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And just to know that other people lived where you live during similar times of their lives. As a young person living in 1900-era studio apartments I always wondered what harried 1920s young people had lived there. Factory workers? Clerks or flappers?

In particular the Florence Apartments at Willamette & 13th street in Eugene, OR. I lived for years in the basement (hence the reference to shitty basement apartments in 'Fight Club'). Been a sucker for Murphy beds ever since.

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I am not sure why this isn't already a part of Redfin or another real estate app. Maybe the fear of lower property values outweighs the potential of higher? I would love to see this information.

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1) Would I be allowed to one talk about what I know? Would I be able to look up other residences? I mean I am intrigued......

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Ideally, you'd be able to look up the history and stories of every house or apartment everywhere. Similar to how you can use Google Earth to scope out any location.

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That would be an amazing research tool. Way fucking better than microfiche...you taking on investors or is this for a story? Just curious. My dog wants to invest.

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To judge from the engagement it looks like a good idea. If only for a short story.

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I always wanted to leave helpful tips behind when I left an apartment, like "don't put a chair or desk under the NW fan vent because spiders drop down from there on the regular" and "if you smell cigarette smoke, turn off the fan AND LIGHT on the hood over the stove".

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Absolutely. (BTW, one of my minor hobbies is finding where writers used to live and work... it's fun to drive a friend past, say, the Beachwood Canyon house where I know James M. Cain wrote MILDRED PIERCE.)

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"A grass widow with two kids" Veda was the best bitchy daughter in all of literature.

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I would definitely use it, but I would hate the thought of other people being able to see my story. Not that I have anything to hide, heh...

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I get Zillow alerts for a house I was abused in as a child. I just like to see it's worth go up and down.

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Sorry, but that made me laugh.

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Claudia, are you real? This feels like a detail from one of Mr. P's stories :)

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Yes! I did not mean to post anonymously.

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So sorry, I was teasing but it didn't fly, clearly! I deeply admire how you found a way to take power back from your abusers. Would it be okay to wish that this house is worth sod all?

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I took both comments as a compliment! Thank you :) The Zillow thing is a morbid curiosity. Thanks to therapy (and psychedelics) I'm trauma-free. I know it's just a house, but it's also a kind of a fucked-up landmark I like to keep tabs on.

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I stalk a house I was abused in also. I use Google earth images. In my mind I can get on my bike, ride (swipe) to the park where I’d sit and make up other lives in my head.

I saw a swing set in the back yard the last time I checked. Those Zillow updates might be a better option.

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The Zillow listing has pictures of the layout, so I can visually walk through the entire house. I downloaded all the images and keep them in a folder called "The House" and someday — when I'm up for it — I'll write up the story and make a picture book of out it. It won't be pretty. But is it necessary? Probably yeah.

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Yes, that would be cool. I’m in a group on Facebook that posts things found hidden inside walls. One of the topics once was the secret box you left in your bathroom remodel.

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Out of interest- do dead cats in bags ever crop up? I found once when I had a job with a builder. It had been built into the wall.

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Haven’t seen that. Carpentry tools are found a lot. Often walls behind bathroom medicine cabinets are filled with piles of razor blades as there used to be a razor blade slot in the back of old medicine cabinets. People also like to fill newel posts on stair rails with small toys.

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It could have been put there to ward off evil spirits or to serve as good luck charms: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dried_cat.

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Hah! What's left out of that story is that we left several hundred dollars in that box as a gift. It's clear the demo workers must've pocketed the bucks!

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Damn! Well when I first learned of this story it was while I was reading Diary for the first time. It actually really made me love the book even more. Was there anything in particular that gave you the ideas about the special “treats” Peter Wilmot left in his customer’s homes? That was really creative. I loved that aspect of the story.

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My father was an amateur remodeler, and he knew the joy of finding souvenirs within walls. So before we'd Sheetrock we'd usually stash a recent newspaper (for the date) and write our names and leave a bottle of booze. Only then would we hang the drywall.

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That would be fascinating!

