Holy Rosary

The Holy Rosary

By Koenig © 1912, Plaster figures in a oak box, oak wooden handles turn a contained paper scroll depicting the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary, measures 35.5 cm x 60.5 cm and is 9.5 cm deep.

This Holy Rosary Box looks very similar to the Extremunction Box. I have never seen another one quite like this, so I suspect it is somewhat unusual. Below the plaster figures in the extremunction box is a compartment which holds accessories. Behind the casing on this Holy Rosary Box, below the plaster figures, is a scroll. It isn't visible in this image, but there are two handles that permit you to turn through the paper scroll depicting the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary: the Five Joyful Mysteries, Five Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Five Glorious Mysteries. All of these Mysteries are somehow connected to the number of beads on a rosary and the repetition of certain prayers the beads represent. But I forget the details of that symbolism.

The Holy Rosary box is about the same size as the Extremunction Box. They were obtained at the same place, an old Victorian house in Springfield, Massachusetts. In fact this house, and its contents were paramount in curing me from acquiring even more Grot.

My friend Ellen called me one day. A distant cousin of her's had died intestate, and she had been named executress of the will, would I be interested in helping her at least view and settle the contents?

We drove up to the house the following Saturday, and looking at it from the exterior, it had been neglected for some time. We went in and were stunned at what met our eyes. A house filled with the lifetime accumulation of things. All kinds of things-- 30 years or more of Wall Street Journals were piled high in relatively neat stacks in the foyer. That was just our welcome. As we went through the house, that day and subsequent days for purposes of assessment, organization and cleaning, we learned so much more.

Nellie had been the owner of the house, and she was Ellen's mother's cousin. Irish by birth, she had settled in Springfield with her parents and her brother, obtaining a job in a factory as a young girl. Nellie never married, and after her parents has passed away, she continued to live in the house with her brother, surviving his death as sole owner. The impact of immigration, the depression and the war was evident everywhere in the house. The need to be frugal and not wasteful financially or with things. We saw every piece of mail, including junk mail, the family ever received. There were cartons full of pens, pencils and other advertising memorabilia, such as thermometers. In the basement was a surplus of canned goods left over from the second world war and the rationing that it had necessitated. We learned about Nellie, that she had worked for Carter's and we found a bureau full of tee-shirts as a testament to her employment. She had been a seamstress, and had contributed to the creation of "seconds," less than perfect clothing that she later bought at a tremendous discount and would bring home to repair. In the house were items that had belonged to previous generations, such as boned corsets and christening gowns and we wondered if they had ever been used. We found items that had belonged to prior owners of the house, left in haste or in indifference, including old letters, furniture and negatives.

On and on it went, everywhere we looked. It was overwhelming, we had difficulty visualizing a place to begin, never mind an ending point. It was a situation where, amid the junk, were certain treasures, whether that be an interpretation for the person who had owed the item, or a potential antique dealer. It was the ultimate grot house and by sorting through the clutter, we were in the position to eavesdrop into the lives of the people who had contributed to it all.

As Ellen and I spent many a weekend in this house it began to make us both realize that this would perhaps be our future, if our own collecting habits continued to remain unmodified and random. It was what I would imagine Dante's hell for antique collectors to be, the ultimate excess unchained. Sometimes I imagine this might still be my task in purgatory, should purgatory exist -- that or housework. This experience made both Ellen and I permanently amend our ways in the area of collectibles, and we both now have the ability to drive past a yard sale without a second glance. That may be the ultmate mystery of the Holy Rosary for the two of us--Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious.

© Laurel O'Donnell, 1995-8, all rights reserved
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Laurel O'Donnell
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