Ancient garages and the legend of Fred Markey

No, wait, that was a Dirty Harry movie. It’s possible I’m mixing up the story a bit, but trust me when I say that was one honkin’ huge spider, and Clint would have screamed like a little girl and run three miles without stopping, like I did.

My garage is not historically significant, so far as I know. There are many out there of the same age; one I’m interested in was moved in 1930 to the Ernest Weeks’ farm, west of Albion. It was Albion’s second fire station, and became an outbuilding on that farm when the Town Hall was built in its place. I don’t know where the farm was, but if that building was still standing we’d be talking really cool history.

On the other hand, my garage is older than that firehouse. According to official records my house was built in 1900, but many local buildings have that official construction date. It turns out old records were lost – in a fire, I’m told – and everything was rerecorded at the turn of the century.

That cleared up the mystery of why my garage seemed older than the house. On a support timber in the garage someone carved: Fred Markey 1879.

I suppose it’s possible someone in 1900 could have carved that there. Fred Markey, maybe, doing a little vandalism during his wild 21st birthday party. Still, my neighborhood was platted and built in the late 70’s and 80’s.

That would make my house over 130 years old, which explains a lot about why the garage was constructed the way it was.

I didn’t think much about that when I first bought the place. To me the fascinating thing was that, beneath the tin roof, the rafters and boards were all charred. I remember thinking, much like the character in The World According to Garp who buys a house right after a plane crashes into it, that it would be great insurance: What are the chances that the same building would catch on fire twice?

Since then my first apartment was gutted by fire, and a decade later the same building burned down, so never mind.

After awhile certain design elements of the garage caught my attention. For instance, the building is so narrow that it’s almost impossible to fit a car in there and get out afterward. Oh, there’s room to back in, if you’re careful – but the best way to exit is through a sunroof.

Then there’s the fact that the only way to get into the garage attic is through an opening in the ceiling. No steps. There was another opening, a sliding door in the side, but it’s since been sided over.

One day it hit me: Duh. Hayloft.

It’s not like Albion had a lot of cars in 1879 – my garage was a horse stable. At some point the upstairs was gutted by fire, and someone slapped a tin roof over the damage, but otherwise it’s still pretty solid.

That explains why some people have a two-car garage, and I have a 3/4 car garage: Horses are a lot skinnier.

Although some Markeys live in the area now, I’ve never been able to find Fred’s name in any historical record. If he hadn’t left that carving behind (maybe while mucking the stall?), he may have been totally lost to history.

When he lived there they had to keep a loft full of hay for the horses (and did those huge nails poking from the walls hold tack?), the back porch had not been enclosed, there was no electricity, and the kitchen was much larger because a bathroom hadn’t been carved from it yet. That would mean an outhouse once perched near the edge of the hill out back, and you can imagine how very, very cold that trip was on January mornings. The giant trees in the side yard? Saplings.

There’s what makes history interesting: I saw some guy’s name, and it opened up an entirely different world. There wasn’t even a fire department back then – that was eight years in the future. I didn’t need a teacher or a television program; only a few details and my imagination.

Oh, the spider?

As dead as any Nazi who got between Indiana Jones and his museum. I pumped that garage so full of poison that the EPA has declared it a brownfield and dedicated eight million dollars in Superfund cleanup money. When it comes to giant, man-killing arachnids, I don’t mess around.

Of course, if I tried to park my car in there right now the tires would melt off, but the building is still standing, and eventually the government will cart away the Harry Potter sized spider carcass, and …

You know, maybe then I’ll get a horse.

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