Posts made in April 2012

6 Weird Things You Would Never Expect to Find in Chimneys

What do dead bodies, burglars, nearly $1.5 million dollars and poison have to do with each other? You might think this is the latest Guy Ritchie screenplay, but you’d be wrong. The truth is that all of these things have been found inside chimneys. It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, really, since people don’t usually spend too much time looking up their flue (though they really should). Think about it; when’s the last time you inspected your own chimney?

#6 Proof that DDT Kills Birds

Chimney swifts & chimney repair in Mclean VA

Researchers at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario made a strange discovery in a decommissioned Chimney in a campus building – over fifty years’ worth of bird droppings. Researchers dug in (literally) and found that the bird droppings showed sharp decreases in beetles in the diet of insect-eating birds that frequented the chimney. The dramatic decline of the beetle population was due to the use of the infamous chemical DDT, which the beetles were especially susceptible to.  This, in turn, lead to a decrease of the population of the swifts that used the chimney, further damaging the already notorious reputation of the DDT compound.

#5 More than £870,000 in cash

On the other side of the pond in the UK, police found £871,495 up the chimney stack in the Bradford home of Baber Bashir, a conman who had acquired his ill-gotten gains largely through an unspecified fraud. Found tucked in his chimney, the cash amounted to just around $1.5 million USD by today’s standards, making it easily the most valuable chimney in Bradford. That is, before all the money was confiscated by the police and Mr. Bashir and company were locked up for their crimes.

#4 Dead cats and shoes

On the other side of the world in Australia, you might not be too surprised to find a dead cat or a shoe inside your chimney. Reason being, early Australian settlers were very superstitious, and often would hide either a shoe or, in some more morbid cases, a dead cat inside their chimneys. The practice is believed to have come to Australia by way Britain from an ancient Roman practice to ward off evil spirits. Homeowners put these totems in parts of their homes where evil spirits might lurk.

#3 A Burglar

Believe it or not, Santa can serve as an inspiration for more than just altruism. In Georgia, an Atlanta area teen took a page out of the red-suited man’s book when he tried to burglarize a home by slipping through the chimney. After spending ten hours overnight trapped in the flue, he finally cried for help and caught the attention of a neighbor who called the police. After getting pulled from the flue, he went from out of the fire and into the frying pan as he was immediately arrested. To add fuel to the flames, the would-be-burglar made another poor choice by providing police with a false name when they arrested him, really putting him in ‘hot water’.

#2 A Letter to Santa (from 1912)

On a lighter note on the Santa side of things, a Dublin, Ireland man found a note to Santa when cleaning his fireplace; but not just any note. This note, believed to be penned by Hannah and Alfred Howard, somehow survived 100 years on a shelf on the inside of the fireplace. Despite constant use of the fireplace throughout that entire time, the letter has only a small amount of burn damage and is in remarkably good condition. Featuring a detailed, if terse, list of toys and treats the two children desired, it ends with a friendly ‘Good Luck’, and has a few illustrations to go along with it.

#1 A Dead Body (from 1984)


There’s no shortage of bodies found in chimneys, as they seem to make a good hiding place for less-savory characters, but this particular body has a pretty interesting history behind it. Joseph Schexnider, a former National Guard serviceman, was due to appear in court in 1984, an appearance that he never made. Known in his family for frequently skipping town, they thought little of it. For twenty-seven years, they presumed that he was on the lamb from charges of possession of a stolen vehicle. Then, in May of 2011, the local bank began renovating it’s second floor, previously used only as storage space. Inside the chimney they discovered Joseph’s remains. He hadn’t suffered any broken bones or apparent trauma, so investigators ruled the death accidental.

And the list goes on…

Chimneys are strange places – even though many households have and use them it’s rare that homeowners take a peek and see what might be hidden from view. Take a look, and maybe you’ll find something for us to feature in a future sequel to this post! Although you probably won’t find any treasure, you should be checking for creosote build-up, for the safety of your family. Build-up’s can be dangerous, and if they catch fire, they can burn your entire house down to the ground. Take a look up there today!

