Urban Archeologist: The Meaning of a Life

Discovering a person in the things they left behind.


General Semantics, Harry Maynard, Patch House & Home, Tag Sale-ing, and Urban ArcheologistSomeone once suggested to me that I really should call this “Urban Anthropology” simply for the reason that I spend as much time studying people as I do the things they (we) collect.

A sale in Westport last weekend led me to that very conclusion. From the images you can see this was a true dig. Piles upon piles of paper, old books, etc. in a medium sized tudor estate.  Rarely do I know what I am walking into and therein lies the mystery to be solved.

Searching through the papers I discovered that the owner(s) were interested in music and marketing. There were also piles of sheet music and an equal number of reports on marketing, language and communication.

As I traveled from room to room it became clear that this sale had been well picked over (I was there on the last day). When this happens, my interest in specific items diminishes and the story of the estate takes over in the form of a quest to reconstruct a history. Who lived here and what did they do?

After pulling a few business cards from an attic crawl space, I learned that the home belonged to Harry E. Maynard. The sale was the liquidation of his estate after passing at the age of 93 in August of 2012. Harry E. Maynard's life was full of meaning.

Aside from his careers as sales and advertising managers for Columbia Records and Time, Inc. and Life International, Harry followed the study of General Semantics and shared his knowledge of this topic by teaching courses at New York and Columbia Universities. Before finding this estate sale I could have never come close to a one sentence definition of General Semantics.

General Semantics' aim is to improve one's ability to evaluate the world and one's place in it. This is according to the New York Society for General Semantics. Harry was revered for his study of GS and the work of his own General Semantics Foundation. In 2010 the NYSGS honored him with a scholarship in his name for undergraduates pursuing this study.

Like most sales I have to leave before my work is complete. I still want to know more of Harry E. Maynard and the things he knew. Unfortunately, the path to his experience and knowledge grows faint as each day passes. There's plenty on the internet if I want to learn more about General Semantics, but my brief time at his estate sale is the closest I'll ever get to the man.

Even when I can't satisfy the Archeologist or Anthropologist in me, I still relish in the hunt.

Harry left behind a puzzle: Can you can solve the mystery of the tag and string?

Greg Van Antwerp is a Brookfield resident and blogger, who can be found on the weekends in search of a good “dig” or a good story. You can read more about his adventures by visiting his blog.

Al Brecken February 23, 2013 at 08:51 PM
"Industrial Archaeology" ?; I doubt that I am not the only person to have a "This Was Meant To Be" reaction when finding something you have an avid interest in , and you never even knew it existed. It's the one sucess out of a hundred that make the searches worthwhile and so enjoyable. I was assisting Jet Lowe , a noted industrial photographer , in photographing the Cos Cob Power Plant prior to it's demolition. Quite by chance I "stumbled" in to a very dark room in a obscure corner of the powerhouse and found a "cache" of old blueprints and documents .with much diverse historical information on the Power Plant and the electrification of the New Haven RR. I was very pleased to have made this "discovery" and the opprotunity to preserve this historical material. I gave enough documents to fill five file-boxes to the HSTG ,in addition to rolls of blueprints.The rest was donated the the Archives of the Dodd Researh Center at Storrs. As to the "documentation photographs", of the Power Palnt ,they can be viewed on-line. Do a WSS for "Built in America" ( Library of Congress WS ) and in the Search-Slot ( top left ) insert "Cos Cob". The "New York, New Hampshire , and Hartford RR " is an ( obvious ) error.
Greg Van Antwerp February 24, 2013 at 01:12 PM
Great find Al! Thanks for sharing. I will take a look for those photos.
Vinh February 24, 2013 at 03:02 PM
Vinh As Al Brechen had mentioned, I too had "This Was Meant To Be" reaction specifically to Greg's topic on the passing of Harry E Maynard at the age of 93. I had pleaded God to let my mother live until some youthful age of 93 but she had left us after a cardiac arrest. Thanks to my siblings, Mom's funeral went through without a glitch. She was next to Dad who passed away some 13 years ago. After reading a eulogy for Mom at mass and gone to her burial site at Mount Hope Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson yesterday on Saturday, February 23, 2013 I had decided to look at the current cost of getting a cemetery plot in Greenwich. As I was going to do that search on the internet this Sunday morning after a night of restful sleep (I was deprived of sleep for close to 2 weeks during Mom's ordeal at the CICU), I found this article. So, what is Mom's garage sale going to be? I'm glad to say that there won't be any since we had taken the time to optimize her belongings due to space constraints. We only need to share her prayer books, several rosaries, jewelry, and clothes. I will claim her prayer books and the rosary from Jerusalem. What Mom had left us can't be sold. It's a treasure that will nurture us for the rest of our life. She left us a legacy of perseverance and unconditional love. Above all she loved God. Our love for Mom will continue by living her spirit.
Greg Van Antwerp February 25, 2013 at 12:03 AM
Vinh, First, I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing the coincidence in finding this article. I often feel as though I am arriving after the party at these sales. I tread lightly because I realize I'm in someone else's home and am thankful for the opportunity to learn about the the history of the places I visit. I hope my articles reflect that respectfully. I have to add: Thank you! to a reader who emailed me with a fond recollection of Harry's wife, Natalie who passed away in 2012. This fills in more detail about what I saw at the sale. Read below (note-I mistakenly reported that Harry passed away in 2012 when it was actually 2011- my apologies for the error): another piece to the puzzle... I was one of the students that had piano lessons at this house. Harry's wife Natalie was not just any piano teacher, she had a huge amount of significance in the music world. Hope this helps put the pieces together a little. http://www.westport-news.com/news/article/Natalie-Ryshna-Maynard-pianist-dies-at-85-3391633.php


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