Friday, October 25, 2013

The End of the Trash Saga

by Sheila Connolly

I know you’re all waiting with bated breath for updates on my trash trove (that’s a joke, folks—I don’t know too many people who care about antique junk, especially when it’s reduced to small pieces).  But it would be nice to get the floor back in place in that connected shed, and I really do think I’ve salvaged all the good stuff.  Maybe.

There have been a few interesting finds, like the skeleton of an umbrella, and a cannonball.  Yes, a cannonball.  This house was built after the Civil War, and to the best of my knowledge, no battles took place on this site during that war (King Phillip’s War might be a different story, since this was a Wampanoag neighborhood—but I’ve never found so much as an arrowhead here.)

I mentioned the piles of broken china and glass, and the old shoes (which I still need to sort out and see if they were tossed out in pairs or as singletons—but who loses one shoe?).  And of course, there are the bottles, now numbering more than fifty.  Curiously, the last couple I pulled out were made in Paris, unlike any others.  Perfume?  I’m still trying to figure out what to do with my instant bottle collection.

But being a good archeologist, I wanted to know whose dump it was, and why it was there. And I think I’ve solved that mystery.

The first clue was a unique item:  a coffin plate, which though damaged could still be read.  In case you don’t know, coffin plates were medallions, usually metal (though not necessarily of high quality) that could be attached to a wooden coffin.  Some were specific to the deceased, with name and death date, while others were generic and said something like “Beloved” or “Darling Child” or “At Rest.” Later in the nineteenth century they became souvenirs, and the attendees at the funeral would take them home as a memento.

This coffin plate reads “Nancy Thomas,” and she died in 1863, at the age of 88.  1863 was before this house was built, so the plate must have been saved by a family member.  Of course I wanted to know who Nancy was, and as it turns out, she came from this town, and she was the grandmother of George B. Thomas, who lived in this house from 1897 to about 1906, when his son (also George) sold the house and built himself a new one next door.

I came across two fragments of drinking glasses amidst the trash that bore the name “Thomas,” which confirms my working hypothesis.  A third piece of evidence is that there was legislation enacted in 1906 that limited the use of over-the-counter patent medicines, so presumably all those bottles of mine date to the very early twentieth century.

How the coffin plate ended up in the trash, mangled, is still a mystery, but I have a theory. George junior (a plumber by trade) decided for some reason to sell the “big” house and build himself something slightly smaller and more modern on the adjoining property.  Dad George was getting on in years (he was born in 1841 and fought in the Civil War, so that cannonball may have been his souvenir), and might not have been in full possession of his faculties—so he didn’t protest when young George, in the haste of moving, discarded a lot of useless bric-a-brac that wasn’t to his (or his wife’s) taste.  Much of the trove under the floor fits the era, and I didn’t find anything much from earlier or later. It could have been the Thomas tradition for disposing of their indestructible trash, or it could have been a single deposit (for some reason I can picture someone in the family having a wild time smashing all the bits and bobs they’d hated for years and didn’t want in their shiny new home).

I’m leaving some of the trash where I found it, because it’s too much work to haul it out from there and dispose of it.  I’ve retrieved enough to work out which china patterns were popular (mainly English ironstone).  I want to reassemble of few pieces, mainly as a tribute to the Thomas’s, whose lives have now touched mine.  I’m particularly fond of one decorative plate that has an apple on it—it took me several tries to locate most of the pieces for it. Even though it seems a bit odd to resurrect pieces that were broken over a century ago and discarded, in most of my books I write about the intersection of the past and the present.  I thought I should try it in my own life.




And something new: Coming November, from Beyond the Page Press


Sheila Connolly said...

Breaking news! I just obtained the property listing for this house, when George Jr. wanted to sell the place. Here's the text:

"In view of Main street and just far enough away to avoid the dust from the trolley cars.

To be sold at a low price, as the owner feels that it is too much of a place for him."

Yup, George was downsizing, and he left the stuff he didn't want behind.

Susan said...

I laughed so hard during the first half of this post, Sheila. I, too, have been researching and blogging about a Victorian I lived in that's going in my next book. And everyone thinks I'm crazy when I talk about my house research in an excited tone of voice. So it's nice to hear you writing in that same tone!

Sherry Harris said...

So appropriate that there is a plate with an apple! I want a treasure trove to sort through too. Unlikely, in a home built in the late 70s though! So I guess I'll live vicariously through you!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Aw c'mon, Sheila--who loses one shoe? Duh. Cinderella!