Friday, January 23, 2009

House History

ineffective insulation, anyone?

After a break for church media prep, the MLK Day of Service, watching the inauguration, and having some of K's friends from the spiritual direction program over for dinner, yesterday I got back to updating the electrical for the old bathroom. I realized it would be much easier to run new wires into the switch box if I took off a section of paneling in the hallway outside the bathroom. In doing so, I discovered a bit of house history.

First, I found more of that weird insulation I'd found in the other wall of the bathroom. I'd found out before it was paper pulp insulation and it didn't have asbestos, but that was it. This time, it was intact enough to find out exactly what it is. It's Kimsul insulation from Kimberly-Clark. In researching what that is, one reference said it was made famous by that finest of home improvement films, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. (Cary Grant apparently says, "Wrap your home in a blanket of Kimsul." I've seen the movie several times, but don't recall that. I love it, so I'll just have to watch it again.)

DIY, 1943 style

Then I came across this gem of an ad from 1943. I've zoomed in on step one of the quick and easy instructions. 'If your attic is unfloored' is a good start. But check out the woman holding the other end of the tape. She's balanced on ceiling joists. In a skirt. And high heels. But still managing to show some leg. Eat your heart out, DIY Diva :-)

In any event, why they'd put the insulation here was even more a mystery than the other piece I'd found. This was again in an interior wall. But only in one stud bay, and only in the upper half of it. It obviously wasn't for warmth, and only being in part of the wall, it wasn't going to do much for noise reduction. It also showed serious compression and sagging, which isn't too surprising given it's made of paper.

Mouse Hawkins

The second thing I found was a name. I know a few names and things associated with the house: POs were a couple of circus people (clown shoes in the closet during the inspection) and inherited it from her uncle. Said uncle was a bit of an odd duck, and died here (oh my). The house was built in 1948, but beyond that, not much. Scrawled on the back of the drywall in the bathroom wall is the name "Mouse Hawkins". I didn't find anything useful about the name on the web. (The fact that Mouse Hawkins is the name of a supporting character in a webcomic is not particularly useful.) What was Mouse's contribution to the building of the house?

City Homestead just blogged about some names they found in their house. What sort of interesting things have you found out about or in your house?


PJD said...

Clever marketing, that. I'm sure many men gravitated to this product because they thought they'd be able to get help from a knowledgeable salesvixen.

I just spent the week in Atlanta at the Habitat affiliate program. I met Crysta (sp?), who was kind enough to sit through my panel on workplace giving programs without snoring.

When you're speaking as part of a panel at a Habitat conference, is that called paneling?

(word verification is phame, which I guess is a sort of faux fame gained from speaking at a conference.)

BlogMonkey said...

Precious ad! Now THAT is DIY.

Interesting thing found during our renovation:
- 3/4 box of .38 Special bullets. Ah, Harlem in the good ol' days...

See here:

Unknown said...

@Pete: Krysta from Habitat East Bay? Small world :-)

@BlogMonkey: .38 Special bullets? Oh my. At least they weren't messing around with small caliber stuff.

I forgot to mention in my post that Mouse or one of his co-workers used a very interesting technique for holding the wiring in place: nails. Two small nails were driven through the top plate of the wall, through the wire. It wasn't an accident, as they were underneath the paneling, and very carefully lined up with the hole where the wire ran. How they managed to do that without shorting things out or breaking the wire I don't know.

NV said...

You unearth the coolest stuff at your house! I never find anything fun.

Back in the summer, after digging a zillion post holes and excavating about 2 feet into each, all I could find was a marble.

Liz said...

I second NV's comment - we've gutted most of our 1913 home (including the attic in which I learned it's hard to balance on joists in jeans and work boots, let alone heels and a skirt) and we've found bobby pins, a pencil and a marble. Pretty disappointing.

jake said...

Hi Gene! This is Dave over at and Im really digging your blog so far. Would you be up for an interview? Please get back to me when you can, thanks... Best Regards, "dave [at]"

Unknown said...

I don't know about the coolest, but Mouse's name was certainly cooler than an entombed dead rat. I'm always impressed with home improvement bloggers who are finding out all sorts of interesting history about their houses. Maybe our house doesn't have anything more interesting that a dead rat and a circus clown.

PJD said...

A dead rat, a circus clown, and a .38 caliber bullet. When the new homeowners open up the walls for some renovations, will the resident ghost tell all, or will the cops discover two new victims in the cold case of the 38 Peachtree Lane mystery?

Unknown said...

Pete! You weren't supposed to tell anyone about those bodies we hid in your home office walls! :-)

Unknown said...

Well, we've also found some interesting things in our 1912 foursquare. First there is a DAR membership card for the original owner for the year of her death (she lived here for 41 years). Second is a token for the interurban line that used to connect to Indianapolis and beyond (what did happen to our mass transit?). Lastly, we found a message from a early worker under the wallpaper in the study/library. Written in pencil right on the raw plaster it said "Was papered Sept. 2? 1912" (I don't remember the actual day at the moment)

Finding these items are some the best part of living in an old house. Reminds you that you really don't "own" a well made home, you just take care of it for the future.

Karen Anne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karen Anne said...

Well, this probably doesn't count, but I live in my late Mom's house, and in organizing the attic, I found an old family Bible that had fallen back into the rafters, apparently from a box that had given way, and a pendant necklace that I recognized as one my Mom used to wear, that had apparently fallen on the floor and been lost until I noticed it.

The Bible did not have all sorts of interesting family stuff in it, just an inscription in Danish from the giver that said something like, "read this, I hope it does you some good" :-)

The necklace was great though, kind of like a gift from my Mom.