Alex Robinson found the most Townie of messages under the floors of his own home. Hidden for 73 years beneath a threshold inside his Charlestown row house, a previous owner left a cursing missive—in cursive lettering—for the person unfortunate enough to undo the letter-writer’s hard work.
The message, written in pencil, seems to read: “And America at war to fight Germany. Threshold 5/10/41 by Albert Stella this floor was laid. Go fuck yourself.”
Robinson, a tech consultant, made the discovery as he started renovating the first floor of the row house he had purchased earlier in the year. Robinson wanted to remove the walls separating the hallway from the kitchen and living room. What he thought would be a quick patch to join the existing floors immediately became a bigger job.
“I really liked the floors Albert Stella put in, but I wasn’t able to keep them,” said Robinson. “I realized the floors weren’t level, so the only thing to do was pull them up. Lo and behold, I was told to go fuck myself.”
Robinson hails from New Hampshire’s Lake Sunapee region, but has lived in Boston for 12 years, 11 of which he spent bouncing from apartment to apartment in Charlestown before finally buying his three-story row house. Robinson now shares the home with his girlfriend and his sister, who rents the third floor bedroom.
Aside from the ghosts cursing him from under the floorboards, Robinson said he’s never had trouble from his neighbors, despite the neighborhood’s fearsome reputation of harassing and hassling blow-ins.
“I tried to establish pretty good relationships with my neighbors,” he said. “I haven’t had any bad experiences. I don’t consider myself any different than anyone who lives here.”
Maybe Robinson’s experience shows Charlestown’s started to mellow, or it’s so thoroughly gentrified that the old clashes come fewer and far between. Or, just maybe it was never as bad as the collective imagination has pictured. But anecdotes are powerful things, and reputations are hard to shake. The threshold message Robinson discovered stands as testament to the neighborhood’s hardscrabble old ways.
Built in the 1860s, the row house has that classic Charlestown look, and the work inside was clearly done by hand.
Robinson thinks Stella’s message may be the result of how much work the previous owners must have put into the home.
“He used square nails. This was all done with manual effort,” said Robinson of the floors. “Maybe he thought ‘If someone wants to rip them up, I’m going to give them a piece of my mind.’”
Robinson isn’t outsourcing renovations on his new home. Hammer in hand, he has spent much of the summer hard at work on the floors and cabinets. He works his way through a long punch list after he gets home from work, similar to how countless Charlestown residents built and rebuilt their own homes over the decades.
“It’s going well. I have a third of the floor down,” he said. “I have a tight schedule but I’m trying to do this all on my own.”
As for the hidden threshold gem, Robinson said he plans on keeping it, but said he won’t display it in the house for now.
“Obviously, I’m not going to hang this in my newly renovated place, but I’ll definitely save it,” he said. “Maybe I’ll hang if up in a man cave if I ever make one.”
Robinson said he planned to write his own message on the subflooring in the house before he finishes laying down the new hardwood. Though he hasn’t decided on the message, he has a good idea about the tone he’ll take.
“I’ll be kinder with my words,” he said.
[Editor’s Note: While the note left on the threshold references America’s involvement in World War II, the nation did not formally declare war with Germany until Dec. 11, 1941.]