Rat’s nest uncovers ‘Hidden History’ at The Valentine

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A mystery has been solved behind the walls of a second-floor bed chamber at the 1812 John Wickham House on East Clay Street. This museum looking at the life of a wealthy early 19th-century family is part of The Valentine.

Clues about how the family really lived come from the unlikeliest of sources, well beyond what any written records provide.

“Looks like it was part of a buckle,” David Voelkel thumbs through the findings. “Here we have a cut nail.”

Voelkel, The Valentine’s Elise H. Wright Curator of General Collections, wears gloves as he carefully sorts through remnants of a rat’s nest. Historians located it in the late 1980’s during the original restoration of the Wickham House.

“Most people would be, like, ‘Ew, gross,’ but for historians we actually get very excited,” Voelkel says about the rat’s nest.

It includes so many relics from the family’s time at the home in the 1800’s, including buttons, a wishbone left over from a family meal and more.

“Bits of glass and metal, fragments of wallpaper and trim,” adds Voelkel, pointing out the treasures to 8News Anchor Amy Lacey.

Voelkel says the strip of wallpaper in the rat’s nest is the greatest find of all.

“We’re now working on reprinting that wallpaper this year to restore to the room that it came from. It’s what was called a swag and drapery pattern, which was very popular, fashionable about 1820.”

Findings from the rat’s nest just made it back on display at the Wickham House cellars interpretation, which opened in April.

Voelkel says the nest was maintained over generations, and if offers a unique perspective by what you could call some of the home’s earliest inhabitants,

“The term pack rat has real resonance,” he chuckles.

The Valentine hopes to have the wallpaper installed by the Christmas season.

Guests can learn more about the rat’s nest during tours of the Wickham House, which are offered Tuesday through Sunday from 10:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. The Valentine is located at 1015 East Clay Street in Richmond.

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