Tuesday, July 31, 2007

In Ragged Time

The disease took hold sometime in the mid 1960's, I think. I was well into piano lessons and my teacher, Mr. Lupi, was running out of ideas to keep me interested. He began notating a personal fake book with pieces that he thought I'd enjoy playing. Mostly it worked. It did, however, precipitate the disease that would later come back to haunt me. The Ragtime bug.

The piece of music, hand written by Mr Lupi, was "Mame". It was simple enough to play. Actually became somewhat boring and that's what allowed it to take over.

For some reason, perhaps due to hearing another piece of similar ilk, I don't know, on one particular day I decided to syncopate "Mame". I liked the result. My grandmother hated it exclaiming, "Who taught you to play the piano that way?!" I'm sure, for her generation, that way conjured up all the evils of society. In private, I continued playing my syncopated "Mame".

It was many years later that I heard a style the style of music that would become the emphasis of my adult piano studies. I was visiting with John and Virginia (now both deceased, they were Best Man and Matron of Honor when Doc and I got married). They had just purchased a new record that they thought I should hear. It was Scott Joplin's rags played by Joshua Rifkin. I thought it was fantastic and bought my own copy. At that point I could only listen as I didn't own a piano until many years later.

as soon as I did own one.....
guess what I started teaching myself?

You bet....Ragtime!

The more I played, the more I wanted to learn to play. Eventually, I learned of an organization called "The Maple Leaf Club". This organization is dedicated to the preservation of classic ragtime. I joined and kept up with the latest news, findings, and recordings. It was through the "Maple Leaf Club" that I became acquainted with Richard Zimmerman, a truly extraordinary ragtime piano player. I purchased his CD set of the "Complete Works of Scott Joplin" and at a joint AMICA (Automatic Musical Instrument Collector's Association) and MBSI (Musical Box Society International) meeting in Savannah, GA, scheduled to coincide with the "Tom Turpin Ragtime Festival", I was fortunate to hear him perform in person.

So, I practiced and practiced. Ragtime isn't very easy. Or maybe age created a slow learner! Each piece that I learned required about a month's practicing. But I enjoyed the challenge and would listen to Dick's CD and choose new pieces to learn.

Then I moved to MA and was without a piano. No practice time and my ragtime suffered mightily. Once in a while, after tuning at the church, I'd get in a bit of practice time, but I was losing more and more of what I had learned. Eventually, I did get a piano that needed piles of work. With thoughts of ragtime, I spent hours repairing the mechanics of that piano. It still had an afternoon's worth of work to complete when FP offered THE player piano. The little piano with piles of work was replaced! With a big piano still needing work.

Last week the addiction reared itself once again. I received an email inquiry about a couple of pianos. The emailer mentioned that her son plays Ragtime. I knew this, but had forgotten. The next day, after lunch at Skip's, Amanda, Mom and I stopped at a nearby Building 19 (for those of you not familiar...overstocks, outdated, damaged, cheap, some good, some junk, you never know what you may find store). There on the shelf, for a mere $5, was a hardcover book called "Joplin's Ghost" written by Tananarive Due. I had passed up buying this book months before at the bookstore. Too much money for what sounded like a rather trite novel. But for $5...well, how could I resist.

Weird thing...first Joplin piece mentioned in the story is one of my favorites, a piece that I can still play and use as my "I'm all done tuning" notification piece.

So now I've pulled out Dick's CD set and have been playing all four CDs while I've been working in the shop.

I miss playing Ragtime. As I listen to many of the songs on the CDs, I find myself thinking...I used to be able to play that.

I've got to find the time to get my piano in playing order. Soon. The Ragtime bug has bitten once again.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

I Never Learn or.....

How NOT to make money.

When first starting in the piano business, I had quite a bit of free time on my hands. It not only takes a while to build up a clientele, it also is an investment in time to learn the business. Since at the beginning I had plenty of time, I was quite willing to take on piano projects that otherwise would be money losers....like refinishing and "fixing" old uprights for resale. The experience was great educationally speaking but all that labor for a $400 to $800 return, well, my hourly rate was in the negative! (I realize that that is truly not possible. However they don't make coins in THAT small an amount!)