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Absolutely I would

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I would pay to use that website if you ran it ;)

We bought our first home 5 years ago. It was slightly out of our target area but we loved it at first sight. Turns out it was owned by friends of the friend who convinced us to finally take the plunge and buy instead of renting! It was nice to have her assurance that it was a sound investment. Otherwise it's very hard to find a place in town now as it is, never mind choosing one based on its former owners!

Sellers are doing the opposite now... the market is so tight that sellers are picking the new owner based on their story (e.g. written in a permanent letter, or who knows if a social media search is involved)!

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I meant a personal letter. I don't know how to edit on this site, sorry! ;)

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Here they're called "love letters" and there's a movement to make them illegal.

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I thought it's perfectly fair that the best writer should get the home. Don't you agree? 😉

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A very good point. In fact, good writing should get you a discount on the property.

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Of course! I love knowing as much as I can about people. We had a controversial thing in this country where a newspaper decided to print a photo of every paedophile in the country every Saturday. Just rows and rows of faces, names, crimes. My friends and I collected them each week, cut them out and made 'Top Trump' cards from them. So I'd be a natural contender for knowing everything about everyone and making something of it!

I do often lie in bed and think who has died looking at the same ceiling I am doing. It's inevitable many people have died in the house Iive in. I'd love to know who, how and why.

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The realtors will never forgive you.

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founding

Or they might have a whole new selling point! "Charles Manson's grand daughter used to live here!"

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In Alexandria, Virginia, I had realtors that CONSTANTLY came in to research at our archives there. They wanted to be able to say "Joseph Slaveholder lived here in 1819!" because people spending $1 million on an 800 sqft townhome sometimes needed a push.

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Oh fuck yeah I’d love that ! I’m always so curious about the people who lived in my house before me ! I often invent their story when I find an forgotten objects in the closets.

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I'd be on board if it was like, 500 a.d through 1870 or some type of cut off. Everyone who's ever lived here up until x date. Whatever is the statistical number needed to prevent someone from using such a registry to stalk a target. The genealogy side of this is very rad, the potential for exploitation is very real.

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Strange-but-true. As kids we'd go stay in Elmira, Idaho, in an old farmhouse where my grandparents died in their murder/suicide. Once we were told of the deaths, we asked where they'd happened. My mother asked, "You know that dingy bedroom off the kitchen?"

That was the room us kids had always slept in.

My mother said, "I always felt bad closing you kids in that room every night."

Even stranger? Then I married someone from Elmira, New York.

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Yes!

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In theory, I would use the website, because I have a natural curiosity and of course I'd want to know all about all the people who lived in my house before me. I could see myself falling into rabbit holes, reading the stories of not just the people in my house but in the neighboring properties. Were they friends? Did they go on walks together? Sit on the front porch drinking together?

But in reality, do I really want to know? I don't think so.

I'm renting a house in Woodlawn right now, and it used to be owned by Dan and Aimee. I know, because they used magic marker and paint to write "Dan <3 Aimee" or "D <3 A" in out-of-the-way spots throughout the house.

I sometimes imagine what they looked like, Aimee had blonde hair and Dan was tall. If he didn't duck, he'd hit his head going down the basement stairs. Or I think about them making dinner. Or what it was like when Aimee got pregnant and they turned the room in the basement into a nursery.

I wonder what happened to them and why they don't live here any more.

I see dog paw prints in the concrete out front, and I wonder whether Aimee or Dan picked out the dog and brought it home, or whether they did it together. Maybe they went to a shelter and found the perfect pup, and came home and pressed its paw into the driveway slab so it'd be a permanent part of the household. How long ago was that? Has the dog passed away now?

I don't want to know. I want to keep imagining their happy life, full of love. I want to channel that love back into the house.

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I love this idea. I used to leave notes as "random acts of kindness" in college.

If I was hanging out in a friend's room, I'd write something loving and leave it in place where I'd knew they'd find it later.

"It's Sept. 29, and you're wearing your Virgin Suicides t-shirt. I love it when you wear this shirt, and I love your taste in movies. You're awesome." And then I'd fold it and put in the textbook that's open on their desk.

Now that I think about it, no one ever came to me and said "thanks for the note."

Maybe they never found them. Or maybe the notes are in "God's Waiting Room."

