Each house has a long history full of secrets and surprises. For most of us, we never get to learn those secrets. However, some people are lucky to do so.
People on Quora share the most bizarre thing they've discovered while renovating their house. Content has been edited for clarity.
Did Not Know, Or Did They Forget?
“My in-laws had a huge add-on den with wood paneling. It also had a fireplace. Cleaning out one of the built-in glass cabinets around the fireplace, I was shocked to find that there were deer hooves, bent backward, as if to hold a loaded weapon. My in-laws have lived in that house for 20 years and there has always been so much junk in that cabinet, they either did not know that there were animal parts sticking out of the back wall or they had completely forgotten.
Once I got over the shock of Bambi being affixed to the back of a glass door cabinet, I decided that the crumbling plaster over the brick fireplace had to be fixed also. There was a thin layer of stucco over the plaster and it was peeling and cracking off. So I started scraping away to get down to the original brick. I was quite surprised, and my father-in-law who fought in World War II, was quite angry, to learn that stuck in the plaster were bullets in the shape of large swastikas on either side of the firebox. The stucco had just been a thin skin to cover up that sinfulness. I had to scrape and scrape and scrape and scrape plaster for days to get it all off the brick and to get rid of the swastikas.
My father-in-law swore that if he had known the type of people who had previously lived in that house, he never would have bought the house. But once the remodeling was done it was quite nice.”
They Uncovered One Secret After Another
“My wife and I bought an old house in Gulf Breeze, Florida after Hurricane Opal destroyed the home we were renting on Pensacola Beach. The house was built in 1954 with solid brick walls, 1-inch plaster ceilings, rough sawn two by six stick-framed rafters, outdated electrical… a prime candidate for a real rebuilding/remodel project. The first unusual thing we found was that every room had exterior type locksets instead of ordinary locks. Every door also had a barrel bolt on the inside, almost as if the person wanted to be able to lock themselves in or lock someone out.
After getting to know the neighbors over the weeks we were making the house ready to move in, we found out the previous resident, who had rented the home for nine years, was an older lady named Mrs. Robinson. She had lived with her a rather strange adult son, Larry. She, it seems, would actually lock her son in his room when his behavior warranted doing so and locked her bedroom door to keep him out if she felt the need. Still, the neighbors described both to be amiable people, nothing seriously threatening.
That was just the first ‘strange’ thing we found. After moving in, we decided to convert one room. It was a large atrium-like room, 10 foot wide and 24 foot long with old Chicago brick floors and a wet bar. I tore the bar out, and underneath the brick sides (the center for some reason was filled with earth), found that there wasn’t a floor underneath the bar, just dirt with plumbing pipes stubbed up for the sink in the bar top.
I built a new wall halfway in the space, poured concrete over the hole, and topped the remaining brick with concrete for a finished floor slab. I then laid tile on it and completed the room to make it a nursery/bedroom for my then 18-month-old son Daniel. When working on something like this, you don’t really spend much time pondering the whys or whats of the situation, but after finishing the room and moving Daniel into it, we began to hear strange noises at night, like someone walking into the newly built wall? It didn’t take long to convince ourselves the room was haunted. After putting two and two together that the space under the bar might’ve been a grave for Mrs. Robinson’s son, Larry, who hadn’t been around in a few years or for some other unfortunate resident there in the home’s 60 odd year history.
We sold the house in 2013, and it was leveled and a new home built there. I stopped in when they were tearing the old place down, and the site contractor they hired told me they weren’t going to undercut the foundation/house site since they needed three feet of additional fill dirt for the new home. Somehow, I was relieved to hear that they planned on filling, rather than digging.”
Hidden Secrets Galore
“It was our first house after we got married we decided that the walls of the living room which were wallpapered were awful. In the process of trying to remove the wallpaper (even using the approved methods), the sheetrock was damaged in many places. Frustrated and knowing I would have to fix tons of lumps and bumps and holes, I gave up and decided to just tear it off. In hindsight, I should have done this first it would have saved a bunch of time and money.
However after I tore off the sheetrock in the living room/family room area, I came face to face with a wood veneer wall. It was dark and ugly, really an old look, so what the heck I tore it off too. I came face to face with a plywood exterior wood wall, and it was this beautiful green. As I was ripping it off, I came across three sets recessed lights, still with bulbs in them. These were not normal bulbs, but old kind with really long spidery filaments. Intrigued, I went down the hallway and switched on a switch in the hallway that never turned anything on, and believe it or not the bulbs lit up!
