as the day the were printed.

The paper is a heavy bond and the images are pasted to the paper.  They claim to be photographs, but I suspect they were painted and reprinted. This was a shame because the images lose something in the translation, but not much.

Each image comes with a description about the place or geography of this San Francisco to Salt Lake City run.

The history of this railroad is interesting and you can look here to find out that it is now owned by Union Pacific, and was a line built to compete with another companies' rail line. The two were truncated after being sold to Union Pacific, but are still there.

Have you ever taken a ride through this area? Would you? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Finding Treasure in a Drop-Front Desk

I don't have a preference when it comes to searching for a good story. I write a lot about estate sales, and it probably would be easier if I just stuck with a single classification. It doesn't always work out that way.

Some weekends there are no estate sales, and a couple of saturdays ago this tag sale sign was all I had. As I walked down the driveway I was greeted by a member of the family running the sale. After a brief explanation of my desire to dig, I was met with an interesting lack of confidence that I wouldn't find anything there.

They had thrown down the gauntlet, in a very polite way.

Undaunted, I immediatly found a drop front desk that looked at least 50 years old.  If you have read this blog or any of my Patch articles, you know that I am not shy about pulling out drawers from desks and dressers to see what might have been left behind.

But I didn't need to even do that with this desk, because already I could see a slice of old paper left in one of the slots.  I called over the family member who had claimed I wouldn't find what I was looking for.

"What is this!? This is what I like to find." I teased as I unfolded the paper and spread it out gently on the desk to see that is was a bill from a Radio & TV repair shop in Middletown, CT.  As a piece of TV history, this is a neat find. The bill denotes a repair on an RCA Console TV with the problem of "Fades away." The diagnosis seemed to be "Tubes loose in tuner."  $3.50 later the problem was fixed, and one year later the first color compatible television was available for sale. "Fades Away" may have been a prophetic statement.

But there was more treasure than this inside the desk.

All the little cubbies and drawers in writing desks alway interest me. There are any number of things that can get lost in them.  The first place I like to look it the thin slot between the cubbies and the desk surface.

Can you see that?  Having a small L.E.D. light nearby is recommended so that the dark places give up their secrets.  The secret here looked to me like a piece of jewelry.  By removing the top drawer I thought I might get a better look from underneath.

I was right, and by now I had several family members and a few customers for an audience.

Despite pulling and pushing I found it was stuck pretty good.  Not unlike a surgeon, I asked someone to "get me a coat hanger." I don't know too many surgeons that use coat hangers to operate, but this was a difficult operation in a battlefield situation. I had to improvise.  In the end, this secretary finally gave birth to not one old watch, but two. Twins! (tho' non-identical)

Were they Rolex's? No. They almost never are, but what they were was exactly what I was looking for- a good story and a minor impromptu street performance with a happy ending.

Have you found anything hidden in a old desk?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Got old Bottles? Put a Cork in it!

I am always fascinated by the old things I find. These were found wrapped in newspaper next to a fireplace and I was permitted to photograph them.  Not everyone walks up to  sale with a camera, yet I was allowed to not have to buy them even after expressing great interest in their history.

I wanted to know how old they were, but unless I bought them I wasn't going to be able to take a long close look.  Can you guess their age?   This tincture says it is to be used "locally as a styptic and as an application to chapped or shredded surfaces, sore nipples, etc." 
I was never able to make out the name of the product because the string is stuck like glue to the label.
 I was hoping the name of the drug store would be a giveaway as to the date, but in my research I can find pictures of Alderman Drugs Store from 1940. When did pharmacies stop dispensing medicine in cork stopped bottles? What was Oil of Citronella used for? Today it is a bug repellant, maybe a treatment for lice?
This is my favorite of the group, mainly for its great typography and the condition of the label over all. Especially the directions:
I like the numerous references to "Kid" and the line to: "Keep Well Corked" good advice where ever you go. Any idea of the age of these beauties? If I had to guess, I would say late 1920's to the early 30's. Despite the cork, which would make me subtract a few years or decades, the machine neck and opening gives it a modern (so to speak) look. What do you think?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Guess the Gadget: Rust is the New Chrome

See if you can guess what this before you get to the 4th image -Hint: Found in a Garage, but Belongs in a House.
About a month ago I was in a garage/barn sale and enjoying the fact that I was the first one there. I wrote about it here. One of the many prized items I found was somewhat of a mystery.
It was a small box with an odd hinge or axle, three rivets and no markings. While most pickers are looking for what they collect, or what they can sell, I'm one of the few looking for an unknown item.
After some pushing and coaxing I finally got it to budge a little.
 Whatever it was, it had not been opened or used in a very long time. An even coating of rust didn't make it any less desirable to me. The contents looked like long caliber bullet casings.
Make that 2 telescoping bullet casings. I began to think that this was a set of portable rabbit ears for a TV.
 It should start to become apparent what this gadget is meat to be. If you think it might have been devised for some kind of torture, well you wouldn't be the first to make that guess.

Unfortunately the title of the video gives it away immediately, but I'm guessing you had this figured out several images ago.

This folding clothes hanger actually does have a name and patent date stamped on it "Midget January 7th 1913." I usually don't go by patent dates to indicate the manufacture date, but at least I can say it's no older that that.

If you want to see one of these in a more pristine state, there's a pair for sale here on etsy.

I suppose it could be dangerous only picking up things when I don't know what they are. There must be a fable by Aesop that speaks to that danger...

Friday, August 15, 2014

Don't Clean That Old Penny (It's Art!)

This is the oldest wheat penny I have ever come across in my "digs"
1918 US wheat penny heads
I wish (while it's heads up) that it was worth something, but no. It would probably bring about .04 cents. Then I took another look at it, and saw that it was priceless. It is so worn and layered with patina, yet still maintains its identity.
1918 US wheat penny tails
To me this is art.