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Hmmmm I like that idea. I could see it turning into a kind of comedy of errors, if the character finds a note not meant for him.

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Have you see the film version of "Rules of Attraction"?

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Yes, I absolutely love that film, and I'm just now remembering the notes!!! It was my go-to "I need to feel blood in the cut" movie after a breakup due to unrequited love.

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That's the nicest thing I've heard in ages!

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Damn, I love finding dog paw prints in concrete. At our current house, there's a paw print in the driveway with the name "Woofers" scratched in the concrete. From the 1970s is my guess.

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it sounds intriguing... I'm disabled and do my best to make this house look decent,

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I'd buy it!

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Hey Chuck there’s a very good show in the UK on BBC1 called a house through time. Presented by David Olusoga. The episode I watched tracked a house in Bristol throughout history from its building by a slave owner right through to its present day. It was incredible.

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Those shows are great. Fully agreed.

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My sister-in-law owned a flat and in the small bedroom, behind the wallpaper in patches, was the erotic poems of the previous occupant. He'd made sketches for some of them too.

From the contents, I'm not entirely sure I want to know his history. Still, I hope she's kept the photos of them somewhere, they were enlightening.

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Look for a sweet novel called "Marion's Wall" from the 1973. It depicts a couple finding a message under wallpaper, etc.. And it eventually became a not-great 1985 film with Glenn Close called "Maxie."

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I can't help but think of your novel "Diary." Brilliant btw. I haven't read "Marion's Wall" but you're description of it as "sweet" seems to confirm it isn't a tenth as interesting as your novel.

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Just know "Marion's Wall" has a great fiery ending.

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Maybe I'll give it a shot then :)

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I live in a pre-war building in NY. I would love to know the people history to my apartment...

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I live in my dream house now. It's an older home, and from what I can tell by the sales history, it was owned by about four other households--and maybe rented a couple of times. It was pretty neglected when we bought it. I do wonder why the most recent owners allowed their five children to mistreat the house so much--or did they rent it out and the renters let their dog tear into it, but then I think about whether I would want to know any of these people and I don't. One group--two men and a woman possibly had a failed business out of the house and ran out on the bills. I don't think I want to know them, either. I will admit I am curious and do make up little stories about the former inhabitants. Still, my husband and I have put considerable money and work into this house to restore it to its former glory, so I prefer to shower my home with love rather than think about some of the people who once lived here.

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I bet you share my obsession with the Old House Dreams website. My long-term plan is to buy the building that looks like a three-story chest-of-drawers with one drawer partially pulled out and a mammoth striped sock hanging from it.

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I wouldn’t. But I also don’t visit the sex offender registry list. Either because I believe people can change or because I believe it is better to think everyone could potentially harm you and your kids than know someone’s actual predatory history and believe your neighbors not on the list are trustworthy. But mostly because once you know something like that, how can you not act on it? (By moving, installing taller fence, etc.) so for houses also, ignorance let’s you make it your own home. I don’t want to live in a successful artist’ past home or a failed singer’s past home. I want to think of my home as my own.

Additionally, eventually, I’d suspect all the great stories were invented to give boring places more prestige.

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I hadn't thought of this, great point. Not to mention you may have to disclose all the maggots and flies in your garage... :P

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Growing up, my parents only ever rented. We lived in a house we swore was haunted by a nice old man, and we always wanted to know the history. Later we lived in a house that never felt haunted, but we knew the previous owner had killed his wife and three daughters there. Knowing the history is sometimes just as bad as not knowing.

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Yikes.

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And it would be good to know if anyone ever died in that house too. Just a thought.

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That is mandatory disclosure in California.

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Or if the house was ever used to shoot a movie!

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And (because, yes, this is happening next week) if an AARP photo shoot team ever captured your sauce-making & granny-nanny prowess for their old people magazine.

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Suzy! Welcome.

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Enjoyed the Spanbauer post today.

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My student, Colton, found that. He's started calling Tom "Grandpa Spanbauer."

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The elderly couple in Albuquerque who allowed "Breaking Bad" to shoot the pizza scene, they have a huge yard sign now. It reads, "Please stop throwing pizzas on our roof!" Nevertheless a dozen tourists take selfies each day, flinging pizzas. The homeowners have to rake their roof.

