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9 Crazy Things People Found Inside Their Walls

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The Ballad of the Walled-Up Wife chronicles the story of hapless masons who are incapable of building a wall that will last. After years of failure, they learn that in order to make their work last, they must offer up a sacrifice. Once, as their master’s wife passed by, they grabbed her and entombed her in the wall they were building. According to some versions of the ballad, the wall still stands.

While immuring wives in walls is strictly outlawed (and largely fictional), the practice of hiding things behind sheetrock or brick is pervasive. From the illegal to the superstitious to the just plain insane, here are 9 crazy things found stashed inside walls.

1. Babies

In 1850, a mummified baby tumbled out from between the walls of a Parisian apartment. The couple living in the apartment were charged with murder; they were later cleared when a physician used insects to determine the time of death. This case marked the first time in French forensic science that entomology was used in a criminal trial. And 28 years later, French pathologist Edmond Perrier Megnin used insects to calculate the time of death of a mummified infant in a similar case.

Mummified infants have been found in walls as recently as 2007, when contractor Bob Kinghorn discovered the body of a child wrapped in newspaper in the walls of a home in East Toronto. Police investigated the infant’s death, but were unable to determine the cause.

2. Urine and Fingernail Clippings

Filled with urine, hair, nail clippings or red thread, Witch Bottles were hidden in walls and buried in the thresholds of homes to counteract a witch's curse. One was found in Greenwich in 2009 that dates back to the 17th century. Researchers were even able to analyze urine found in the bottle, which contained traces of nicotine.

The bottle also contained a piece of leather cut into the shape of a heart and pierced with a leather nail. Scientists are unsure of the symbolism, but in similar finds the bottles have contained heart-shaped cloth pierced by brass pins.

A court record from 1682 documents that a husband who believes his wife to be a witch should boil in a pipkin a quart of her urine, fingernail clippings and hair.

3. Live Children

Two years after he disappeared with his mother, 6-year-old Richard Chekevdia was discovered hidden in the walls of his grandmother’s home in Illinois.

Ricky disappeared in 2007 after a contentious custody dispute between his mother, Shannon Wilfong, and his father, Michael Chekevdia. His grandmother, Diane Dobbs, insists that the boy lived most of his life outside the walls of the home, only hiding when necessary. However, police reports state the boy had rarely been allowed outside. And a judge found that the boy had been denied access to medical care, education and contact with his peers. The police found the boy and his mother crouched in a hiding place behind a bedroom dresser.

4. Cash

In Ohio, contractor Bob Kitts found $182,000 in Depression-era money inside the walls of a bathroom he was renovating. The contractor called the homeowner, Amanda Reece, who offered him 10 percent of the find. He demanded 40 percent and the situation devolved from there.

When the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on the case, descendants of the home’s original owner, Patrick Dunne — a wealthy businessman who hid the money during the Great Depression — also filed claim to the money. After the costly court proceedings, all of the people laying claim to the money received only a fraction of the find.

5. Priceless Artwork

In 1502, Italian statesman Piero Soderini commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint a scene from the famous Battle of Anghiari. The painting is thought to be 20 feet long and 10 feet high. In the 1550s, Giorgio Vasari was commissioned to paint over the mural, but the painter reportedly couldn’t bring himself to destroy it.

Maurizio Seracini, an art diagnostician at the University of California, San Diego, has been looking for the lost Leonardo da Vinci work for 36 years. Seracini is convinced that Vasari hid it in the wall — and he might be onto something.

His first big break came in 1970, when he discovered the words "cerca trova” painted on a flag on Vasari’s mural. Seracini believes that the phrase, which means “seek and you will find,” indicates that Vasari built a false wall over the painting in order to preserve the mural. Recent technology has enabled researchers to take pictures of the hollow between Vasari’s mural and the wall, where they discovered black pigment believed to be similar to the pigment used in other Leonardo da Vinci paintings. Unfortunately, bureaucracy and political protest have stymied the investigation.

6. Ill-Gotten Gains

In the walls of his home in Oak Brook, Illinois, mobster Frank Calabrese hid jewelry, fire arms and, of course, cash money. Lots of it.

