Recycling A 63 Year Cabinet Re-Connects Generations
If Donald Milford Townsend of Burbank, California had of known in 1949 that his wallet would go missing and travel through time to 2012 in a (by then) old cabinet, he may have thought twice about taking it out of his pants that day. Sixty-three years later that same wallet was discovered in a secret drawer of a cabinet donated to a local thrift store in Whistler B.C., Canada. The story of the wallet not only connected two diverse communities, Burbank, California, USA to Whistler, B.C. Canada, but connected a family across generations.
The cabinet is now headed back to the family it originally came from.
In early December of 2011 a local Whistler Realtor donated a black cabinet to the Re-Build-It Centre. It did not fit in the new town-home he had moved to and so donated to the non-profit thrift store, The Re-Build-It Centre. In moving the cabinet around the store, staff noticed a thudding. Investigating further they found a hidden drawer painted shut. Staff gently pried it open and found an old wallet, a wrench and a screwdriver. Receipts in the wallet dated it as circa 1949.
If you lost your wallet today, it would be like someone else
finding it in the year 2075
In the Wallet
In that wallet were driver’s license, social security card and credit cards, but the most recent date on a receipt was 1949. Who owned the cabinet in 1949 and how did it get to Whistler from Burbank, California? A search of the name comes up with the picture of a grave marker and a contact e-mail for a woman named Marta, who identifies herself as a cousin of the family. A look in the wallet provides a glimpse back in time.
Photo compliments of wesclark.com/Burbank Burbankia by Mike McDaniel and Wes Clark
Sixty three years ago Harry S. Truman is president of the United States. South Africa has just institutionalized apartheid. A first class stamp costs .03 cents. Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a hit and is played on 45 records. One of the top movies is 'Sands of Iwo Jima'. By 1949 the Second World War has been over for 4 years and the baby boom has just added 32 million 'Boomer' babies to the world population.
In Burbank, California the first 'Big Bob' restaurant is built and immediately is referenced as a ‘true landmark of the community’. The Burbank studios are off the ground but the big employer is still Lockheed Aviation. Automobile sales, aviation and electronics are booming, as are housing sales. In 1949 Burbank experiences their first ever snowfall.
Photo compliments of wesclark.com/Burbank Burbankia by Mike McDaniel and Wes Clark
In 1949 Donald Milford Townsend lives at 828 East Fairmont Road in Burbank, California. He is 38 years old and has three kids, Marolyn, Carolyn and Dale. He and his wife Freda are renovating their 8 year old home. No one knows how the wallet actually ended up in the cabinet but a worthwhile guess might be the following…
Freda with Marolyn, Carolyn and Dale in 1946
“Donald comes on one day after work and leaves his wallet sitting on the new cabinet. Frieda is tidying up, she throws Donald's wallet along with a wrench and a screwdriver into the secret drawer of the cabinet, putting them out of sight. Unfortunately, she does not recall doing this and the wallet now stays 'safe' for the next 63 years!”
The items in the old wallet shows what life is like in 1949 Burbank. Donald has just paid $10 to get his 1948 tax return done. Obviously working on the new house, he has been to 'Walls Distinctive Paints', A Valley Furniture Outlet, 'Duratile' and a re-upholster for their furniture. He has bought two new ‘modern’ pieces of furniture, 'Obsolete' cabinets costing $10 each. On January 10th, 1949 he pays the municipal court of LA $1 for a driving infraction; he had turned left from an outside lane and gone to court to fight it, but lost.
Donald is an electrician’s helper, a member in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and along with that membership card carries a blood donor card at all times. He works for Burbank City and makes $281.60 a month. In the wallet is his social security card. He also has a paper credit card for the Tide Water Associated Oil Company and one for 76 Union Oil. About $2 in change includes a 1942 silver half dollar, now valued at about $7 because of the silver content. The other silver half dollar is from 1932 and may be worth as much as $75 to a collector.
How the Cabinet Came to Whistler
E-mails via Cousin Marta to the remaining son and daughter of Donald Milford Townsend go unanswered. Both local papers in Whistler run a short story about the mystery wallet. Within several days of publication, Whistler Community Services is contacted by the woman who had originally brought the cabinet to Whistler, the person who donated it and the person who purchased it from the thrift store.
In 1963 Eileen Whiter (nee Sonleitner) received the cabinet from family friends the Ertels. She has no idea how they got it from the Townsends. At that time used as a music cabinet, Eileen repainted it black and used it as a linen cabinet. "I had no idea there was a secret drawer," she writes, “it came to Canada with me when I moved here in 1974 with my second husband". However it was during Eileen’s third marriage in 1985 that it made its way to the ski resort Whistler, to a vacation home they bought. While at Whistler, it served as a storage area for little kids' toys, which is what the new owner Kevin Damaskie and his family use it for.
According to Dale Townsend, he cannot recall his father losing his wallet, but would have only been six at that time. He says that it would have greatly upset his father, adding “He would have been upset if he lost a quarter!”
Donald passes away in 2005 at the age of 91 and is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park. He dies never knowing what happened to his wallet all those years ago. The family home is sold after Frieda dies in 2007.
Underscoring today’s power of the internet, it was the store blog that helped solve the mystery. When the story is published on firstname.lastname@example.org, Whistler Community Services Society hears from family member Mark Whiting. He just happens to come across the blog and realizes with amazement that it is about his grandfathers brother. He is the grandson of Donald Milford Townsend’s twin, named Ronald Wilford Townsend. Mark was also his Great-Uncle Don’s paperboy, growing up just a few blocks from their house.
Once discovered by the grandson, quickly word spreads among the family that there is a story on the internet about their history. “You’ve got all of us calling each other…This never happens to your own family…”writes Mark. Carolyn, Donald Townsend’s daughter who is in her 70's calls the agency with the message, “I hear you found my Daddy’s wallet?” She is thrilled, everyone is thrilled.
Another cousin talks about how small a world it is, it turns out she works with Wes Clark of Burbankia, the website who graciously loaned pictures for the story of the wallet. Quickly they figure out who the cousin Marta is and they meet for lunch to reclaim the wallet. Family is connecting that has not spoken in years. Dale is amazed to hear about the journey of wallet and cabinet and has a special request. Is there any chance he can purchase back the cabinet and have it shipped back to Burbank, where he will put the wallet back in the hidden drawer and keep it for the family as an heirloom?
Graciously the new owners of the travelling cabinet agree to give it up, and it is shipped back to the thrift store it came from, to then be sent back to Burbank, California and the family it left 63 years ago. Dale, Donald's son (pictured above), wants to buy it back and place the wallet back in the drawer it came from.
A family cousin writes, “I am so glad to know that this piece of history has been returned to his family. What an amazing treasure! Uncle Don was a kind, hardworking and honest man. It seems like the perfect tribute to him that someone would take the time to find the owner…because that is what he would have done too, I am sure.”
And the wallet that so recently found its way out of the cabinet’s secret drawer is going back into that same drawer, to be honoured as a family heirloom, along with the story of its long journey through time. It comes full circle back to where it began. And maybe Donald Townsend would have gladly pulled his wallet out of his pants and put it in the drawer, knowing the role it would play in bringing his family together in another 63 years.