He was inspecting the old, dusty floorboards when he heard the unexpected sound. It took him a while to realize that the sharp ‘pop’ had come from the third floor. It was pitch black in the room, and he was forced to look around with his phone torch. But then he noticed something strange about the ceiling above him.
He found floorboards where there was supposed to be a ceiling, but that was just the beginning. He never expected to find negatives in a secret room in the rafters.
43-year-old David Whitcomb’s marriage may have been crumbling, but at least business was booming. He’d been taking on so many new clients that he decided to expand and buy a new building for his law practice in New York.
So, in December 2020, he purchased an old three-story fixer-upper for $100,000. The plan was to start renovating on the ground floor himself and work his way up.
The run-down building was on Seneca Street – right in the heart of the historic district of downtown Geneva.
David’s plan was to use the lower floors for his offices and rent the extra space on the third floor out as apartments. He’d grown up nearby in Canandaigua, so he was familiar with the region and its bizarre and fascinating history. Still, he never could have imagined what he’d find.
From the outside, there wasn’t much to love about the building – just rows of windows like shuttered eyes that once been apartments.
But building number 37 on Seneca Street had immediately caught David’s eye. He’d grown up with stories from the area and had always been attracted to the district like a magnet, so when the derelict building went up for sale it had seemed like a perfect opportunity.
Stretching over New York’s landscape like giant gouges from a Sky God’s fingers are the Finger Lakes – eleven narrow bodies of water that lie between Lake Ontario and the Pennsylvania border.
There is something about the Finger Lakes that has always suggested the possibility of the mysterious. Seneca lake, in particular, was a hotbed of controversy.
Urban myths about hauntings, ancient ruins, and inexplicable phenomena have always swirled around the largest Finger Lake, Seneca.
This lake is darker, deeper, and colder than its counterparts. From old Iroquois legends to modern reports of sea monsters in the depths, it almost makes sense that there would be something hidden in the building just a stone’s throw away from the shore.
When David made the discovery, it was completely by accident. He was giving his friend a tour of the building, proudly showing him the original fixtures and beautiful wooden floors when they heard the sound of breaking glass coming from the third floor.
David climbed up to the floor to see what had made the noise and discovered that a lightbulb had exploded. But when he looked up, he noticed something odd.
The water-damaged ceiling didn’t look right – in fact, it wasn’t a ceiling at all. He could see floorboards and the faint outline of what looked like a doorway that had long been plastered over and sealed shut.
He called his friend over to see if he could help him make sense of what he was seeing. “That’s a fake drop ceiling,” David whispered, “the wood underneath doesn’t look like the roof.”
From the outside, the building didn’t seem like it had an attic, though. It hadn’t been on the building plans. And yet there it was – sealed over by drywall and lost to time.
they piled up chairs so that they could reach the ceiling to inspect it further. David traced the access panel with his fingers, then he dug his fingernails under the corners and pulled.
David stuck his head inside the space and exclaimed when he saw what was inside. “Oh my God! We’ve just found the Goonies treasure!”
The hidden attic was filled with crates and shipping containers. David caught a glimpse of stacks of gold frames that had been pushed up against the wall. Just what had he stumbled upon?
Inside the attic, David found antique backdrops, photography equipment, glass negatives, stacks of mail, and prints in gilded frames. He kept seeing the name J.E.Hale.
“We quickly realized all the material was photographs and photography related and repeatedly saw the name J.E. Hale, on photos, boxes, shipping containers, and even found a stack of his mail from approximately the fall of 1916,” David explained later. But who was J.E.Hale? And why had the attic been sealed?
“The organization of the materials was confusing, while it looked like certain pieces had been neatly stacked and organized others were almost thrown here and there,” David later told reporters. But one portrait, in particular, caught his eye.
It was clear from the items that this was a hidden photography studio. As David and his friend fell to their knees and started going through all the items, they came upon something extraordinary.
David was on his hands and knees when he noticed some large pieces of glass on the ground. He scrabbled to pick one up, shone his phone’s flashlight behind it, and immediately stopped.
It was a piece of a glass plate negative. He frantically searched for the other pieces. And he recognized the woman whose image had been burned into the glass. You see, just as the building had attracted David, it had attracted someone else, too.
The Seneca Lake area wasn’t just a hotbed of strange happenings and Native American folklore, it was also the birthplace of the American Women’s Rights Movement. Since 1848, women have had a powerful history in the Finger Lakes Region. The first Women’s Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls.
What were the chances that what David held in his hands was a piece of American history?
David had found a picture of Susan B. Anthony. What’s more, it was the original negative of one of the most famous photographs of the suffragist, taken a year before she died. The portrait alone has been appraised at between $10,000 and $50,000, and the rest of the collection in the attic is worth around $100,000.
