The Missing Stairs OR My hour and a half as an archeolgist

It pains me to say it, but this year marks ten years since I graduated from college.  It was 2004 and my hair color was currently blonde.  I was convinced my fresh, magna cum ladue graduating, 3.93 GPA Communications Bachelor degree with a specialization in corporate communications was going to promptly lead to a job in communications/public relations/corporate communications.

Hahahahahahahahaha.

What happened instead, was The Hubs came home from military deployment and we moved to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where we earned seven dollars per day as volunteers with Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.  That is, until the volunteer funding ran out and we worked to earn free park housing.

That’s the kind of thing you only do when you’re independently wealthy, or twenty-two years old.

Most of our time was spent as period dressed interpreters, meaning I spent eight hours a day in a corset, hoop skirt, and dress running a Dry Goods Store.  The Hubs ran the Provost Marshall’s office.  It’s a separate blog post entirely, but in short it was really fun and we did a lot of crazy things the general population doesn’t do, such as but not limited to sassing Confederate soldiers when they steal bread from your dry goods store.  Have said Confederate pick you up and put you back in your dry goods store.  Smack soldier with a broom.

Anyway.

At some point, it was decided that the current bus depot in Lower Town was going to be moved like, 200 yards to the left and a nice, covered pavilion constructed to keep the elements off park visitors.  Before you can do this kind of thing in a historic district, you first do an archeological survey.  You know, just in case something really, really awesome and/or important is laying underneath the pavement.

My writer brain said, “We’re totally going to find a body.”

The park service knew exactly what was under the pavement.  They knew that it was the site of a two story house, probably used as housing for US Armory and Arsenal employees prior to the Civil War.  The structure was destroyed in a flood in the early part of the 20th century.  There were full time archeologists with the park, but it was a pretty big job–that had to be finished as fast as possible–so a bunch of us volunteers from around the park got to help out.

It was all very exciting.  In fact, Random Contemporary (which currently stands at 206 pages and apparently is more than just a distraction from what I normally write) is about an archeology student helping out with an archeological survey in Gettysburg.  And, in her survey, they found something pretty exciting.

In 2004, during our archeological survey, we didn’t.

We found lots of broken nails.  We found a rat skull.  We found modern day beer bottles and broken glass and lots and lots of rocks.  I cannot stress enough that we found a lot of rocks.

And then, just before the dig was over, we found a staircase.

The staircase probably at once led from the main floor of the structure down into a cellar.  In fact, at the base of the stairs we found a lot of garbage: broken pieces of porcelain.  They were probably pieces of dishes or cups that had shattered, white porcelain with intricate blue or green designs.  Occasionally, we’d find two pieces and could fit them together like puzzle pieces.  It was strange, holding these tiny shards of the past in your hand, knowing that over one hundred and fifty years ago, someone else held them.  Discarded them.  Forgot them.

That was the haunting thing about the missing stairs.  They once had been an integral part of someone’s day to day life.  A person, long forgotten to history, tramped up and down the stairs without thinking about it, much like I go up and down my stairs here at home.  They took them for granted, they really didn’t think much about not having them.  Then, before long, the house was gone.  The stairs were missing.

I think, for me, my dad is my missing stairs.  I never thought I’d grow up without him, yet, here it’s been over seven years since he passed away.

And now, back in Harpers Ferry, the stairs are missing again.  Once the survey was finished, the pit was filled in and paved over.  A pavilion and concrete bus depot sit over our site, solidifying that fact that, unless something changes, no one will ever see the stairs again.

Depressing.  Ugh, I hate to be such an immense buzz kill.  On a more positive (and somewhat related note), I have the rest of Random Contemporary plotted out, a storyline which leans heavily on the concept of the Missing Stair; that is, something long ago lost.  If I stop being so distracted with things like television, Facebook, and Day Job, I’d anticipate finishing it up pretty soon.  That’s something my dad would be proud of.  And, unlike The Missing Stairs, I’ll never forget him.

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Gede Prama
    Mar 22, 2014 @ 15:56:04

    Thank you for sharing post, And …..all so beautiful. Thank you for sharing. Wishing you a beautiful weekend. Much love. :)

    Reply

  2. Alyce Wilson
    Mar 22, 2014 @ 18:13:13

    I’ve always wanted to participate in an archeological survey. It would strike me as somewhat eerie to find such a suggestive piece of a house still intact. Wonder if there are now worms or moles who use it to transcend the earth. :)

    Reply

    • Heather Hambel Curley
      Mar 25, 2014 @ 23:36:40

      It was amazing how much of the stairs were left and what good condition they were in. Most of the town was destroyed by a flood, so I’m guessing the park service must have just filled everything in during the cleanup. It still breaks my heart when we visit and pass the bus depot, knowing those stairs are still down there. The thought of worms and moles on our stairs makes me think of the fish and sea creatures that now roam the halls of the Titanic!

      Reply

  3. jessherself
    Mar 22, 2014 @ 23:31:26

    What a cool thing to be a part of! And congratulations on your book. :) It sounds interesting!

    Reply

    • Heather Hambel Curley
      Mar 25, 2014 @ 23:33:49

      Thank you so much!! It was a really fun experience, even if I didn’t get to help out for very long. I have pictures saved on a floppy disc somewhere, but I have no idea where I’d find an A drive to view them on, even if I found them! It’s probably worth a look. As for my book, thank you! I’m simultaneously stoked and petrified. The publication date is getting here far faster than I anticipated!

      Reply

  4. Paige Adams Strickland
    Mar 25, 2014 @ 15:13:54

    There’s a former Civil War camp near my house called Camp Dennison. They’ve found books there!

    Reply

    • Heather Hambel Curley
      Mar 25, 2014 @ 23:30:11

      That would be amazing! It’s the trifecta of all my favorite things: the CW, books, and archeology! I remember reading about how they’ve actually brought paper up from the wreck of the Titanic, things that were kept in leather cases or the like and survived. How haunting!

      Reply

  5. jrmhmurphy
    Mar 25, 2014 @ 16:38:27

    In New York City, there are little random things here and there that belonged to an older incarnation–for example, in the Time Square Subway station, there is a door to a hotel that doesn’t exist anymore. As a broke twenty-something, I would stare at that artifact, imagining the ghosts that used to pass through that door, dressed up to go out, or returning after a long day…

    That was ten years ago; I don’t know if the City has disposed of it, as the City tends to do with artifacts.

    I guess I’m saying that I totally feel you.

    Reply

    • Heather Hambel Curley
      Mar 25, 2014 @ 23:27:44

      There’s such a dreamlike quality to that: the thought of the ghosts of the past in structures left behind. I’ve never been to New York City (despite the fact my dad grew up there) but if I ever make it that direction, I’ll be on the lookout for the door.

      Reply

  6. Anonymous
    Mar 25, 2014 @ 20:34:44

    Sounds like your CRM project was more interesting than my field school was. We didn’t even find a rat skull, just rocks. It’s a shame they had to build a pavilion over that staircase, but at least you know it’s not going to be disturbed by vandals now.

    Reply

    • Heather Hambel Curley
      Mar 25, 2014 @ 23:25:10

      I remember holding out hope that the staircase would be enough to stop the pavilion from being constructed, but it ended up only delaying it. Somewhere, packed away in my kid’s closet, there’s a floppy disc with pictures from the dig on it. I should dig it out…but Lord knows where I’d find an A drive these days!

      Reply

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