An Historic Find at The Hydrant Clubhouse
When we first took over the building at 109 N. 9th Street in downtown Las Vegas that had been home to the Odd Fellows, I knew the place had history. It wasn’t just that the building had been constructed around 1939. It wasn’t just the vintage doors and fixtures. It wasn’t just that ever-so-slight scent of musty wood. You could feel it the moment you stepped inside. In fact, a handful of my more energetically connected pals (you know, those friends who just “feel” stuff) and quite a few of the Hydrant Club dog members, reacted in precisely the same fashion upon entering. There was a sense of energy, not a scary monster in the closet kind, but something heavy, intense and definitely present.
So I wasn’t terribly surprised when a short cruise around the Internet revealed that the Odd Fellows’ practices were of the sort that certainly would leave an energetic imprint. An array of articles peppered the last decade, even as recently as March 2014 detailing the remains that often … remained … when the Odd Fellows would vacate a building.
For the first several months the Hydrant Club used the Lodge for dog daycare and boarding we didn’t do any construction. We slapped on some fresh paint and cleaned things up a bit so we could use the space to retreat from the blistering temperatures of summer. As we sat watching dogs romp in the cool, dark, windowless space, we joked about our upcoming plans for construction. We wondered if we might come upon a cache of cash or even the remains of Jimmy Hoffa.
Construction began just after Thanksgiving and we didn’t find any gambler’s gold. We didn’t find any gangster remains. We didn’t even find any embedded residents as we’d been led to think might occur based on all the coverage.
Then we came across a fascinating and entirely unexpected bit of history.
I’d gone into the Hydrant Clubhouse to see how things were going and noticed piles of newspaper bits in the dirt below the subfloor. Deeply yellowed, the pieces were various sizes – showing hints of advertisements, snippets of articles and fragments of headlines. Taking a closer look I noted that the typeface used was one that hasn’t been seen in newsprint for decades. Between the archaic font, strange layouts and glimpses of product prices and images from various ads, it became clear that these pieces had to be from the 30s or 40s. It was common practice in that time to use newspaper in between layers of wood as insulation so it made sense. I, of course, wanted to know more.
There was a police blotter item that talked about a minor crime committed in Santa Monica, CA. It named Police Chief Dice from that town. Back to the Internet where I found a web page dedicated to retired chiefs of police from Santa Monica, including Charles Dice – who served from 1936 – 1939.
Wow. I scooted back to the Hydrant Club to scoop up the pieces. I figured they’d be fun to save for our office. The crew already had emptied all the mess from that day’s work so the bits were gone … but glancing back into the hole below the floorboards, I saw a few larger pieces. Pulling them up I gently brushed off the dust, and felt my blood chill when I realized what I was reading.
The pictures say it all – they are pieces of the front page of the Los Angeles Examiner from September 9, 1939 – the day the Nazis invaded Warsaw.
History always has been my favorite subject. I absorbed classes throughout my education. I visited museums commemorating that period of history. From the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, this time always has carried a heavy weight for me. That said, studying something in school or seeing it in a museum is different than holding it in your hand.
For the man who tossed these pieces aside the pages likely were nothing more than something to peruse while enjoying his morning coffee. Once read, the pages were stuffed between layers of the floor he was laying. He moved on from the news, news from far away that had yet to have any impact on this country. In those days the world wasn’t so connected and things that happened on the other side of the world could be held at arm’s length, briefly considered and then no longer of consequence. Detachment by distance made it easy.
Today our world is utterly connected. Just last week a terrorist attack on a satirical magazine office in Paris let loose with a flood of information on television, radio, newspaper and most of all across the Internet. We are so connected and yet in a strange way the information moves so fast it becomes all the more simple to detach and go about our business as the next wave of information washes over. The day after Charlie Hebdo, an attack on a Kosher market in Paris and more horrific scenes. Over the weekend images of millions of people taking to the streets in protests and marches.
My cynical mind can’t help but wonder how long before the waves of the story wash on and we forget, stuffing the digital bits into the virtual floorboards of the Internet and move on. This time, though, there is no physical item to hold, nothing that will be unearthed one day by someone digging in another time. Somehow coming across digital bits on the Internet just doesn’t carry the same weight. Then there are the myriad stories of equal or greater weight that fall lower on the news cycle – like the massacre of hundreds of people in Nigeria at the hands of Boko Haram. Where are the news clippings that will remind people of this story and keep them connected?
I’m reminded of just how important it is to stay present – something we must do every day at Hydrant Club by nature of the work we do. Dogs aren’t worrying about yesterday or today. They are, instead, focused on the moment at hand completely connected and aware of the world around them. We humans are different in that we have deeper recollection of the past and of course the reasoning and will to look ahead. Perhaps by bringing those two sensibilities together we can become a better version of ourselves.