David says: “What’s amazing is that this material sat in this building for over a century, forgotten. Someone just dry-walled over this attic and it was lost to history until we discovered it, and it’s telling a very interesting story.”
But David wasn’t the only one to find something so fascinating hidden within the darkness of an old building. In Boston, an unsuspecting couple bought a house, hoping to have an excellent place to start their family finally.
But as they ran the preliminary repairs to make the place more agreeable to their tastes and likes, they would discover something that would send ripples all over the state.
Melinda and Henry had been together for a decade before they finally tied the knot. After years of planning and saving, the two were in a position to buy a home they could call their own.
Both Boston natives, the two wanted to raise their family in a safe yet sprawling neighborhood. They wanted their kids to have a backyard and a culdesac to play. It wouldn’t be long until they found their dream home.
The house in question, a two-story building, was an old one. It had been erected in the fifties, giving warmth and security to many families before it was closed in the early 2000s.
Melinda and Henry fell in love with its rustic look and how much history was caked into every inch of its surfaces. They knew they’d made the right decision as they signed the papers. If only they knew what they were signing up for.
With everything set, Melinda and Henry began repairing their new home. Since they didn’t have a lot of cash to throw around, they opted to do most of the repairs by themselves.
It boded well for them that Henry had experience as a construction worker and knew his way around most of the repairs around the house. But the discovery they’d make would be something his years of exposure couldn’t have prepared him for.
The couple began by taking care of the house’s exterior. The backyard was covered in bushes, all of which made stellar homes for bugs that would come out during the rains.
Looking to avoid such a scenario, Melinda and Henry cleared the back and front yards first. Afterward, they went into the house to assess everything that needed changing.
Most of the house was in good condition since the realtor ran a few fixes before putting it on the market. The only thing that didn’t resonate with Melinda and Henry was the lack of an open kitchen plan.
Melinda had always loved open kitchen layouts. The design was something to brag about to friends, and she loved cooking while watching tv straight from the kitchen. The couple had to bring down one of the kitchen walls.
Each part of the house was a piece of perfectly persevered American history. Yet Melinda insisted on making the kitchen layout changes.
Henry knew how persuasive and persistent his wife could be. He agreed to her request, bringing his tools to tear down the wall in question. But Melinda’s simple wish would result in something none of them expected.
Henry began working on the wall. He was halfway through tearing it down when he saw something that piqued his interest. Inside the wall was a hidden sheet of black polythene paper.
Henry yanked at it, quickly realizing it was part of something larger. He asked Melinda to stand back as he pulled as hard as possible.
The paper snapped, with the rest still embedded in the lower side of the wall. It seemed it held something heavy that couldn’t be moved around.
Henry reached for his tools and began unearthing whatever secret the wall held. The more he dug, the more he realized one thing: whoever hid the contents of the black paper had gone to lengths to ensure it wouldn’t be found again.
After half an hour of chipping away plaster and yanking off wooden planks and concrete, Henry saw that the black paper led onto the floor.
Was that the reason why he couldn’t pull all of it out of the wall? He switched from the wall to the ground, removing most of it until he uncovered something that made him take a shaky step back.
Henry had uncovered a hole in his kitchen floor, something he didn’t think existed in his home. But what was more interesting was the metallic chest staring back at him and Melinda.
Its paint was nonexistent, replaced by orange rust and mud. Taking care not to hurt himself, Henry took his screwdriver and pried one of the chest’s corners open. He grinned at what he found inside the trunk.
“Dated Money?” Melinda asked in a bored voice as she checked the box’s contents. She was right. Rows of old one and ten dollar bills, quarters, and pennies stared at them.
Alongside the cash were jewelry and a few bottles of scotch that Henry wasn’t sure were safe for drinking as they dated back to the 1930s. The couple carried the chest into their living room, not knowing the value of the treasure hoard they’d found.
To Melinda and Henry, the jewelry and bottles of scotch were the only items worth any money in the chest. They couldn’t recognize the names on the bottles and hoped some scotch connoisseur could help them.
They parked everything in the chest into a cleaner suitcase and returned to their remodeling venture. But it wouldn’t be long before the state heard what they found.
Melinda and Henry spent days repairing the kitchen. Once it was done, they took the suitcase to a close friend who owned an antique shop to see how much the jewelry and scotch would go for.
But one look at the dollar bills, quarters, and pennies, and the man almost lost his mind. “Do you know what you have on your hands?”
It turns out that the cash in the chest was a curated selection of 20th-century coins and dollar bills that were worth more than their face value. Among the hoard were five 1933 $10 silver certificate notes, each of which goes for upwards of $70,000.
There were also two 1969-S doubled-die Lincoln pennies, each valued at $120,000. Melinda and Henry couldn’t believe their luck! The entire state heard their story, with some folk digging into their own kitchen walls to see if any hidden treasure awaited. The question remains, what if Melinda didn’t want that open kitchen layout?
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.