All this time when we absentmindedly switched on or off that switch in the hall, we had been switching on and off the bulbs walled up inside our living room wall.
I surmised that the living room was an addition to an already existing home, and they had just walled over the exterior of the house leaving the lights in there. At some point, someone who bought the house before us apparently did not like the dark veneer wood walls and walled it over it with sheetrock. After which maybe another person covered the sheetrock with wallpaper.
After this, I ended up gutting the interior of the whole house and rewiring, because some wire in what was the original house was cloth covered stuff and it was aluminum core, and ended up sheet-rocking the whole house. I also had to modify my carpet estimates because the house actually grew bigger inside after removing all the extra walls, and all my kitchen counter and cabinet estimates had to be changed as well.
It all turned out really nice in the end, but it was a lot more work than I had originally planned to do. I saved those old light bulbs and fixtures that came out of the wall, I kind of wanted to put them on the outside of the house but my wife voted that out.”
So Much To See
“My late sister-in-law was a real estate broker and renovated a number of old homes. One house on the water in Annapolis with a dock and pool she paid a million dollars for and then fixed up. The house was over 100 years old and originally had no indoor plumbing. To put septic pipes under the main floor was a challenge, so one-half bath platforms were built to hide the pipes. As you opened the bathroom door, you stepped up to the level where a sink was placed. Up another step was a platform where the toilet sat. It was truly a throne room since when sitting on the toilet you were quite high above the original floor. The bathroom was quite amusing to me since it looked like a child had constructed it.
Another interesting house that I loved exploring was an old hotel that I worked at in 1978 that was being converted into a retreat center. In the kitchen, there was a tiny door that hid a thin spiral staircase up to the second and third floors. It was a maid’s and cook’s stairs, and since I was serving as both for a while I used it often. The doors were hidden on the second and third floors too, so I could disappear and reappear seemingly from nowhere. There was also a dumbwaiter which was fun to use and laundry chutes that went to the basement. In the kitchen, there were huge 50-year-old cans of food. The instructions on an instant potato box were to feed 40 people. The cast-iron stove was quite a challenge to clean. When exploring the outbuildings, we discovered a one-lane bowling alley and a barn filled with antiques of all kinds.”
A Bit Of History
“Around 1982, we bought an old house in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. We hired an architect and a contractor and began the lengthy process of totally renovating the house. Getting permits and timely inspections were especially difficult.
We were installing a kitchen with new plumbing and electricity but were challenged with a delay in the delivery of our new custom cabinets. We received a notice that one of the inspectors wanted to come by in a few days to look at the kitchen, but there was really nothing there for him to see. If we postponed, it might take months before he could return.
So, our contractor decided that he would put up a temporary kitchen – one that would meet all the requirements for the inspection – and that could be replaced when the real cabinets came in. To find cabinets (and to save us money) he resorted to an old NYC tradition: dumpster diving.
In a large dumpster in Manhattan’s Upper East Side he hit pay dirt. He found old, painted blue cabinets that were clean, well-constructed, and in surprisingly good condition. He had his workmen salvage what was needed, brought them to the house, and installed them. Along with our new sink, stove, refrigerator, we had light blue cabinets, in what looked like a 50s kitchen, perhaps appropriate for an old house.
The inspector came the next day, did a quick walk-through, and gave us the go-ahead. Not sure if he knew what we had done, but he didn’t seem concerned. But that was not the real surprise.
After the inspection, one of the workmen commented that we were lucky to find kitchen cabinets that were owned by such a famous person – a former US president. We were shocked and asked how he knew that these cabinets had belonged to a president.
‘Because each cabinet has a label inside that you can clearly read,’ he said.
We crawled inside one of the cabinets to see a label, and using a flashlight we could read what it said:
These cabinets were custom-made for:
Richard M. Nixon, Esq.
810 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY
When our real cabinets arrived and we disposed of the temporary ones, we had the workmen cut out the labels from several of the cabinets, so we could keep them as mementos. Of course, these were not the same cabinets as Nixon’s famous Kitchen Cabinet Debate with Nikita Khrushchev, but it was quite a find, nonetheless.”
Why Would They Want To Cover That?
