Urban Archeologist: Addicted to Attics

You may not always find what you’re personally looking for, but you may just find a treasure for a fellow traveler.

So, there I am, deep in the dusty attic of a 60-year-old house in Stamford. I have my hands in a box of car parts still wrapped in brown paper as they would have been 50 years ago. I stop and think, “What am I doing here?” I like old paper, but not when it has been used to enshrine auto supplies.

When I found this estate sale in Stamford, the first indication it would be a “dig” was the oversized dumpster in the driveway. Unfortunately, one peek inside and I saw a layer of melting snow. This means any paper that might have been salvaged during the cleanout was now ruined beyond rescue. No regrets, I can't save every piece of old paper — some days I can't save any. But I do try, because what makes Urban Archeology different from regular Archeology is the random find that shines a light on our recent past, a piece you can hold and read just before time turns it to dust or stone.

The home itself hadn't been updated in ages. The shrubs that hugged the home 20 years ago choked the walkway and on this day denied visitors easy passage to the entrance. My daughter and I circumnavigated as directed and eventually we explored each room. There wasn’t much here. Sales in this season of snow and cold are quickly emptied of the obvious treasures and look as if they have been picked over fast.

Dissatisfied with what was not in the house, we decided to explore the garage, which was a sea of small boxes (see image above). With so much to look through, I was surprised when each one came up empty for me. It wasn't until another digger descended a set of folding attic stairs that I wondered if there wasn't more to see. “Just plastic pipes up there,” the digger said, but that wasn't enough to dissuade me from looking for myself.

I approach every dark corner and recess with an open mind and a flashlight. With the permission of the attendant watching over the pickers in the garage I dug as deep as I could. He claimed that they had cleared it out, but I could see that they hadn't. Way back in the darkest space was the box with the car parts, and though of no use to me, I had found the next best thing — simply — that which had not yet been discovered.

The attendant, who said his name was Karl, had mentioned he was interested in old cars and car parts, and when I shared what I uncovered he reveled in my discovery of a hood accessory to a car from the same era as the house. He was restoring an old car, and coincidentally the parts I had unearthed would fit it. Sometimes karma works that way. You may not find what you’re personally looking for, but you may just find a treasure for a fellow traveler.

I didn't come away empty handed. The pictures tell of only some of things at the sale. I managed to find an old bottle that an artist, proficient in the art of wet-on-wet oil painting, had restored into a piece of folk art. The colors are vibrant and the piece symbolizes that there’s often beauty in the things left behind, for others after us to discover.

Greg Van Antwerp is a Brookfield resident and blogger, who can be found on the weekends in search of a good “dig” or a good story. You can read more about his adventures by visiting his blog.


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