“The House on Loon Lake”


During my time as a kid in Somerset County, a bunch of us plundered the trash of the old lady on the next block. This was the neighbor girl’s idea. We brought home many treasures from the old lady’s spring cleaning efforts: Blank stationary. Decorative Boxes. Costume jewelry.

We mortified my parents. They made us return everything to the old lady’s trash can. We protested but Mom stood firm.

Years later, my friend L.’s family member drove past a couch sitting on a curb and took it home. Because they needed a “new” couch.  I spent hundreds of hours chilling on that couch. The couch served them well.

People find treasures in other people’s discarded stuff.

So, anyway, last fall I listened to a podcast episode of “This American Life” from November 16, 2001, titled “The House at Loon Lake.” That podcast reminded me of the time that I went through my neighbor’s trash.

So, anyway, here’s my recap of “The House at Loon Lake“:

When the narrator Adam Beckman was a teenager, he and his friends worked on maintenance at a summer camp in rural Freedom, New Hampshire. They found in Freedom an old abandoned house. They entered this house and explored it. A house full of another family’s stuff.  Beckman returned  time and again and took things.  Stacks of letters. A newspaper from 1939. A wallet.

After Beckman confessed everything to his mom, she, too, explored the empty house. Mom Beckman tried to remove a cradle from the house’s second story, but the house’s neighbors stopped her.

Decades later, Beckman searched for the people who owned all of this stuff. He tried to meet the living members of this family. Then the narrator and his mom read the contents of this other family’s letters over the air for “This American Life.”

I wonder, “Is this ethical?”

But also, “Why did this family who owned this house just walk away from everything?”

Here is an excerpt from the transcript:

I arrive in Freedom August 2, and a parade is marching through the center of town. It’s Old Home Week, the annual homecoming festival, an event created by the governor to combat problems of abandoned homes and farms in New Hampshire, all the way back in 1898. After the Civil War, young people had left the state in droves for better land and opportunities they had noticed.

See, the events in this podcast could have easily taken place in Western Pennsylvania. I grew up south of Somerset, and all of my close high school friends left Pennsylvania after school. I went to Saint Vincent in Latrobe, and all of my close college friends left Pennsylvania after school. I have three sisters and also a sister-in-law who left Pennsylvania after school. Also aunts and uncles and cousins who did this. (Some came back. Some won’t.)

Anyway, these were some of my thoughts about “The House  At Loon Lake.” If you also enjoy podcasts, you might get a kick out of this one.