Finding Treasure in the Attic

When John Weiss, 38, left New York City in March to ride out the coronavirus at his childhood home in Stamford, Conn., he knew it would be an opportunity for some quality family time.

His father, Steven, a 76-year-old real estate lawyer, saw it as a way to finally get some help cleaning out the attic. “Usually when he is here, it’s a social visit, and I can’t enlist him to be a laborer,” he said. “As a free tenant, I can now.”

The result: the discovery of some long-forgotten treasures and a chance to explore some family history.

At the top of the list was an old baseball glove that belonged to Steven Weiss’s father, Edward Weiss, when he played in the semiprofessional Industrial Baseball League in the 1950s. He played for two teams in the New York area: the 42nd Ward and Abraham & Strauss.

“The glove is a treasured item for all of us but we haven’t seen it in, I want to say, 30 years,” said Steven Weiss.

They also uncovered Steven Weiss’s New York Air National Guard uniforms from his days as a staff sergeant during the Vietnam War era, as well as TWA flight attendant uniforms and crew kits that belonged to Steven’s wife, John’s mother. “It brought back a lot of wonderful memories of seeing the world and a bygone era of air travel,” John Weiss said.

“Every time we find something I get to hear so many stories,” said John, who owns a public-relations firm in Manhattan and Los Angeles. “I haven’t been recording them, but I should.”

Many families that are sheltering in place together are using the downtime to clean and rummage through forgotten spaces in their homes. Some are reuniting with precious items they haven’t seen or thought about in decades. Others are finding items of historical or personal value they never knew existed. And some younger people are restoring their newfound treasures and putting them to use.

“The baseball glove is definitely coming back to Manhattan with me,” John Weiss said. “These are things I want to pass to future generations.”

Credit…Christine Williams

His father said their time in the attic has been a silver lining during the pandemic. “Having John work next to me hand in hand, we just don’t get to spend that much time together anymore,” he said. “You can’t put a value or price on this time.”

In Los Angeles, Christine and Travis Williams have finally had a chance to fully explore the house that Mr. Williams inherited from his grandmother in 2017. The couple, both 35, run an oil-change shop together, but business has been slow, giving them some free time.

“I don’t want to say she was a hoarder, but she had a big collection of a lot of different items,” Ms. Williams said. “We cleared a little space in the basement and put a little TV down there so we can watch while we work. We’ve probably spent 20 hours down there so far.”

They’ve been amazed by their discoveries.

They knew Mr. Williams’s grandmother, Paula Jan Holland, had been a model, but they had no idea she also worked in Hollywood, including for Walt Disney Productions. They found vintage promotional artwork for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Pete’s Dragon.” They found several original screenplays, even rough drafts, for works including “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” by Ray Bradbury. One of their favorite finds was a program for an early Los Angeles production of “Grease” (“The New 50’s Musical Comedy Hit”).

“It’s almost like a museum down there. I think some of it might be valuable,” Ms. Williams said, adding that she only wishes her husband’s grandmother were alive to give them a tour. “I have all the Disney questions, like, “Who did you work with? What did you see?’ And there are so many screenplays down there. I want to know more about them.”

Others are finding items that belong to older family members who are alive and can still appreciate them.

Sara Beckstead, 31, who works for a real estate developer in Washington D.C., is waiting out the pandemic at her family’s 100-year-old home in Berlin, Md. “It’s the epitome of home sweet home for us,” she said.

When her father spent most of April in the hospital with a non-coronavirus-related illness, she took the time to go through the house, even his room. “I thought he would be upset,” she said. “But when he saw the things I found, he was able to laugh a lot in a moment that was really challenging for him.”

Some of the items once belonged to her. There was a runaway note. “Mom, I ran away, not far away or anything,” it read. “Oh, you don’t need to call the cops or anything. I’m not joking either.”

There was a letter to the Tooth Fairy, and another that she had asked the Tooth Fairy to deliver to Santa Claus. “I was a little hustler,” Ms. Beckstead said.

A more meaningful find was a vintage Rolodex that belonged to her father when he started a jewelry business in Ocean City, eventually expanding to four boutique shops in the Washington area. “It has all his handwritten contacts, people whom he was trying to connect with,” she said. “There is an old number for Cartier and Rolex and all these things. It was just so special to see how he grew his business from the ground up.”

She’s going to place it in a shadow box and hang it in her D.C. apartment. “It will be an inspiration for my future business,” she said.

Carol Navarro, 25, an independent filmmaker and television writer in Manila, recently found her father’s vintage Nikon camera “during one of those mundane days where I decided to explore,” she said. “I went on a cleaning spree during quarantine to pass time.”

The camera was in a room beset by heat and dust, its leather case disintegrating. She plans to restore it. “I’m already thinking of which subjects to shoot outdoors, such as colorful flowers and chubby cats,” she said. “I find it endearing to be using what my father once treasured.”

Some people are even finding treasures that belonged to past tenants.

Kallie Tucker, 34, a stay-at-home mom in Jacksonville, Fla., has lived in her home for two years and had spent many hours working in the garden. But only now, while she is paying more attention to her home, has she discovered one of her favorite plants growing in the garden: a gardenia, with fragrant white flowers. “The previous owners of our home planted and cared for a lot of really beautiful flowers,” she said. “I just really thought by now we had gotten to know all the plants and when they bloomed.”

She now picks gardenias every day for her family to enjoy. “Anything that’s a fun little surprise right now is good for everyone,” she said.

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