Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Nightmares in the Attic

I lived in my rental trinity for several years before realizing it had at attic. That's because the door had been sealed behind a shower stall. I saw it once when the landlord made repairs on the bathroom and I did everything in my power not to pick off the remaining drywall and sneak a peak inside.

I later found peace from the horrors of a locked and abandoned room when a neighbor told me that she had seen her attic. She suggested that all the attics in the five house complex were connected. Great. So she's seen my attic, my landlord's seen my attic. It's clean, and most importantly, no bodies.

Well apparently my neighbor's sweeping glance of her attic wasn't that clear. As my third floor ceiling continues to leak dark water from 210 years of deteriorating cedar planks, my landlord informed me that there was, in fact, no way to access my attic. In fact, the door was sealed shut when plumbing was installed in what was once home to a pair of servants indentured to a wealthy family on Vine Street.

Two years ago when a plumber removed the shower stall to replace a leaky basin, I was unaware that we stood closer to the blackness that sat above my bedroom than anyone had in half a century, perhaps more. Three inches of drywall and a faded cabinet door were all that remained between me and a dark space sealed shut and forgotten.

My landlord's eyes grew big when I told him I had once seen the door. It prompted me to ask, "What is up there? Why was it sealed shut?" I got a vague response that was little more than a shrug. The shower could have easily been added to the south wall of the room, but instead the attic door knob was removed, and the shower stall was placed in front of it, holding the door shut and keeping it's secrets secret.

The home's 210 year history has seen slaves, servants, immigrants, prostitutes, and bohemians, all of which may have accessed and used the mysterious space above the third floor. These are the kinds of spaces where people hide that which they hold most sacred, from others but also from themselves, locked in an attic for posterity, lost to time.

What demons does this attic hold? Loot, letters, maybe a body? Perhaps it's just a couple inches of brown water and black mold. Whatever sits behind that shower, knowing that it hasn't been opened in 50 years has made me even more eager to see what's behind that door.


  1. I had a similar situation in our house here in Fishtown. I KNEW there was an attic, yet there was no access to it. Being the resourceful/crazy guy I am, I pulled out a few of our ceiling light fixtures & stuck a camera up there to see what I could find. Alas, nothing super exciting, though I did figure out where the access hatch was hidden behind the ceiling drywall so I could crawl around in the dust up there. I did eventually find a letter from the Civil War & a few very old bottles of beer, so it wasn't totally worthless. However, I mostly think it was sealed off to hide the really badly done knob & tube wiring that was up there (that has since been replaced).

  2. Exciting! I hope you get to find out in a way unrelated to your trinity flooding. My trinity has no attic--sloped roof going from ~8 to 13 feet on my third floor--but it does have an interesting basement. I've found remnants of coal under under a crack in my poorly poured concrete floor (a later addition, not structural). If I ever have the pleasure of digging out my basement I hope to find much more.

  3. Thanks for the comments and feedback! I would love it if the attic were removed to make a high pitched roof. There would even be room for a sleeping loft on top of the bathroom. These little houses have so much potential, I would love to own one someday. In the mean time, if my landlord decides the attic doesn't need to be opened to fix the leak, I might try snooping around with a snake camera. I'll be sure to post pictures of any interesting finds.