On a street on the outskirts of Detroit, Michigan, Ricardo Bush is hard at work renovating the upper floor of his home. But suddenly, he realizes that something unexpected is lurking behind the walls. The house, in fact, has hidden something for many years, and it’s finally ready to give up its secret.
On December 16, 2016, Bush was carrying out work on his property in Hamtramck, Michigan, when he made the startling discovery. Hidden beneath the walls on the upper story of his home, in fact, was something quite unexpected: a secret room.
Bush’s wife actually inherited the property from her family, who had owned it as far back as the 1930s. To the couple’s knowledge, however, nobody realized that there was a hidden chamber on the top floor.
When Bush removed some wooden paneling in the attic, he stumbled across the secret room. And stepping inside, he discovered two large, old-fashioned steamer trunks emblazoned with the name of a man called Daniel Kozak.
Bush was puzzled; he had no idea who Kozak was or how his trunks might have ended up inside this secret room. And so when he peeked inside, his curiosity only grew.
“When I saw the big trunks, I’m thinking old clothes,” Bush explained in a 2016 interview with local news station FOX 2 Detroit. “Or maybe some silver coins or something,” he added, “but this is more precious.”
Indeed, tucked inside the chests was a veritable treasure trove of memorabilia belonging to a family that Bush had never met. And clearly, these were memories that somebody, somewhere had wanted to keep safe and sound.
Among the mementos, in fact, were several old photographs, including wedding snaps and portraits of young children. And there was also a photo of a young man in a military uniform, gazing at the camera with a serious expression.
Moreover, Bush found scores of paper documents in the trunks, some dating as far back as 1925. And there was even a paycheck from the Chrysler Corporation, marked with a message that read, “Don’t spend it all!”
A collection of letters, meanwhile, provided further clues as to the trunks’ original owners. They were, in fact, written in Polish and Russian, and they seemed to represent an ongoing communication between the U.S. and eastern Europe.
Realizing that the hoard could have great sentimental value to Kozak’s descendants, Bush vowed to track them down. “It’s so much history in this bag,” he said in the FOX 2 Detroit interview. “[And] we just figured… if their people are still alive, they might want them. It’d be a hell of a Christmas present.”
In an attempt to find the mystery family, Bush contacted the local media. And FOX 2 Detroit subsequently covered the story, announcing two more names – Peter and Mike Kozak – that had been mentioned in the documents. Afterwards, then, it was a case of waiting to see if anyone would come forward.
Luckily, Bush, his wife and the media didn’t have to wait long. Indeed, hundreds of miles away in South Carolina, 70-year-old Kathy Nedaliz-Zakrzewski was about to get the surprise of a lifetime.
Nedaliz-Zakrzewski’s ex-husband has discovered an article about the mystery trunks on Facebook, and had recognized the name Carpenter Street – where Bush’s property was located. And knowing that his ex-wife used to live in Hamtramck, he forwarded the story to her.
When Nedaliz-Zakrzewski clicked on the article, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Staring back at her from the screen was, in fact, a picture of her father in military attire – the same photograph that had been found inside a trunk in the secret room.
And Nedaliz-Zakrzewski was able to identify him as Mike Nedaliz, who died some time in the 1990s. He was, in fact, Daniel Kozak’s stepson, making Nedaliz-Zakrzewski the granddaughter of the trunks’ original owner.
Back in the 1950s, Nedaliz-Zakrzewski’s parents relocated to Michigan from Texas in search of work. And they settled in Hamtramck with Nedaliz-Zakrzewski’s grandmother and her husband ahead of beginning a new life.
According to Nedaliz-Zakrzewski, Kozak built the house on Carpenter Street himself. She knew nothing, however, about the secret room, and had no idea why her grandfather chose to hide his family keepsakes so well.
Nedaliz-Zakrzewski recalled Kozak as being a man who spoke little English, but he nevertheless left a lasting impression on her as a young girl. “He’d walk around the house playing his accordion, just singing,” she said in the FOX 2 Detroit interview, “singing in Russian or Polish or something. I had no idea what he was saying but it sounded pretty.”
Having miraculously found their way to Kozak’s family after all these years, the letters and photographs are now on their way to a grateful Nedaliz-Zakrzewski in South Carolina. She plans, in fact, to get them translated into English, and is understandably delighted by the unexpected opportunity to take a glimpse into her relatives’ lives.