April 22, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When it comes to gaining knowledge about a home’s heritage, the process of addition may sometimes come by way of subtraction.

Some years ago we decided that the wallpaper in our home’s tiny upstairs powder room had to go. When we bought the 1946 house in the same year that The Big Chill was released, the colorful wall covering in this space was a still oh-so-smart Marimekko-style pattern. After looking at it for more than a couple decades, we (that would more accurately be as in my wife, Julie) decided that any hint of “smart” had long since evaporated.

Removing the wallpaper became an exercise in revealing the history of our home and the people who once lived there.

The first occupants of our home were Jewish, just like so many of the original inhabitants up and down the block situated only a short walk from the then Beth Israel Synagogue. The name on the deed was a telltale sign, but the mezuzah guarding the front door (Hebrew verses from the Torah printed on a parchment housed in a decorative case) left no room for doubt as to the faith previously practiced in our home.

The excavation effort exposed a collection of old-time decals, the kind that had to be moistened for application. The sticky little relics on a field of classic ’50s paint (I call the hue Pink Cadillac) told us quite a lot about the family’s children and the arc of their formative years.

I now know, for example, that they attended Central High School before at least one went on to Bradley University, whose culturally insensitive Indian caricature mascot shown here was, not surprisingly, ditched years ago. And did the Bradley-bound member of the household later pledge, as another decal suggests, to Sigma Delta Tau sorority?

Vestiges of the family’s faith live on in three of the images. Both the Mo.V.F.T.Y. (which I have since learned stands for Missouri Valley Federation of Temple Youth) and the Conestoga wagon decals refer to B’nai B’rith-sponsored youth groups. And the “Mother Chapter” Star of David insignia points to Aleph Zadik Aleph, a boys’ fraternity founded in Omaha in 1923. This one was the toughest to research. I was very close, it turned out, in guessing that the letters made up the moniker of a frat or sorority, but my online searching turned up zilch. It took a chat with Alan Potash of the Jewish Federation of Omaha to get me thinking Hebrew instead of Greek to unlock this puzzle.

And as for the sole noggin’-scratcher; the Blackhawk decal? No clue.

Funny thing is, the accompanying photograph is not an archival view. This is how the powder room looks to this very day, several years after our discovery. Against Julie’s gentle objections, I just can’t bring myself to destroy these hieroglyphic echoes of the past.

That, after all, would be like erasing history.

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