Treasures from attics and cellars
strychy1-min

David J. Whitcomb – an ordinary, New York lawyer – has purchased a three-story building in the American city of Geneva. The building was to be the new headquarters for his law firm – when deciding on it, he had no idea that there was a long-forgotten attic above the third level…

He discovered it while changing a light bulb on the third floor. There was a hidden trapdoor in the ceiling. The view he found after climbing the mountain took his breath away:

– The first thing I saw was a pile of picture frazes – Whitcomb said. It was mainly the frames that impressed him the most. They were golden and shiny – they looked like they came from the turn of the century, straight out of a time machine. Whitcomb and a friend spent hours in the attic, going through hundreds of photographs, antique frames, glass negatives and photographic equipment from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. . . . The find is still being investigated, and the discoverer himself has teamed up with the local Historical Society and a photographer to take care of developing the photos from the vintage glass negatives.

Genealogical sources that are not available in the archive...

– The first thing I saw was a pile of picture frazes – Whitcomb said. It was mainly the frames that impressed him the most. They were golden and shiny – they looked like they came from the turn of the century, straight out of a time machine. Whitcomb and a friend spent hours in the attic, going through hundreds of photographs, antique frames, glass negatives and photographic equipment from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. . . . The find is still being investigated, and the discoverer himself has teamed up with the local Historical Society and a photographer to take care of developing the photos from the vintage glass negatives.

Often what is forgotten and undervalued acquires a special value and appeal when it is rediscovered. This has happened in the history of mankind, for example, with the cyclically discovered and refreshed ancient culture. It’s also nice to go back to some memories from time to time, it’s actually advisable, for your own mental hygiene, to regularly make some changes in your thinking, tastes and verify their value. When it comes to returning the past, it is not always necessary to go back to the universal heritage – the history of one’s own family is enough. Our closest neighborhood and our own homes are often treasure troves of incredible memorabilia – sometimes of surprising sentimental and even material value.

Today, archives – state, church, and community – and similar institutions are accumulating excellent monuments, and they are increasingly being successively indexed, digitized, and made available to the public. But there are things that you won’t find in any public catalog, any library or archive, or online collections. They are waiting patiently for us in attics or basements. And what can you find? In 2017, while packing up museum objects and preparing to move them in time for renovations, the attic – loft of the Archaeological and Historical Museum in Elbląg stumbled upon… a pot of coins! According to a preliminary assessment, the treasure was found to date from the period of the Swedish Deluge.

– This is an interesting historical and collector’s find – as admitted by Dr. Maria Kasprzycka, director of the museum. – So far we have had in our collection crown zloty of Jan Kazimierz, now we have 300 boratines.

Attic, basement - is that an archive?

Although the old houses and tenements are gradually and inevitably being replaced by modern buildings, where often there are no such rooms, but you can still come across those wooden, stone or brick epigones of the old architecture. And there, behind the rusty, crumpled locks, the remnants of the lives of past generations may be waiting for us, untouched for years.

Attics or basements – in both residential and public buildings – as rooms with an inherently subordinate function in relation to the residential and commercial premises, were often poorly lit. Most often they played the role of clutter, where unnecessary objects were stored, which with time became covered with a thick layer of dust and covered with a thick cobwebs. They were also home to mice, rats, and pigeons, and if not properly secured, could be used by the homeless for lodging or by various nondescript people for meetings that were not always cultural. All this makes these places repel rather than attract the average person. Especially if you’re a child, these dark nooks and crannies full of strange objects, as if from other worlds, can be a source of unbelievable fears. But fortunately – mostly completely imaginary.

It is worth to overcome this fear or simple aversion to these “places of oblivion””. And this is because by undertaking the exploration of these spaces, we can contribute to the discovery of amazing stories and to saving them from oblivion. This is because it is usually where things that we feel are no longer relevant, bored, out of fashion or taking up space unnecessarily end up. So they go away unless they get thrown in the trash, which also happens. This is sometimes unavoidable – after all, our homes aren’t made of rubber, and we still have to try to maintain a balance in our lives between past, present and future. It is not without reason that public institutions also classify their holdings and assess which archives should be kept forever and which can be destroyed after a certain period of time.

Treasures postponed

The objects that will be found there, however, are often incomprehensible notes, unidentified photographs, toys that perhaps not everyone would know how to play with anymore, books orphaned by their publishers and other mementoes of grandparents, great-grandparents, friends or neighbours detached from their original context and thus illegible to us. If each of these subjects could talk. . One of Andersen’s fairy tales comes to mind, about an old street lamp which, during the years of its service, witnessed not only every ordinary moment of all the people passing it, but also many moving moments of their lives. To think how many hands all these dusty objects have passed through and what extraordinary stories they could tell us – every historian and genealogist can shudder with excitement at the thought of it, and at the same time it is hard to hold back a moan of regret that although these mementos are within reach, it seems they will forever remain silent – we are left only to guess what they are thinking about, when we look at them.

Though we can try to work with them. It takes some effort, patience, detective-like meticulousness, and caution in interpreting our finds are welcome. But when we finally manage to discover the first connections between memorabilia and people and their experiences, the next ones may come easier than it seems. Then the full range of emotions they bring with them may be revealed to us and we will feel personally connected to them, even if it is not about ourselves or our family.

So it’s a good thing if we choose to do such explorations ourselves. Sometimes, however, discoveries can be provoked by various circumstances. Such occasions are renovations or moving to new places. From time to time, sensational reports appear in the media about discovered “treasures” – hidden in cellars or attics. Most often these are photographs, film tapes and manuscripts – sometimes of considerable historical value. And the fact that such and even greater treasures may be hidden there is proven by a note from the first page of the baptismal book of the parish in Nowa Brzeźnica in the Łódź province from the first half of the 18th century, which says: “found in Wieluń in the attic of the popiiarian church […] returned to the curia 1953. ” Without sensitivity to the value of memorabilia from the past, we will not have more of these finds.

What to do now? We’re off to the attics on a treasure hunt!