Houses have a way of telling a story. For David F. Quagliana, that story came in an old newspaper he found under a sheet of linoleum. What he read took him back to his days at School 68 where he often ate lunch with a certain girl and helped her with her homework. ¶ After eighth-grade graduation they attended different high schools, and he never saw her again. Years later he heard she was killed in a car accident. ¶ “Sometimes, I thought about the days at 68 [now Westminster Community Charter School] and how we shared our dreams,” Quagliana said. “After I married and we bought a house, my friend from School 68 was no longer in my thoughts. I forgot all about her.” ¶ One day, years later, he and his wife decided to spruce up the side entrance of their house in Williamsville with new windows, fresh paint and updated flooring to replace the old linoleum. ¶ “As I took off the sheet of linoleum, I discovered that they had used old newspapers to cover the wooden floor before installing the linoleum,” Quagliana said. ¶ “And there under the linoleum was the newspaper story and picture of my friend from School 68 who I had lunch with every day and how she died in a car accident.” ¶ Yes, it gave us goose bumps too.
When we asked readers to share with us stories about items they have found in their houses – left behind by former homeowners, intentionally or not – Quagliana was one of nearly 40 people who responded.
We heard about other newspapers discovered, like Quagliana’s, during home updates. Other readers came across hand-written letters – sometimes odd letters in odd places.
Billie McAdam of East Aurora, for one, found a letter postmarked May 12, 1943, nailed to the old carpet she was removing from the third-floor stairway. The unsigned letter criticized a mother and daughter for ripping around town using their “A” card for gas.
“The letter writer also states his displeasure of the daughter flirting while ‘that swell guy she hooked’ fights in the war,” wrote McAdam, who framed the letter.
We heard from Margaret Talboys, from Habitat for Humanity Buffalo, who said that volunteers have uncovered old flour bags, postcards from 1905, a Shea’s playbill from 1920, architectural cast plaster details from 1873 and much more while rehabilitating homes.
Stories are found within the walls, in the cellars and attics, under floor boards and carpeting, or in plain sight, she said.
David Bellissimo of the Town of Hamburg told the funny story about how, at the time of the house sale closing, the homeowner joked to him that one day he might find the money or treasures socked away by her frugal husband. Some time later, while resting on the bed in the knotty pine paneled master bedroom, Bellissimo spotted what appeared to be a trap door in the ceiling. Access to both the space and locked safe took tremendous effort – including help from a locksmith – but he finally broke inside.
That’s where he found a small note that read: “Ha, ha. I spent all of my money, go earn your own.”
We also heard tales of rusted horseshoes under a porch, odd hardware in a vial and a human skull and teeth in an attic. We won’t keep you guessing about the skull.
“The previous owner was a dentist, explaining the teeth and skull,” said Mary Jeanne Blum, of Amherst, noting that the skull’s jaw was on springs so it opened and closed.
But you might want to read on about the child’s shoe found in a wall while gutting the kitchen of a century-old home in Lancaster – and of the spirit of a young boy the homeowner believes still lives there.
Here is a sampling of readers’ stories – trimmed and condensed:
You may be familiar with the superstitions that putting a shoe in the wall will bring good luck, and placing something food-related with it means there will never be hunger in the house. The “house shoe” that I found is a child’s shoe with buttons and the food-related item is a butter paddle … Later I found out that a child died in the house, and I think he is still there. When young children stay overnight, they sometimes ask me who that young boy was who woke them up in the night, wanting to play. I think his grandmother Josephine is also there. When I returned the kitchen to a 1920s mode … I think she liked it.
Rebecca J. Anderson, Lancaster
About 20 years ago, my mother received a letter from the woman who was then living in the North Buffalo home where I grew up. Enclosed was my library card which expired in 1951 and apparently had slipped behind a wall. The woman remembered the name of the previous owner, found the name in the phone book and mailed the card, one with a metal plate, which is now framed in our study.
Lynn Lederman Hirsch, Eggertsville
Several years ago we purchased a house (1904 on the outside, 1820s on the inside). After gutting the interior and discovering we had four structures within the 1904 shell, we also found various artifacts: parts of an 1861 and a 1916 newspaper, various wallpapers, a hand-carved doll, porcelain doll’s head, etc. A buried brick-and-mortar cistern was also discovered and included numerous pieces of glass, dishes, nails, corn cob pipe stems, doll’s head, bottles and other items.
Caroline Duax, Snyder
Our house has a history going back when it was first built in 1950 from the first owners. I am the third owner … When you open the door where our furnace is, it seems the first owner wanted to record the growth of his children on the door. Every year they would put their child’s name with date on the growth chart. This went on for many years. Their past had been recorded for 63 years!
