News Flash: Pernette Wells is the winner of Farmed and Dangerous! Congratulations, Pernette. Please contact Edith at edithmaxwellauthor at gmail dot com.
by Sheila Connolly
Behold a ratty collection of antique shoes. Why am I showing you these? Because I have a new book coming out tomorrow (Privy to the Dead). Patience: I will explain.
I have blathered on here and elsewhere about the trash trove I discovered when my husband was replacing the battered floor in a slapdash room that connects our kitchen to what was once a stable. The room was cobbled together from whatever leftovers (doors, windows, lumber) were available in 1870, so you didn’t have to go out into the New England winter to hitch up the horse. One corner under the old floor included a heap of discarded, uh, junk. Broken china and glassware, tin cans, bottles (lots!), one skeletal umbrella, one bristleless wooden toothbrush, assorted odd ornamental items, a single cannonball, a silver-plated coffin plate—and a number of well-worn shoes.
The shoes, as near as I can tell, belonged to a woman with small feet, and she wore them long enough to wear holes in the soles. It’s kind of intriguing to see how shoes were assembled a century or more ago (for various reasons I date the whole mess to around 1900). But what really caught my attention was the pair with rubber soles: I had a pair of antique sneakers.
It had never occurred to me that rubber-soled shoes dated back that far, but when I did a bit of online searching I found that U.S. Rubber was making cloth-topped rubber-soled shoes starting in 1892, in Naugatuck CT, not extremely far from where I live. They later started making Keds (I still have a pair or two in my closet)
And why do I care about this? Because (duck—here comes the shameless plug) the next book in my Museum Mysteries, Privy to the Dead, comes out tomorrow, and it’s about what was found in a former privy uncovered in the basement during renovations to the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society building in Philadelphia.
The Society is based on a real building in Philadelphia, and during recent renovations they discovered a privy pit in the basement (it was left over from the former building that stood on that site, covered over more than a century ago). I learned this from a friend who works there, and I stopped him before he could tell me what (if anything) was found in that privy, because I wanted to use it for my own nefarious ends. In the book I planted clues there, which led to solving an old murder and a new one. (No, there was no body!)
I’m kind of alert to the odds and ends that people toss away, and what the “trash” can tell us about their time and who they were. From my old pile I know something about the family’s taste in china and their decorative pretensions. I guessed that one member of the family had fought in the Civil War and brought home a souvenir (I confirmed his military service). I learned who the owner’s parents had been (from the coffin plate, which isn’t as weird as it sounds, although it should never have ended up in the trash). And I’m still puzzling over why some of these things, like the well-used shoes, ended up under the floor (although of course I’ve woven a story around them).
What’s the most interesting artifact you’ve found in or around your house? Behind a wall, under a floor board, or forgotten in a dark corner of the attic?