Friday, September 19, 2008

A Fixer-Upper

It's now a little after 11 p.m. and I've finally gained access to the computer today! Phew! This sharing business can really be for the birds at times, ya know. Between the stepgranddaughter and her "My Space" that she can camp out in front of the computer for 4-5 hours and play around with bling and beads, glitz, glitter and music and my daughter and her "My Space," her CafePress Mom groups -I think she belongs to like maybe a dozen or two perhaps, my time to get on my own computer sometimes dwindles down to the late, late night hours and the wee hours of the morning, whether I had planned to stay up all that late or not!

Actually, part of the bad timing today was due to my own activities too -more embroidery work, plus tonight, Mandy and I had to go get some groceries and after that, had to go to the high school to wait for the football game to be over so we could pick up the "chick with sticks" that lives here. That would be the stepgranddaughter and that's what it says on the back of her Majorette Sweatshirt that coordinates with her cutsy little short-skirt outfit.

But here I am now and with my big old Penn State coffee mug, filled to the brim with steaming hot, fresh black coffee that I'm hoping will keep me energized to write this post and then, to dig in and begin reading the 142 blog posts waiting patiently for me to attend to on my reader!

My embroidery work netted me another finished project today though -another table runner done! And now I've also started working on yet another table runner! Gotta strike while the old iron is hot, don't 'cha know? Before the interest level dies down in me, before my vision leaves me completely, before I forget, due to senility factors that probably are lurking just around the bend, how to do this kind of stuff.

But aside from the embroidery stuff, there was something else I wanted to talk about here tonight.

It's about something I did yesterday -early last evening, as a matter of fact. I went to an auction here in the village.

Attendance wise, this wasn't one of the biggest auctions I've ever attended. I suppose by most standards for that measuring device, it was a fairly small event -maybe 50-60 folks there. I'm figuring a lot of locals didn't go to this one because the house (which was auctioned off, along with contents) has been kind of slowly falling apart at the proverbial seams for several years now.

This house was, back when I was a kid, one of the "hot spots" in town -everyone here knew this house, who lived there, and most everyone in town tended to venture into the place back then too, almost every day. The reason being that there was a little addition on the side of the house that served as our post office back then and the lady who was the postmistress (Miss Ethel Lakin) had held that high position for over 20 years when I was a kid! The main part of the house was also one of the finer homes in town at that time too. The lawn always perfectly manicured, and the way the house was situated on the lot -which is sort of triangular in shape - it was a pretty imposing structure back then and for probably 40 years prior to when I came along too!

Miss Lakin's family had originally lived down in Peale -the ghost town down the road from my home -but had migrated up to Grassflat probably close to the turn of the century. It's my understanding that her father, Tom Lakin, was quite well-known in and around the village as well as the township. I'm not sure what his initial type of work in this area was back in the 1880's and up but somewhere along the way he was appointed to be postmaster here and the job was then eventually "bequeathed" to his daughter, Ethel.

Ethel was a sweet little lady who, when I was in elementary school and was just beginning to be trusted to pick up the mail, knew me, knew my Mom, grandparents and the entire family for that matter. She was a kind-hearted, very friendly lady too and quite civic oriented as well. I doubt there was anyone in town who had a secret being held that Ethel hadn't already got wind of too.

A couple of years back, through my subscription to's Historic Newspaper database, I began researching via old issues of the local daily newspaper -The Clearfield Progress, as it was then known or simply, "The Progress" as it has been known for probably the past 50 years or more now. The coverage of this newspaper on that database extends from 1913 through 1976 -although it is not exactly complete as there are some years that not all months/days are represented but it's still a really good sized bit of reading material to search through.

I was interested in this avenue of research to try to get information first about the village where I live -where I was born and raised -and I had figured once I got through all the issues by searching for information, I would return and do the same type of search on the other villages in the township. My goal then was to try to glean enough interesting information about each of these villages to do a history-type book about it but more than just doing it as a history of just the villages, I wanted it to be one that would also include all kinds of data bout the people who had once lived here. Yeah -big dreams, huh? Even for as small an area as this would encompass, it wouild still be quite a monumental task to research each of the five little villages in this township. I'm still not finished with researching my hometown -as I kind of got burned out on the project about 12-18 months or so ago and at that time, I was only up through 1967!

One thing that stands out though about this research project was that back in the 1930's the paper had weekly colums about each little village throughout the county. Accounts of things that had happened each week -sort of a gossipy type column in some ways, but also a recording of comings and goings -passings of residents during that time span that often was the closest some of those people came to having an obituary.

When I first came across these columns, there was no indicator on them as to who the author was. Because the person who wrote the column reported very fairly on ALL the residents, seemed to know just about everyone in town and what was going on here, I remarked to a very good friend of mine about the column saying I'd love to know who wrote it but that if I were a betting person, I'd put my money on the author probably being Ethel Lakin -the postmistress.

Eventually, I did come across the very first column written about my home town and on that column, lo and behold, there was the name of the author! And, I was right in my surmising it had been written by Ethel too!

A couple years ago, I was writing for a small, monthly local publication -mostly articles dealing with various history events in this region and one article I wrote had to do with something that Ethel Lakin and about 3-4 other people had a big hand in organizing and that was the "Peale Reunions" that took place in the ghost town of Peale from 1930 until 1939. I found the reports about these reunions written up in old issues of the Progress and was astounded by the number of people who returned to the village of their roots for an old fashioned reunion. Sometime in the near future, I'll have to dig out the article I wrote about those reunions and the impact the event had on so many folks, who came from near and far to visit for a day. Considering this was during an era of very little transportation -cars were definitely a luxury item -and also, this was during the Great Depression too so money was pretty scarce then too but still this reunion attracted from 1,200 to 2,000 and perhaps a little more than that in attendees.

