Rachel Fordham Finds Treasures of the Past

While researching a book, I came across several accounts of hidden money sewn into clothing, hat brims, or fake compartments in luggage. I didn’t end up using everything I’d discovered in my novel, but it did send my mind racing and ideas spinning. We are so used to electronic funds, checks, and secured shipping that we don’t often worry about traveling with the family’s heirloom jewels or your life savings, but times used to be different.

During the prime stagecoach and railroad days people often traveled with money or valuables. Robbers knew this, which is why we have so many accounts of stagecoach robberies and trains stopped by bandits and looted. Some passengers took to hiding money in their clothing, sewing it into the hem of their pants or skirt, or stitching it into lining of a jacket.

There have been other times in history when hiding money and valuables became the norm. During and after the Great Depression there was a general mistrust of the banking system. Our grandparents and great-grandparents (depending on your age) may have been some of those that weren’t quite ready to trust their hard-earned savings to an institution.

Rather than sew their money into their clothing (though, some of them might have), they could have buried it in the backyard, under floorboards, behind the mantle, in the piano, and even in the outhouse (gross).

There are fantastic stories of people buying old homes and finding “treasure” hidden in the floorboards or in the rafters of the attic. I can’t help but wonder how many homes have been torn down with their treasure never found, or items of clothing discarded that held a secret. The author in me wonders the circumstances that led to someone hiding away their money—were they saving so they could reach for a dream? Preparing for a rainy day? Hoping to give their children a better life?

When my husband and I moved to Buffalo, New York so he could attend dental school there, we bought a small, OLD home. I asked the neighbors about it and learned as much history as I could about the charming little place. It had once housed a large family. (Where they all slept, I will never know.) I tried to visualize them and often thought about those that had lived inside the walls of my beloved first house. At one point we decided to add more insulation. (Those Buffalo winters are brutal!) While working we discovered a small box tucked way back in the eaves.

I was not an author at the time, but I still had a vivid imagination and can still remember my heart beating a little faster when I reached for the box. It didn’t contain any gold, no rare coins, or fine jewels. But it did contain handmade Christmas ornaments from decades ago. As a lover of history and stories, I found my discovery fascinating. Holding those ornaments in my hand made it easier to picture the big loving family that I had only heard a few scattered details about. I confess, I still think it would be fun to prowl through an abandoned house and discover treasure, a journal, or any other fascinating piece of history. Wouldn’t it be so fun to sneak around a ghost town…sigh, someday!

Whether hidden to avoid bandits, or fear of a depression, or simply an accident, the pieces of the past we discover tell us a little about those that came before. I wonder what the next person to live in my beloved Buffalo house learned about me. We were students and had no money to hide, but there is a bird house my son made with his grandpa and nailed to the back fence, scratches in the floor from a baby walker, and probably a few missing socks behind the washing machine. (It’s been a decade, so maybe those are gone by now.)

And now after writing this and thinking about hidden treasure and stories, I am convinced that all writing retreats should take place in very old houses or near other prime locations for treasure hunting. Maybe we would all find a story worth telling!


Rachel Fordham is giving away a copy of her latest novel Where the Road Bends. To be entered in the random drawing, leave a comment for Rachel telling her if you’ve ever stumbled across a treasure or family heirloom.