21 Aug 2014
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Urban Archeologist: The Meaning of a Life

Discovering a person in the things they left behind.

Urban Archeologist: The Meaning of a Life Urban Archeologist: The Meaning of a Life Urban Archeologist: The Meaning of a Life Urban Archeologist: The Meaning of a Life Urban Archeologist: The Meaning of a Life Urban Archeologist: The Meaning of a Life Urban Archeologist: The Meaning of a Life


Someone once suggested to me that I really should call this “Urban Anthropology” simply for the reason that I spend as much time studying people as I do the things they (we) collect.

A sale in Westport last weekend led me to that very conclusion. From the images you can see this was a true dig. Piles upon piles of paper, old books, etc. in a medium sized tudor estate.  Rarely do I know what I am walking into and therein lies the mystery to be solved.

Searching through the papers I discovered that the owner(s) were interested in music and marketing. There were also piles of sheet music and an equal number of reports on marketing, language and communication.

As I traveled from room to room it became clear that this sale had been well picked over (I was there on the last day). When this happens, my interest in specific items diminishes and the story of the estate takes over in the form of a quest to reconstruct a history. Who lived here and what did they do?

After pulling a few business cards from an attic crawl space, I learned that the home belonged to Harry E. Maynard. The sale was the liquidation of his estate after passing at the age of 93 in August of 2012. Harry E. Maynard's life was full of meaning.

Aside from his careers as sales and advertising managers for Columbia Records and Time, Inc. and Life International, Harry followed the study of General Semantics and shared his knowledge of this topic by teaching courses at New York and Columbia Universities. Before finding this estate sale I could have never come close to a one sentence definition of General Semantics.

General Semantics' aim is to improve one's ability to evaluate the world and one's place in it. This is according to the New York Society for General Semantics. Harry was revered for his study of GS and the work of his own General Semantics Foundation. In 2010 the NYSGS honored him with a scholarship in his name for undergraduates pursuing this study.

Like most sales I have to leave before my work is complete. I still want to know more of Harry E. Maynard and the things he knew. Unfortunately, the path to his experience and knowledge grows faint as each day passes. There's plenty on the internet if I want to learn more about General Semantics, but my brief time at his estate sale is the closest I'll ever get to the man.

Even when I can't satisfy the Archeologist or Anthropologist in me, I still relish in the hunt.

Harry left behind a puzzle: Can you can solve the mystery of the tag and string?

Greg Van Antwerp is a Brookfield resident and blogger, who can be found on the weekends in search of a good “dig” or a good story. You can read more about his adventures by visiting his blog.

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