Thursday, October 27, 2016

Harris: Ready for His Close-Up

Harris never misses a good photo opp, although I think he's been watching too much film noir lately:

As you can see, he's doing his darnedest to look mysterious, sinister, and ominous. 

But it's hard to pull that off when you have a cute little pink nose.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Postcards from Maine: Inside the Searsport House, Part 2

Shall we continue our tour of the famous Searsport house? Okay, then, without further ado ——

Inside, there were doors we couldn't open and rooms we couldn't enter:

There were ceilings open to the sky:

Yet the house had a pleasant personality, or "feeling." As we walked around, it felt welcoming in spite of all of its issues. Some nicely maintained houses have given me the creeps when I've been inside for an open house, or to visit a friend. (Maybe you know what I mean; some people attribute this to ghosts. I'm not convinced. For one thing, ghosts come and go; they aren't stuck in one place like wallpaper. And they don't automatically make a place feel creepy. I think it's more a question of the house's overall history that creates an enduring mood. Or else it's ugly paint, bad lighting, and grimy wall-to-wall. . . .) 

Back to the tour. I can report that this house felt just fine, messy and ruined as it was. It's a nice house, even so.

A close-up of a baby's toy. The house's owner, Mr. Brown, thinks people may have left a few tokens in the house over the years.

Ceilings and walls were crumbling, and there were many chairs. But not many you could sit upon:

This room is like a clubhouse for unloved seating furniture.

I think that room was upstairs. Now let's go back downstairs. 

Here's a view of some warped bay windows from inside. Mr. Brown said the bays were a later addition to the house and may never have been structurally sound — another reason why the house is in such fearful structural shape, along with the failure of the roof and overall neglect.

Some windows still have curtains:

Some walls still have pretty, old-fashioned paper:

I think my husband and I were slightly in shock the whole time we were on the property. In 20 years of driving past this house, we dreamed and imagined seeing the inside. But we never believed for two seconds that it would ever happen. 

And there we were. 

It was like magic.

Mr. Brown helped me climb down the ladder as went outside.

He still has a lot of work to do. I'm hoping it takes him several years. We'd love to say hello him next summer on our next drive through Searsport to Southwest Harbor. (But then I'd also like to go up again this winter, to see the island with snow.)

I'd say there's a decent chance Mr. Brown will still be at work in June . . .

And in the meantime, we wish him well. He is a gentleman, a good storyteller, and an unusually cultured demolition expert. I wonder if he let the house decay for as long as he did because he, too, recognized it as the most poetic, dramatic spectacle along Maine's Route 1. It's a picturesque road to begin with, and his house was the crown jewel of its many memorable sights.

During his ownership, the house slowly became — and may it remain if only for some months, a year, maybe a little longer — a work of art.

Now that its interior is no longer a mystery to me, I think I will not mourn it so deeply when it's gone. Instead I will remember the magical time we spent there, the way the late-afternoon light filled the rooms, the beautiful staircase, Mr. Brown's interesting stories, and the gentle, good feeling that lingered inside its rooms in spite of decades of neglect. 

All that was real, and sometimes reality is better than fantasy.

But, even now, I still can't quite believe it all happened. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Postcards from Maine: Inside the Searsport House, Part 1

Let's finally go inside the house in Searsport. You know, this house:

The staircase, walls, and floors were far safer and more intact than you might expect, given the decrepitude outside. But the inside wasn't exactly in the "fixer-upper" class, either.

My husband and I both took photos. His are good, whereas many of mine are blurry. I was rattled because we were actually in the house.

Parts of walls were gone, so the house is more open to the elements than ever:

It still holds many of the previous owner's possessions. The lady died in the 1990s, I believe, and had lived there for a long time, "deferring maintenance," as they say. Vagrants and vandals have since invaded the house, treating it badly.

It was difficult, if not impossible, to enter the rooms so we stood in doorways and took pictures.

Even though it is a wreck, I could still see the graceful proportions of those rooms. The windows let in plenty of light; in summer it must have been airy and cool, open to the breezes. In winter . . . oddly, we didn't see a single fireplace mantel. The house must have had central heating: oil or coal. And perhaps the mantels were removed or stolen long ago.

