Bottles in the Ceiling

img_1200 The living room looks great now. The walls are painted, the windows and trim are painted, the electric is upgraded (at least some of it) and the fireplace works. The one part that doesn’t look finished is actually the most interesting part.

First, a look back at where we started. The floors were dirty and the walls were pink  – even a pink ceiling. This picture is from our first tour of the house before we bought it.


I think the first trip over after we purchased the house included two beach chairs for furniture.

Toni experimented with a few color choices, leaving patches of paint up to see how they looked in different light.


Once decided, it still took days of detailed painting work. There is a lot of trim in that room!

There are a few minor details still to be finished, like new glass for the wall sconces and a better radiator cover behind the couch, but it’s looking good.

One part that won’t be changing is in this next picture, where you can see three holes in the ceiling. The far left one in the corner is electric; we think it’s connected to a switch on the wall and may someday be used again. The other two are corks in the ceiling.


At first, I thought they might be old gas pipes for lighting, but they’re not pipes. They’re bottles – upside down in the ceiling and corked up.img_1202

The previous owner said they were witch’s bottles, but we had never heard of such a thing.

Another explanation was a fire extinguisher, along the lines of a shur-stop fire “bomb”. Hayward’s Hand Fire GrenadeThese were filled with salt water or with a highly toxic chemical that would help snuff out the fire. In reading about them, I found instructions for museums on how to dispose of them safely since they were too dangerous to display. Not what we wanted in our ceiling. But these weren’t sealed bottles. They just had a cork, so that didn’t seem likely.

Today I happened across an article in Archeology that seems to confirm the idea of witch’s bottles. It sounds like they’re not common in the United States, but were sometimes found in England. Buried in the foundation or hidden in the house, sometimes upside down and sometimes filled with the owner’s urine. Being upside down and with a dry split cork, that last part doesn’t seem to apply in our case, but the rest of the story seems to fit.

Another article described them not for capturing the spirit of someone that died in the home, but rather to protect the home from evil spirits.

Maybe that’s why the room feels so happy now.

What were they drying?

The neighbors want to put up a new fence, so I removed the part of our old split rail fence that goes along their property. But there was one other thing that had to come down before they put up the fence and made it harder.

First, it was nice of the neighbor to check. It wasn’t clear from the survey exactly who the fence belonged to, since it meandered across the property line a bit, but we have the same style on the other side of the yard so was clearly ours at one time.


Next to it was what I can only think was a clothes line post. But what a post – two 2″ iron pipes anchored in a lot of concrete. Each concrete footer was at least a foot across and I stopped chipping away with the sledge hammer after getting down more than a half foot under ground.

In the end, a sawzall saved the day. I dug out enough to get the saw level under ground and cut each pole off. The rest of the footing is now buried. Someday, we may want to look back at these pictures and see exactly where. img_1191

Week 7…

We’re well past week seven, but it looks like there’s at least one more leak I didn’t talk about yet. That’s the little plumbing leak in the dining room.

It wasn’t actually leaking in the dining room. That would have been too easy. It was leaking inside the wall and flowing *under* the dining room. For quite some time apparently. We opened the wall up before Christmas and it took until just a couple weeks ago to finally get it repaired. img_0776  img_0781The plumbers were going to have to go on the metal roof to fix it, and they wanted to wait until the snow melted. Go figure. It just hasn’t been easy to find a couple days this winter when they could work on it.

Inside the wall, the cast iron pipe had split. In some cases, that can happen as they get old. In this case, though, even a little water from the upstairs bath would leak out of the pipe. But if it was a vertical pipe with a split, it seemed like more water than I would have expected.

When the plumbers were finally able to get here and had the pipes opened up, I asked them to check the line below the dining room. It was clogged. The plumber was not able to clear the pipe. They put almost 100′ of snake in to it, but still the water wouldn’t flow. Since it’s the smallest of “crawl” spaces (only a few inches between beams and dirt), that seemed like a potential risk for major upheaval if that had to be dug up.

We called in a different plumber and they were able to get it opened up, and water flowing. The first plumbers came back shortly after and finished the work. We now have new PVC piping in the upstairs bath – and a working upstairs bathroom. Something we haven’t had since before Christmas! Cheers all around!

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It’s still an open wall in the dining room and a patch of rotted floor that needs to be replaced. That’s right up there on the list… but not top of the list, unfortunately. Right now, we’re waiting on estimates for replacing the soffits under the new roof. They are rotted away and birds have been flying in to the attic. I patched it temporarily, but that’s top of the list. Then comes the wall in the kitchen.

I haven’t talked about the wall in the kitchen yet? Hard to keep up…

It must be spring

At our old house, I was planning a fire pit for boiling maple syrup. We had two acres of woods and lots of maple trees. We don’t have that here, but there is one big old maple and a commercial range hood over our not-so-commercial stove. With the temperatures above freezing during the day and below freezing at night, it was time to see how it would work.


The first batch is shown on the left next to a grading sampler that’s probably hard to see. Light amber. Last night I finished the batch on the right: dark amber. Same tree, later in the season.

You’re invited to sample! (Just call first) Toni has some good whole-wheat pancake mix from King Arthur Flour…