So, as I learned and as my business grew, refurbishing old uprights became out of the question. Unless, of course, they belong to a customer who contracts the work.

I moved on to more interesting and not quite so poorly paying cool stuff.

Player pianos and reed organs.

Yes, I started out by buying, restoring, and selling. I feel it is always best to do that major learning curve on your own instrument, not a customer's. I LOVE rebuilding players, nickelodeons, reproducers, and reed organs. I did quickly find out that they are not for speculating. Once again, limited market and low hourly rate make it necessary to work only for a customer rather than hoping for a retail market.

So why did I agree to take on this Moline Chapel Organ?

Foolishness, nostalgia, added to free, delivered, established history, ornate, sucker, just couldn't say no.

All I had was a small picture to go by so I really didn't know what I was agreeing to accept. At worst it would be parted out, or maybe an attractive desk could be fashioned from the case parts. Now that I've seen it and have it here, it will be restored. After all the other projects I have going on! Once restored I will do some free advertising and see if I can get an extraordinary amount for it. If not, I haven't a clue as to what I will do with it. I haven't the space to keep it.

In the meantime....what to do with it until I have the time to do something with it! I decided that it would have to be "gutted" just as I would if doing a restoration for a client. The parts would have to be carried down the stairs to the workshop. Then the main portion of the empty case would have to be carefully carted down the bulkhead stairs and everything reassembled to await that time in the future when the work would be done.

The big problem arose when I had no one able to help carry the case. There are some things that I am not patient about. Waiting for help is one of those somethings. There just had to be a way to do this on my own. Here is my solution. Don't worry. It worked. All the easily removable case parts were taken off and carried down first, then all the "guts". Here you see the main portion of the case taken apart into two side halves, the keyslip, and the bottom struts. All is well and put back together down in the workshop. When the day comes to finish the project and advertise the organ for sale, I'll have to repeat the disassembly to get it back upstairs! It should be faster the second time!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Now What?

Here we go again! Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know the basics of the situation between the GDT and Amanda and me. You also know that there has been a discrepancy in the amount that the GDT feels it owes us and what our accounting tells us the amount should be. Well, as of this past weekend, we had still not received a check, in any amount, from the GDT. I wrote another letter, short, polite, yet curt. I intended on mailing it today, when lo and behold, there was a check from the GDT in our mailbox!

Great! You think. But not so fast.

The "boss" at the GDT said he authorized a check in the amount of $25.84. We say we are owed $30.90. The check that arrived today was for $31.75.

My first inclination is to write a check for the 0.85 difference and send it to the GDT with an explanation. Then I wondered.....what if this check for $31.75 is for something else that we are unaware of?

My second inclination is to find the phone number for the office in Birmingham, Alabama that issued the check to see what the referred to invoice number means.

What do you think?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Short Takes from Lanesville 1

or.....Cats, Bugs, and Other Critters......

Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), renovating the house in Lanesville was an enormous undertaking. It was made even more so by living in it at the same time.

One of the more critical upgrades was getting the kitchen redone and usable. When we bought the property there were two major problems with the kitchen (and many minor ones). First of all, we couldn't get the water through the pipes. The city came to turn on the main at the street and nothing happened. Seems the main water line had become so clogged with sediment that it had to be replaced (along with all the lead and galvanized pipes changed to copper). Then there was the drain (sewer) problem. When Vivienne's parents had put in the kitchen and the half bath, the sewer line was run to an abandoned well near the brook that ran through the property, under the road and remained underground until it reached the ocean. Mildly put, not good. And not working due to a collapsed pipe. Ah well, kitchen demolition!

And......oh yuck. We tore the kitchen apart and hauled all the cabinets and metal sink unit to the dump. We left around 6:30 a.m. The neighborhood was still quiet and asleep. What a huge pile we had loaded on the truck with the metal sink/cabinet atop it all.

Until we got to the Rockport town line when that metal cabinet and sink flew off the truck and became a crashing, clanging alarm clock. How embarrassing. We pulled over, reloaded, and TIED it on! After the dump, we returned to finish tearing apart the kitchen. We needed to insulate the walls and also raise a window to fit over the new cabinets we would install. Doc started on the walls using a huge pry bar. That's when we noticed things moving.....

