Pretty concise title for this post, I know. I never said I could be endlessly clever!
So remember our food-filled walls? I mean, how could you forget, it was so pleasing to the eye, so aesthetically dreamy, etc…
Up until the corncobs were found in the walls of The Back Of The House, we had also come across corn in random spots in the yard and driveway. For example, here is a full ear we found in the driveway just after Christmas…
These likely migrated from the surrounding seasonal Connors Farm corn maze, via goose/turkey/squirrel (the most prevalent wildlife we’ve seen so far). When we saw the corn in the walls, I just figured some ambitious creature had finagled it into the house years ago. Well I was wrong!
Upon further discussions with people who know better, along with the obvious next step of obsessively googling, I found out that putting corn in the walls was a an actual thing. It was really used (by people, on purpose) as insulation. I’ve also recently heard of it used on farms during construction as a “good luck” omen to ensure a healthy harvest. (Side note – Using corn superstitiously was also a common practice among many Native American tribes too, which we all know lived in this very area; perhaps this thought-process had some origination there. I had so many things to internet-search lately that I honestly haven’t gotten to any of that yet!)
So, I went back to the scene to get a better look. I started pawing through the base of the wall in that picture. You know, the one with the corn and all.
Welp. Here is the exact point at which I fell into the rabbit hole… and now you get to read my investigative dissertation on what I found.
I soon realized there were many more corn cobs in each section of the wall where I had initially found them. To be clear, just the cobs – the kernels have all been (presumably?) eaten. The cobs were packed down deeply into the base of the wall, going further below the floor level. A bit too many, and too meticulously worked in there, to be done by squirrels (I think/hope). I started pulling them all out by hand, and with the corn came lots of hay, old nails, and bits of shredded newspaper.
I googled the nails first because, honestly, they were just fun to find everywhere and inspect. Plus I thought, perhaps, they might be able to tell me how old that specific wall really is. It’s a small interior wall, arranged perpendicular into a space that was documented as being a long open area (which, in itself, was added on years after the original 1665 date), so it was obviously built on the more recent side. In all honesty, it’s not that impressive aside from the calories one would incur by consuming its contents. But, at this point, I was a girl on a mission.
In researching old nails in American construction, the ones I found seem to resemble the Type B cut nail which is from the very specific time period of anywhere between “1810-1900s”. Really narrows it down, huh… I quickly realized I might find out more from (surprise) actual words printed on paper used to communicate information. On to inspecting those newspaper bits.
Naturally, the next step was searching the internet.
To start, I grabbed the the piece of paper with the phrase “Heathcote, she begged him…”. I searched this one first since the text seems just a touch dramatic to have been printed in a respectable newspaper, and might have arisen from a google-able novel instead.
The internet really makes things too easy these days. What probably would have been hours peeling through library archives has now equated to this: Quoted “Heathcote she begged” brings up just one single response on google. It’s from “A Page Of Fiction”, published in 1903, in what seems to be somewhat of an entertainment section of a newspaper. This newspaper, The Republic, is apparently still in operation out of Columbus, Indiana. (The Republic “About Us”). How it got into this wall (from several states over in the early dawn of the 20th century) is a story I would like to know.
Next was the piece which mentioned “ship Bolina”, “ship Mary”, “Post Boy, Glover”. Clearly this one is referring to specific large boats going to and fro. The only text that comes up with all of these phrases (on the internet anyway) is a “Marine Journal kept at Salem during the war of 1812-1815”.
At first glance, I thought the scrap of paper might indeed be from the early 1800’s… which didn’t really make sense. This would vastly deviate from the publication year of the first item, which was definitely published in 1903. A bit more digging and I realized that the words on the paper must have been from the 1812 timeframe because of the pretty specific contents; however, the paper itself likely came from this:
“The Essex Institute Historical Collections…Salem, MA Printed for the Essex Institute, 1900”, via Toronto University. A collection of historical texts from 1700-1800s, published by what is now the Peabody Essex Museum, in the year 1900. That’s more like it. This certainly supports a c.1903 time period and makes more sense logistically.
SO this actually means that somebody hanging around the house had this 400-page archival volume on hand, which means they must have had an inkling of interest in the history of this area. Then somebody else came along and totally didn’t care about said history whatsoever, shredded the pages, and sentenced them to an eternity of thermoregulating the wall. And little did those two individuals know that they themselves would end up in a published text on historical matters (generous phrasing, I know….but technically I do click on something that says “publish”).
Anyway, that text is super long, but I do intend to skim through it to see if there is any relevance to the house or its inhabitants. It honestly seems interesting at baseline. First item on the agenda is “Bands and Band Music in Salem”. I’ll let you know if any revelations occur but the more likely scenario is that I end up on an obscure Soundcloud page instead…
Just to wrap things up, other shreds of paper yielded tiny cryptic references to Henry Ford (whose Model T made its debut in 1908), as well as an advertisement for 100,000 laths. You may recall my mentioning laths – they are the long, thin pieces of wood which are used with plaster to create the walls of domiciles in ye olde days. Even though laths are currently sold at Home Depot for like $13 per “bundle” (which is apparently 50, thanks for making me dig a bit for that intel Homie D), I’m going to go ahead and conclude with the assumption that this particular wall was erected in nine-oh-something or slightly thereafter.
PhD, if you please.