While researching for that article, my good friend Charmaine Nadzom Myers, had pointed me in the direction of the Lakin homestead and to Ethel's great-nephew, Jack Henius, who was residing in the homestead then. She said Jack had found several old photos and other artifacts that he'd loaned her when she and her husband first opened their restaurant here and that perhaps, he might help me out a bit with my research since by that time I knew his Aunt Ethel had been one of the organizers of the reunion.

So it was, with a great deal of trepidation that I found myself one day knocking on the door of this house, waiting to introduce myself to Jack and hoping he would talk to me and perhaps, help me out a bit.

Jack, you see, was rather a colorful character here by that time. A quiet man, brilliant too -a mechanical engineer by education -he had also become a recluse over the last 20 years or so of his life. He existed in this old house with no electricity, no running water either. Rumor had it that he had no heat in the house either but later someone said that his father, prior to his death, had set up a fund that would cover delivery of coal for the furnace in the house as long as Jack chose to -or was able to -continue to reside there.

Jack paid no attention whatsoever to the upkeep of the property. The grass grew high, weeds permeating all over the grounds. Trees, shrubs, that once blossomed there grew thick, blocking out almost all sunlight into the home. Jack, himself, usually wore long-johns and flannel shirts -when he opted to wear clothes -and frequently, during the summer time, the kids in town loved the show he often put on for them (inadvertantly, that is) when he wouild pull up a battered old folding lawn chair, sit out in a tiny bare patch in front of the hose, completely naked! For the latter part of his life, many townspeople around here referred to him as "Tarzan" because of this activity of his. Since he never approached anyone, never did anyone any harm -was just a bit quirky, probably due to some type of mental illness (I'm thinking he may have been schizophrenic,) no one got all up in arms about his sunbathing actions.

When I finally met Jack -and yes, he was clothed (thankfully) - I explained what I was trying to find -information Ethel may have left behind about these old Reunions and he went upstairs, rooting around in the bedrooms and before long, came back down carrying a huge black book -a registrar's book -and presented it to me to glance through. As I leafed through the pages, around the middle of the book, I came across a gold mine of information as there, in that book, she had set it up as a registration for folks who attended the reunions to sign -each year, for the 10 years that the reunion existed!

How fascinating it was to read those names! Names of people still living, yes, but names of people long since passed from this place, this earth. Names I recognized quite often too from listening to my grandfather and my great-uncle talk about the "olden days" when they lived in Peale and after its demise, when they had moved out and up to the big village of Grassflat -or people who had ventured out, all across the country but came back for this one Sunday every year for ten years to remember their past, their history.

Because Jack's housekeeping habits were even worse than mine (I have to say that in case somewhere from up above my Mom is perhaps reading this as she always thought my housekeeping left very much to be desired) many of the items up for auction last night were in dire need of lots and lots of tender, loving care and plenty of soap and hot water, the amount some things sold for would at other auctions probably garnered a much higher price. Although there were a couple pieces of furniture that did go for more of an antique collector's type price.

But I made two purchases last night -although I bid on one item I really would have loved to have won out on the bidding for it and that was for an old coal cookstove that a neighbor of Jack's told me still worked! It sold for $22.50 and I backed off bidding at $20 as I feared the guy I was bidding against was going to up the price to a range of more than I really could feasibly afford to shell out.

But what I purchased -two old dressers, one even has a matching mirror (not attached to it though). That dresser will need a LOT of work -stripping, sanding, refinishing it -all things which I have never before done, which I have no knowledge as to how to go about doing it either so it should be interesting to see how well my son-in-law and I fare when we get around to working on these two dressers. But both of them are solid -very well built -and should -with any reasonable degree of luck -be able to work on and refinish them to a decent appearance. At least I hope so anyway!

And the price I paid for those two dressers and the mirror? A mere $3.00 for all three pieces!

I really should have taken some pictures of the house so you could see how dilapidated the place is today. The front porch is braced up -very precariously -windows are broken out in the house here and there and there are gaping holes in the roof over the portion that had once been probably the most important building in the whoe town - the post office. Inside, the wallpaper is grey to black with coal dust and general dirt from lack of any type of cleaning and most of it is warped, peeling, falling off. But the stairs leading to the second story as well as to the attic were in great condition as was the banisters along both staircases. The bedrooms -three on the second floor -were all nice sized -one very large bedroom and the two other good sized rooms. The attic covers much of the second story and is one that is a "stand-up" attic which could, after much work, be partitioned into two more rooms.

But, the person who purchased this house -if he intends to fix it and make it liveable, perhaps resellable, has definitely still got his work really cut out for him. He'd better have some really deep pockets too with lots and lots of moola there to be able to afford to restore this place to its once shining glory!

How much did this house and the lot sell for?

Are you ready for this -$4,600!

It will be interesting, I'm sure, to see what the gentleman who purchased the property ends up doing with it. Whether he will just tear it down, do a half-assed job at fixing the bare necessities and sell it maybe, or will he redo the entire place and maybe make it a place of grandeur once more!

I really hope the last option is the one he takes!

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