Like giant black waves, thousands upon thousands of carpenter ants flowed endlessly out on to the kitchen floor. Doc kept yanking wallboard down and I stood behind him with the ant poison, drowning them as they ran forward in hopes of escape. We found out that the kitchen walls had been insulated with cellulose (soft, wood fiber). This had made a feasting and, for years, breeding ground for the ants. We also found out that their damage extended to the main sill along the back of the house.
Here you see my dad and Doc (in the shadows) replacing a 12X12X10 foot section of the sill after jacking up the back of the house! Also, although the rest of the house had plaster and lathe walls, apparently when the kitchen was installed they decided to use homasote (sp?) for wallboard. This is a gray, cardboard-ish composite. But this is not the main emphasis of this story.....

At the time that we were ripping apart the kitchen, we were sleeping in the parlor on the sleep sofa. We were exhausted after working demolition all day and battling the sea of ants. It felt good to crash in bed that night, even with thoughts of crawly things! We slept well and awoke the next morning ready to make our morning run to the dump. Doc got up first, dressed and started to put on his work boots. First the left, then the right. But wait, the right boot wouldn't fit. Maybe a sock was down inside? Doc stuck his hand all the way in to the toe of his boot and felt something soft. Ahhh, must be some of the old cellulose insulation, he thought. He pulled his hand out and tipped the boot upside down with a bit of a shake. The prideful strut of our cat, Tiffany, should have been the tip off. As the boot was shaken, out fell one dead mouse, lovingly left where "daddy" would find it!

Good kitty.....sort of.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Ronnie's Mascot

Just a quickie post for tonight. Over the weekend I'll get to finishing up the Lanesville Life posts.


I just HAD to share this with all of you.

While we were down "the other" cape (Cape Cod) we stayed with my cousin and her husband. I was telling Ronnie about our wildlife entertainment, particularly Squeaky who had been making such a nuisance of himself. Ronnie asked if I had seen his mascot. We went out to the driveway and this is what he showed me..........

Look closely. Seems this little guy got the shock of his life!

A month ago!

And there he hangs, one chin-up too many.

Fried squirrel anyone?

Monday, July 16, 2007


Since I'll be leaving to head for "the other" cape late tomorrow morning and returning early afternoon on Thursday, I thought I'd leave you all with a fun post.

Here he is folks...a VERY determined squirrel.

His name is Squeaky. If he weren't so funny to watch, well, this post might be titled Squirrel Stew.

We have been trying to discourage him. Really and truly. Squeaky was the second of three named squirrels that have been entertaining us for the past few months. We have Squirt, Squeaky, and Scooter. Squirt has a nice full, fluffy tail that looks chopped off at the end. Scooter has a full tail, as well, but it is perfection with a subtle round end. Squeaky, on the other hand, was denied an attractive tail. It's scrawny, long and balding. Squeaky has been, by far, the most amusing but the trade off is his boldness and persistence.

Squeaky loves peanuts. Too much. And to get peanuts thrown to him, he has learned his name. But he doesn't give up after one. He will run off to the top of the fence and eat his peanut then come back wanting more. He paces in front of the sliding doors. He peers in to the house looking for someone to stand up to get his treat. He sits and listens to the talking inside the house and then........
climbs the screen door, as you can see.

Bad Squeaky. No more peanuts for you. We shut the door and drew the drapes until he finally gave up and left. For days we didn't see him. Squirt showed up once and ate a couple nuts, then disappeared. Haven't seen Scooter in over a week.

And then today......Squeaky was back and up to his old tricks!

Today's act: Splay out on tummy and scootch across the deck. Looked like Squeaky was in basic training for the army. Oh no, panic mode, make big at weird orange thing on deck. That wasn't there last visit. Will it attack? Circle deck, no more nuts, attack screen door.

Bad Squeaky.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Lanesville Life (part 4)

So there we were. One week to sit and wait. Would Bob get back in time? Five months we had been at it. Would it all go to waste?

One of the longer weeks of my life!

As I'm sure you've guessed by now, Bob got back and immediately called us. We set up a time to visit Susie, affidavit in hand. Bob drove to Salem. Bob sped to Salem.

