5 Priceless Historical Items That Turned Up In Random Places
You find lost things in unexpected places all the time. But sometimes those things are way more impressive than you bargained for. The next time you rummage through your couch cushions for pocket change, you might pull out a da Vinci masterpiece instead. What, does that sound unbelievable? These people beg to disagree.
A Key Part Of Hitler's Invaluable Encryption Device Turned Up On eBay
When the Nazis needed the highest possible level of encryption during WWII, they used the Lorenz machine. It was far more complex than the more famous Enigma, and cracking it made D-Day successful. Being able to read Lorenz messages is how the Allies confirmed that the German high command didn't think there would be any landings at Normandy.
Britain's National Museum of Computing had most of the machine on loan from Norway, and only needed a few more components to rebuild it completely. One of the things they were missing was a teleprinter (think a typewriter, but with extra Nazism), which they were able to locate in 2016 by Indiana Jonesing their way into the sacred crypt of ... eBay?
A volunteer for the museum was casually browsing the auction site when he spotted a listing for a "telegram machine," on sale for the kingly sum of 9.50 pounds ($12.47). He grabbed a colleague and drove to the seller's home in Essex, where the device was kept under a layer of trash in a garden shed, but still in its original carrying case. They gave the seller 10 pounds, told her to keep the change, and hauled ass to the museum. After they cleaned it up, they were certain that this was a genuine, military-issue Lorenz teleprinter, complete with decorative swastikas and even a nifty special key just for typing the Waffen-SS symbol. We're surprised they weren't outbid by 8chan for that feature alone.
Related: Losing Keys Is An Old Person's Game
Two Guys Chasing A Cat Discovered An Ancient Roman Tomb Right In Their Neighborhood
On an unassuming October night in 2012, Mirko Curti and his friend found themselves chasing a wayward cat in a residential area near Rome's Via di Pietralata. The cat darted into an opening in a nearby rock cliff, and the men ventured in after it. But it's like they say -- "Nothing good comes from following a cat into a crack." The men soon realized they were standing on a floor littered with human bones.
Luckily for Curti and his friend, they were in Rome, a city that is comparatively light on horror movie monsters, but heavy on precious ruins. Realizing that they'd somehow stumbled on a hitherto-undiscovered ancient structure, they went off to alert the appropriate archaeological authorities. Two schmoes chasing a kitty cat had found a Roman tomb from a period between the 1st century BCE and 2nd century CE.
Even in a city like Rome, where residents park on millennia-old Roman roads and rugby stadiums have archaeological dig sites in the basement, this was a mind-blowing discovery. Curti called unexpectedly walking into an ancient tomb near his house "the most incredible experience of life." And really, if it wasn't, we'd be pretty damn curious about the rest of his day.
A Famous Frank Lloyd Wright House Was Lying In A Contractor's Basement
In 1953, Frank Lloyd Wright introduced a demonstration house for an exhibition of his work in New York, and it was ultimately put on display at the Guggenheim Museum. The house was torn down in 1954, after the exhibition was over, thus joining the ranks of many other Wright buildings we've lost to the years.
Or that's what everyone believed, anyway. For decades, scholars assumed that the building was no more, and listings of Wright works had it as "demolished." But while the house had been dismantled, it was still very much in existence. It spent three decades in a Westchester County basement storeroom in pieces, like an old IKEA coffee table you can't quite bring yourself to throw away.
After the house was taken apart, Wright sold it to a real estate guy named Harold Hayward. When Hayward became ill, he sold the house to David Henken, the contractor who had put up the building. Henken initially tried to sell it forward, but after one buyer declined because the house didn't satisfy the legal minimum cubic-foot requirement in his town and another said no because local building inspectors didn't approve of the flat roof, he gave up and moved on to other projects. And that's how a genuine Frank Lloyd Wright building ended up lingering in a basement like a Nordic Flex for a few decades.
In 1984, Henken finally remembered the house and gave it to the TV station WNET, to be auctioned as part of its annual fundraiser. The news of this casual donation caused the architecture world to completely flip its collective shit. The head of the archives at Taliesin, Wright's old estate, said, "We were completely unaware that this house still exists.'' A former president of the Society of Architectural Historians called it "quite a find, a really exciting rediscovery." And one of Wright's biographers commented, ''It is something somebody will be able to make a lot out of -- there will have to be takers for this."
