It’s Your New Moving House, and Other News


On the Shelf

Just relax and take a nap while your house moves.


  • So you’re moving. That’s nice. I bet you’re packing up all your stuff and stowing it in some U-Haul. I bet you’re tissue wrapping your glassware and purging your bookshelves. I bet you’re actually moving to an entirely different home in another place. Which makes you just another sucker. Did it ever occur to you to just move your entire home—just put the whole thing on wheels and have some guy drag it along the road while you remain inside, comfortable, with all of your belongings where you want them? This was all the rage in the nineteenth century. Jeannie Vanasco writes, “Early movers, such as Chester Tupper, Chicago’s first professional house mover, shied from shanties, log cabins, and brick or stone buildings, but balloon frame structures could be lifted and rolled down streets relatively easily. Born in Missouri in the eighteenth century yet called ‘Chicago construction’ in the nineteenth, balloon framing required lumber, nails, and basic carpentry skills. Lightweight, sturdy, and flexible, a balloon frame structure could be built within a week. Tupper moved thousands of them on rollers. In his memoir, A Pioneer in Northwest America, 1841–1858, the pioneer and priest Gustaf Unonius wrote about seeing Chicago houses moved: ‘I have seen houses on the move while the families living in them continued with their daily tasks, keeping fire in the stove, eating their meals as usual, and at night quietly going to bed to wake up the next morning on some other street. Once a house passed my window while a tavern business housed in it went on as usual. Even churches have been transported in this fashion, but as far as I know, never with services going on.’ ”

  • William Friedkin, who directed The Exorcist, became so obsessed with Proust that he went on a pilgrimage, even visiting the Lycée Condorcet, where the writer went to school as a boy: “I was met there by a well-dressed middle-aged woman who introduced herself as the school’s archivist. ‘Can I help you?’ she asked, cautiously. ‘Did you know Marcel Proust went to this school?’ I asked quietly. She returned my shyness with scorn. ‘You must be an American,’ she said, to which I awkwardly confessed. She appeared skeptical … She asked who I was and I told her I was a filmmaker, but I didn’t want to make a film about Proust. She stared at me as though wondering if I was joking. She must have decided I wasn’t, because her attitude became sympathetic. ‘Would you like to see some of the work he did while he was here?’ … There were some early short stories written when he was thirteen, some papers in Latin and Greek, biology and chemistry. On his final year report card, his philosophy teacher Alphonse Darlu had written an assessment that was translated for me as: ‘He works as hard as his affliction allows.’ ”
  • Laura Dean with the fishermen of Senegal: “When a fisherman prays at sea, he performs his ablutions with salt water and turns the boat in the direction of Mecca. But on the tenth day of his journey to the Canary Islands, Djiby Diop told me, everyone’s prayers mingled together, voices rising jagged and hoarse, calling on the Great, the Merciful, to save them. Water poured over the sides as the wind knocked them from wave crest to trough and back up again. They ran out of food. Then they ran out of water. Some dipped their cups into the sea. Others jumped overboard, hallucinating land. ‘We can’t save them,’ the captain said. Sometimes the sailors would throw a rope. Of the eight people who dived in, two were saved. Others babbled, terrified, unseeing, possessed by the devil, some said. When the motor failed to catch, other passengers accused them of cursing the boat. Their wrists were tied to the sides. One man, tethered like that for two days, could no longer use his hands when they untied him.”