The meeting went well with Susie and there was no problem with her signing the paperwork. Archie was the sole surviving child of James and Susan. Archie had no heirs. On August 21, 1978 we would become the third owners of the house. Greenough - Natti - ________. Then the fun began. We moved in the day that we closed on the house. Remember those original pictures? Move over dining room table and make room for a sleep sofa and suitcase. No water, no electricity, and a nervous first night.

Oh yes, we were definitely nervous. The house had been broken into just two weeks previous. How would anyone know that we were living there? Would someone try to break in again? Day two meant getting electricity of some kind! My dad came to the rescue along with the power company. Dad made sure the main line was shut off at the fuse box and the power company turned on the juice. Dad spent the rest of the day terminating wires damaged by the fire, activating a few temporary outlets, and rigging an outside light by the front door. We kept a front door light lit every night for a year. We weren't taking any chances!

On night two it began.

In the hush of the late night I heard it and for some reason it woke me from my sleep. It sounded like it was in the parlor. I froze and listened. Closer and closer it came. The sound of little feet. Little human feet running into the room. Then they stopped, like something had surprised the person they belonged to. I waited, trying to not even breathe. I can't imagine how long I lay there silently, not daring to move. The room was a veil of darkness with not a moonbeam to lend a hint of the contents, human, objects, or ............otherwise. When there was nothing more than the stillness of the night, I whispered to Doc, "Did you hear that?"

"Yes," he said. "What was it?"

We didn't have a clue. We turned on a lightbulb dangling from a fixture overhead and left it on the rest of the night. Maybe the better question would have been, who was it?

As we cleared each room and sorted it's contents, we also tore down the inside plaster and lathe of the exterior walls. This was in preparation for installing insulation. We also labeled and removed all the trim woodwork for sanding and for ease of running all new electrical (thanks, Dad).This process of "readying" rooms one at a time meant that our sleep sofa journeyed from the dining room to the parlor as all the dirty work of demolition was finished. By the end of November, we contacted the movers to bring our furniture. We had not completed the house by any means and we lived for three years with insulation, vapor barrier, and exposed studding as our walls. Never daunted by the work still needing completion, I simply decorated by hanging our "stuff" from the studs. At least now we were living in ALL the rooms. And this meant a real bedroom with our antique brass bed instead of a sleep sofa.

And a new adventure!

Sometime during the second year it began. We still had no finished interior/exterior walls and the chimney had been exposed and rebuilt from the cellar floor all the way up through the roof. Again, it was late at night when we were both sound asleep. This time Doc prodded me awake.

"Quit doing that," he said.


"Shaking the bed. I wasn't snoring."

"I wasn't shaking the bed. Go to sleep!"

Maybe a few weeks passed. This time I awoke to the firm but brief shaking of the bed.

"Doc, cut it out!"


"Doc, are you awake?"


"I said cut it out."


"You were shaking the bed."

"Not me."

The accusations continued for some months, both of us sure the other was being at worst irritating, at best a poor attempt at amusing. Until the night we both were awake as the bed was gently shaken. And then we knew it had to be Harry. Harry was the only child who had died in the house that was old enough to play this particular poltergeist prank. From that time on the "Doc, quit it!" and "Deb, quit it!" became "Harry, cut it out!" And he'd stop.

We were very grateful to have Harry "living" with us. One night I was wakened from a sound sleep at four in the morning. There was no particular reason for doing so, but I sat up in bed, leaned forward to the foot of the bed and looked out below the half raised shade of the bedroom window. Then I discovered that the front corner of our property was on fire. It was a fair distance from the house, actually closer to the neighbor, but would spread quickly with all the dried, old, oak leaves as fuel. I called the fire department and then the neighbors. A potential disaster was averted.....Thank you, Harry! (I'm sure) see footnote

(I have an aversion to writing either stories or letters that contain an even number of paragraphs, sections, etc. so there *will* be a part five to this story. In part five I'll tell some short funny stories about things that happened at the Lanesville house.)

We found out that a local drunk had been sitting on the wall and flicked a lit cigarette back on the property.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Al, Dad, Grandpa

Alfred L. _____, 85

Rockport - Al ____, 85, husband of Shirley _________, died on Sunday, July 8 2007, at the Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester.

