Today I decided to finally brave the debris in the cellar hole. Last week I gave our landlord – and our neighbor – the medicine bottle I found during a 10 minute search of the ground outside of the hole. I assumed there were so many treasures to be found that I should part with one as a goodwill gift. Hell, I had already found two pieces of glass completely intact in just a 20 minute casual search, and one was almost 140 years old. Since I am her tenant, I also wanted to gauge her reaction to me poking around the property. I don’t want to be viewed as historically disrespectful to her or the grounds. She was happy to receive the bottle and proudly put it on a shelf where it joined dozens upon dozens of medicine and various elixir bottles from the 1800s. Some still had the original label or cork and one she tells me still had some of its original liquid contents. All of the bottles were found either behind her property or in the cellar hole I’ve been obsessing on. Bottle hunting and gathering had been a pastime for her brood so she didn’t seem to mind that I was exploring.
I also volunteered to give her whatever I found, but I don’t know if this is true or not and I was aware of that fact as soon as I said it. As a recovering compulsive liar – from my early adolescent years – honesty is now a big deal to me and I try to be honest, honorable, and ethical to a fault. In this particular situation? The honest answer is, it depends on what I find, I’m (slightly) ashamed to say. A black bottle of Belladonna? An intact earthenware jug? I don’t know what I would do. Knowledge is power and now that I’ve had a week or so to research antique bottles and other possible collectibles that might be extracted from an 18th century foundation I am eager to see what is hidden around me. I am not interested in selling anything I find should I find something eBay valuable. Instead, I would much rather keep things as interesting relics of our time in this house. Only time and possible discoveries will show what kind of person I really am at this stage in my life. I can only hope for the best.
Announcing to Ben, “I’m heading to the hole,” I then put on long pants, a long sleeved shirt, sneakers and socks, gardening gloves, and lots of bug repellant. Gathering my camera, phone, and a cloth shopping bag for loot hauling , I began the hike into the woods to the cellar hole. As I walked across the driveway I turned and yelled, “leave the back door open in case you hear screams.” Three minutes later I reached my destination. I surveyed the area to make sure the tough looking German Shepard wasn’t near the site and then found a relatively short part of the wall to slide down into the pit. I tried not to think of snakes that might be hiding in the rocks or in the brush under my feet by reminding myself that at least I no longer had to worry about rattlesnakes. Unfortunately, later this afternoon, after being startled by a couple of young garter snakes near the rear shed, I made the mistake of reading about the Copperhead. My return visits to the cellar will never be the same. I also tried not to pay too much attention to the layers of spider web in and around each rock, of each section, of each wall. My heart was beating as I looked around at all the space I could explore. There were so many leaves, dead tree branches, ferns, and mature trees that it was difficult to see directly from one part of the hole to the other.
Without moving, I could plainly see piles and piles of rusted and decaying metal intermingled with decaying leaves. There were old buckets and old cans that were turning into dust and I must have moved dozens of pieces of rusty metal that were completely unrecognizable to me, but I’m sure others would know what they were. The foundation I was standing in was constructed in the 1700s for a barn, but I don’t know how long it stood before being removed and the resulting hole becoming a dumping ground for all kinds of things. I noticed some aqua glass under a pile of leaves that made me think I had found another early 20th century insulator, but after moving the leaves I could see it was in pieces. I started moving leaves around with my gloves and looking for shiny pieces of glass. They were easy to find: there were modern day soda bottles, Budweiser bottles from the 70s, various condiment bottles from the early to mid-1900s, milk bottles with 5 cent return markings, various OLD liquor bottles and medicine bottles, earthenware jugs, plates and cups, etc. Sadly, then were all in pieces. I found magnificent looking pieces of colored glass and brownish red glazed pottery that were probably from the 1800s, but not a one was intact. After finding a pile of debris I would try to dig deeper with a rusty piece of iron, but only ever found buried pieces of more rusted iron, old square head nails that were so rusted they would snap, broken bottles, more earthenware shards, and remnants of a more modern time’s trash. For some reason the latter trash offended me as though it were soiling the antique trash. I came upon dozens and dozens of old rotting shoe leathers with some clearly for children. A couple of them still had tiny nails in place, but most were being actively devoured by bugs so I didn’t focus on them too much. There were also dozens of broken canning jars though I did find one lid in perfect condition with a decorative mark on top that looks like Saturn. I need to research that one to see how old it is.
I climbed out of the hole after almost 90 minutes and gathered my finds: a headless bisque (snow baby?) figurine from Japan c. 1950s(?); the canning jar lid; a very long and very rusty square head nail, a degraded child’s leather shoe sole, a rusty fork and spoon marked, “National Nickel Silver,” some interesting broken glass shards to show Ben and the girls; and a burning desire for a metal detector with assorted probe sizes. After spending the rest of the day reading about cellar hole discoveries I was not as disappointed as when I first came back to the house because I didn’t find anything intact. I am learning. The shards of broken china I discovered in one pocket of the hole might be worth retrieving to see if I can glue them back together now that I’ve learned pattered china was not unusual to have in the late 1700s or early 1800s. The parts of the foundation I did not dig through may contain more artifacts than I can imagine. I should also try to walk around the exterior of the site and find the dump, a potential treasure trove of digging. Lastly, I am reminded to avoid any old wells and any old snakes that are probably in the woods. Broken glass and rusted metal is enough of a thrill without adding additional drama.
I am so hooked.