Walter Menning? Who in the world is Walter Menning? Well, guess what, I'm going to tell you.
I was first introduced, posthumously, to Walter in 2001. It was a strange introduction to say the least. I had received a phone call from a man who was looking to sell the contents of a home that he had purchased. Since I really like to make money, I accepted the invitation and scheduled an appointment to see the household. I arrived at the home early and immediately became concerned. The house (as we are calling it) was a little run down. It started with twenty years of overgrowth, it continued with a Herman Munster looking washed out rotting wood lapboard and yes, of course boarded up windows / doors. If all of this was not enough it came with a companion house that sat directly facing it (on the same lot) that was even more terrifying than Walter's house. So there I was sitting in my car in what most people would designate a very bad neighborhood, on a very hot late August afternoon, thinking to myself, "I'm getting the hell out of here before I end up dead!".
My fears were compounded by the fact that I though I saw a ghost (or maybe it was a puttytat) go running across the yard (it was really a finch). My heart pounding, my overactive imagination flying made me decide that this one just was not for me. I proceeded to write a little note to put on the door when I had second thoughts. The second thoughts came due to one (and only one) observation, metal venetian blinds on the second floor window. American Pickers would have been proud of me. Two inch wide metal venetian blinds are a sure sign of one thing, old folks. Young kids use plastic, poor people use sheets, the loony tunes use newspaper, the rich use exotic cloths and old folks...METAL VENETIAN BLINDS. Oh yeah, old folks kept these blinds forever.
So, I tore up the note. Pulled out my phone and called the now very late owner of the property. He had forgotten about me. This happens all of the time. Most of the time I just ignore it because, well I still like to make money and the only way to make it in this business is to have the items that people want to buy. The owner was very nice and immediately left to meet me at the house. Fifteen minutes later he arrived, screw gun in his hand. One by one the screws on the well placed plywood dropped to the ground. A little bit of prying and off it the board came, what I saw next, is to this day one of the most unusual sights that I have ever seen. The house(s) were absolutely perfectly preserved. It seems, according to the owner, that Walter had left the house for a nursing home, over 20 years prior to this hot summer day. That's right! This home had been boarded up for over 20 years and not been touched.
Pretty cool! Just to add a little more to this cool is the fact that Walter Menning had been born in the house and lived there his entire life. Here are some other great things about Walter.
- Walter was an avid photographer
- Walter was only 3" tall.
- Walter NEVER through anything out.
- Walter also had a sister (Tillie) who was 3" tall and had a masters degree.
- He was the school mascot for The Rayen School
- He was a writer.
- He marched in the holiday parades in a vintage oil cloth Mickey Mouse suit.
- He became a household name in our home. To the point that to this day we speak of him with great respect.
- He worked at Idora Park.
These are just some of the things that we know about Walter. He unknowingly left a tremendous history of his life. So today, I am going to start Walter's story, I will tell you about Idora Park and the simple man who should go down as one of its greatest employees. Since this is probably going to be one of my longer posts it will take a few days for me to finish it. Today, part one.
An antiques dealers dream! After the plywood came down, the door unlatched and with only the dim light of a fading day I first observed Walter's domain. The living room, old mohair sofa, upholstered rocking chair and pole lamp. A stand with an ashtray, glasses sitting where they were last taken off and surprisingly only a very light covering of dust.
The dining room, great massive 10 piece Berkey and Gay dining room set. Fancy enough to sit in the finest homes of the day. The china cabinet was amazing in that everything was placed as it had been used only yesterday. The neatly laid doilies on the sideboard. The chairs place appropriately around the table. Walter must have been a perfectionist.
His kitchen was old, oaken cabinets filled with Homer Laughlin china, water glasses with multi floral motifs, brightly colored bowls and drawers of everyday flatware. Next, one scary room. The scary room was attached to the home as if it were an after thought. It wasn't a garage nor was it ever intended to be a family room. It could be appropriately described as a huge mud room complete with mud (no flooring). It also seemed to contain a multitude of local miniature animals. Rats? I don't think so, but it definitely had bats, mice and one large groundhog. All of this combined with an outgrowth of flora and fauna, that was ironically growing in the dark, gave the room a very creepy feeling. Thank goodness that whoever had this part of the house added on knew enough to put up a strong door. A door that I kept closed and never reopened.
The second floor must have been Walters haven. A dark room contained hundreds, no thousands, of his photo's. A bedroom that was simple and well lived in. Guest rooms that looked as if they were waiting for friends and family to arrive. This was Walters main home. As dark as it was, it was full of life. Its history preserved through his photography, his life preserved preserved by the trinkets and treasures he kept. This place, this man were getting ready to tell me a story that I will carry with me the rest of my life.
Part 2, Same bat time, same bat channel...later this week!