I recently completed repointing the last section of the wall that I could get to without removing the fence, which meant it was time to remove some fence.
I got out the big ladder and removed the downspout, cut out the section of fence nearest the house, and pulled the fence post out of the ground. This allowed me to repoint the last little section of the lower rear wall of the house.
At first, the repointing work went about as I expected. Some of the mortar was rotten, some of it wasn't, but the wall wasn't in horrible shape and mortar removal wasn't too difficult. Eventually I ran into some cracked bricks, and loose bricks, and crumbling bricks.
That's when things got interesting. I discovered a giant metal shaft of some sort in the wall, presumably driven from the interior side. That had caused one of the exterior bricks to crack into about a dozen different pieces, and I have no idea what purpose that steel rod served.
I also discovered - if hiding in plain sight counts as "discovered" - some big ol' nails that I assume held a downspout to the wall at one point. After looking, the nails continue off and on all the way up the wall where the current downspout is.
I went on about my business for a little while and then when I stood at just the right angle, I could see something else in the wall, in one of the removed brick cavities. I got on my tippy-toes and looked closer...it was a wad of newspaper.
It looked to be pretty shredded and my first thought was...mouse nest. But then it occurred to me that the super tiny print meant the newspaper was really old and it had probably been used as backing for some interior plaster repair. I carefully removed the newspaper, which absolutely crumbles with just the lightest of touches, and put it in a bucket for further investigation.
After work that evening I set out to see if I could determine what date the newspaper was from. Of the entire wad of newspaper, I was only able to successfully salvage maybe 10% and after a quick first glance, I didn't see any dates...but I did get a few clues that made figuring things out pretty easy.
I spotted a few mentions, fragments of mentions anyhow, of "St. Louis Globe-Democrat", which was one of the city's big papers for many, many years.
I also spotted a little clip that referenced October 12, with what I assumed was the word "tomorrow" above it, which meant I was probably looking at a newspaper from October 11...but what year?
I grabbed a few more of the larger newspaper crumbs and looked for unique words or images that I could easily reference on newspapers.com. At first, I didn't have a lot of luck; I was getting thousands and thousands of search results, way too many to read through. But I kept trying, and eventually I came across this little fragment:
The word combination of "Sportsman's Park", which was home to a number of professional baseball teams going back as far as 1867, and "Buffalo Bill's" were unique enough when thrown into newspaper.com's search engine together that I only got a handful of results, all from 1885.
I started looking through the search results while studying my little newspaper scraps to see if I could find something that matched. This was the scrap that solved the riddle:
See the little flag on top of the building? It says "Barr's". People local to St. Louis, and of a certain age, might recognize that as the Barr from Famous-Barr, except back in 1885 Barr's was known as the William Barr Dry Goods Co. and hadn't yet been merged with Famous Clothing Store (that happened in 1911).
I'm getting off track. The point is, I had seen that same advertisement image in one of newspaper.com's search results. The date? Sunday, October 11, 1885.
After a few more comparisons of my newspaper pieces and the October 11, 1885 edition of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, it was confirmed...the newspaper stuffed into the wall of my house is from October 11, 1885, which is kind of mind boggling.
Here are the full newspaper pages the scraps were once a part of:
1885 was a looooong time ago, and even in the ridiculously fragile state the little newspaper crumbs are in, I really can't believe - given how much water had gotten into the wall and rotted out the mortar - some of the newspaper wad survived all these years.
I was able to salvage a few more newspaper pieces than what I displayed here, but the Photoshop work involved in digitally laying my scraps over the full page takes forever so I stopped at four of 'em. I don't know what I'll do with the newspaper scraps or if it's possible to do anything to preserve them, but I'll definitely hang on the them.
Now I'm kinda wondering if, when I get into some of the interior walls, I'll find any more...