He was right. Bidding for the house started at $50,000, but after a spirited war, Tom Monaghan (the founder of Domino's, owner of the Detroit Tigers, and a noted Wright buff) finally managed to snatch it up for $117,500. However, Wright himself would have probably preferred that the structure moldered away in storage. Although Monaghan bought the house to put up in a museum he was building to honor the architect, said museum is located at Domino's corporate headquarters.
Hundreds Of Valuable Paintings Were Found In Some Random Polish Dude's Shed
In 2011, a 56-year-old woman in Szczecin, Poland notified police that somebody was attempting to steal her husband's property. When she handed them a CD with images of said property, they realized that the lady wasn't simply talking about a bunch of power tools and old jazz albums, but a bona fide collection of hundreds of Renaissance and baroque paintings. This was considered peculiar, seeing as the husband in question was a 92-year-old former bricklayer, and not exactly known in the community as a masterful curator of precious art.
When police arrived at the home, they found that the "shed" wasn't any old dilapidated shack, either. It was a specially built two-story building with 20-inch-thick doors, chock-full of valuable paintings, the oldest one hailing from 1532. You'd think that somebody who cared enough to house their collection in a vault would take relatively good care of the collection itself, but no. It was all lying there, with garbage strewn around, and many of the paintings were in poor condition.
Since there were almost 300 works, experts couldn't price the collection immediately. All they could say for sure was that it was worth millions of euros. The owner, known only as "Antoni M.," was promptly charged for handling stolen art, because obviously. Some paintings bore marks from museums, and one lithograph was recognized as "lost" during the Nazi reign.
Regardless, nobody knows exactly how this happened. Maybe Antoni got his hands on a bunch of looted art the Nazis left behind as they retreated in panic from Soviet forces. Another theory is that he somehow dug up the collection in the 1960s during a building project. Yet another possibility is that an art dealer used to own the house, and he merely left a whole bunch of paintings there when he moved away, the same way you'd leave a broken futon.
Whatever the story, Antoni M. isn't talking. No, really -- by the time his "collection" was revealed to the authorities, he'd suffered two strokes which left him unable to communicate. That, or he was deeply committed to not snitching.
A Lost Icon Of 9/11 Was Inauspiciously Delivered By A Man Of Mystery
On 9/11, a photographer captured this iconic image of firefighters raising the U.S. flag over a devastated Ground Zero.
The photo was republished countless times, and that was only the start. NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani signed the flag a few days after 9/11. Then New York Governor George Pataki and Giuliani's successor Michael Bloomberg did the same. The flag toured the Middle East so that troops could see it in person. It flew over the Yankee Stadium on the 9/11 prayer service:
And it watched over the aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt as it sent missions to Afghanistan:
But there was one tiny, little problem: That precious, well-traveled symbol of perseverance was never the real flag. The actual 3-by-5-foot flag from the photo disappeared on the evening of 9/11.
What with it being a rather busy day for everyone involved, it's still a mystery who took the OG flag, and where it ended up, but tracking it down was obviously a point of some interest. In October 2014, the History Channel ran a show about the lost flag, explaining that the authorities had precisely zero leads and asking anybody with information to come forward. Shockingly, this worked. Not only was someone actually watching the History Channel, but that person even knew something about the case!
Four days later, a man who identified himself only as "Brian" unexpectedly dropped off the original flag at a fire station in Everett, Washington. There was something off about Brian. He said he was an ex-Marine who received the flag one Veteran's Day from an NOAA official, who in turn got it from a 9/11 widow. However, he offered nothing to back up that story. Clearly this was a con man, trying to snake the $10,000 finder's fee with some random flag he'd bought on sale from Target, right? Except he never asked for the money. Also, right after giving the flag to authorities, he fucking disappeared. A lot of people had questions for him. Everett detectives went searching for him, and released a sketch to the local newspaper, but nothing panned out. No one knew where -- or who -- the guy was. Brian was gone.
Also, the flag was totally authentic. The Washington State Patrol forensic laboratory ran extensive chemical tests, confirming that the flag had traces of that unmistakable dust cocktail from Ground Zero.
They even brought in the couple who owned the yacht from which the original flag was taken. They recognized it by its extremely particular and detailed halyard (the clip/rope thing you use for raising the flag). A former FBI detective working on the case felt confident enough to declare: "This flag is more authenticated than Rembrandts at museums."
"Brian" might have left us with more questions than answers, but he also definitely turned in the correct flag, and asked for nothing in return. Not even a slow, building clap. Which he is definitely getting from us right now, at least.
Make sure you never lose an important flag with a beautiful preservation case.
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