During Calabrese’s 2007 trial, authorities learned that the long-time hit man liked to stash money and weapons into the nooks and crannies in his homes. After the trial, federal agents procured a search warrant and discovered Calabrese’s stash of loot and taped recordings with other mobsters behind the basement’s wood-paneled walls. Calabrese’s lawyer told the Chicago Tribune that he was “concerned” that these items hadn’t been discovered in previous searches of the home.

7. Shoes

A collection of 300-year-old shoes was found in the wall of the Gothic Liedberg Palace in Korschenbroich, Germany. In Lubenham, England, a pair of shoes was built into the wall of Papillion Hall in order to rid a family of decades of misfortune brought on by a curse. And in cottages and churches across Europe and the United States, hundreds of shoes have been found tucked inside the walls. The practice is so common that the Northhampton Borough Council collects recorded instances of concealed footwear. If you find any, let them know.

Some scholars theorize that the practice of immuring shoes is done for good luck and to ward off evil spirits from entering a home.

8. Cats

The practice of hiding cats in walls was an ancient ritual to ward off evil spirits. All over the UK, mummified cats are frequently toppling out from between the walls of 17th and 18th century buildings. One of the most famous instances was in Pendle, Lancashire, when a mummified cat was discovered in the wall of an ancient cottage. The cottage is presumed to be the location at which one of England’s most famous witch covens met. In 1612, 11 men and one woman from the coven were accused of witchcraft and hanged.

9. Unmentionables

The only thing worse than discovering dirty underwear hidden in your home is discovering centuries-old dirty underwear in your walls. Across Western Europe, unsuspecting home owners often find caches of garments (under and over) inside the walls of their homes. In fact, the finds are so common that they are not often reported.

Evidence indicates that the practice of hiding your knickers in the walls dates back to the Middle Ages. The clothes hidden are often worn and contain hidden objects like documents and coins. According to the website for the Deliberately Concealed Garments Project:

“The tradition of concealing clothes can be related to the practice of concealing other objects such as dried cats, witch bottles and charms in buildings. These types of objects have been discovered hidden in similar places. The concealing of these items including garments can be related to folklore and superstitious traditions relating to the ritual protection of a household and its inhabitants.”

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18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
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Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

Rosé Wine Glass
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Wine not? When the temperature rises and beer isn’t your thing, reach for the rosé. Riedel’s machine-blown SST (see, smell, taste) wine glasses will give the sparkly stuff ample room to breathe, making every refreshing sip worthwhile.

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2. NERF N-STRIKE ELITE SURGEFIRE; $25

Nerf SurgeFire
Hasbro

Why It’s Cool: The N-Strike Elite SurgeFire (say that five-times-fast) sports a pump-action rotating drum for maximum foam-based firepower and holds up to 15 Nerf darts in its arsenal.

Find It: Hasbro Toy Shop

3. BUSHEL & BERRY PLANTS; $34

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Amazon

Why It’s Cool: You don’t need to have a green thumb to create a brag-worthy garden this summer. Besides producing snackable mid-season berries, these open-growing bushes can be planted immediately for easy set-up to make you look like a botanical pro.

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4. INFLATABLE DONUT; $17

Doughnut float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When the only dunking you’re doing is taking a dip in the pool, a 48-inch inflatable donut is the perfect way to stay afloat.

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5. STAR SPANGLED SPATULA; $21

American flag spatula
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: O say can you see by your grill’s charcoal light / Meats so proudly we cooked ... with a star spangled spatula. Depending on the specific model, these all-American grilling tools (designed in New Jersey and made in Chicago) are made of a combination of walnut and stainless steel or nylon. As an added bonus: 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Penn Abramson Cancer Center.

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6. MLB HOT DOG BRANDERS; $8 AND UP

MLB San Diego Padres Hot Dog BBQ Brander
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Take your hot dogs, sausages, brats, and more out to the ballgame without ever leaving your grill. These branders from Pangea Brands are dishwasher-safe and made of ceramic-coated cast iron.

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7. UNA GRILL; $139

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MoMA Shop

Why It’s Cool: This portable charcoal-heated grill is as efficient as it is stylish. The compact size lets you cook at the park, after hitting up MoMA, or anywhere in between.

