1920s Time Capsule: Part I

February 9, 2011

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Back when Dylan gutted the dining room in May 2008, he found a set of old pocket doors that have cleaned up beautifully–and they came with a little time capsule, to boot. Seems that ages ago, a crumpled wad of paper got caught on one of the doors and shoved back against the wall.

As we were cleaning up the demo debris, we found these treasures among the coal-dusty rubble: a few pages torn from an old issue of Woman’s Home Companion (no date, unfortunately); a Kaufmann’s department store catalog full of dapper fellas in Roaring Twenties suits (ditto); and an envelope addressed to the DIY Mess… and postmarked 1921. Which could mean:

This is the junk mail of our home’s original owners (!).

I had to hide these things away from myself until I could afford to frame them–they were crumbling apart in my hands–so I haven’t really gotten to look at them until now. And let me tell you. The wait was so worth it.

Here are the magazine pages (clothing catalog to come in a later post). I had them mounted together in one big frame with glass on both sides so that each page is visible. This custom job did not come cheap. The original owners of this house–who might’ve aspired to afford “The Best Fine Car Buy In the World” for $1,285–would be appalled to know what I shelled out to preserve their castoffs. Well. One woman’s trash.

Ahem. Without further ado, I present: Beech-Nut Brand Peanut Butter:

Josephin How pincushions and sewing workboxes:

Flapper bags:

“Winter,” the first in a series of child portraits painted for Women’s Home Companion by Louise Cox (who was married to another magazine illustrator, Kenyon Cox):

And the Willys-Knight 88-4, a seven-passenger luxury vehicle from the company that would later build the Jeep engine:

Lately I’ve been fascinated by the twenties, drooling over the costumes and the architecture in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” and trying to imagine the world that the original owners of the DIY Mess knew. I’m especially curious about the lady of the house. (Did that big ol’ antique sewing machine in our attic belong to her, too?) Between chopping off all my hair and stalking dangly earrings and cloche hats on Etsy, I’ve caught myself longing to live in that era. Which is crazy. When this magazine went to press, women had only recently won the right to vote.

I am hanging these pages in my office. Let them remind me to do my damnedest every day to make my foremothers proud.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara February 9, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Loved the post! Love the fact you are preserving the past. The styles of the twenties are fascinating, the beadwork, etc!

Thanks for sharing!!

Amy February 9, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Oh, my goodness, I am so in love with this.

Pam March 6, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Just discovered your blog through This Old Crackhouse. We’re in the process of restoring a 1851 house that served as a station in the Underground RR. Haven’t read many of your posts yet, but noticed your stairway is the same style as the first “project” we took on in 1980, a 1902 Victorian. While none of the woodwork had been painted, the oak was obscured by dark, alligatored shellac. Didn’t know back then about denatured alcohol (no Internet, fewer books written on restoration) so we spend many hours with a rotary thing that attached to a drill. I’m currently using alcohol & steel wool to refinish the oak & walnut woodwork upstairs, thankful that the woodwork downstairs (all walnut) is in pristine condition (wasn’t exposed to high temperature & humidity as upstairs). We can also can empathisize with the question about “taking it one room at a time”. Some people assumed we could move in right after buying the house in Dec. 08′ (cost almost $1000 for 2 mo. heating with electric baseboard to 55 degrees, only when we were there to work!), but there were issues that needed to be addressed before that could happen. Just walked around upstairs last night & realized it would look much worse than 2 years ago to anyone who didn’t know–bare plaster in 90% of the house, etc.–& looks like we have ADD (work on something until meeting an obstacle that requires research, or run out of something after stores have closed). Friends our age (& younger) don’t understand, but we enjoy learning about our house’s history & making sure it endures another 160 yrs. I’ll be reading some of your posts for information & a few laughs. Misery loves company!

Elaine @ Bless This DIY Mess March 6, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Pam! It’s wonderful to hear from a fellow old-house-ophile. Your handiwork is terrific! Cheers to you for preserving such an important piece of American history. I recently wrote a story for Pennsylvania Pursuits magazine about our region’s underground railroad and became totally fascinated by this topic. Looking forward to following your progress. My hat’s off to you!

Pam March 7, 2011 at 12:36 am

One of my friends is from the Pittsburg area & also of Italian descent. We’ve never visited there, but it sounds like a good place to put down roots & raise a family. Rather than working on our project again today, I enjoyed catching up on your blog & links to other sites/information. (Research, you know! :-) LOVE your new entry!

oldmanneill March 14, 2011 at 2:05 pm

I love finding this kind of stuff in our Pittsburgh house. Back in our 1970’s Chicago house, well, not so much. In a wall I found an empty 12 pack of Bud next to a pair of ladies undies. Yikes! Not so frameable. :)

Elaine @ Bless This DIY Mess March 14, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Love it, Old Man Neill. I had a similarly icky find: a patch of cat-pee-soaked carpeting that had a cigar burn and (I’m pretty sure) a blood stain. Classy!

I’ve got your podcasts on my list of things to sit down and enjoy properly. Looking forward to it – really love your stories. Hope all’s well on your end.

roofing matthews nc July 15, 2011 at 6:03 pm

What a cool find! Our house was built in the 30s and we found some old photos when we moved in. It’s always interesting to find items like that! Thanks for sharing!

Elaine @ Bless This DIY Mess July 15, 2011 at 6:42 pm

Photos? Oooh, I’m jealous. That’s the holy grail right there.

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