There's a wonderful article in the New York Times about The Old Neighbors, or the people who lived in our buildings and homes before we did.
We live here in the traces of others' lives," said Richard Rabinowitz, president of the American History Workshop, based in Brooklyn. "It can be a great kick to imagine the people who preceded us. It's the way great literature works, in that it lets you project yourself into multiple possibilities.
Nearly every home or apartment I've lived in has been built before WWII, most before WWI, and I've always found myself imagining the lives of the occupants before me. For some reason I was especially prone to this in my San Francisco apartment, wondering, as I used the same stove countless other women had used over the years, if a young woman stood in my exact spot, listening to FDR on the radio while she roasted a chicken for dinner, perhaps worried about a friend or lover overseas, fighting a war.
The article mentions the term 'genealogy of place,' which I wasn't familiar with but is perfect. I find my mind wonders most often in that direction. Looking down at the slate sidewalks in the West Village, I often wonder about the petticoats and silk skirts that brushed its surface, of the women that walked the very sidewalks so long before me. Sadly I think I've missed a great opportunity to find out about the history of our building. The woman across the hall, who'd lived in her apartment since 1967, moved out last month. I'll have to begin my investigations with someone else.