By Lora Scripps
Sometimes stories handed down through the years are more than yarns and legends. So much so that when uncovered, the truth offers a glimpse into history.
For years, 49-year-old Todd Stanford heard stories of a root cellar located on the land where he now lives. The 40-acre property, which was said to contain the old cellar, is located near Blue Springs Elementary School in Clements. Todd’s grandparents J.R. and Bona Patterson bought the property in 1944, and it has remained in the family since that time.
When Todd’s grandfather died in 1975, the property where their home was located was handed down to Todd’s mother, Greta, and her husband, J.C. Stanford, and their five children. Other tracks were split between other family members.
“We moved in then,” Todd said. “My father, mother, brothers and sister.”
Todd was no stranger to the property.
“I had stayed here a lot,” said Todd, who was close to his grandfather.
What he didn’t know is history laid buried beneath his feet.
It wasn’t until a few years before his mother died in 2006 that he heard about the root cellar.
“She would often mention how she remembered Papa covering up a root cellar,” Todd said.
Todd’s mother would recall how her father put things into the cellar before he covered it.
It wasn’t until after April 27, 2011, those stories would become real.
During the storms that occurred a week before April 27, Todd had lost a large hackberry tree and had to have a crew clear it. The next week, the night of April 27, he said he heard a loud noise outside.
“I was in the house and I headed out the back door,” he said.
When he did, he saw his older sister, Belinda Cottles, running across the yard.
“I saw my sister, who never goes to the storm cellar, headed toward the cellar,” he said. “I could see her and thought it was odd.”
He could see her walking a path usually covered by another big hackberry tree. The sound he had heard must have been the tree uprooting.
The huge tree now lay across the yard. Todd again had to get estimates to have another tree removed. He was advised that because the tree was uprooted and not broken, he wouldn’t want to use a stump grinder because the tree was liable to have anything in it. Todd said the man shared a story of how they had once cut up a stump on another property and discovered an alternator inside.
As the man shared the story he held up his hands and said, “Look, here’s a bottle, right here.”
The man then pulled an interesting little bottle from the roots of the tree.
Todd began to dig in the tree’s roots then realized the storm had uncovered the root cellar.
Todd, a single father, and his children, 11-year-old Joy and 10-year-old Alex, began digging up a treasure trove of items. Todd believes some of the items belonged to the previous owners of the property that was purchased by his grandparents.
“My sister-in-law enlightened me on the stuff found in the cellar,” Todd said. “The stuff stashed away is stuff that people that had just lived through the Depression kept — anything of value like a nice bottle or something. They must have kept it because they had went so long without.”
Todd and his children have uncovered rubbing alcohol jars, federal whiskey bottles, jars and lids for canning, medicine bottles — some with droppers, ladies facial cream jars, perfume bottles, Lysol bottles, hair tonic bottles and more.
He has heard an iron dinner bell was also buried in the cellar.
“I’m afraid when we find the bell it is going to be decayed,” he said.
Some items recovered have decomposed over time, including a pair of boots. Todd said even though he could tell what they were, they fell apart as they were uncovered.
“I didn’t know what to think about this,” he said, holding up a rusted metal box. “It looks like a little money box, but everything in it is decayed. If it had anything … any documents, they are gone.”
The jars did just fine, Todd said. “They prospered in the dirt.”
The cellar is a little larger than Todd anticipated.
“My mother described it, and I had pictured maybe a 5-by-5-foot cellar. They would have used it to keep potatoes and onions during the winter. But, after they got electricity and refrigerators, they must not have needed it anymore.”
The cellar has become an adventure for Todd and his children.
“We are having a ball,” he said.
Some of Todd’s favorite finds are the fancy whiskey jars, like those used during Prohibition.
The first bottle he found had a checkerboard pattern.
“It’s probably the most valuable because of its name brand,” he said. “It’s a Ball.”
He also uncovered a little girl’s porcelain doll made in Japan.
“I can just imagine the child not wanting to bury that little broken doll,” he said.
Other items include an old metal toothpaste tube, a comb, the lid to a butter churn, an insulator for an electric fence and more. Todd uncovered an old tin sign he believes was used for something else — possibly to repair a tractor.
Todd is especially interested in corner jars as well. The bottles were made to sit in the corner of a medicine cabinet to save room.
Others that pique his interest include ribbed jars. Todd said the jars are ribbed so when someone went into the bathroom — during the days before rural electrification — they would know if it was ribbed, it was poisonous and you weren’t suppose to drink it. “That’s from what I’ve been told anyway,” he said.
Another favorite find is an unbroken Certo bottle — a product used to make jellies and jams — which has an interesting root growing inside.
“I’m intrigued by them,” he said. “It just amazes me. I don’t know much about some of them.”
Todd plans to keep on digging. He doesn’t want to remove the tree — which turned green this spring — until he has uncovered the root cellar in its entirety.
“It has been a neat discovery,” he said, adding, “I figure there is reason some of the items were thrown in a hole.”