Find It: MoMa Shop

8. HAMBURGER GRILLING BASKET; $21


Why It’s Cool: Made of steel and finished with a non-stick coating, this grilling tool flips four burgers at once and maintains perfect burger proportions to guarantee nobody stays hungry for long.

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9. COPPER FIRE PIT; $121

metal fire pit
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: The grill isn’t the only place for a roaring fire this summer. This 100 percent solid copper fire pit makes for the perfect gathering spot at your next BBQ, or just to warm up after a cool summer evening.

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10. BENDY STRAW POOL NOODLE FLOAT; $10

Bendy Straw Inflatable Pool Float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Inflatable pool floats shouldn’t be boring, and this bendy straw float definitely does not suck. This unique spin on traditional pool noodles is sure to make for some cheesy jokes, but at least you’ll be comfortable floating in the pool or at the beach.

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11. GRIDDLER DELUXE; $111

Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: If you’re looking for some serious panini power, this griddler offers up a versatile lineup of six cooking options in one. And with dual-zone functions you can sling burgers while searing filets and sautéeing vegetables all at the same time.

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12. VINTAGE SNOW CONE MAKER; $30

Vintage Snow Cone Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: With its old-timey design, dual cone shelf, and endless flavor options, this snow cone maker is guaranteed create a cool treat.

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13. DACHSHUND CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS; $7

Dog Corn Holders
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: While meat-lovers will inevitably scarf down a lot of hot dogs this summer, vegetarians who happen to love another kind of dog will be smitten with these stainless steel, Dachshund-shaped corn on the cob prongs. They’re a fun spin on a summer grilling favorite.

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14. ICE CREAM SANDWICH MAKER; $16

Ice Cream Sandwich Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Four sandwiches are better than one, especially when they're of the ice cream variety. Make four ice cream sandwiches at once with this homemade spin on a classic cold treat.

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15. UE WONDERBOOM; $68

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Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Besides delicious food and great company, some memorable tunes are required for the quintessential barbeque. This portable bluetooth speaker offers up some booming sound in a small package, and with a battery power of 10 hours on a single charge you can keep the party going all night.

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16. ROLLORS GAME; $38

Rollors Backyard Game
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When you’re sick of bocce, hate horseshoes, and you’re over cornhole, you might want to take up “rollors,” a family-friendly game that combines your favorite traditional backyard festivities into one game for people of all ages.

Find It: Amazon

17. HAMMOCK; $174

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Why It’s Cool: Rest easy knowing that this 100 percent hand-woven and hand-dyed cotton hammock contributes to artisan job-creation in Thailand.

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18. VSSL SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS; $59

Emergency Survival Tent Outdoors
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Compact, convenient, and durable, the VSSL Shelter can come in handy when things don’t go quite as planned. The device—which features a lightweight emergency shelter all within the handle of a compact, weather-resistant aluminum LED flashlight—is designed to keep you safe under the worst conditions.

Find It: Amazon

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Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
11 Things You Might Not Know About Johann Sebastian Bach
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. PEOPLE DISAGREE ABOUT WHEN TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTHDAY.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. HE WAS THE CENTER OF A MUSICAL DYNASTY.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. BACH TOOK A MUSICAL PILGRIMAGE THAT PUTS EVERY ROAD TRIP TO WOODSTOCK TO SHAME.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. HE BRAWLED WITH HIS STUDENTS.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. BACH SPENT 30 DAYS IN JAIL FOR QUITTING HIS JOB.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. THE BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS WERE A FAILED JOB APPLICATION.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. HE WROTE ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST COFFEE JINGLES.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. IF BACH CHALLENGED YOU TO A KEYBOARD DUEL, YOU WERE GUARANTEED TO BE EMBARRASSED.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. SOME OF HIS MUSIC MAY HAVE BEEN COMPOSED TO HELP INSOMNIA.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. HE WAS BLINDED BY BOTCHED EYE SURGERY.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. NOBODY IS 100 PERCENT CONFIDENT THAT BACH IS BURIED IN HIS GRAVE.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

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