Al was born February 5, 1922 in North Adams, MA, son of the late Matthew and Margaret ____________. He attended Stamford High School and graduated from Stamford Trade School, Stamford CT.

On March 4, 1941 Al enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He served on the aircraft carrier USS Lexington from October 1941 until her sinking during the Coral Sea battle. Subsequently, as one of the original crew members and plank holder, Al served aboard the battleship USS Alabama. He was Chief Fire Controlman until the conclusion of the war. After the war, he was assigned duty assisting in the "mothballing" of the USS Alabama, the USS Massachusetts, and the USS Barnwell. Al was honorably discharged in January 1947.

After leaving the Navy, Al attended the University of Connecticut earning his degree in electrical engineering. He was employed at Western Electric Company, North Andover, for 29 years as an engineer and as Department Head of Development Engineering.

In June 1951, Al and Shirley ______ married. In June 1955, their daughter, Debra was born. While living in Groveland, MA, Al served as chairman of the Conservation Commission and was president of the Groveland PTA while his daughter attended grade school.

Al was known by family and friends as being "able to do anything". No problem or project was too daunting. This was most evident when he decided to build the "Minoan", a 36 foot, ferro-concrete ketch in his back yard. Featured in LIFE magazine in September 1970 and ten years in the making, Al's project became a highlight in the lives of family, friends, "his" engineers and even strangers from all over the states. The "Minoan" was moored in and sailed out of Rockport harbor for many years.

Al will be remembered for his fairness and his willingness to give of his time, knowledge and assistance. He always gave his best.

Al is survived by his wife, Shirley, his daughter, Debra ____; and his grand daughter, Amanda ____, all of Rockport; his sister, Marion ______ of South Carolina; his brother-in-law Norman______, three nephews, three nieces; and many special friends. He was predeceased by his brother, Thomas____; his sister-in-law, Elsie ______; his brother-in-law, George _______; and a nephew.

Honoring Al's wishes, there will be no services. The burial will be private. Contributions may be made in Al's memory to the USS Alabama Foundation, PO Box 65, Mobile AL 36601.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Lanesville Life (part 3)

The Nattis, the Greenoughs, the research.......

A glimpse of more recent residents and linking to the past.

In 1932, Waino Natti bought the Lanesville house as a wedding gift for his new bride, Vivienne Haapa.
It must have been a delight as the sellers had lived there from the start and had taken great care with the property. The grounds were filled with plantings of rhododendron, lilacs, azaleas, and iris imported from the Middle East. Hydrangea lined the farthest bank of the little brook and on the near side lilies flourished. What a charming setting for their new life together. We imagined that everything was fine until sometime in 1934 when Waino contracted tuberculosis. He died that year. Vivienne left the house, never to return. For a short time, her parents would come from Ohio for the summer, but never Vivienne. Left behind were all the belongings. Furniture, food, knicnacks, and clothing. In a trunk in the master bedroom we found Vivienne's wedding dress and all the RSVP cards from the guests. Vivienne did move on with a new life in Arizona. The house was littered with Arizona Highways magazines that she had sent to her parents. Vivienne eventually remarried. Her husband worked in the entertainment industry as a stunt man. Having never learned his given name, we always referred to him as "Stunt man Storns".

Waino had purchased the house from Susan Greenough, wife of the builder of the house, James. James and Susan and James' mother, Sarah, had moved to Cape Ann from Upper Musquadaubit Harbor (forgive my spelling!) Nova Scotia so that James could work in the granite quarries. James also had a small "motion" of his own in a corner of the Lanesville property.

James and Susan had five children. They were, Helen, Grace, Lettie, Harry, and Archie. Archie was named after his uncle, James' brother, who died in a prisoner camp during the Civil War. (see footnote). Helen, Grace, and Lettie all died very young. I have forgotten their exact ages when they died. Causes of death were listed as infantile and pneumonia. One of the girls died on her third birthday. Harry died when he was seven years old, during an influenza epidemic. Archie was the only child of Susan and James that survived to adulthood.

And that information (or lack of), and more, became the hiccup in a clear title to the property.