I love pizza. Especially free pizza.

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Yes please! We live in a house that an old fella with some innovative DIY skills expanded into the crazy ass house that Ron built. I would want to ask him Ron, what the hell were you thinking when you put in that structual column in a town that is way overdue for an Earthquake. Ron had extraordinary decorating taste (think burgundy wall paper, datura themed curtains matching his horticultural bent, 70s swinger orange carpet and a need to install bathrooms everywhere- I swear I wondered if it was a bordello). Also somewhat disconcertingly when we first moved in I was sure I saw someone hanging in the downstairs closet. But the cats hang out down there so he must be benign.

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Absolutely. Lets take it a step further and create a social network where everyone's address is listed. Accountability for anyone who decides to troll.

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I was just thinking about this recently. My wife and I recently moved into a new (to us) house in an old neighborhood in Portland. The house itself was built in the early 1900s and I'm sure the walls have a lot to say.

Scrawled inside pantry doors and across support beams are things like "Dan <3 Aimee". You can tell the walls have been shifted, and the basement has gone through a variety of renovations over the years. As I walk through this house I wonder what Dan and Aimee would be up to if they were here today.

How incredible would it be to have a photo scrapbook hidden away, perhaps tucked under a floorboard or behind a false wall, where some of they had a collection of pictures of their joys, sorrows and experiences during their time here. And the book is passed down from owner to owner, each one adding and sharing their own history.

Could you imagine looking at 100 years of homeowners, renters, new babies, old lovers? What little rituals did they practice? What if we could sit in a corner and just watch as they lived their day to day lives? What was the first show they watched, on the first TV they brought home in the 50s? What was the first painting they made in their art studio? What songs did they play on repeat for 2 years straight? Who died in our basement?

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Let's carve "J <3 R" into a support beam and hide a picture of ourselves in the wall before we move out.

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Just finding the pencil marks where children's heights were recorded with dates is poignant.

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In a past life, I worked as an income tax department during college. There is sooooooo much info already out there. It's really just a matter of bringing the info together. Thing is also the many name changes and people who just provide incorrect info to avoid the taxman and other bill collectors. You really want this done, you gotta get Uncle Sam to help you put this together Chuck. Then again, you might be selling your soul. It's your call.

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What soul?

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I should have seen that response coming lol

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The house I'm living in now in Portland, comes up as a belly dancing studio in Google Maps. Would love to know the backstory there, haven't been able to find any info on it myself.

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Forty years ago, Portland had a chain of jack shacks called "Ginger's Sexy Saunas." Nowadays some of the trendiest coffee shops and brunch places operate out of those same one-story cinder block buildings. Not a clue, in most cases.

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Yes and yes and, of course, yes!! 😎

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Not just houses, I find myself wanting to see an onion skin history of everything, like one of those sad Chris Ware comics. And not just a visual portal into the past, I want to know the thoughts of the people occupying that slice of spacetime. Could they still taste their lunch? Were they nervous about going out that night? Did that pestering ache in their hip turn into anything cool?

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Yes! It would confirm some of the good vibes / bad vibes you get from a house (or apartment building).

Oddly enough, my bf and I got to know a bit about the people who previously lived in our current house. It was a family with four kids and two large Huskies. We even sleuthed out a paw print from one of the dogs embedded in the carpet at the top of the stairs where one of the dogs probably liked to sit. (Can't confirm, but we think there may be a dog buried in our backyard / driveway since there's a portion of the small patch of grass covered over with rocks on top of metal planking. I don't really want to poke around too much so as not to disturb the final resting place of any critters, but it's a very relaxing and comforting spot.)

One of the (now-grown) kids who used to live here actually swung by about two years ago with his girlfriend, just wanting to see the place where he grew up. We let him in (knowing the family had two very distinctive last names) and showed him around. He seemed happy that we didn't change a whole lot and kept some of the cool features he remembered as a kid.