Find anything strange in your chimney? Let us know in the comments below.


The History Behind the Hat – Part Two

This post is part two of a two-part series on the history behind some of the most common urban legends surrounding chimney sweeps. To read part one, click here!

So when we last left off, we talked about where the traditional top hat and tails look came from, and we mentioned our next popular myth about the chimney sweep – they make great wedding guests. You might think this has something to do with the formal get-up, but you’d be mistaken – it actually comes from a much different part of the chimney sweeps history.

history behind the Chimney sweeps in Darnestown MDLucky Catch


Legend has it that in the 1700s , King George II was riding in a procession when a wild dog burst from the crowd, yipping and snarling. The dog so startled the horse King George sat atop that it began bucking wildly and he lost control of its halter. As the horse bucked and jumped, a sweep came forward from the crowd and caught  the halter, calming the wild horse and potentially saving the King from grievous injury or death. The King is said to have declared chimney sweeps lucky from that point forward, and the custom of regarding sweeps as sources of luck spread rapidly throughout Europe.

Brides are thought to have an especially lucky marriage if they’re kissed on the cheek by a sweep the day of their wedding, and even shaking the hand of a sweep you meet on the street is thought to bring good luck. To this day, it is customary in German society to give gifts of figurine sweeps around New Years as signs of luck, and it is considered especially lucky to meet a sweep on New Years Day, a sign of good luck for the year.

In Great Britain it’s believed that a wedding with a sweep in attendance portents a happy and successful union, so much so that many families make a point of inviting their chimney sweep to their weddings. The practice is so common that it’s not unusual for a sweep to make himself available to rent as a wedding guest for more superstitious couples.

Do you have any old family superstitions that you still follow? Let us know in the comments!

The History Behind the Hat – Part One

Do you know why the traditional chimney sweep is adorned in a fine beaver top hat? The answer might surprise you. How about why chimney sweeps make good wedding guests? No?

Widely considered one of the oldest professions in the world, the chimney sweep has been a necessity since the urbanization of modern cities precluded by the Industrial Revolution. As urban areas became more densely populated and spaces began filling in with homes, chimneys multiplied like wildfire. The increase in population and chimney use lead to a boom in chimney sweeps. This sudden ubiquity of chimney sweeps and their sustained presence has led to quite a few urban legends attaching themselves to the profession.

history behind the Chimney sweeps in Darnestown MDThe Tails and Top Hat

One of the more iconic features of the chimney sweep is the traditional top hat and tails, still worn by many sweeps in the field today. Although there are no concrete sources of evidence on the origination of the top and tails look, popular wisdom says they originated from the hands of funeral directors in the 17th and 18th centuries onwards.

At the time, chimney sizes had been newly regulated to a very narrow set of dimensions following the Great Fire in London in 1666. This led to the practice of sweeps ‘employing’ boys to climb the narrow chimneys and sweep them; in fact, legend has it that the phrase ‘to light a fire underneath you’ comes from the practice of sweeps lighting small fires underneath reluctant boys to ensure the only way they were getting out was through the top of the chimney.

This, of course, was a deplorable practice and was very dangerous and unhealthy for the young boys. Sweeps apprentices were at risk for cancers, fatal falls, and permanent bodily injury from inhalation of soot. Worse still, they were routinely robbed by their ‘masters’ and left with little more than the soot sacks they carried for warmth. Funeral directors are said to have taken pity on the young boys and have given them the top hats and coattails of the deceased.

The top hat and coats were said to have given sweeps a measure of pride in their work, and soon caught on as the de facto uniform of chimney sweeps, which has stuck right into the present day.

Now, being well-dressed doesn’t necessarily make you a shoo-in for any wedding invitation – so why is it that inviting chimney sweeps is a popular wedding tradition? Find out why in Part Two!