On a rainy Saturday afternoon in February, Carl Engelke and Markus Aman decided to swing by Fishtown's Jinxed in search of a bookshelf. Little did the avid antiquers know that the casual outing would turn into one of the most memorable shopping jaunts of their lives.
When Engelke and Aman arrived at the shop full of vintage gems, the couple realized that they had stumbled into Jinxed's annual Heart Show, an art exhibition and party packing the store with wall-to-wall people.
To break free from the crowd, they quickly sneaked to the back. Here, they began to peruse the unorganized chaos of weathered books filling Jinxed's literary section.
"I look up from the magazine I was looking at, and Markus is holding this book and his face goes white as a ghost," Engelke said.
Amid the cacophony of guests and a pig spinning on a roasting stick, the two realized they had quietly discovered an entire shelf of long-lost family heirlooms. Tears instantly filled their eyes.
It all began when Aman picked up a red leather book, finding the words "To Astrid, on her graduation from college, with love, from grandfather, June 1954" inscribed on the first page.
Aman instantly paused at "Astrid," a relatively uncommon name that was also that of Engelke's mother; she died when Engelke was 21. Aman told Engelke what he found, and Engelke immediately recognized the cursive scribble taking over the top-right corner of the page.
"We just sort of stood there in shock, trying to keep it together," Engelke said. "It was the same exact handwriting as a book from my grandpa that I already had at home."
Engelke's father died unexpectedly from a heart attack when Engelke was just 6 years old, so it was his mother who raised him and his two brothers, largely on her own in Chester County. She died in 1983 from a bleeding ulcer that was misdiagnosed as the flu. A strong woman who family members say was always the life of the party, Astrid still remains alive in numerous stories about her. Details of her life are shared so often that Aman, who never got the chance to meet Astrid, feels as though he knows her well. The couple believed that the discovery at Jinxed was Astrid's way of reaching out.
"There was a little bit of a spooky, kind of surreal feeling," Aman said. "It felt like my mother-in-law had just handed me a book."
The book, Conjugial Love: Delights of Wisdom, is a religious script by Emanuel Swedenborg full of philosophical teachings about love between a man and a woman. The work of Swedish theologian and scientist Swedenborg informed Astrid's religion, the New Church. Also referred to as Swedenborgianism, a relatively small Christian-based congregation, the sect bases its teachings on the Bible as explained by the writings of Swedenborg. Astrid grew up going to Bryn Athyn Cathedral, and both of her grandfathers were practicing ministers there during the mid-19th century.
After scanning the remainder of the Jinxed bookshelf, Engelke and Aman found two dozen other books that were either written by Swedenborg or were about the Bryn Athyn Cathedral. Many also had front-page inscriptions, several of which could be traced back to family members of Engelke's best friends growing up.
"It was really neat to be able to share these stories with people that are dear, dear friends of mine," said Engelke, who ended up connecting with childhood buddies across the country about the books.
Given Aman's passion for antiquing, the two find themselves at such places as Jinxed often, both regularly in Philly and all across the country.
"Whenever we travel, Aman makes it a mission to find an antique store to visit along the way," Engelke said. "Never in my wildest imagination did I think I'd find something that was my mother's."
The couple, who married three years ago on their 18th anniversary, have lived in the same Washington Square West apartment for nearly 20 years. Every inch of wall space is covered with a collectible, whether a painting or a tapestry, and all of the rooms, from the bathroom to the kitchen, are filled with antiques ranging from vases to chandeliers to period piece couches.
"The books are just one piece among thousands, but these are the collectibles that hold the most personal connection," Aman said. "They're among those few items that you'd snatch in a hurry if you ever had to flee."
The books are now on the couple's dining room table, as the two never ended up walking out with the bookshelf they initially sought that February Saturday at Jinxed.