In 1912, James Greenough died intestate and Susan and Sarah decided to stay in the house. Sarah died soon afterwards leaving Susan alone. Archie was still living in the area and visited his mother periodically. In 1932, Susan decided to sell to Waino Natti. With Lanesville being a small, tight knit community, the Nattis and the Greenoughs most likely knew each other quite well. No mortgage was needed by Waino and since Susan's husband had built the house, ownership was never questioned. The deed changed hands for cash.

Then we came along in 1978. We needed a mortgage. We then had a problem. Here are some of the details that had to be first discovered and then solved.

We had to establish the relationships between all the Greenough names. Whether they be husband , wife, brother, sister, children, etc. as I wrote above. Remember, all we started with was James, Archie, Susan, Sarah, the surname Greenough, and the date 1912.

We then learned.....

Since James died intestate (with no will) two thirds of his estate would go to his wife and the remaining one third would be divided equally amongst any surviving children. We had to prove that in 1912, upon James' death, that Archie was his sole surviving child. AND, as such, Archie had no children.

So our search began at the Registry of Deeds and that helped with some relationships such as husband/wife, and the year that the deed had been transfered to the Nattis. Gloucester records helped with birth and death records. And the Lanesville Congregational Church showed the family as members. While all this information was helpful in sorting out children from parents, we couldn't confirm that there positively were no more survivng children, or if the surviving children had any heirs.

Now, at this moment I can't remember how we got the lead. But somewhere along the journey, someone had to have mentioned it specifically. Otherwise, we would never have found the needle in the haystack of Greenoughs. It seems that a George Greenough was living in St. Petersburg, Florida. In some way this Greenough was brought to our attention to contact. That was one heck of a phone call!

"Yes," George said, "I know exactly who you are talking about. But, if you really want to know about him, you need to talk to my great Aunt Susie. She lives in Salem , MA."

Oh my goodness, we thought. How old is his great aunt! And, another Susie! She's only a half hour away!

George gave us Susie's phone number and we called her. She was a bit concerned about giving out information over the phone to strangers and asked that we stop by the next day to see her. Her niece would be there visiting and she felt more comfortable having someone with her.

Archie Greenough, Susie told us, was her uncle. He was the sole surviving child of Susan and James. Archie had married but had never had any children.

The worry wasn't over yet. We still had to get home and call Attorney Bob and tell him that we had the information we needed to clear the title. As soon as we walked in the door we made the call. Bob's secretary told us that Bob would draft an "Affidavit of Pedigree" for Susie to sign, swearing to the family relationships that she had confirmed. Then her next words left us in fear. Bob was on vacation in Washington state for one week. That day in 1978 when we talked to Susie Greenough, we learned that she was 84 years old.

We feared that she would die before Bob returned.

footnote: Southerners refer to the Civil War as The War of Northern Aggression.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Lanesville Life (part 2)

The Ordeal

Within days of seeing our dream house, we made an offer. As is, $30,000. Our real estate agent got in touch with the lawyers in Ohio who were handling the sale of the property for the estate of Vivienne Elisabeth Haapa Natti Storns, deceased, of Arizona. Our offer was accepted and we were thrilled. The next step would be to secure a mortgage. For that we went to see the head loan officer at the Granite Savings Bank. This was a good choice. Not many banks would risk money on such a disaster, gambling that we would make their investment worth the risk. It was our good fortune that the head loan officer had grown up in the house next door. She was thrilled that someone would finally be moving in and fixing up the old Natti place. We were set. The formalities had to be taken care of...credit reports, a survey and a title search. A closing date was set for the end of May 1978. We begged out of our rental agreement on our apartment a month early. It was due to expire at the end of June. We'd be out the last day of May.

Then the first call came in. It was our real estate agent. The estate had received two other offers and were going to cancel our agreement to accept a higher bid. Well, needless to say, we were in an uproar and headed straight for the agent's office. This was bordering on being unethical and we wanted answers. The agent told us that the higher bid was only by $100 and it was from a developer. We instructed her to contact the estate lawyers, tell them that we would up our offer to $30,200 and no more. If they tried any further underhandedness we would go to the media with the story. Well, that made it stick. The house would be ours...we thought.

