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Mr. J.J. O’Shaughnessy leaves his itty-bitty mark on history

Summer’s been with us all week (and that’s no April fooling). Aside from a little fog Monday morning, the weather’s been that ideal sort you don’t even have to think about. No worries about shivering or roasting or (thank the gods of the NorthWET) getting rained on. It’s just … what weather ought to be.

Everything smells good, too. Like spring. Well, some low-lying places in the woods smell like skunk cabbage. And skunk cabbage smells like you-know-what. But even that’s a welcome aroma; it say’s winter’s officially over.

In the warm, I’ve been hammering ceilings, beating rugs (lovely, messy, old-fashioned task), and bringing order to the chaos of the de-construction rubble heaps outside the back door.

While sorting rubble, I found something on the back of a door frame that The Wandering Monk tore out last month. I couldn’t get a decent picture of it, but it was one man’s tiny bit of immortality. In pencil (and in rather nice, flamboyant handwriting), somebody had scrawled “J.J. O’Shaughnessy” and the name of one of the nearby towns.

The signature was against a wall where no one would ever see it until the door was torn out or the house demolished, and possibly not even then unless they were looking carefully. I didn’t spot it until I was hammering apart several defunct door frames yesterday.

Off I went to the lumber yard to ask R, whose great-grandfather built the house, if that name meant anything to him. After 15 seconds of painful thought he got it: “J.J. O’Shaugnessy was a friend of my great-grandfather’s. They were both logging truck drivers. I remember he had his own truck with his name and a … what do you call it? … a shamrock on the door. Yeah, he helped build the house.”

I refrained from saying I don’t think I’d have signed my name to that particular work of art and asked if J.J. still has any descendants in the area.

All dead now, R thinks. He’s not sure whether the one O’Shaughnessy in town is related or not.

In any case, I’ve pounded all the nails out of the frame piece and I’ll hand it over to R as a memento. If he finds a proper O’Shaughnessy to give it to, all the better.

Me, I’m still looking for … oh, a sack of gold coins somebody might have stashed in the walls to save them from Mr. Roosevelt. Even a bit of old newspaper headlining the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the Lindbergh kidnapping would do. But so far, nothing but bugs and rot. And the proud signature of Mr. J.J. O’Shaughnessy, log-truck driver. To which he did not add a shamrock.


  1. CB
    CB April 1, 2016 5:39 am

    Thanks Claire. Beautiful.

    I scratch name and date into the guts of things I do. Don’t give up on finding the bag of coins. I’m guessing it’ll be small. My grandmother did that. We found little packages when I was a kid helping dad fix something in her house. She was pleased but a little upset. Seems she’d forgotten about them herself after 40-50 years.

    Enjoy winter being over!

  2. capn
    capn April 1, 2016 7:54 am

    This used to be fairly common among small construction companies.
    Another was to put a coin inside of a particular segment of the building, a penny under the floor board but setting on the framing timber, especially if they were building several of the same configurations. I found a 1940’s penny in just such a place when demolishing an apartment complex build in the WWII war years for the Navy housing. The penny was a 1942. The buildings were built in … aww how did you guess?

    I think this stems from an old, and to some, outdated concept of Pride in Workmanship. If you are proud enough of doing something as to write your name upon it then it is your Best Effort.
    Sadly this is no longer common either the practice of signing things hand made or of Pride in Workmanship.

    Maybe I’m just not “modern” enough …. sigh

  3. Joel
    Joel April 1, 2016 8:37 am

    Somewhere between the inner and outer walls of a prefab barn we tore down in a city far away, transported and erected out in our Gulch, there’s a piece of paper with a date and the names of everybody who worked on it. I hope it’s not found for many many years. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Which reminds me…I keep meaning to write my name somewhere on my secret lair.

    “I refrained from saying I donโ€™t think Iโ€™d have signed my name to that particular work of art…”

    Of course there’s that…

  4. Vince
    Vince April 1, 2016 9:17 am

    There is a kitchen in a house in New Jersey and behind the cabinets are my name and the names of my two buddies who helped install them, dated 1995. Unless and until they tear those beautiful cherry wood cabinets down our identities are safe.