“We bought an old Victorian house (circa 1880) that had cheap 1970s era paneling slapped up on all the walls, and dropped ceilings installed. Wanting to bring it back to somewhat of its original look, we pulled down the paneling and removed the dropped ceilings. What we discovered was beautiful radius ceilings, built-in nooks, and a calendar page from 1944, December, still hanging on the wall. We also discovered under layer upon layer of paint, mahogany doors, and door frames. Unfortunately, the guys doing the demo carelessly ripped a bunch out and hauled them to the dump before I realized what they had done, so there are only a couple of mahogany door frames remaining. They now show their beauty, sans paint.
There was one mystery we puzzled over. One of the stair treads was cut in half, with one half bearing hinges. We couldn’t figure out what it was. Then a little old lady who had lived in the house as a little girl asked to see the house. She told us stories about the house, how she used to sneak out the upstairs bathroom window, and when she saw the stairs, she explained it had been a laundry chute to the basement. As a result, we were able to open up the closet under the stairs, knocking out the chute that we didn’t even realize was there. We had moved the laundry onto the main level and added one upstairs, so there was no need for a chute any longer.”
They Kept Finding More And More
“I once acquired a lake house that was at one time a very well-built custom home. But the owner, a widow, had descended into a sort of dotty heavy drinker with likely dementia in her later years. She doted on her Boston Terriers, had several, but was either too trashed or too distracted to let them outside regularly. So, they began urinating regularly in the same spots. The hardwoods were absolutely curled up and the odor was overpowering.
There were also structural issues with the house due to neglect of rain gutters, which overflowed and caused soil beneath the foundation to liquify. As a result, the house settled very noticeably with rolling floors and cracked walls. The property was being sold for the value of the land due to this, but after having a structural engineer inspect the property it was determined that the foundation was sound if the runoff was corrected to allow the soil to dry. So, we renovated. Gutted it really, given the urine issue on the floors. But, in the process of gutting the house, we kept finding stashes of very nice filtered drinks, all over the house and sometimes in the strangest places. We probably took at least 30 bottles out of there. That was an odd one.”
She Made That Ladies’ Day
“I was helping demo a house in prep to remodel and was tearing out the sheetrock along with the old plaster and lath wall when I found a tin box wedged between two studs. I open it up to find a stack of photos that I guessed dated back to the late ’30s or early ’40s based on the styles of clothing. There were also a couple of old letters, and a 20 dollar gold piece.
After speaking with the gentlemen I was working for, he told me that he maybe knew where to find the owner of my find. Thinking that perhaps what I’d found was a long-lost memento, I was very interested. We started making calls, and eventually got a lead on where the owner was. We tracked her down to a retirement home, and sure enough, she was overjoyed to have that box back. She explained that the photos were of her husband before he’d left for the South Pacific in 1942. I asked about the letters, and she told me that those were the last ones she’d gotten from him before he was killed in action.
After hearing that I didn’t even think to ask about the gold coin, since I knew from my history studies FDR had ordered all gold coins to be surrendered back in the ’30s. I was proud to have been able to return something cherished and prized that had been lost decades before.”
He’s Never Going To Forget That
“I was working on an old house in New Orleans. We were ripping out all the old Sheetrock from before WW2. The house was built in the late 1800s I believe. We doing the demo work and haul it all out so the actual crew could come in and put in updated wiring, pipes, and new sheetrock.
We found a lot of nasty stuff you would expect in a decades-old house, like mice and rat skeletons. Inches of fibrous debris that could have been anything. I thought the four other guys with me were crazy because they didn’t wear goggles or breathing masks.
So we get about halfway through the house and start tearing out the wall of what used to be an upstairs bedroom. As we tear the sheetrock off the walls, we expose what appears to be three large suitcases. The oldest man, a guy who was kind of in charge, says stop. He kicks these cases out of the wall and we are all thinking that there’s going to be money or a body in these things – or why wall them up?
He reaches down and opens one. It was empty. He kicks the second one, and it seems empty. He kicks the third and it seems full so he opens it and has a bible and a bunch of old baby clothes. He goes to the third one and opens it and there is a baby in it! A baby skeleton in a little scrap of cloth.
Unbelievably, the old guy tells us not to say a thing and tosses it all in the big dumpster we had on the curb. It always bothered me!”