Similarly, the apartment where I grew up had a ghost that I later found out was the mother-in-law of our across-the-hall neighbor. She had previously lived across from him and his wife and died peacefully in the apartment that my parents moved into shortly afterward. Weird story, but when I was about 10, I was home alone at night, waiting for my parents and brother to come back from somewhere. I was either reading or watching TV and glanced down the hallway. This pleasant looking redhead in a white gown was walking down the hallway. She turned and smiled at my and my adolescent ass was spooked. She disappeared when I panicked, hoping my parents would get home soon.

It wasn't until a few years later, when my brother and I were hanging out with our neighbor in his living room that we saw a picture of a redheaded woman that I thought looked familiar. Our neighbor confirmed that it was his mother-in-law and that she passed in the apartment where we now lived. Apparently, she was a pretty cool chick. I felt bad about getting spooked since I now like to think she might have been a friendly, spectral baby-sitter.

Having a history of every place where I'd lived would be great for sussing out the good juju from the bad!

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THAT gave me shivers. Your vision of the redhead resonates so clearly with a similar scene in Karen Karbo's memoir "The Stuff of Life." An excellent book if you've recently lost a loved one.

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I see so many interviews with you, and you can quote from such an astounding number of books. I'm only 15 years younger, technically a librarian, and it sometimes takes me 3 weeks to read a single book. WHAT IS YOUR SECRET? haha.

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Definitely adding that one to my list! Thank you! Currently reading the other one you'd recommended, "Clown Girl." I'm only about 30 pages in so far, but love the warped humor and what seems to be pointing toward a mix of sweetness and seediness.

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I would love that. We lived in a handful of odd rental houses when I was growing up. When I was 14, we moved into a rental house that had bullet casings in the dishwasher and condoms under the sink. I felt a cloud come over me the day we moved into that house and a few weeks later my brother had a grand mal seizure. Something shifted in the electricity of my brain and I have since been an overcast person. But maybe I'm just overthinking it and the house was not haunted but had toxic mold or another environmental issue. It sure felt haunted. I would like to know the story of the people who rented it before, because to this day I will be going for a run, having a great regular ol' day, and suddenly think to myself, "How do bullet casings get in the dishwasher?"

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THAT sounds like the house in Monica Drake's book "The Folly of Loving Life."

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When certain people come over and I don't feel like cleaning, I often throw random shit in the dishwasher. Some sex toys and a zong spent many undeserved hours in dishwasher confinement, plus other whatnots I didn't feel like putting away formally.

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I published property transfer for newspaper. Huge traffic driver having history along with histories my would be great

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Before we bought our little victorian terrace here in London, England, we were told to check with the council if there were any hidden covenants on the property, a common procedure in Britain. I discovered that the house was abandoned and taken off the market for fifteen years between 1955 and 1970 after its owner, Terry Waites, went on a rampage, killed his family of three with a cricket bat and buried them in the garden. He hung himself in the loft a week later. The council inherited the house but nobody wanted to touch it with a ten foot pole. I never told my wife, she wouldn’t have gone ahead with the purchase. I wish I hadn’t known. Sometimes at night, I think about old Terry, wondering what made him do it.

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Does your wife still not know? I understand wishing you hadn't known. On the bright side, a little Victorian terrace in London sounds lovely...

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Damn. You're going to be a tough act to follow.

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What’s worse, I convinced her to call our new cat Terry. She still doesn’t know.

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That... is evil.

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Absolutely, I wonder about it all the time. My latest rental is in a house downtown built in the 30s and I'm always wondering about the people that lived here before the city really BECAME a city.

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A friend of mine researched the history of the city of Seattle. One of the more interesting facts was that madam Lou Graham funded construction projects and some municipalities in Seattle. Lou had so much money that she rivaled banks in giving out loans. I wonder how many buildings and residences we're funded with sex work money. Who knows what kind of funding the government would get from legalizing sex work. If they made it into a Federal Agency what would be the best name?

I would think there would be an interest in knowing the history of a building or a location. I suspect it would be a large undertaking, to go through all those government archives, for the information.

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A century back Portland, OR had so many buildings used as brothels that it passed the "Tin Plate Ordinance." This required all buildings post a pie plate bearing the owner's name and address. It was meant to shame wealthy families who leased to sex workers. Of course there was a loophole. The ordinance didn't designate a language so owners posted their names in Sanskrit and a half dozen lessor known languages.

