Renovating their home in upstate New York has been a boring and largely thankless task for a young couple. So, when one of them pulls bits of skirting from the walls of one of the house’s rooms, he is not expecting any reward – just more work. But the man was actually about to make a jaw-dropping discovery.
Patrick Bakker and Nick Drummond are two young professionals who moved from the Maryland city of Baltimore to the New York countryside in 2019. The latter – who is a historic preservationist and designer – is no stranger to house renovations. But this time, Drummond is fixing up his own home and is stunned to discover something that he could not have expected.
The house is in the tiny settlement of Ames, and the couple had been living there for a year or so. In the late summer of 2020 they decided to transform the home into something more livable. It would be a big job, but they saw the promise in the rundown property. Though there was something they didn’t see, and it gave them quite a shock.
Drummond pulled away a part of the cladding from one of the home’s walls in October 2020, and it unveiled something that had been hidden away for many years. All of a sudden, rumors about the house seemed to have been confirmed, while the ghost of its former owner stalked the mudroom.
It wasn’t what the couple had expected when they had left Baltimore for New York state. But it’d been a necessary move when Drummond had scored a position with an architecture firm in Cooperstown. At the same time, Bakker could take advantage of the new surrounds to make his dream of owning a studio for floral design come true.
The couple had been living in nearby Sharon Springs when a ramshackle place in Ames appeared, Drummond explained on Instagram. They’d liked the look of the house when driving past it, so they decided to pay a visit. And it apparently offered stunning vistas of the valley below – even if it did need some work.
Ames is a small village out in Montgomery County. According to the website Livability, it’s home to fewer than 150 people – largely homeowners who enjoy the country ambience there. One attractive feature is that houses in Ames are actually a fair bit cheaper than the national median. Oh, and it was also a feature of beloved children’s book Stuart Little.
The home itself was in really bad shape, though it did have some intriguing features. For instance, it still had the original woodwork. And there was an intriguing history attached to it. Even with that, however, the couple could not have expected what would fall out of the walls on that fateful day.
The first unexpected thing about the home was its age. The rumor was that it had been built by a German bootlegger in the Prohibition years. But a window casing revealed that the house was a little bit older than that. When they took out the trim, the couple found that it was marked by someone who said they had built it in 1914.
Well, even if he hadn’t built it in the Roaring Twenties, owner Adolph Humpfner had certainly been living there in those years. And he was something of an enigmatic figure. But Humpfner passed in circumstances that seem shrouded in mystery. As a result, his executor had set out to find out the truth. But even that man – Harry Barry – found himself a target of accusations and rumor.
According to Drummond, Humpfner went under several names and claimed to be a German count. He had apparently hotfooted it from his Bavarian family home. His first wife had gone missing in 1912 and was declared deceased in 1935. Though she miraculously turned up on a Brooklyn beach a year later.
The “count” had left behind what was then a princely sum of $140,000-plus on his passing in 1932, Drummond wrote on Instagram. But where he had made this money was another story. He possessed quite a bit of real estate: including a school gymnasium, a bank and a bunch of houses in New York City and New Jersey.
When Humpfner died, there was a massive fight over who would get his money. And cash wasn’t all that he left. The home was littered with property deeds and foreign bank accounts in various names. Humpfner’s businesses and even his truck had secret hiding places that were revealed upon his passing.
It probably won’t surprise you at all that Humpfner was suspected of being a bootlegger! Yet there was never any proof. In 1930 the police raided a hall that he had an interest in, Drummond claimed. There they found a still, which they were quick to demolish. Though Humpfner immediately denied any knowledge of it.
Humpfner actually threatened anyone who repeated the rumors of his bootlegging with the law. He pointed out to the press, “I certainly would not have had state policeman in the building if I knew there was a still being operated there.” Naturally, this seems a slightly ambiguous way to deny that he was a criminal.
In any case, the “Bootlegger Bungalow” proved a fine monument to Humpfner – with fancy formal rooms and those killer views. Though it had been slightly downgraded by an ill-advised addition that Drummond guessed had been made in the 1970s. A powder room had blocked the flow through the house, and the home’s new owner believed it needed to be shifted into the existing mudroom.
So the couple had a big job on their hands – not least because of the old-fashioned décor! Drummond wrote on Instagram about the grind of removing wallpaper. Once the architect had taken one layer off, he apparently revealed another identical one. Drummond then suggested that the wallpaper was all that kept the walls from falling down.
The walls themselves had a peculiar construction, too. Those on the outside had apparently been made from terra cotta blocks that were hollow on the inside. But little did the pair know that those hollows could conceal the bootlegging count’s secrets. Each side of the blocks had been covered in stucco and plaster. And once stripped away, what was underneath could be seen.
The pair beavered away at the powder room, and Drummond’s sense of design was offended by its positioning. If you wanted to get to the kitchen from the living area, you’d have to traipse through the dining room and the pantry. What was needed, then, was a central hallway. And it turned out that there had once been one – now hidden by the powder room.
So the room had to go, and first of all that meant bringing down some walls. To Drummond’s surprise, there was a cache of mouse skeletons in one of the walls. The mice seemed to have gone there at the end of their lives – one after the other. But a bigger surprise was still to be uncovered.