    In any case I’m happy to be OUT of NJ so at least I’ll never see them again ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Mike
    Mike April 1, 2016 9:37 am

    Since I got out of the Army in the early 70s, I’ve owned in five different houses. In each case I wound up doing some remodeling and before I would close up a wall, I would take a complete Sunday paper along with a pint bottle of cheap whiskey and seal them up in a heavy garbage bag and place them on a little shelf I’d build out of scrap. The package, hopefully, will sit there until somebody is tearing the place down. When they find it they can take a break, drink a little whiskey and find out everything that was going on when the project was done. I’ve always put them someplace that ordinarily wouldn’t be found doing routine maintenance. In my current house it’s in the framing for the walls of the staircase. The previous house had the package installed in the header area of the hall closet. I’ve often thought I should include my name but never have.

  6. Ellendra
    Ellendra April 1, 2016 10:18 am

    “Another was to put a coin inside of a particular segment of the building, a penny under the floor board but setting on the framing timber, especially if they were building several of the same configurations.”

    Possibly the remnant of an even older tradition. There were several cultures that believed digging and building disturbed the “locals” Each of those cultures had a different idea of which “locals” were being disturbed, whether it was faeries or spirits or whatnot. Leaving an offering was a way to appease them.

    As I understand it, in some places in Europe, construction companies still won’t touch certain areas for fear of angering the inhabitants.

  7. Bill St. Clair
    Bill St. Clair April 1, 2016 12:19 pm

    It’s nice to have some beautiful days, weather-wise, but it gets old. The Northeast tends to rain too much. The West tends to rain too little. New England is pretty close to just right, for me. Southern California, on the other hand…

    I worked for Apple Computer from 1990 to 1995, in a lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The lab was more a part of MIT than Apple, intellectually, but we were paid by Apple. We built a brand new programming language, called Dylan (DYnamic LANguage), but Apple closed the lab before we released it.

    That was when John Sculley almost killed Apple by focusing on market share instead of profitability. If you’re profitable, you get to keep playing, no matter your market share. If you’re NOT profitable, you do NOT get to keep playing, no matter your market share.

    There is an open source Dylan still available today, but it hasn’t gained much traction in the programming language world.

    When I started, I went to Cupertino for a week of orientation. I stayed in a motel across the highway from the Apple campus, and walked there every day. On Friday, I went outside for my last walk to class, looked up at the sky, and said, “Oh, darn. It’s ANOTHER beautiful day.” That’s southern California. Just one damn beautiful day after another.

  8. Bill St. Clair
    Bill St. Clair April 1, 2016 12:19 pm

    Er… the northWEST tends to rain to much.

  9. just waiting
    just waiting April 2, 2016 8:18 am


    Congrats, fellow NJ expat. How far away did you get? We went west til we hit the Pacific, then came back a mile, so I tell folks we’re 1 mile less than the furthest we could possibly be from that horrid place.

  10. MJR
    MJR April 3, 2016 4:07 pm

    Claire be careful about what you wish for. One of our friends who lives in a small town outside of Berlin retired and bought their home a decade ago. It was a large 10 bedroom affair that was built in the late eighteen hundreds. After WW2 it was used by the communists as the village headquarters until reunification. My friend’s plan was to convert it into a B&B which it now is.

    While they were doing the work our friend found two boxes hidden under a cistern in the attic. In one box was a dozen German potato masher hand grenades. After storing the other box he contacted the police reported the grenades and they came and got them. Given the lack of stability with the grenades I suspect they were living on borrowed time.

    As for the other box… 4 Walther P-38’s wrapped in oil soaked cloth, a few spare mags also protected in oil soaked cloth and ammo. These he kept hidden.

  11. KenK
    KenK April 4, 2016 1:08 pm

    My country relatives in back-country Ohio used to put a silver dime under each window sill and a sliver dollar under the doorway so evil spirits didn’t come in. Really. That trend was in full force until the 1960’s and the coins are still found when demo or remodeling houses and barns to this day.

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