Thursday, March 7, 2013

Treasure Chest Thursday: What We Found In The Hall Closet

During the Great Depression my Kelly grandparents lived on Main Street in the little town of Frostburg in Western Maryland. They had six kids and times were hard. Everyone worked and did what they could to bring in money to support the family.

Great grandmother Moretta Workman Zeller, grandmother Kelly's mother who everyone called Ma, provided rents from the three houses her husband great grandfather Gustav Zeller owned and left to her. Grandpa Lee Kelly had worked as a miner when he was young but the mines were having financial difficulties and few jobs and too many ready workers meant painfully low wages. And he was developing the symptoms of black lung disease so physical labor was practically impossible for him. He learned to cut hair from his father-in-law, the impresario of tonsorial skills, Gustav Zeller, and made some money by cutting the miner's hair on Saturday in a tiny barbershop behind the house. By 1930 all nine of them - six kids, the Kelly couple and Ma - lived in the house on West Main Street, except for Gus who passed on in 1927.

Grandma Helen Zeller Kelly (1894-1985) was born and died in that house in the very same room. For me and all of us grand kids, she gave it life. After she passed we purchased the house from the estate. It was an emotional buy and I'd come to have second and third thoughts about the wisdom of it many times in the next couple of years. The thing was, the foundation was sinking, the walls were old cracked horse hair plaster, the floors were tilted, and the plumbing and electrical needed replacing. The worst day was when my brother who was acting as general contractor for it all called and said, "We need to gut it."

So we, or rather he and his team, did. The house lost some of its charm, but for safety alone, it had to be done. During the renovation the ancient linoleum in the hall closet was pulled up and revealed some old magazines. Dusty, water spotted, and dirty, they remained there from about 1931 until the mid 1980s. They were magazines for traveling salesmen.

Every page promised a scheme for great wealth and prosperity. Ideas, products, systems for making money fill the publications from front to back. "Opportunity" and "Modern Salesology" from 1931 are the two that were hidden under the linoleum and that I still have. They are a step back into a difficult time full of people, mostly men, who wanted and needed to earn, and plenty of offerings about how to do so, if the men had a few dollars for samples or a book telling them of some scheme. There is a palpable sense of desperation and promised greed that drifts off the pages.

How these magazines got under the linoleum in Grandma's front hall I really don't know. The placement seems to be such that one could easily think they were hidden, but who hid them and why? Dad seemed to remember that his family took in salesmen borders at some point during the Depression so possibly they were left behind. But why hide them? They remain a mystery.


Treasure Chest Thursday is a blogging prompt of GeneaBloggers.

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  1. I'm going to go out on a limp. Where they hidden? Or were they used as part of a past repair job?

  2. Hi Devon, and perhaps it wasn't clear from what I wrote:) The magazines were under the linoleum in the front hall closet. Felt like they were hidden. I know what you mean about possibly being part of a previous repair though. If there was a hole in the floor down to the cold damp basement the I'd be voting for repair!
    Cheers, Diane