The Suitcase Lady


August 1, 2017, 10:24 pm

I do not make a habit of reading the obituaries. But when the obituary is on the front page of the New York Times and is for a person I’ve never heard of, my curiosity is aroused.

Frances Gabe died at the age of 101 in Newberg, Oregon, her longtime home. The photo accompanying the article shows Mrs. Gabe in full rain gear and open umbrella standing in her kitchen. That’s because her claim to fame was designing and building the world’s only self-cleaning house.

The cinder block bungalow took decades to plan and 10 years to build. Completed in the 1980’s, the 1,000 square foot house cost $15,000 and was patented.

She credits her children and jam as her inspiration. One day her kids got fig jam all over a wall and, in frustration, she hosed it down.

Most mothers of young children have had similar experiences. I recall looking at my son’s high chair after he ate spaghetti for the first time by himself and wondering if I would survive all the messes ahead. After that spaghetti-eating boy grew up and was a father himself, he once threatened to stick a garden hose in the kitchen window and hose the whole room out.

Mrs. Gabe simply made our fantasies come true…..she turned the entire interior of her home into a car wash or gigantic dishwasher. Ceiling jets sprayed down, suds flew, fans dried and water exited via floor drains out through the doghouse. Clothes on hangars were washed in a tightly sealed cabinet and mechanically transported back to a closet. The patent on the house consisted of 68 individual inventions.

In fascination, I’ve read numerous articles and watched videos (click here) about the house and its unique inventor.

Here’s the sad news. One article reported that “Ambitious as it was, it didn’t really seem to work, video clips of the home in action are more like blooper reels.”

Here’s my take on the house from my minimalist viewpoint. It’s probably easier to get out the bucket, scrub brush and vacuum than deal with 68 different gadgets which will inevitably need constant maintenance and repair.

The new owner of the house has removed all the cleaning gadgets. That’s also sad, the house should have been turned into a museum to the eccentric spirit.

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