Below is part of the chimney wall and what I think is the brick hearth, jutting up from the floor. My husband reminds me that Mr. Brown told us that he had just finished dismantling it. (Maybe there were some lovely mantels in the truck container parked outside.)

This is the central hall; you can see some of the original woodwork still framing the doorways to the two main, bay-windowed rooms on either side. (The ceiling is no longer with us.) Straight ahead is the front door, which once had glass sidelights:

Carved, beaded detailing:

The central staircase is still intact. It was, and still is, the most impressive and elegant feature of the interior. Mr. Brown said it was made from cypress, a rare, expensive, wood in New England. It was probably imported from Georgia or somewhere else in the South. It was still sturdy — we took many photos as we ascended. 

Fine cypress paneling, still in lovely condition, covered the underside, too:

A handsome newel post:

The ancient carpet runner might be original:

The staircase is for sale, as is everything in the house.

I love the dramatic, "ski jump" curve of the railing. Our photos didn't do it justice:

This empty window frame on the landing may once have held a stained-glass window:

Almost all of the balusters were still intact; I think only one was missing:

From the landing, looking down toward the front door, you can see more  cypress wainscoting in the hall. Note that swoopy, curved railing on the right:

I'll show photos of more of the rooms, upstairs, and down, in the next post.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Postcards from Maine: Outside the Searsport House

On our drive to Mount Desert Island two weeks ago, we were eagle-eyed as we took Route 1 through Searsport. We were determined not to miss seeing our favorite ruined house. Somehow, despite our best intentions, we'd missed it on the drive home back in August. And I had since learned that it was being demolished.

We had no idea if it would still be standing, but there it was, at one end of town, looking as poetic as ever in the late-afternoon autumn sunlight:

A large truck container was parked beside the house. I had read that the house's owner was slowly taking the house apart, board by board and nail by nail, salvaging as much of its fine old building materials as he could, to sell.

We parked at a used-car dealership and crossed Route 1, planning to take a few last photos and hoping we might meet the owner. 

The path to the house revealed signs of his presence. There were items on display — mostly old wooden chairs — visible from the road:

There were also a few more unusual items:

 Then we spotted this sign on a dining room chair.

I was startled to note the quality of the sign. As a copyeditor, I knew it was rare to find such a thing on a rural road. Written with impeccable grammar, spelling, and punctuation, it was gracious, informative, and precise. It revealed its author to be polite and patient with visitors. It was set in boldface and all-caps with good reason. Italics provided more emphasis where necessary. It was tacked to a piece of scrap wood and placed in a spot that was hard to miss. 

It was a a masterpiece of signage, a little work of art to those of us who care about such things. I went looking for the owner.

He was near the container, busy on a phone call. As I waited, I looked around:

While the main house was still standing, sort of, the addition on one side had been demolished. It had been in even worse shape than the main house because it had a huge open "skylight" (i.e. gaping hole) in the roof that had enlarged considerably after the hard winter of 2014–15. Foundation stones, boards, refuse, and scraps were all that was left.

Is it not still the most picturesque old ruin ever? I love its weathered paint and the way the two front bays are tipping towards each other companionably, as if they are old friends who want to be closer:

The owner — tanned, tall, and of a certain age — finished his call and came over to me. He extended a hand so covered in dirt and dust that I initially thought he was wearing gloves. As I hesitated to touch it, he looked at me. "Um, your hand is pretty dirty. . . but I'll shake it anyway," I blurted, surprising myself with my own rudeness. (At my age, I guess I'm hopeless.)

He ignored my remark, being a gentleman. His name is Mr. Brown.

He said that hundreds of people had parked their cars and come for a visit as he's been working. Some have bought the items he's dusted off and put out for sale. He hopes to sell everything. The old wood is valuable.

My husband came over, introduced himself, and we told Mr. Brown how much we've loved seeing his house over the years. He told us a story we already knew: that he had bought it to house an antique business but changed his mind. And now he had to take it down because the town considers it a safety hazard.

He looked us over and noted that we were wearing sturdy shoes and long pants. Then he had us follow him closer to the house, through the high grass ("Ticks," he said). He moved some boards to reveal an opening in the wall, went up a short ladder, turned, and beckoned. The ladder looked rickety but I didn't hesitate.

And we went inside. Stay tuned for more.