This country suffered through an oil embargo, in the early 1970’s. We were all concerned, because we were importing 46% of our oil. We were at the mercy of foreign powers. As prices went up, travel went down.
It was during this event, that my parents struck on the idea of opening a gift store. We lived outside of a small country town of about 500, a few minutes north of a college town. The store was a great idea, the embargo eventually crashed it a few years later.
My father purchased one of two older buildings in the “down town” of our little community. It was an 1899 double-brick walled two story building. Having married, and left home, I returned to the local college, broke, my father hired me as a laborer (non-union!). I steamed the second floor walls and ceiling, removing all of the “wall” paper. In the basement, I tuck-pointed the walls (that’s placing mortar back in-between the bricks that lost their mortar).
The store sold a variety of gift items, mostly glass wear, material, place mats and trinkets (dry goods) on the main floor and some furniture and miscellaneous items in the basement. My father had finished the basement with stud walls and wide board siding. My mother, wife and another lady all wore period (circa 1880’s) clothing, as sales clerks. The store even boasted a large wooden barrel with crackers in it. The building had at one time been a general/dry goods store, positioned near the area elevator. (In county jargon, the elevator is the place where farmers sell their harvest of corn or beans, etc.)
In the basement, built under the staircase, my father had boxed in a little storage area with a home-made cedar door, latched only with piece of wood. On the door was painted Private. I recall that my father, for convenience, fashioned a dim light bulb that turned on as the door was opened.
Oh, yeah, did I mention this was an old 1899 building? Umm, did I mention that it had once been owned/used by the Knights of Pythias? Did I also mention that the meeting area was up stairs, where I was working on the wall paper? Did I mention that the up stairs had stage, with a trap door, and in the trap door was a coffin? Yes, in the coffin was a skeleton, a REAL skeleton. Did I mention that?
With he recent passing of Halloween, I was reminded of this event in my life.
Well my father placed that coffin, with the REAL skeleton, slightly off to the right inside the door opening. Slightly off to the left, he placed a doctors-office, plastic skeleton, sitting on chair with a chamber pot under it! But, then again, the door was marked, Private!
Just to be sure the clerks knew what was happening, my father had rigged a microphone in the “skeleton room”, which was attached to a speaker up stairs near the cash register. You could HEAR someone catch their breath, as the queried behind the “Private” door, the dim light coming on and two skeletons looking back at them!
Some things you just can’t keep Private!