The 5 Most WTF Things Found While Working on an Old House
Renovating is a pain in the ass, but it has to be done: That sex dungeon isn't just suddenly going to appear in your basement. It takes hard work and commitment to properly mount a humpswing. Besides, it's not all bad: Sometimes you find some neat stuff when you're working. Maybe you pull up that carpet and find some nice hardwood floors, or knock down that wall and uncover a cache of filthy old Playboy magazines, or look behind the couch and find a million-dollar painting, or clear out the attic and find unrelenting nightmares that will pursue you to your grave ...
A 400-Year-Old Severed Head
Cleaning out the attic is like banging a geriatric: It's dank, it's dusty, and there are probably spiders hiding somewhere in there. But as with all unpleasant chores, the shock fades with exposure. Stay in there a few hours and you'll no longer care when you move those curtains aside and find the corpse of a rat king (we're, uh ... we're no longer talking about boning geriatrics here). Then, just as you get into a no-longer-caring-if-spiders-touch-my-hands attic-cleaning groove, you find something a bit unexpected:
"Oh no, Avery! I just thought you were really good at hide-and-seek."
Stephane Gabet, a TV production company journalist, went fishing around the attic of retired tax collector Jacques Bellanger and pulled out the 400-year-old head of a French monarch. That's right: Where us common folk might stash the occasional broken vacuum cleaner or embarrassing Beanie Baby collection up our house's shame-hole, Jacques haphazardly stowed and then promptly forgot about the head of King Henry IV, who ruled France until his death in 1610.
As unbelievable as that sounds, scientists were able to verify that the skull belonged to King Henry IV based on a dark lesion above the right nostril, a healed bone fracture above the jaw that matched a stab wound he received during an assassination attempt in 1594, and the fact that the entire skull was wrapped in a breakfast croissant and an indefinable air of haughtiness.
"Why did I eat the croissant?"
The entire timeline of how the head wound up in Bellanger's attic is still a partial mystery. However, we do know that 183 years after the king's assassination, royalist-hating revolutionaries (or perhaps just thorough, if not very punctual, zombie hunters) ransacked Henry's grave and lopped his head clean off. Then, in the early 1900s, a French couple purchased the head from an auction house. Finally, in 1955, Bellanger bought it from the couple for 5,000 francs ... aaand proceeded to chuck it into his attic behind a broken chair and a box of old electric bills.
That's right: He "got over" the emaciated skull of a king like you get over a Tamagotchi collection.
"At one point I tried to trade it for some pretty sweet Pogs."
A Goonies-Style Treasure
In 1985, the town of Sroda in Poland decided to demolish an old building. Instead of the more common asbestos-and-body-of-missing-janitor rubble that typically accompanies commercial demolition, the townspeople were pleasantly surprised to find a cache of gold and silver coins. Sadly, The Goonies has lied to us all about property law regarding ancient booty; the authorities promptly confiscated the loot.
Fast forward to 1988, and another demolition spat out an even larger cache of valuable coins. So either there was a treasure trove hidden somewhere in the town, or Sroda, Poland, is set in the Mario Bros. universe. In addition to the coins, Srodans(?) also found ancient jewelry, such as an ornate ring of dragon heads, gold pendants, and one particularly intricate carved crown.
Legend has it that he who bears this crown shall reign over all burgers as their king.
The crown dated the collection back to the 14th century and tied it all to emperor Charles IV, who was the first king to become Holy Roman Emperor. So how much was it all worth? Well, the entire collection together has been valued at up to $100 million U.S.
We hope at least a few quiet pocketfuls of this loot went toward ale and whores.
The town is saved, Mikhail, the Polish equivalent of Mikey! Quick, tell Dator to deploy his Claws of Celebration while Chuunkh does the Trufflau Shuffenhaus!
All the Dinosaurs, Found by Random Children
Farmer John and his two sons were walking in their backyard in Oskaloosa, Iowa, picking berries and discussing mayonnaise and white bread or whatever it is that Iowegians talk about, when one boy spotted what he thought was a ball floating in the creek. Turns out it was a 4-foot-long femur from a wooly mammoth. Either that was one "special" kid, or the term "ball" means something entirely different in the land of corn and flatness.
"Ma! Lookit this here basketball! Hurr, I'm from Iowa and I'm bad at shapes!" -Racism?
We know that's, ahem, loosely related to renovating, but we bring this up because it illustrates a heretofore unknown aspect of archaeology: It's pretty much all done by stupid kids just running around outside. Case in point: 11-year-olds Eric Stamatin and Andrew Gainariu of Troy, Michigan, went looking for crayfish and came back with a mastodon. The two were poking around near the stream in Eric's backyard when they "got bored and decided to build a dam." The boys spotted the bone and took it home. The Cranbrook Institute of Science identified the 13,000-year-old fossil as the axis bone from an American mastodon.
