Lucky Strikes

Have you checked your basement lately? (uh, Dave, I don’t have a basement). How about the crawl space (nope, don’t have one of those either). Maybe a deep closet, the kind with empty space behind the hanging clothes? If I haven’t pegged you yet, just lift up your area rugs (assuming your floors have been around a while). Why? You might find something interesting down there! Loose change. Old love letters. Bowling balls.

Bowling balls?

A small part of Dave’s “bowl” collection

Talk about a lucky strike.  Another Dave in my country (he of Norton Shores, MI) recently began a DIY house renovation when he unearthed a bowling ball from behind the crumbling concrete of his back porch.  So he pawed the sand some more and found another ball.  And another.  Pretty soon he had fifteen.  By the time our industrious friend cleaned out his subterranean bowling alley – er, crawl space, he’d amassed 150 balls – some black, most blue, and all designed to knock down pins.  I’m sure Dave would agree with this Dave when I say, “What the HECK?

Seriously, how would you react if you found hundreds of bowling balls under your house?  Me, I’d wonder if they weren’t part of the structural foundation (Don’t laugh; a 1940’s house we used to live in had glued-together schoolroom yardsticks in the walls.)  My next thought would go to an abandoned underground city, with my house right on top of the bowling alley.  And my final thought?  Aliens.  Aliens put those hundreds of bowling balls down there.

Did THIS used to be under Dave’s house?

Norton Shores Dave was more rational than my own thinking.  After finding the first fifteen balls he stopped digging and picked up the phone to Brunswick Bowling.  Some of the balls had date stamps back to the 1950s and Dave was concerned about toxicity. (Good thinking there, Dave.) But Brunswick glanced at a few of the photos he sent and said the balls were fine.  So it’s official: bowling balls last forever.

Hidden rooms – and the hidden treasures they contain – have always captured my imagination.  In the movie National Treasure, Nicolas Cage sorts through clue after clue on the hunt for a hidden fortune.  The final scene where the underground room reveals itself in bursting firelight is jaw-dropping.  Or how about any movie scene where a sliding bookcase protects a passage to the secret space beyond?  Wouldn’t that be a great feature in your house?

I designed a house with a sliding bookcase once (true story), back in my days as an architect.  The hidden room was accessed from the landing halfway up an open staircase, behind innocent-looking shelves of books.  The hidden room was meant to be a home office, with a small balcony overlooking the backyard.  I pictured the owner’s guests, standing on the lawn and looking up, saying, “Wait a sec’, how come I haven’t seen that room?

Admittedly, bowling balls aren’t a sexy find (even 150 of them).  It’s not like you’d go, “Perfect… just what I’d been hoping for!”  That’s not stopping Norton Shores Dave, however.  He thinks there may be even more balls down there, but – letdown ending to the story – he’ll probably just turn them into decorative pavers in the yard.

Plant orange trees… find a church instead!

Other hidden-space stories yield more satisfying treasures.  Last year a gardener in England – simply pulling weeds – unearthed sixty-three gold coins from the era of Henry VIII (now that’s what you call “paydirt”).  Another gardener – this one in Turkey – found an entire 6th-century church under the ten acres of land where he was about to plant orange trees.  Old rolled-up movie posters under the floorboards of a house were so pristine they brought $600,000 USD at auction.  Finally, in 2009, an English doctor passed away and left his house to his relatives.  What they overlooked for many months? The dusty, vintage 1937 Bugatti in the garage.  Selling price: $4.2 million.

Maybe the best finds are up in the attic.  In 2013 a family found a Van Gogh in the rafters of the house of deceased relatives.  The painting had been gathering dust for over a century because the original owner thought it was a fake.  Not so.  It turned out to be a priceless example from Van Gogh’s most prolific years.  Okay, not quite “priceless”, but how about $90.6 million?

It’s only fitting – as Halloween approaches – I ask you to crack the seal on your hidden spaces.  You’ll probably need a flashlight.  You’ll brush aside spiderwebs or put the boot on a creepy crawler or two.  But c’mon, you know you’re curious.  There could be something valuable right there underneath your feet.  A stash of cash.  A famous painting.  Or 150 bowling balls!

Some content sourced from the CNN.com article, “Home renovation leads to the discovery of over 150 bowling balls under a family’s porch”, and the lovemoney.com article, “People who bought homes and found treasure”.