An Old House, a Knife and a Cat

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!

Of course I had to check out the museum’s Connecticut Patents Database to see if anyone named Patrick had a patent. Many names popped up, but there was one that caught my eye for a strange reason. It’s a bit of a story, but what the heck, we Irish always have a story to tell.

My family and I live in an old house, circa 1840 or so. I grew up in this house then bought it from my parents several years ago, so I’m pretty familiar with its quirks and irregularities. It’s not a big house, but it’s got a good size chunk of land to go with it. Years ago parts of the property were used as a trash dump by surrounding houses. (a common thing back before trash collection). So growing up here I was quite used to finding stuff as I explored the property, dug holes, (to my father’s discontent), or built forts in the woods that surround the house. I still find stuff all the time especially when doing yard work or working in the garden. Pieces of kaolin pipe, broken ceramics, bottles, cow and pig bones, old toys etc. Last year I even dragged out my old archaeology tools and did a mini excavation with my boys. They loved it and of course we found stuff. The day’s prize was an old glass baby bottle which now sits on our kitchen window sill.

So yesterday after work I’m outside with the boys who are running around the yard like minks who just escaped their cages. Spring fever had kicked them into overdrive! As I watch them I catch a glimpse of sunlight reflecting off something in the yard near our woods. I go to investigate and what I find shocks even me. (Thank god my wife wasn’t there or she would have totally freaked out.) It’s a knife blade, sticking completely out of the soil like it was from some B grade horror flick. Being the good historian/ex archaeologist that I am I examine it for clues to its past. Unfortunately the handle was long gone and rust had wiped out any identifying marks on the blade. The boys wanted to see it but were more curious as to how it got there. I explained to them how a long time ago people often just threw their trash in the woods or sometimes burned it to get rid of it. And also that with all the heavy rain we’ve had lately sometimes old stuff will appear from below the ground. Then I put it in away with a bunch of other stuff we’ve found. ( I just told my wife about it this morning…….her reaction and mine were somewhat different.)

So, what does this have to do with a Connecticut invention? Well, one of the names that showed up on our database was that of Daniel Fitzpatrick of West Winsted who was granted a patent in 1866. What was his patent for? “An Improvement in Cutlery“.  A knife for Pete’s sake! (Maybe a fork too, but I didn’t find one of those.) And it looks strangely like the one I found protruding from the soil barely 12 hours earlier!! I’m sure it’s not one of his designs, but the coincidence of all this is pretty cool.

Apparently I’m not the only one finding sharp objects in their backyard. Check out this from New Zealand

So what about the cat in my title? Well, it’s got nothing to do with a CT inventor. It’s St. Patrick’s Day, I’m Irish and one of my favorite Irish poems comes from the 8th century and was written (maybe) by an Irish monk translating ancient texts. It’s called “Pangur Ban”. Pangur is the cat’s name and Ban means the cat was white. I have a white cat, so to her and all of you here it is translated into English…………

Pangur Ban

I and Pangur Ban, my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at;
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill will;
He, too, plies his simple skill.

‘Tis a merry thing to see
At our task how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
Into the hero Pangur’s way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den.
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our tasks we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine, and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade ;
I get wisdom day and night,
Turning Darkness into light.’

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