Saturday, August 28, 2010

Trivia Question

The house I live in is a traditional "story and a jump" Ocracoke house. It was built around 1865. As many of our readers know, I rehabilitated the house about six years ago. I often give friends tours of the house (they don't take long...the house only has about 1100 square feet of space). I always point out my one and only closet.

(Click on photo to view larger image.)

It is in the downstairs bedroom, extremely small, and clearly an afterthought...with a door simply cut out of the beadboard wall. And I always ask my one trivia question, which I now pose to you:

Why did these old houses not have closets?

If you think you know, please click on the comment link below and post your answer (if I've already told you the answer please don't spoil it for others...and please don't post the answer if you had to look it up...just educated guesses please). I'll post the answer in a few days.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter, Looking for the Wahabs of Ocracoke, was written by Dr. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. You can read the article here:


  1. maureen6:49 AM

    People used pieces of furniture for storage or trunks and why need closets when most often you then had two sets of clothing. One for work, one for dress.

  2. Anonymous9:23 AM

    Closets were considered to be and counted as an additional "room" for tax purposes. Thus, a 3 bedroom house with a closet in each room would be taxed as a 6 bedroom house. Governmental agencies have a long history in creating interesting ways to increase tax revenues!

  3. Anonymous10:34 AM

    If your house had lots of closets, then your Yankee relatives would come to visit . . . and bring more suitcases full of clothing . . . and stay forever.

  4. Anonymous1:37 PM

    If you would like to find the answer, go to the book, Geography of Home. It is absolutely fascinating. The answer is in there, but I shall never tell!

  5. Anonymous3:06 PM

    I thought people used armoires (sp) in those early days for closets. Right or wrong?

    If that's wrong and the blogger who writes about closets counting as rooms and therefore taxed, we're all in trouble now! Look at the size of the closets in some new homes built in the past decade! Wow!

  6. Debbie Leonard4:59 PM

    I think people then didn't have as many clothes and possessions as we did so they used wardrobes and dressers for their clothing.

  7. Anonymous5:21 PM

    in those days...people didn't have the large assortment of clothes that we do things like "wardrobes" or and "armoire" were used to house clothing.

  8. Hello to all of our readers who have responded thus far. I wouldn't be surprised if what you've written is true...but it's not the primary reason these old houses didn't have closets. Keep thinking about this -- I'll post the answer on Wednesday...unless someone guesses correctly before then.

  9. Anonymous8:41 PM

    Hmm Store clothes .. store as in storage... as in having more than one shirt and pair of skivvies Laugh out loud. did these folks have a sunday best... at best they had clothes har har har . I digress you were lucky if you had clothes ---no I am through poking fun at you. Were there tax collectors on such a remote island hmm I wonder if they knew the residents existed and as for a census they took someone's word for the fact 200 people lived there 200 people plus thousands of mosquitoes (more laughter. ) The hard scrabble people did not fuss with finery and extra clothes your Saturday night bath meant your clothes got washed too

  10. Debbie Leonard10:02 PM

    Well, I do know one other reason...and I think it has to do with how people would store clothes in a closet.

  11. Anonymous10:11 PM

    I love knowing things that no one else knows!!

  12. Was it beacaue houses were small and they didn't want to give up any living space for closets.

  13. Anonymous2:34 PM

    I second John and Joan's answer--closets would require extra building material (that likely had to be shipped to the island--at greater expense) and reduce living space; extravagances that would be hard for many to justify. Also, to the point of clothing chests vs. closets, I'd presume that chests could be lined to make then watertight, therefore safeguarding stored clothes, that would float high and dry within a chest during flooding, vs. clothes stored in a clost, that would simply "flood" during flooding--MK

  14. Anonymous11:54 PM

    I was going to guess that it was because there would be humidity and insects that would destroy things stored in the closets. Just a guess!

    Or could it be a superstition of some kind?


  15. Anonymous8:34 AM

    We have to wait until Wednesday, Philip? Oh, how you do like to tease us mainlanders! Well, I guess I'll just have to wait until Wednesday, like everyone else, to answer this growing mystery about the closets, or lack there of, on Ocracoke!

  16. Just a little clarification -- it wasn't only Ocracoke houses that didn't have closets (or at least closets as we know them today). No one had closets for hanging clothes. However I know that Victorian houses sometimes had shallow shelves eclosed by a door. There was no place to hang clothes, but you could fold them and lay them on the shelves. I guess that was more convenient than storing clothes in a trunk.

    But the modern closet for hanging clothes only came into use in the twentieth century. And there is a definite reason it didn't happen earlier.

  17. Anonymous10:02 AM

    there were no cloths hangers !!!!

  18. Anonymous10:11 AM

    Okay the HANGER was not invented till ... or was it the pole had not been invented yet.... or was it the Sears catalog had not been invented yet to order clothes from or was it people were not no longer earning slave wages and had a disposable income of sorts The suspense is killing me

  19. Anonymous2:33 PM

    People began to realize that hiding a skeleton in a trunk was too difficult...much easier to hang it up.

  20. Anonymous7:38 AM

    Didn't we have a blast w/ this closet mystery blog! (The answer was given in the Aug. 30th blog. Thanks, Philip, for not waiting any longer to tell us!)

    I wonder what other mystery question Philip will think up the next time to stretch our minds!

    Enjoyed playing along!

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