Mid April we started to get nervous. The agent had given us a key and we had been keeping a check on the place. Some items were disappearing from inside the house. The side door, though locked, was quite easy to pry open. During one visit, we found the cellar door ajar. We were afraid someone might start another fire. That the house might burn down before we ever actually owned it. We worked out an agreement between the estate lawyers, the bank, and an insurance agent to purchase insurance on the property. We contacted movers and arranged for all our furniture to be put in storage. We'd be moving in to our new home as soon as we signed the papers. No electricity, no running water, no toilet, and the enormous mess!

And then it happened. Another telephone call. This time it was the day before the signing. This time it was from the bank's attorney. There was a problem. The signing would have to be postponed. The title on the property wasn't clear. This was going to be a huge problem, he said. The attorneys for the estate would not spend the time (money) needed for the research to attempt to resolve the problem. He further told us that clearing the title would be extremely expensive if we hired him to do it. However, if we really wanted to go forward with the purchase, the bank would agree to "hold" the mortgage commitment for us. He also added that to keep costs down, he would be glad to instruct us in the research rather than pay for his time doing it.

We decided to try. Okay, bank attorney Bob, what's the problem?

Bob's reply...the only information that he had was that the house was built in 1865. There were several names that came up in the search. They were: James, Archie, Susan, and Sarah Greenough. The problem seemed to be during the year 1912. The researchers at the Registry of Deeds had quit and reported "a discrepancy" as soon as it was found. He knew nothing else.

Our job....go to the Registry of Deeds and start digging up ALL the records for the property. Report back to him as we found what we thought might be significant details and he would be able to ask for more specific research as information developed.

We spent the next two months at the Registry of Deeds in Salem, MA. We perused birth and death records at Gloucester City Hall. We called local churches inquiring about old membership records. We walked the local cemeteries.

The Greenoughs became our adopted ancestors.

And they stayed with us for quite some time.

Lanesville (the photos)

The front of the house, Spring 1978
Top photo is the kitchen, bottom photo the dining room
The parlor
The upstairs. Looking out a bedroom door and the fire damaged landing.

Top photo is the master bedroom, bottom is another bedroom

Read part one of the "Lanesville Life" story on the previous post.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Lanesville Life (part 1)

How many times had we driven past and never noticed it? Hundreds? It was well hidden behind an overgrown WPA built granite wall and a newly forming forest of sassafras trees. It stood on the left most half of an acre of land. No one had lived there since the 40's when the owner's parents had spent a few summers. The house hadn't had a permanent resident since 1934. The snow was knee deep the first time we met the real estate agent at the house. It wasn't many weeks since the infamous Blizzard of 78 had shut down most of coastal New England for a week. Here we were, getting a first tour of our "house with possibilities".

We dragged ourselves through the snow to the front door, then around to the side. The front door had been boarded shut. At the side door, we cautiously climbed up the rickety wooden steps that creaked with age and cold under our feet. As we stepped inside we met the kitchen, a 1940's improvement to the original house that had been built in 1865. I'm sure it had been an improvement in the forties, but now...with it's baby blue cabinets and pink faux tile, it would need a lot of help. The house was being sold as is and with contents, and the kitchen boasted an enamel top, draw leaf table with four chairs and a gas powered lawn mower.

To the left as we entered the kitchen from outdoors was the entrance to the only bathroom in the house. A half bath. Later we discovered that the fixtures were lavender colored and obviously another 1940's improvement. At the time of our first visit the bath color was undetectable under the pile of blackened debris that had once been part of the upstairs hallway. Yes, the house had been on fire.

At about that time we heard voices at the side door. Another agent had arrived with two women clients. They stepped gingerly into the kitchen, said "no way", and abruptly left. Just when we were seeing the possibilities of our first home!

Straight through the kitchen brought us into the dining room with it's large, light blue enameled wood burning cook stove, and the refrigerator tucked in a corner past the blonde oak, Art Deco dining set. Vinyl drapes in a garish floral print adorned sooty windows. As we walked on the wide pine floors we heard brittle crunching. Broken into thousands of pieces and covering much of the floor were old 78 rpm records.