That revelation would come when fixing up the trim on the mudroom. As the couple did so, a package slid from the inside of the wall. Drummond expressed his surprise on Instagram, “I’m like, ‘What is that?’ I’m very confused. I’m looking and there’s hay everywhere, there’s paper, and glass…”
To Drummond’s amazement, he found a further package hidden in the wall. Though this time, he found a whiskey bottle. Drummond told his Instagram followers, “I’m like holy crap. This is like a whiskey stash. And this is like, all of a sudden, the whole story of the bootlegger [seemed to have been confirmed].”
The incredulous renovator shared his amazement on Instagram. Drummond wrote, “Our walls are filled with bundles of booze! We’re losing our minds over how cool this is.” All the hidden bottles seemed to suggest very strongly that Humpfner had stashed his bootlegged whiskey in the walls of his home.
Drummond wrote, “I can’t believe the rumors are true! He was actually a bootlegger! I mean I thought it was a cute story, but the builder of our house was actually a bootlegger!” It wasn’t just one or two bottles of booze they found, either. The couple came across dozens more of them as they continued digging.
The restoration expert shared with his followers the full scope of their discovery. Drummond wrote on the social media platform, “It blows my mind that this was buried in our walls for almost 100 years without anyone knowing. It was a pretty legit hiding place. We’ve counted 42 bottles so far!”
Having made this stunning discovery in the walls, the couple then found their attention drawn to a hatch in the mudroom’s floor. Well, they had to go look, didn’t they? It turned out that the hatchway led down to a pair of compartments that lay beneath the building. But what did they hide? Drummond descended into the dark underside of their home to check it out.
Drummond explained that the first compartment held a rug that covered an old well lined with stone, which had been dug out by hand. Some eight feet into the well lay water – but no whiskey. The spooky area had a handful of empties, though the couple couldn’t find any further components of the smuggler’s stash.
There was also very little space in the other area. The guys found that they had a foot or a foot and a half – no more. For some reason, instead of the joists supporting the floor above, they could see solid slabs of wood which were attached by screws. But why use such a flimsy method of attachment unless you wanted easy access? Nevertheless, the couple pulled a board aside and yes, there was more whiskey!
Altogether, the couple reported to CNN that they had discovered more than 66 of the whiskey bottles. They were all branded Old Smuggler Gaelic, which seems somewhat appropriate. And you can still buy this type of whiskey today. Meanwhile, the bottles were stashed in half-dozens – protected by straw and paper.
The two set to making a catalog of the whiskey and reported the results on Facebook. Drummond wrote, “Out of the initial bottles found, about 13 are full. But four of those have tops in rough-ish condition, so I’d say probably nine ‘good’ bottles.” Certainly enough whiskey to hold a decent party!
The two didn’t plan to throw a bash, though. The bottles that were still filled they planned to sell off. Drummond estimated that each one would bring a handsome $1,000 or thereabouts. The empties wouldn’t go to waste, either. They’d form decoration for their renovated home, which was appropriate for a bootlegger’s former residence.
It would be a pity not to give the whiskey a try, though, so the pair resolved to keep one filled bottle for themselves. As you might imagine, people naturally wanted them to share how it tasted. They replied on Facebook, “To everyone asking if we have tried it, we haven’t! But we will!”
The couple might have been facing an unsavory experience, however. It turns out that whiskey does not in fact get better the longer you let it age, the way that red wine does. It probably wouldn’t kill them, but the taste might leave something to be desired when they give it a try.
But did a bootlegger really leave more than 60 bottles of booze in the walls of his home? Well, it’s not impossible. Ames lies roughly halfway between the Canadian border and New York City. So it may have made a useful stopping-off point for smugglers who were getting their illicit stock from America’s northern neighbor.
And bootleggers were certainly resourceful. In the Prohibition years – which began early in 1920 – they found all sorts of hiding places for booze. Drinkers would also hide liquor in a variety of places – running from the inside of a cane to hollowed-out books. Who knows what the walls of other houses of the period might hide?
Certainly, the “Bootlegger Bungalow” isn’t the only place whose walls hide boozy secrets. Liberty Hall in New Jersey – which was once home to that state’s governor and is now a museum – underwent renovations back in 2017. It too had a cache behind a wall that had been constructed in the Prohibition era.
Workers at the museum found an interesting stash when they smashed through a wall and a locked cage that lay behind it. Yes, there was a sizable collection of wine of the Madeira type – some of it from as far back as 1769!
The museum’s president John Kean told CNN in 2017 that he’d been expecting to find wine. But what they’d discovered still shocked him. He said, “We had no idea the old bottles were there. We knew there would be wine, but [we] had no idea as to the date. That was a major surprise.”
Yet unlike the whiskey, there was little doubt that the Madeira would be drinkable. Sommelier Kara Joseph explained to CNN, “It is one of the longest-lived wines in the world. It is almost indestructible because of how they make it, of the fermentation process.” And indeed, when Kean sipped on a little wine from an 1870 cask, it tasted fine. According to him, it was rather like sherry.
As for the Ames couple, well, according to Drummond, he’s “ultra sensitive to potential secret compartments in this house…” He’s been eyeing some suspicious patches in the surrounds of the fireplace. He told his followers on Instagram that he was ready to take a look – so long as he wasn’t putting the woodwork at risk.