104 Years Inside A Basement Wall: This Week In History

The basement walls of my century home are getting some much needed maintenance. I found a section of the mortar that was more like sand than cement. I went at it with an old paint scraper: bits of mortar were released followed by a nearly disintegrated wad of yellowed old newspaper.    

Newspaper is certainly an unusual item in masonry. Studying the few legible words of on the bits of paper painted a pretty good story: the hardware stores would again be open on Tuesday Nov. 5th following the closing restrictions due to the Spanish Influenza. Having been in this situation recently I can only assume that a stir-crazy homeowner took the opening of the hardware stores as an opportunity to tackle some home maintenance projects. A week old wadded up newspaper would supplement the limited supplies available. Unmixed cement has a limited shelf life, and the materials probably sat unused at the hardware store for an extended time, which would undermine the life of the mortar joint.

While I wasn’t able to find any information on what year shopping restrictions would have ended in the Spanish Influenza, or even much history on this pandemic I did find another bit or story on the paper which both overshadowed the pandemic and fixed the year with certainty: another bit of legible print describes the capture of 300,000 Austrian soldiers by Italians forces in Dalmatia, which is recorded in history books and unquestionably sets the year: 1918. These were the final days of the First World War, with the last armistice signed by Germany and Allied forces just one week from this news story.

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Volume 18, Issue 21, Posted 1:41 PM, 11.02.2022