Family History, Life, Uncategorized, World War 2, World War I

Behind Great-Grandpa’s Walls

Up North House

I remember my great-grandpa fondly, as a tough old Swede who chopped wood into his 80’s, and who had a smile that beamed from ear to ear.

Long before my time, he served as an Army cook in World War I, and while in France cooked for the President’s daughter (or so family legend attests.) He returned to build a home for his bride amidst the pine and birch woods off the north shore of Lake Superior.

Though they’d moved out by the time I was born, visits to Great-Grandpa and Great-Grandma’s old house “Up North” were a highlight of my childhood.

My grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins would pile into the house, or camp in the yard. The kids would brave the mosquitoes and explore the woods. We’d pick berries and wildflowers, build dams and bridges on the little creek, and return to the house for cards and fresh fish from the river.

Of course, while I loved the house, it always had some…character.

I still find the steep descent to the dark, earthy basement a little alarming, and only go down when absolutely necessary.

I believe Great-Grandpa dug the pit that served the house’s septic needs himself, which, until its recent update, made using the facilities an adventure.

And then, there are the items we found in Great-Grandpa’s walls.

Age had taken it’s toll, and the house had become rather musty. My dad and I spent the better part of one visit during my late teens pulling apart the interior walls in the upstairs bedrooms so that he could clean them up.

The insulation- such as it was- contained some interesting objects. Probably the strangest was an old, ugly, housecoat.

What in the world…?

Maybe my family, never a group to waste anything, just thought that the housecoat would be useful for insulation. Personally, I like to think there’s more of a story there. Maybe one of the daughters of the house, my grandma or great-aunts, received it as a gift, and decided that it would be best if the unflattering thing just disappeared…

I don’t know if more clothing has turned up, but during more recent renovations, Dad found some items of particular interest to me.

DSCN2892I’m not sure just why newspaper and magazine clippings from the 1930s and 40s were in Great-Grandpa’s walls. Were they more insulation, or were they just one of those things that gets tucked into a “safe place” and forgotten?

Whatever the reason for their preservation,  they made for fascinating reading!

For instance, I learned about the danger of gossip during war-time, and the nefarious plots of the enemy.

DSCN2888I also learned how to be more patriotic in my gas consumption, and some handy, low-sugar wartime recipes.

One of the more curious pieces was incomplete. The article appears to chronicle the story of a spy smuggling information to an Italian diplomat in Washington.

Whether the story records a real bit of war-time espionage, or was just a ploy to sell papers, it looks like it would have been interesting reading. However, I guess Great-Grandma was more interested in the recipes on the other side.


Ah well. At least I got some free dietary advice…


The stack of papers was quite a bit deeper, but I only found out about them on the last day of our visit. I am looking forward to getting a better look at them, and questioning Dad about just what else he’s found in Great-Grandpa’s walls!

Have you found any history in unexpected places?

Many thanks for visiting!

43 thoughts on “Behind Great-Grandpa’s Walls”

    1. Old newspapers can tell us so
      much about the context of our ancestors’ lives can’t they? I’m intrigued that they were ‘in the walls’ – it is usual to find them under old carpets here in the UK. What stories could that old coat tell you? Fascinating

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Oh, interesting- I wouldn’t expect to find anything under a carpet either! Northern Minnesota winters are awfully cold, so I suppose creative insulation sort of makes sense…I DO wonder about that housecoat, though!


  1. Old ads are fascinating — what people used to sell to each other, what perceived needs of the time were! Not nearly as old, but I love looking at the ads in my dad’s comics!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They are, aren’t they? I had to peel myself away, since I was supposed to be packing when I unearthed them in Dad’s closet- he’d been saving them for me to check out, but life happened. I was left with an impression of lots of recipes, lots of anti-spy stuff, and the impression that the people of the 30s and 40s were very concerned with having more fibre in their diet…which is a new thought, though one I don’t want to dwell on too long…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, GP. I think you’d appreciate that we ALSO ended up bringing home my husband’s grandpa’s WW2 uniform! (The family wasn’t sure what to do with it- someone mentioned Goodwill, ack! We’re glad they mentioned it to him first. )

