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Jack has written more than 500 articles and essays for The Atlantic, Scientific American Mind, Wired, American Heritage, The History Channel Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, Minnesota Monthly, and many other publications.

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  • The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness
    The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness
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    Non-Stop: A Turbulent History of Northwest Airlines
  • Lost Minnesota: Stories of Vanished Places
    Lost Minnesota: Stories of Vanished Places
  • The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII
    The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII
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Wednesday
Jul252012

Important Historical Finds in Attics and Basements

My research for the book I'm currently writing, The Nazi and the Psychiatrist, relies on a large collection of medical records, letters, artifacts, and clippings that sat undisturbed for more than 60 years with the family of my subject, Douglas. M. Kelley, M.D. Without those papers — and without their long-unseen nuggets of information — my book would not be possible.History hunters search the catacombs of Naples. (Public domain - US)

Digging into those boxes often makes me wonder about the other historical riches that surely gather dust in attics and basements around the world. Hundreds of books that could tell moving stories and advance our knowledge will remain unwritten unless those resources someday see the light. I fear, though, that much of that material will be trashed, flooded, or consumed by rodents and insects before emerging from hiding.  

If you know of any historical collection sitting unused in storage — artifacts of a person, family, or organization — get in touch with me, and I'll recommend some ways to bring it before those who can use it.  

Meanwhile, I've researched some recent historical finds in attics and basements that have recently made the news, and here's a roundup:

• In Defiance, Ohio, Karl Kissner found in his grandfather's attic a collection of baseball cards that may be worth more than $3 million, including a Honus Wagner specimen that is the world's most valuable sports trading card.

• People cleaning the attic of an American Legion Post in Reseda, California, discovered a box containing a World War I-era howitzer shell beneath the floorboards. The bomb squad removed it and blew it up.

• Digging in their basement to install power lines, a couple in Yukon Territory found a 10,000-year-old bison skeleton. Archaelogists speculate that the home rested on a prehistoric lake in which the bison drowned.

• A man in Scotland looked inside a cupboard in his attic and saw a sketch executed in chalk. It turns out to be a drawing by Rembrandt with an estimated value of $100,000.

A Chinese family memoir turned up in an attic in the U.K. The writer Howard Webster thought it had literary merit, and it attracted much attention at the London Book Fair and might be published.

Old glass-plate photographs discovered in the basement of a Danish government agency offer clues to the historical patterns of ice loss in Greenland. The photos date from the 1930s.

The unclaimed cremated remains of ten U.S. military veterans emerged from the basement shelves of a funeral home in Ohio and were recently buried.

• A man brought to light previously unseen photos of the Beatles dating from 1963 from his attic after he suddenly recalled taking them when he was 15 years old.

I suspect my basement holds little more than vast numbers of spiders, but I'll check.

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