To the front of the dining room was the parlor. It, too, had crunchy floors and featured several of the old records firmly embedded in the plaster and lathe walls. A calendar, hanging on the door between the dining room and the parlor, had been lit ablaze and was a hanging charred remnant. The front hallway was next and was dark and piled high with debris. We made our way up the stairs to the second floor where the fire had been several years prior. Half the landing was missing, having collapsed to the bath below. There were three bedrooms upstairs. All were a mess of broken furniture, collapsing plaster, and blistered paint. By now we knew several things. This house had been broken into many times and used as a party house. This house needed an extraordinary amount of work with its peeling paint, leaking roof, collapsing plaster, overgrown yard, and fire damage. Not to mention damaged and inadequate electrical, no central heating, and lack of sewer or septic (the current drain to an abandoned well had collapsed). It was time to evict the party-ers and the field mice and the squirrels. This house was for us!

If we had known about the ordeal of buying it, would we have gone forward with an offer?

If we had known why the house had been abandoned for so long, or about the four children who had died there, would we have bought it?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Awwww, Cats

Way back in the spring of 1978...do you remember what you were doing one warm late night in June?

We were living in a combined household. Doc and I, and our cat, Tiffany, living with Mom, Dad, and their cat, Samantha. Why?

Well, a bit of background. Doc and I had just moved out of our apartment. We had given notice that we would vacate as we had just had an offer accepted on a house. The house was being sold out of an estate. The owner, deceased, was from Arizona. The lawyers for her estate in Ohio. The house in Massachusetts. The night before the closing, our bank's attorney called with the news of a delay. The title wasn't clear on the property. That story of how we cleared the title will wait for another post. For now (or then) we had no place to live until the title situation was resolved.

Mom and Dad had just moved from the South End to a small house in town. Doc and I packed up all our stuff for storage and then moved in with my folks.

The big problem was that our cats didn't get along very well. Both were indoor cats. They barely tolerated each other during the day, but had to be kept apart at night. Doc and I were sleeping on a sofa bed in the den and we'd lock Tiffany in there with us at night.

One late Friday night in June, as we were getting set to turn in, Doc headed to close the den door. Just as he reached for the knob, Tiffany made a dash for the freedom of the rest of the house. As she fled, Doc made a quick attempt to grab her as she passed through the slot of the open door. His hands missed the cat but his shoulder hit the door, slamming it shut. As he opened the door to go and retrieve Tiffany, she dashed frantically back in to the room and hid under the sleep sofa. We heard a lot of fussing and finally managed to grab her out from under.

When the door had slammed shut, it had done so on her tail. Momentum being what it is, Tiffany had continued her run towards freedom. The result was the end of her tail was a bloody mess. I quickly got on the phone to the 24 hour vet. I was instructed to put a band-aid over the end and then wrap her tail with adhesive tape, over the band-aid, so that she couldn't get it off, then bring her to the vet in the morning. Sounded simple enough.

Ten minutes later we had found a band-aid. Twenty minutes later we discovered that there wasn't a bit of adhesive tape in the house. Not only that, but no masking tape, no packing tape, no any kind of tape at all. What to do at 11:00 p.m. on a Friday night in a town that rolls up the sidewalks at 8:00 p.m. We left Tiffany closed in the den and headed for the emergency room........for adhesive tape.

Fortunately Addison Gilbert Hospital emergency room wasn't very busy. Two bedraggled ruffians with bloodied hands and faces were sitting waiting for treatment. Looked like they had been on the losing end in a fight. And since they didn't seem to be in much pain, we decided that a lot of drinking must have preceded that altercation. We approached the desk and in hushed voices explained that we needed adhesive tape. We said we didn't need a new roll, anything would do, we'd gladly pay. We explained what had happened to poor Tiffany.

The nurse listened patiently and then said she would see what she could do. We watched her head back through the dimly lit hall to the exam room area. She seemed to be gone for quite some time during which we could hear muffled conversation. Then it started. The voices from out back got a bit louder and then erupted into laughter. The nurse appeared with adhesive tape in hand and an enormous grin on her face. "No charge", she said as she handed the partial roll to Doc. "Just don't tell anyone."


Thanks to Alice for reminding me of this story with her cat post.