OSSIAN, Indiana (Indiana's NewsCenter)--Like most of us, Ossian insurance agent Tom Neuenschwander leads what you’d call a quiet life. It’s hard to imagine that Tom possesses a priceless treasure.
“We’ve turned down some pretty good offers on it. One was seven digits’” He says. Would that be over a million dollars? “Yes,” he answers with a grin.
That’s right, a million bucks for what looks like a piece of burnt wood, so you know this isn’t just any piece of wood. It has a heck of a story behind it. That story begins in August 1814 when the British army, humiliated by its defeat in the American Revolution forty years earlier, invades Washington D.C. and sacks and burns the White House. The building was gutted but the walls remained standing. Slide forward ninety years to 1904. Tom Neuenschwander’s Great Grandfather, George Hough, a Virginia contractor, is hired by the Army Corps of Engineers to remodel two White House bathrooms in the living quarters of then-President Teddy Roosevelt. Tom has a copy of the original contract signed by Hough and Roosevelt.
“It outlined everything in detail,” Tom says, “He had to change some of the plumbing in the bathroom he had to run some new electrical lines for the lighting and he had to put the doorway in it spelled out what doorway where it was to go.”
It was when Hough cut the hole for that doorway that he found the wood rafter burned in the 1814 fire. It’s been in the family ever since along with a second piece of White House wood Hough carved in to a boat years ago. The remodeling work Hough did is long gone. The White House was gutted in 1950 and completely rebuilt, but the charred relics remain, along with a great family connection to American history.
“I have three children, that way if we decide to hand it down to my children at least they know the story behind it,” says Neuenschwander.
Eric Olson reporting, out in ‘Your Country’.
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