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Court allows woman access to family’s belongings in Seymour Street home

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Barbara S. Stress-Claytor no longer has to get a glimpse of her family’s past by looking through a window of her late father’s Seymour Street home.

On Friday afternoon, Ms. Stress-Claytor was allowed to go inside her parents’ former house at 259 Seymour St. and have access to her family’s belongings that have sat untouched since her father, Albert V. Stress, died of cancer at age 86 on March 11, 1990. No one has lived in the house since.

On Thursday she received permission from Surrogate’s Court to go inside the house following a dispute with City Hall. Shortly after noon Friday, the city unlocked the door and she started preparing to take the belongings back to her New Mexico home.

“It was very emotional,” she said. “I was crying by the time I was inside the living room. It was really hard.”

City officials required that she get a court order because they were concerned about potential legal action from other family members. Another daughter, Rhoda-Jo Stress of Williamsburg, Va., failed to pay taxes on the property, and the city took ownership in June.

City Attorney James A. Burrows said city officials advised Ms. Stress-Claytor to go through a legal process to gain control of the estate. “In the end, it worked out pretty well,” he said.

It was the first time in years she had been inside. As she walked from room to room of the cluttered, dusty and musty-smelling house, Ms. Stress-Claytor began listing some belongings she had not seen since her father died.

“Those are my antique toys,” she said pointing to two toy Western cowboy guns and a vintage Playskool telephone sitting on the dining room table.

Upstairs, she found her father’s bathrobes hanging in the master bedroom closet, her late brother Victor’s Air Force uniform from when he served at Plattsburgh Air Force Base during the mid-1960s and a photograph of her mother, Nina, who died in 1979.

“I remember everything,” she said.

Starting in the attic and working her way downstairs, she plans to pack the items in cardboard boxes, label the containers and place them in a waiting moving pod parked in the neighbors’ driveway. She predicted it will take her about five days to get it all done.

While she was still discovering items in the dining room, her sister-in-law, Judith U. Stress, telephoned to find out about a landscape painting in the living room and a Tinker Bell ornament that should have been at the top of the Christmas tree.

“All there is is a hook on the wall,” she told Mrs. Stress. “I looked on the tree. It’s not there.”

Her children, sister-in-law and niece and nephew have requested some items, which she plans to distribute once she gets home.

Ms. Stress-Claytor said her sister told the family on the day of their father’s funeral to get out because she was locking it up. The Times has been unable to reach the sister.

“It feels like that I’m finally saying goodbye to my father,” she said.

Ms. Stress-Claytor borrowed the money to drive 2,000 miles from her home. It will end up costing her about $3,700 by the time she gets all of the work done.

As for the property, her son, James Claytor, has expressed an interest in buying it back from the city, she said.

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