Conversation with Ms. J

by Josh on November 21, 2005 · 1 comment

in House History,Journal

From my recent trips to the library to research the house history I have the obituary for the original owner of Bungalow ‘23. The obituary was helpful to add some details to the biography of this person about which I knew very little, but it didn’t tell me anything about the house or how the family lived here.

Even though Dr. Widen died 1982, I thought it couldn’t hurt to try looking up the surviving children listed in his 23-year-old obituary. Directory search for the first daughter: nothing. Directory search for the second daughter: eureka!

I called Dr. Widen’s second daughter, Ms. J, and introduced myself as the current owner of a house in Minneapolis that I believe had been built for her parents. After I explained how I had tracked her down, Ms. J was happy to talk with me about her recollections of the house.

Ms. J said that the house was built in 1923 as the first home for her parents to live in following their wedding. The Widens had a daughter within a year or so, and Ms. J was born two years later in 1926. Two more daughters followed. I wish I had thought to ask Ms. J if she was born in the house– her father was a medical doctor and home deliveries were very common in those days. I’ll have to correspond with her about that.

The Widens sold the house in 1937, so Ms. J was still quite young when they moved out. Here are a few of the anecdotes she shared with me:

  • Ms. J asked if there was a bathroom upstairs now. I said that there was as part of our master bedroom suite. When Ms. J and her sisters lived there, the girls slept upstairs and there was no bathroom. Ms. J recalled having a potty pot in their room that it was her job to carry downstairs to empty each morning.
  • When I confirmed for Ms. J that the house has a fireplace, she told me that there had been a fire in the house probably around 1930. They used to stack wood for the fireplace in the basement near the boiler. At some point the wood pile collapsed up against the boiler and ignited. The family had to move out for a few weeks while the damage was repaired.
  • Ms. J also gave me a word of warning about the laundry chute. The chute is really just a hole in the floor inside a linen cabinet and apparently Ms. J’s oldest sister fell down the chute as a child and was injured. I assured her that we have childproofed this safety risk.
  • Perhaps the most interesting story Ms. J told is about a missing piece of the house. Dr. Widen built a playhouse for his girls in the backyard. When they moved, the playhouse moved with them. Apparently the playhouse has moved once or twice more since then but still exists in a backyard a few miles away in Roseville, MN. Ms. J said that when she was in the Twin Cities visiting relatives last year, she stopped by the current home of the playhouse and showed it to some of her grandchildren.
  • Ms. J’s father, Dr. Widen, was not just a successful doctor. He was a semi-professional tennis player who travelled nationally for tournaments. He was also active in church organizations and has a seminary residence hall named for him at Bethel University here in the Twin Cities.

Ms. J gave me contact information for her two living sisters, one of whom lives in the western Minneapolis suburbs. She agreed to send me copies of any old photographs of the house she has; I invited her to come by and visit the house any time she is in town.

As a personal aside, all of this house research is a bit ironic for me. My senior year of college I changed my major from history to english partly to avoid the history major capstone requirement of writing an original primary source history. It took nine years, but I’ve finally come around. It may be too late to get credit from my alma mater, but in my vast catalog of procrastinated projects, this is surely a capstone.

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