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It is interesting to see all the ways the government and society try to reduce or eliminate things that they find distasteful. It would be interesting to see the progress society might make if we embraced more of the things that make us uncomfortable.

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"Reduce harm", and don't try to legislate it into the shadows.

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I once found a ton of towels and ribbon inside one of my walls. Not to stop a leak or anything, it was just cloth of all kinds and colors stuffed in there between the insulation. So no.

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Do you remember the children's book "The Borrowers"? Tiny folks who 'borrowed' items and lived within the walls of human houses. The tiny folks had small tails. As a little kid I loved those books.

These days The Borrowers would furnish their living spaces with used syringes. Or worse.

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This entire thread has made me think about The People Under The Stairs.

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Those books conflicted me.

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Willie the Squowse by Ted Allan was one of my favorite childhood books. A half squirrel half mouse gets left behind in the walls between a duplex. I still have my copy. I read it to my daughter recently, there are some parts that are pretty messed up for a children's book. Maybe one of the reasons why as an adult Chuck is my favorite author. I won't give away the whole story because you should read it sometime.

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Yes! With space for oral history. I once tracked down the daughter of the original owners of our 1938 bungalow in metro Detroit. Found out that in the ‘50s, a housewife neighbor from two doors down stopped by to deliver a homemade pie—and then dropped dead in the dining room. The daughter almost didn’t want to tell me, but it adds a certain weird charm.

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After making an offer and having it accepted, we found out from a friend whose aunt had worked with the ex-husband of the home owner, that he was in jail for trying to burn the house down with her and their two kids inside. Made for an interesting call to ask the realtor who didn’t believe us, but calls the other realtor to ask and called us back ten minutes later to confirm it was in fact true. So yeah, might have been good to know ahead of time. (That same friend bought us a fire extinguisher as a housewarming gift, and we pretty quickly put a large sign on the front of the house with our name on it, in case he came back once he got out…)

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Only if I could get the real stories of the people, not just the demographic info from public sources.

Sometimes you need to know less. Visiting Boston, I walked by the windows of a bedroom in an apartment I'd lived in 30 years before and saw that a workman was taking a sledgehammer to the walls of that room where love lived and died. An kind of architectural cremation with a bang.

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Yes! I've been obsessed with digging up anything I can find about the log cabin I bought in 2019. True North, as I named it, will be 100 years old next year! There's talk of a grave marker under the sunporch, which I have explored, and I can see a slab of some kind, but it has tipped in such a way that the engraving is face-down. I love your idea. Like a living history!

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At the Dawn of Martha Stewart stuff she used to advocate for people to visit tombstone fabricators. She said they sometimes flubbed engravings, and those unfinished polished slabs could be bought cheap and used as pavers in your garden. To turn over such an assortment of pavers and find them even partially engraved as tombstones seems somewhat "Schindler's List" to me.

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...and I would dig it!

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It's a good thing.

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I often think about how territorial we are as a species. Most of us don't even tolerate small bugs in our spaces. All other priorities disappear if there is a line of ants in the kitchen. This adds a kind of strangeness to the idea of our houses belonging to someone else. I think even people who aren't drawn to everyone's unique story would love the opportunity to see who lived in in their domain before them.

I learned that my over-100-year-old house in Tacoma was owned by a woman who had quite a few parrots that she would let fly wherever they wanted. There was apparently quite a bit of cleanup by the next owners. I always liked knowing that the house was once a giant birdcage.

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Oh wow, I'd use the shit outta that website. I have an unshakeable fear of living in a house where someone died. To the best of my knowledge I have managed to avoid this, based on reports from neighbors. But would neighbors really tell me if a previous owner or tenant died in the house? I suspect they would not. So I still wonder.

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Frankly, the idea alone scares the hell out of me. That said, it could turn out to be interesting in one way or another.

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Considering I think I know the uneventful background of my house, maybe not for it, but for other houses in the neighborhood, in a differentg state even, yeah, for a while, I'd use it. After a while it would lose its luster though

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My house was born in the 80s -- uneventful :)

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No. I know too much already.

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