– Stitched seaweed

Our house, which is currently undergoing dramatic structural changes, was built in 1938, according to our town’s property records. Nine years ago we bought and moved into it. We have learned much about it and previous owners since then.

At the closing, the lawyer for the bank remarked, as he studied the paperwork probably for the first time, “Oh, I know this house. It’s the bad luck house.” And he told us about financial reversals, domestics woes, and crimes committed in the house.

We learned more about the crimes, especially, a few months after we moved in, at a party that our new neighbors (and now friends), Rich and Julie Ross, threw. A woman was there who had, in high school, dated a boy in the family; she got caught up in an investigation as the local police and the FBI prepared to nab various family members for drug trafficking. They nabbed them.

When I dig in the yard and the shovel hits metal or unearths a buried strip of plastic, my first, impulsive thought is that I’ve come across a stash of money or a bundle of bones.

I haven’t, yet.

The garage walls are punctuated with covered cavities, and I wonder if little bags of cocaine were stored there.

I have found no supporting evidence.

Interior walls of the house were mirrored — beautifully and expensively, like a hotel lobby — when we moved in, and I wondered what was behind the mirrors.

It turns out (we’ve had them all removed, over time), nothing.

Once, as workers took out the old dishwasher and installed the new, we found a lost snapshot of a little girl and a fatherly man, standing together by a little swimming pool in the backyard. They looked happy. Carved into the paneled walls of the finished part of the basement are traces of people who have moved away: “Steve + Joan 70-71.”

Over the years of our ownership, there have been lots of repairs and cosmetic projects in our house on Puddingstone Road, but nothing major until now. Builders are ripping down walls and reframing them into other room configurations. A bathroom floor and tub have made their way into the dumpster; I see grayed, creaky boards where they once sat. Old ceiling plaster has been pried and brushed loose. Shreds of insulation drift down, like ghosts released.

Here’s a picture of the insulation in the ceiling over what used to be Jimmy and my closet:

Cabot’s Quilt

The stuffing, it turns out, is eelgrass, that profuse plant that washes up on ocean beaches all over the world. In 1893, Samuel Cabot, a chemist who graduated from MIT and Switzerland’s Zurich Polytechnicum, having learned that “early settlers had used eelgrass as a crude home insulation,” invented Cabot’s Quilt, clumps of the dried ocean plant stitched between brown paper. A six-inch layer of it is as effective as fiberglass, according to one source. There is a one-inch layer of it in our walls. Brrrr.

On the brown paper is stamped words: Samuel Cabot. Boston. One yard. Cabot’s. Those were the clues that helped me find the story (thank you, Google!) of this curious insulation, which went out of production in the 1940’s, although Samuel Cabot Inc. still exists.

When the foolish, unfiltered banker told us in 1999, at the signing of documents that made this house ours, that “bad luck” was associated with it, I retorted (politely), that it was up to us to “make it the good luck house.”

Although I think it is unfortunate that much of our house remains poorly and archaicly insulated, I am also pleased to discover that the walls around us are stuffed with a kind of leaf, stitched between paper that’s faintly printed with words.

Eelgrass from Cabot\'s Quilt

Is that karma or what?

5 thoughts on “– Stitched seaweed

  1. This story is so cool. My parents had a wall replaced in there home
    yesterday do to carpenter ants and discovered the insulation around the windows
    was seaweed. I am woundering now how old the house is. I know they have lived there for 60 years. Would be so neat to find out. It is now Sept.25th 2010. Would anyone know when seaweed was used for insulation?

  2. Hi,
    Thanks for your interesting story of your house. Hope you are lucky in there!
    I want to ask you for a favor.
    I am researching the insolation of a house from 1917. it looks like Cabot‘s Quilt 2 eelgrass insulation. Unfortunately the house was gutted recently. There are only tiny residual patches of that insulation left. The house is now on the agenda to being landmarked as historic. It would be fabulos to have a picture with a larger stretch of Quilt insolation to demonstrate this in front of that committee. If you agree, I could use your picture for demomstration. Maybe you can emsil it to me. Thanks!

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