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m surprised you couldn’t hear me gasp when you mentioned they suggested Goodwill – a great place, but not for treasures like that!! Thank you for saving it!!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It’s becoming a challenge to know what happens next, as my generation is moving away, maintenance becomes a challenge. I hope we can resolve things and keep it in the family.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes – that does make it a challenge… But what a wonderful thing – to have a family home that has endured throughout those generations! And so rare these days.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. We love it 🙂 I’m waiting for the kids to get old enough to hike Great-Grandpa’s trout stream too… (well, it’s not ours, but we’ve never seen anyone else down there)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Anne – fascinating … they did used to use newspaper as padding, and as wallpaper (again I guess another layer of insulation) … and old newspapers are great fun … but time consuming. It’s interesting what we do with uniforms or similar … I gave my wedding dress to a theatre company in Johannesburg – I’m sure they put it to use for something … evening dress et al … however I’m glad the uniform is safe – cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wouldn’t it be neat to run into a picture of your wedding dress in a production or something? That seems like a good use for one- mine sits in the closet, and I don’t want to give it up but…what’s it going to do there? The next job with the uniform is to figure out how to clean it up- dry cleaning? I don’t really know… Have a great weekend! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Anne – I had no reason to keep my wedding dress … so it was ‘easy’ to donate to the theatres; I’m sure the regiment or unit would know how to clean the uniform … then decisions could be thought about … take care and you too enjoy the weekend – cheers Hilary

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! How amazing and interesting – not only a peep into the past, but your family’s past too. And I see you found your grandad’s WW2 uniform??! I have a few of my dad’s badges, pips and so on – but a WHOLE UNIFORM?? Sorry, I’ve got off the point – it happens… Fascinating post, thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, and YES! It’s my husbands grandpa’s actually- his uncle has all of the decorations, but they didn’t know what to do with the uniform, and were thinking of just (gulp) donating it somewhere, but his mom though of him, and we hauled it back in a carry on! It needs a little cleaning- I wonder if a dry cleaners would do? Whew, all of that wool must have been heavy to wear around.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow that is awesome. I love the idea of finding these pieces from years back in the world’s. Lol the coat must have been truly ugly.

    Maybe we should all do this,. Great our walls like a time capsule and when adding insulation throughout a few newspaper articles

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is such an interesting post. I think it has a lot to do with the attitude of using what you have and not wasting anythign. We don’t have an old house, just from the late sixties, but my SO and I, after my father’s death, dug out some concrete ‘holes’ for lack of a better word, where my Dad used to collect water for the garden. And it was quite adventurous what he dug in underneath as a foundation. There were lots of old bottles, broken bowls and cups, and even a very old pair of rollerskates I had as a kid. I wonder what else is in that garden… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow! That sounds like an adventure. Yes, we were definitely raised with a “waste not” attitude too- makes cleaning out the closets difficult. “Oh, but MAYBE I could still use this…” 🙂


  6. I know that territory (I’m a Michigan person!) Lots of very cool old places with hidden treasures in the north and you hit the motherlode! How I would love to find something like those old newspapers. Actually, I have. A book I have no idea how I got was found on my bookshelf and inside a photo of my grandparents’ bakery that burned to the ground when my dad was a child. Old poems and scribbled drawings found in a dresser drawer up north, including a child’s second grade “what I did on my vacation” story about the lake. A wedding clip in an old recipe book. Best finds!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My hubby taught in Lansing for 7 years, and visiting him is actually the only time I’ve made it to MI (unless you count the airport 🙂 ) – I hear the UP is especially gorgeous.
      Those are terrific finds! Thanks for sharing them.


    2. (Sorry, kiddos talking, that last might not have made sense, lol! Very cool that you know “Up North” as well. I love that area- I miss the smell of the pines. They don’t smell the same out here…)


  7. What a great story. Thank you for sharing. Imagine if that house could talk. Just think of all the wonderful stories that came from that house. Try to keep as much as you can. Those items you found are priceless.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. 42 replies! You awesome blogger friend,you. 🙂

    But I love love LOVE this. It says so much about that Midwestern mentality of finding a use for everything, and I could totally see a couple thinking they could use everything, and then when the time comes to change things up, they can always set aside those recipes. 🙂 I can’t imagine what else your family will find in those walls! xxxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

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