He Used Those Skills Later On
“I grew up in a house that my grandfather built for his future in-laws in 1909. It originally had a four fuse service that my grandfather had enlarged by adding a two fuse subpanel. In 1970, my mother wanted to buy an Amana radar range but was told by our handyman that it required a separate line due to the amps it would draw. I was in Boy Scouts earning merit badges, so I volunteered to install one with the assistance of my scoutmaster that co-owned an HVAC business to earn a badge for electricity.
My mom didn’t mind since he also provided the materials that were good used items he removed from previous jobs. I had everything in place when it came time to make the connection inside the breaker panel. There, he showed me two ways to do it: the right way so the used current is read by the meter, and the sneaky way above the meter so it doesn’t get registered. Then he went outside to smoke while I hooked things up. He smiled when I told him to come and inspect my work. My mother was pleased to find that her Radar Range didn’t cause an increase in the electric bill. My older brother thought that was slick, so I helped him run some Romex through the cold air returns to his room. There, we ran it behind a baseboard to a new wall outlet so he could have power for his future hi-power component stereo system. We then another buried line out to our back garage where we placed outlets for power tools and small air compressor to make it easier working on old cars.
Twenty-four years later, our mother decided to sell the house. While doing so, she discovered the electrical wiring had to be updated to meet city code (most rooms only had a ceiling light, wall switch, and one wall outlet). Nobody wanted to touch the job except for an older electrician that had plenty of experience rewiring old houses. He got a laugh at my added breaker panel and showed that to my mother who swore she didn’t know how I hooked it up. He told her that was a common trick that electricians would do for extra money so the homeowner could get some free current.
Twenty years later, I had a lively business as a painting/repairs/remodeling contractor. I was fixing up quite a few houses for realtors before being placed on the market after they failed a home inspection, or after the buyer moved in when they discovered that turning on a closet light here and there would throw a breaker. Many had wiring issues brought on by ignorant homeowners and jackleg handymen that monkeyed with the circuits to add outlets and wound up creating easily overloaded circuits. I always used a semi-retired licensed electrician to handle the strange stuff like that and would lend him a hand in figuring out how the circuits were running so he could draw those on a floor plan of the house that I drew to scale. We did that to make it easier to show the property owner what was messed up and to justify the cost of repairs. We found a few that were quite complicated yet actually worked without tripping a breaker so left those alone, other than placing their numerous connections up in the attic in covered junction boxes.”
His Mom Was Very Patience
“When I was about six, we moved into an old cottage. It was rather dilapidated and sorry for itself, but my father enjoyed hands-on projects like this and he set about renovating it. I must say here that I had a remarkably forbearing and tolerant mother. For months, we lived in a welter of dust, wood shavings and smelly old wallpaper. Some of the cottage was older than other parts, and my father, having restored the bedrooms to the point where they could be slept in, started on what was the old parlor in the oldest part of the cottage. My father thought that it probably dated back to the 1500s. Starting to strip the walls of its old wallpaper, he found 17 layers of paper. My mother and I counted them – yep! It was seventeen all right!
I joined in to help and loved seeing each layer, fascinating! All different textures and colors according to the custom of the time. Some of the more recent layers were just old newspaper. It was strange also that, in the main, each layer came off cleanly without sticking too badly to the one underneath. My father had an explanation for that, which I can’t remember. Something about the dampness I think, and this wall was part of the chimney, so had kept dry?!
My tolerant mother, however, finally had had enough. She said she didn’t want any more done to the parlor or the kitchen for the time being, and for my father to work on other parts of the cottage. When he remonstrated she said firmly, that all that wallpaper had been deliberately left on through the centuries to keep the house warm, so leave it on. Irrefutable logic! She won! The chimney was left bare. It was actually, in parts, down to the wattle and daub of its original wall, which my father did cover with, I think, plaster and paint.
All thought of further renovation came to a halt, however, with the outbreak of WW2. My dear father was too busy digging an enormous hole in the garden, in which to build our Anderson shelter, and digging up our flower beds to grow more vegetables and fruit. Apart from which, he was away three nights in the week firewatching on the roof of the War Office in London, where he worked, being too old at the age of 44 to join the armed forces.
Our poor old cottage never did get fully restored or renovated, being the victim of a passing German plane that strafed the village and partially destroyed our little cottage – even its 17 layers of wallpaper didn’t manage to keep it standing!”