Debi Pappas, Town of Tonawanda
We purchased our 1870s home from a woman who lived here for 63 years (the house is estimated to be built in the 1870s). We found a small clear glass vial (about 2 inches) with a cork top. Inside are about six very small nails, although they aren’t really nails – they have a blunt bottom, a smooth body and are only about ¼-inch long, and they are definitely an older metal. On top of these nails is a pink cloth (or tissue) stuffed down to prevent the nails from rattling around. Very odd. Found it in the cabinet in the kitchen. I keep it displayed on my kitchen shelf.
Stephanie Kiyak, Dunkirk
We bought our 1914 arts and crafts bungalow in University Heights from the fourth owners in 1997 … the first floor woodwork had been painted off-white, and I started a slow program of restoring it. The living room and dining room are separated by a pair of see-through bookcases that clearly once had glass doors. In the process of dismantling the bookcases to strip and stain the wood and have a friend fabricate new doors, we discovered a few artifacts. One was a heavily damaged photo negative. Looking at the negative, my wife and I could tell that it was a woman in a garden. Once we had a print made from the negative, we found that she was young and that she was clearly kneeling in the grass behind our house …
David Meinzer, Buffalo
Beginning in 2010, we added a garage and sun room, then came a complete tear down of the wrap porch in order to install a drainage system around the perimeter to alleviate flooding in the basement. Under the porch, we uncovered two rusted horseshoes, not from the game, but which actual horses wore as evidenced by their size. Also uncovered was some kind of bullet which appears to be made out of lead which we surmised might have come from one of the many wars fought in our “backyard.”
Kathy Schlaich, Youngstown
Following my father’s discharge from the Navy after the end of World War II, my parents bought a home on the southeast corner of Bailey and Rohe streets across the northeast corner where the then-Holy Name church and rectory were located. The original portion of the home was said to have been the residence of the nuns who taught at the Holy Name school. In the process of remodeling, which included tearing off the plaster on the walls down to the wooden lathes and the floor molding, my father found a letter from a nun in Aricebo, Puerto Rico, dated Feb. 26, 1914. The letter from Sister Mary Lucilla to Sister Coletta recounted her experiences in teaching grade-school students and a review by what I presume were local authorities of their lesson plans and progress. Additionally she told of a visit by a Rev. Monsignor Hoelscher and Rev. Weber from Buffalo. All these years I’ve had this letter which will be 100 years old next year!
Fred B. Keller, Depew
When I moved into my first home in 1959 in the Town of Tonawanda I found a very light, strong wooden cane. Scratched into it is Joinville France and the date 12.19.18.
Joseph D. Scalise, Grand Island
Here are some photos of the recipe file I found in my house when we moved here almost 40 years ago … These recipes were collected in the early ’60s by a woman who apparently enjoyed cooking; I think of this book as a family heirloom. That family is gone now, and I have no connection to it, but I still feel compelled to preserve this file of recipes. I feel connected to the woman who compiled this book. I, too, read and clip recipes from The News and other publications – although I’m not so organized about preserving them. Cooking styles and techniques have certainly changed since these recipes were published, but there are some golden oldies here. An added bonus – checking out what’s printed on the backs of the clippings!
Doris Poodry, Buffalo
We bought a house on Goundry Street in North Tonawanda in 1971. In the early 1900s and for the next 50 years it had belonged to the Nolan family. There were three daughters and three sons. Gen. Daniel Nolan was an aide to Gen. Pershing during World War I. His brother Dennis was an Army Colonel. Dr. Martin Nolan practiced medicine in North Tonawanda and volunteered for the Army, and we found his “shingle” in the attic. It was hidden under the rafters. Dr. Nolan died in France during the Spanish flu epidemic. We donated the name plate to the Historical Society of the Tonawandas.
Janet McKenna, Grand Island
When my wife and I moved in 1978 into the old country house we bought in Eden and began converting an empty, unfinished room into an art studio, we discovered that the room’s walls had been crudely “insulated” – in 1939, apparently – with cardboard mats that had been used to print The Buffalo News, where I worked.
Each mat, which we replaced with real insulation before installing drywall, bore the impression of a single page from The News during the dark days leading up to World War II in Europe. At The News, mats were pressed onto flat pages of lead type and then rolled into a large tubular mold to be filled with hot lead and placed on the rolling press.
Here are some headlines from the Aug. 25, 1939, News, one of a couple of the mats that we kept:
“Hitler summons British envoy; Poles get new day of grace.” “Britain will be on war footing within 48 hours.” “Roosevelt says hope for peace is not yet gone.”
How the mats were obtained, we have no idea. But it’s always chilling reading these headlines, knowing, as the world at the time did not, that Germany would invade Poland within a week.
Gary and Susan Stranges, Eden