"It wouldn't catch on fire or play video games, so we gave it to an adult."
Twelve-year-old Maggie Jones was walking around her Texas backyard with her dad when she discovered a fossilized prehistoric fish, which is currently on display at the University of North Texas. Geography professor George Maxey estimates the fossil, which contains the entire skull of the ancient fish, to be over 100 million years old. Fourth grader Gabrielle Block found another 100-million-year-old fossil, a dinosaur tailbone, while visiting Dinosaur Park in Maryland. The park manager was shocked that the 9-year-old made the discovery, saying, "Usually it takes a well-trained and practiced eye to be able to pick out the fossils from the rest of the clay." He then added, "Maybe my job just isn't that hard, actually."
"This was probably a testicle."
A Clearly Haunted Well
For nearly two decades, Colin Steer wondered why his living room floor dipped a little near the sofa. We all have that spot in our house -- that weird bump by the bathroom, the divot in the kitchen -- and we never really thought to question what that's all about. Well, a few years ago, Colin Steer found the answer. While replacing floor joists, Steer discovered a dirt-filled brick shaft underneath his home in Plymouth, England. Curious, he dug down about a foot, but his wife made him fill the hole back in, since he was, you know, digging a mysterious hole into the earth through their living room.
Women. Right, guys? They just don't understand the siren call of a mystery hole.
"With God as my witness, I'll never leave the couch to pee AGAIN!"
Upon retiring at the end of last year, and clearly ignorant of an entire genre of horror movies, Steer and some friends poked, prodded, dug, and excavated, toiling away in the brutal and unforgiving land of That Spot in Front of the Couch. They eventually unearthed a 17-foot-deep medieval well. Since it appears on the 16th century plans, Steer knows it's at least that old, but he's still hoping to establish an actual construction date. That's not even the disturbing part: Amid all the "unearthing of things that should stay buried," Steer also found an old rusted sword stuck between bricks in the well's shaft. As though somebody had fallen down there. As though somebody had tried to climb back out ...
We'd drop a grenade down there every night, just in case.
But rather than filling that clearly cursed hole with sanctified concrete, burning all of his clothes, and then moving to another continent, as would be prudent, Steer installed a trap door in his living room that opens right into the ancient, almost-certainly-haunted-by-fallen-knights well. Man, he really likes that hole for some reason ...
Multimillion-Dollar Paintings Like It Ain't No Thing
Remember when your dad left the house and you and your brother would go snooping through his stuff looking for porn? And then one time you couldn't find any porn, but you found a false wall with $15 million hidden behind it instead?! Haha, classic Your Dad!
"Joke's on you. Most of my porn has your mom in it."
Believe it or not, this actually happened to the Trachte brothers, whose porn search was pure conjecture on our part, but the results were real enough. The pair discovered, among several other valuable works, a famous Norman Rockwell painting hidden behind a false wall in their deceased father's Sandgate, Vermont, home. The painting, entitled "Breaking Home Ties," netted $15.4 million at Sotheby's Auction House. Don Trachte Jr., the father of the brothers who found the painting, had made a copy of the piece to prevent his wife from taking possession of it in their divorce. He managed to hold on to the painting through the split, but for some reason went on displaying the fake. Even on his deathbed, Don never told anyone about the forgery, or the real multimillion-dollar piece of artwork rotting in the walls. Presumably because he enjoyed picturing their faces if someday somebody accidentally knocked their head through the drywall and found $15 million sitting there.
"This kitsch crap is worth yacht money? I thought it was just a stupid heirloom."
Not to be outdone in the game of Just Plain Forgetting About a Fortune, Martin Kober of Buffalo, New York, recently recalled that he had a $300 million Michelangelo painting behind his couch, which had been sitting there for 27 years.
"I took it down to make room for my print of dogs playing poker."
The painting depicts the Pieta, Michelangelo's famous marble sculpture housed in St. Peter's Basilica. The absurdly valuable patch of canvas used to hang prominently in the Kobers' home until it was knocked off by a rogue tennis ball. After the incident, the Kobers wrapped up the painting, stuffed it behind the couch like a broken phone charger, and went about their other business, which was presumably strangling unicorns just to feel something again.
For more priceless discoveries, check out 5 Pieces of Junk That Turned Out to be Invaluable Artifacts and The 6 Stupidest Things Ever Done With Historic Treasures.