Finding Concealed Objects In Den

I thought it was time to round up the objects we found in our den on the second floor. We found most of the objects when we removed the ceiling because of water damage. This past spring we replaced it, see here.

In the ceiling we found fabric, tools and shoes. While we were stripping the paint off the molding we discovered an old cigar and hair pins in the cavity between the old and new mantel piece. We believe the mantel was originally two fields and then a decorative mantel was later attached.

It’s really common to find objects like this in older homes in New England. An old folklore of hiding shoes in the walls was thought to ward off evil and bring good luck. “Concealment shoes” are so common that the The Northampton (UK) Museum maintains an international index.

About half the shoes registered in the concealment index are children’s shoes. Women’s shoes are more common than men’s. Shoes are almost invariably well worn, perhaps because the donor didn’t want to waste an expensive new shoe on the project, or perhaps because a well-worn shoe is more likely to retain the shape of the wearer’s foot and hence his spirit. Though shoes are the common denominator, more than two hundred different personal possessions–coins, spoons, pots, goblets, food, knives, toys, gloves, pipes, even chicken and cat bones–have been found hidden with them. (Wayland Historic Society)

Many preservationist suggest putting the shoes back after repairs are completed. I’m planning on creating shadow boxes of all the objects for each room in the house. This way the objects will stay with the house but we can also enjoy them.

In this room we also removed hundred layers of paint and wallpaper off the walls. We found two wallpapers—a floral and an older piece was a stripe. The wallpaper was scattered around the room and the largest area was near a window but was badly damaged (see below).

Above and below objects we found in the room with a photo of where we discovered each collection.

We found the leather, tools, fabric and a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes on the left side of the room near the chimney below the lathe.

A “concealed shoe” and fabric found together.

The shoe and fabric were found on the right side of the room closer to the front window.

Objects we found in the cavity between the new mantel and base.

The mantel in the den being stripped where we found the cigar and pins.

Top layer of wallpaper found near front window.

Two layers of wallpaper found between the window and center beam

A view of the wallpaper found.

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Stripping Wallpaper In Guest Room
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  1. I think you could probably do a separate blog just about nothing but this–items people find in their homes while restoring. I would so read that blog. (Or maybe put it on Tumblr and have others submit photos?)


  2. You’re correct. What I have heard is that usually they would take the overmantel with them when the owners moved. My mantel boards are not built like that, they’re solid pieces.

    I believe the overmantel the Littles had didn’t come from the house in Ipswich but found somewhere else that Mrs. Little purchased. One of the rooms they did have a decorative painter come in to replicate the painting style they found on the molding around the room.

    I’ll let you know if I learn anything else about them.


  3. Thanks, Katy! I get the impression from reading the Little book that practically all the houses from 1750-1800 had the decorative overmantels (????). Apparently they were oil painted on boards that went inside those moldings you see, and they could be removed. Some of the photos in the book show a lot of decorative stenciling on the walls surrounding the fireplaces too. If you still have really old parts of the house left to strip, you could flake off layers with a razor blade to see what might still be there before you strip it. Apparently the Littles had a decorative painter re-paint some of the designs in one of their houses that had been painted over. (Sometimes the text is not very clear on the details, so I’m not completely sure.) But I’m getting quite fascinated and inspired by these painted rooms, which apparently were so much more decorated and refined than I had realized.


  4. Mopar, We haven’t found anything decorative on the fireplace mantel. But I think it might be hard to tell. When it strip it the paint it all comes off at once.


  5. Wow, so cool. Love the shadowbox idea. Our 1890s house had wallpaper (most mid-20th century) in every room and I’m planning to frame each piece and put it in the downstairs hall along with our 1940s tax photo and some other old things. If I can find where I mislaid all the wallpaper…

    This week I’ve been reading Nina Fletcher Little’s memoir of collecting, and have been wondering if your house could have had decorative painting or panels on the fireplace. Any idea? I’m fascinated by the examples in her book. So decorative.


  6. So fascinating. I’d never heard the shoe folklore before. I love your idea to display the items in shadowboxes.


  7. Very Cool! The previous owners of our 1840s Manchester-by-the-Sea house saved all sorts of neat artifacts from the 2005 renovation. My sister is taking the turn of the century house photo, blowing it up and creating a sort of mixed media collage with the items, which she has done before and won awards! Also, I’m on the board at the Manchester Historical Museum and last week we had a speaker who is analyzing all the paint and wallpaper history of the Trask House Museum. Two neat pieces of information:

    1. You can send off a core sample from your house to a lady in Williamsburg, VA (her name is Susan L. Buck) and for $200 she will do a full analysis of every layer of paint, etc. and send you a report.

    2. Two lovely books, which you may already know about but in case you don’t: Wallpaper in New England, and Wallpaper in America. Several of the Trask House wallpapers were actually in the Wallpaper in New England book.

    Beth Davis


  8. I saw the title of your post and said”ooh”! I love this stuff..don’t you just want to know the stories of those people? I love the idea of the shadowboxes…perfect way to display them but keep them as part of the house.


  9. Wow, great finds! I’ve pulled a ton of bobby pins out from behind moldings and between floor boards in my house, but nothing as cool as the shoe and cobbler’s tools. Hope you find some more cool stuff as the restoration progresses.


  10. I wonder how long that poor guy (or lady?) looked for the missing cigar?

    What a nightmare all that stripping is. I asked Santa for a Silent Paint Remover; I hope he comes through!


  11. Very cool!

    Marblehead was also a big shoemaking town, after the fishing fleet was destroyed in a gale. A lot of the work was done in the homes of sub-contract workers. My husband found a bunch of shoes and shoe molds in the basement and walls of his first house on Rockaway.