David J. Whitcomb had no idea what he was getting himself into when he purchased a law office building in December 2020. He didn’t even know that there was an attic space. So, imagine his surprise when he discovered that said attic was full of treasures that haven’t been touched in a hundred years.
While replacing a light bulb, Whitcomb and a friend noticed the ceiling on the third floor looked odd, discovering an access panel. The pair stacked chairs so that Whitcomb could climb up. Using the flashlight from his cell phone, he was able to see that the attic was far from being empty.
“It’s like stepping back in time finding this guy’s studio from a hundred years ago or more… The first thing I saw was a whole bunch of picture frames stacked together and these frames are gorgeous. They’re the turn-of-the-century, they’re gold, gilded, and they shone really bright and I was like ‘Oh my God,'” he said. “I lowered myself and said ‘I think we just found the ‘Goonies’ treasure.”
The next day, the friends spent 12 hours scouring the attic, unearthing photographs, glass negatives, furniture, and photography equipment from the late 1800s and early 1900s. The most surprising discovery the pair found was a beautiful framed portrait of suffragist leader Susan B. Anthony.
Photographer James Hale took the iconic portrait of Anthony in 1905, a year before her death. When Hale gave copyright to the photo to The Susan B. Anthony Memorial Association, they selected the image as her official photograph. The clipping of the photo is even featured in the collection at the Library of Congress.
So, how did this rare find end up in an attic? It turns out that the building once served as James Hale’s studio. The treasure-finders discovered Hale’s mail and other documents, as well as a partial negative of Anthony’s portrait. Sadly, the glass negative was broken, and the piece of the negative that featured Anthony’s head is still undiscovered, and Whitcomb fears that it may be lost for good.
The pair had also found portraits of fellow suffragists, Elizabeth Candy Stanton and Elizabeth Smith Miller.
Previous owners of the building were unaware of the attic as well, and were completely dumbfounded by the discovery. At some point, the third floor was converted into an apartment and the drop ceiling was installed to hide the space. The apartment sat empty for decades, and the space served as document storage and office space for attorneys.
Whitcomb plans to leave the attic exposed when he eventually renovates the apartment. He is in the process of cataloging the items, working with a local auction company to empty the attic and arrange an auction.