Treasures and toys: students find strange objects upon moving into Oakland homes


The first piece of “furniture” Owen Hipwell got for his new home on Juliet Street was an old wheelchair found in the back of his basement. (Photo courtesy of Jaime Weinreb)

By Jaime Weinreb / Staff Writer

When Sawyer Bressler signed the lease to his new home, he was unaware the house came with a dildo mounted to a plaque.

Like Bressler, many Pitt students come across strange artifacts left by previous residents when they move into new apartments and houses. And after some initial confusion by these findings, some students make the peculiar objects integral aspects of their homes.

Bressler, a sophomore pharmacy student, threw a housewarming party this past August — after only having moved in 10 days prior — to celebrate his new home on Dunseith Street. Guests sipped on their drinks, listened to music and mingled as they walked through Bressler’s new apartment.

Alex Miller, a party guest and friend of Bressler’s from undergrad, went to the kitchen to pour himself another drink and began rummaging through the drawers and cupboards looking for a glass. He pulled open the bottom drawer and was perplexed by what he saw.

“Hey Sawyer, why do you have a dildo on a plaque in your kitchen drawer?” Miller asked from the next room over.

The two gathered around the drawer and looked down. The drawer was completely empty except for a brass-colored sex toy suctioned to a wooden plaque. Because he’d never seen the dildo plaque before, Bressler couldn’t provide an answer and laughed with Miller about the bizarre object.

“Given some of the items in the house and the nature of Oakland, I wasn’t too surprised to find it,” Bressler said.

Bressler’s plaque remains erect on his wall, and can be found at any time in the house — unless he and his roommates decide to spare the landlord when he drops by.

“It’s just become a part of the structure of our home for now,” Bressler said.

Most people would assume it’s not ordinary for someone to stumble across a dildo in their own home — especially when it doesn’t belong to them. But Shannon Kelly, a senior studying fiction writing, also found one upon moving into her South Oakland home on Louisa Street.

Drew Colebank discovered a sacramental statue of Mary and a painting of Jesus in his house on Parkview Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Jaime Weinreb)

A group of senior boys who lived in the house before Kelly moved in were generous enough to leave behind a few pieces of furniture — two bedside tables, a coffee table and a couch. While moving one of the bedside tables into another room with her roommate, Kelly was surprised to see a large, flesh-colored dildo when the drawer popped out.

The girls couldn’t pin down a reason as to why a group of guys would have this object in their possession, but assumed they used it to prank each other.

Amused by their discovery, Kelly and her roommates decided to liven up their home decor and showcased it on their fireplace mantle in the living room. But after about three weeks, the group eventually agreed to throw it out.

“It was disturbing to look at and our parents visit. We just didn’t want to explain,” Kelly said.

Though Kelly reconsidered her home decor, other students found more meaning in the objects they found, and kept them around for longer.

Owen Hipwell, a junior studying communications and film, was the first of his roommates to move into his home on Juliet Street this past summer. Upon arrival, the house was completely empty — no couches, no tables and nothing on the walls. He began scanning the rooms upstairs and then went downstairs to explore some more. In the back of the basement, he came across a wheelchair and remembered seeing it when he first toured the house.

Intrigued, he lugged the big, bulky metal chair up the stairs, through the narrow hallways and finally placed it in his living area. He used it as a basic piece of furniture for the next four weeks. He ate dinner in it, relaxed in it and even wheeled around the house in it for fun.

“I would have people over, and it was like, ‘Hi, you can have a lawn chair or you can have the wheelchair,’” Hipwell said.

Though he and his roommates bought new furniture once the school year started, the chair still remains in their house today.

“It’s actually the perfect height for the new table we finally got, so I do still eat dinner in it a lot,” Hipwell said.  

Hipwell and his roommates considered “pimping it out” by putting flames on the wheels or bedazzling the back of the chair. He even thought of the idea to place his favorite drink in the oxygen tank holder and attach a long straw to feed himself.

But the novelty soon wore off, and the large, cumbersome chair was retired back to where he had found it.

Drew Colebank, a senior studying neuroscience, found objects upon moving in which brought him a different kind of functionality.

Colebank discovered religious devotionals from the 1700s written in Latin and a sacramental statue of Mary in his house on Parkview Avenue. What struck him most was a painting of Jesus.

But this was not a gentle depiction of Jesus and is unlike how he’s most commonly viewed in art, according to Colebank.

“If you look at him for too long, you’ll repent in a heartbeat,” Colebank said.

Colebank said the painting evokes a sense of fear in the viewer, reminding that Jesus is much more than a gentle shepherd — he has immense power. Colebank said this painting, which can be found in his room along with the other artifacts, makes him want to serve God more and that it brings him a sense of comfort.

Each item found served a different purpose for each student and gave their house a unique touch they did not expect it to have. They plan to leave these items for the next person to find.

“I’d love to take [the objects] with me, but I believe these items belong in the house,” Colebank said. “They’re a part of the character.”