One never knows what wonders await in abandoned spaces

How about a happier story? About finding treasure?

A fellow in upstate NY bought an old building and was renovating it, when he discovered an attic that had been closed and sealed over with drywall for about a century. He peeled away the old drywall, climbed up, and found…

With his friend Ian Boni, owner of Twisted Rail Brewing Company who also owns property in Geneva, the men stacked several chairs upward. Standing atop the teetering tower with a flashlight in hand, Whitcomb spotted several dust-and-soot covered gold-framed photographs.

He turned to Boni and said, “I think we just found the Goonies treasure.”

The two men came across what appeared to be a storage site of a vintage photography studio. The vaulted attic was filled with vintage photographs, framed pictures and photography equipment and boxes of materials.

They had uncovered contents of a turn-of-the-century photography studio, complete with props, chairs and backdrops. Boni said he didn’t recognize suffragist Susan B. Anthony or any of the other people featured in the dozens of photos he helped remove from the attic.

It had been owned by James Ellery Hale, a photographer from the turn of the previous century who was well known for his photos of the suffragette movement, so there are all these dusty photos and photographic plates of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other, not yet identified figures of the early movement. This is amazing.

I checked out my house’s attic (it was built in the 1940s), but I’m afraid all I found was mouse poop and fiberglass insulation, darn it. But we do have a lot of old buildings in Morris, and now I’m wondering what treasures we could find if we had access.

They’re full of spiders, I bet!


  1. says

    I wonder why the stuff was walled up in the first place. You’d think they would have just thrown it all out when the wall went in. Unless of course it was done intentionally as a sort of time capsule.

  2. says

    I love stories like this. When I was a kid I worked construction and when I was working demo and remodeling jobs I found some pretty cool stuff. Some places were like peeling back the layers of an onion because drywall had been stacked layer upon layer for decades. At this one office we were working on, I peeled back the nasty soundproofing fiber from the ’80s and found wood veneer from the ’70s. The next layer was decorative red wallpaper from the ’60s. Underneath that was plywood that had been papered with news paper from the 1920s. It was still legible enough to read parts of it. I kinda felt bad stripping and re-plastering it.

  3. blf says

    Someplace in the Devon Moors (England) — don’t recall any better than that now, sorry — I happened to visit a very old, abandoned, small rural church. Mostly for a rest break, but also because there can sometimes be rather cool things in such spots… and there certainly was here (which I did not know of in advance): The church had been built hundreds of years ago, and during some conservation work in the 1960s(?), a secret opening in one wall was found. It had been bricked up a long time ago. Behind it was a narrow twisty stairs leading up to a small hidden space, which if I recall the historical interpretation correctly, is thought to have been a variation on a “priest hole”.

  4. blf says

    @4, Laughs. But actually, no. From Ye Pffft! of All Knowledge, “a hiding place for a priest built into many of the principal Catholic houses of England during the period when Catholics were persecuted by law in England.” This one, however, was in a church, which is why I said “variant” (plus my memory of the interpretation is possibly faulty) — it was clearly a secret hiding place, presumably for a person or two.

  5. blf says

    @6, Sorry, I meant @5, which is a reply to @4. (Now if we can just get in @’s 1, 2, and 3, we’ll have a what, full house? full priest hole? full cesspit?).

  6. says

    When I was a kid, my uncles worked at house movers, and they found all kinds of discarded treasures in old houses. I once got a 19th century medical text from them — it was in bad shape then, so I don’t have it any longer, but it was fascinating reading.

  7. laugengebaeck says

    When my great-uncle died at almost 90 thirty years ago, his personal belongs were stored in my uncle’s barn “for the time being”. Originally that probably meant “till after the harvest” or so, but turned out to be until about two months ago. Anyway, the last weeks we as a family have been sifting through countless folders of personal and business correspondence and boxes full of photos giving a fascinating glimpse into both life of a Catholic country priest from the 1930s to 1980s and family history.

  8. says

    timgueguen @1

    Whoever had the building probably just didn’t need that space and it was easier to leave the stuff there rather than have it hauled away.

  9. whheydt says

    A friend of my parents, who lived in Connecticut, would buy up the contents of attics that house owners wanted to clear out. He’d then go through everything to see if there was anything with resale value (usually there was…at least enough to cover the costs). Since he didn’t normally deal in books, one time when he found one, he sent it as a gift to my mother. After taking a good look at it, she donated it to a medical library at UC San Diego. It was an 1837 treatise on cholera.

  10. John Morales says


    When I was around 12 years old, at St Thomas Catholic school, my class went on an excursion to help clear a house which had been kept by a hoarder. We were clearing a room piled with old magazines (and I mean piled, so we were clambering up stacks of them)… and then we found the porn stash. Imagine our delight!

  11. ffakr says

    1882 Farmhouse in the suburbs of Chicago..

    I didn’t have much hope in the attic considering it had modern insulation in it. Still.. in addition to the perfectly clean mouse skeleton, I found a sheet of blue-lined notebook paper. Homework from one of the girls that lived here in the 1890s. Social Studies/Geography-type questions.
    Not sure how it got up there.

    In other places, I’ve found old rim-fire bullets (under floor boards), and plenty of odds and ends from the late-50’s to early 60’s in the ducts (playing cards, an old woman’s glove, match books, balls.. etc.).. and lots of old gas pipe in the walls from before it had electricity.

  12. flexilis says

    A co-worker bought an older house. The house attic was empty but the separate garage had an enclosed storage space above the rafters. When he investigated it he found a complete copper still. Turns out during Prohibition that town was famous for moonshining. I don’t remember now what became of his find.

  13. Larry says

    The uncle of a former co-worker had died and his aunt requested his help is clearing out some things. He was working up in the attic and came across 9 or 10 shoeboxes filled with baseball cards and other memorabilia. His uncle had evidently collected cards since his youth. My friend hadn’t yet done a full catalog but he said there cards from the 1920s through the 1960s. A lot had been removed from their packaging but there were also some in unopened packages. I never did hear what all was found but I like to think there were some rookie cards of some notables or famous players of some great teams in amongst the cards. Regardless, its still a pretty cool collection of baseball history.

  14. Jazzlet says

    When we took up a couple of the floorboards of the back bedroom to install a bicycle hoist we found a fifteen centimetre dried out piece of shit.

  15. PaulBC says

    When I moved into my current house over a decade ago, I worked out what appeared to be a gap between the garage, built without permit from a carport and an adjoining bedroom, also built without permit, and a long time ago. For about a year I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to recover that space and extend the bedroom a little. Then I just forgot about it. For all I know, there could be treasure or human remains. More likely just an empty space, though I wonder why it would be left unused. It’s also possible I just miscalculated.

    If Geraldo happens to drop by, I’ll break open the wall for him. That’s a promise.