Imagine you're remodeling an old house. You open a wall, to re-plaster it for instance, or maybe to install some wiring. You peel away the old, tattered paper, knock away the crumbling horsehair plaster, remove the laths, and an old shoe falls on your head. Or a mummified cat; a bottle of urine, hair, and nail clippings; or even some ancient, crusty underwear! All these things and more have been found entombed in the walls of old houses throughout Europe and the eastern United States.
Shoes: Also known as 'concealment shoes', the practice of hiding footwear in the walls, chimneys, and attic spaces of houses dates back to 14th century England and may be based on prehistoric ritual in which human sacrifices were buried at the site of a new dwelling, presumably to ward off evil spirits. At some point, shoes were used as a substitute for a sacrificed human, thank goodness. By the early 1900's this practice had died out.
Witch Bottles: These were small bottles filled with urine, hair, nail clippings and red thread. These were also tucked away in walls and other hidden areas of the house in order to counteract a witch's curse. One of these discovered witch bottles dated back to the 17th century. Nothing livens up your day like finding a bottle of 400 year old pee in your house!
Cats: As a crazy cat lady, I don't care too much for this old tradition. Dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, the practice was also for warding off evil and bad luck. Whether or not the unfortunate felines were still alive when they were entombed is uncertain, but I for one hope they were already deceased. Poor kitties!
Underwear: I wasn't able to dig up too much information on this odd little tradition, but raggedy underwear (and outerwear) has indeed been discovered stashed away in the walls of houses dating back to the 16th century, presumably for good luck and happiness—or maybe someone was just trying to get out of doing the laundry.
I was working at a hotel in South Lake Tahoe many years ago, and when I unscrewed a wall vent to vacuum out the dust, I found my own wall treasure: a 1950's era Brown Derby beer can. My guess is that one of the construction workers had himself a liquid lunch when the hotel was being built. I don’t know if it’s worth anything, but it makes for a great conversation piece.