Editor's Note: This story originally ran on April 1, 2012. It became a Patch favorite, so we added to it and we're running it again a year later. Enjoy!
While cleaning, pricing, and arranging household items for an estate sale, Tyler had noticed a small door on the side of the fireplace. It was painted shut. When she used a hammer and a screwdriver to pry it open she found a safe. And she needed the safe opened in a hurry, not only because she was curious about its contents, but because the bank which owned the house said they were “obligated” to open it.
Tyler, who runs MT House Sales, often works in houses whose owners have moved away or passed on, leaving behind the belongings of a lifetime. Tyler holds estate sales for the general public, donates to charity, and otherwise disposes of the home’s contents. She has discovered surprises, explains Tyler, including pearls hidden behind a drawer, old photos tucked high up in a garage, a class ring in a kitchen cabinet, and an urn of ashes that turned up in a Tuxedo Park closet. No one know who the ashes belonged to, but the dates read born 1929, died 1965. Any money or personal items found hidden in a house are handed directly over to the owners, explains Tyler.
But the safe was something else again, says Tyler. It was hidden behind the wall, above the mantelpiece of a comfortable South Orange home that hadn’t seen renovation in decades. The family who owned the home had been wealthy, or so Tyler was told. The souvenir ashtrays and collectible items that she displayed for sale suggested wide-ranging foreign travel. Diplomas discovered in a sun porch hinted at education and professions. Papers in the basement listed stock in Macy’s and AT&T. The furniture was sophisticated, and a bank box held jewelry and vintage scarves. Who knew what the safe might hold, or how long its contents had been forgotten?
However, Tyler had just days to clear the house completely, all while hosting a weekend estate sale, and she learned that a professional safe cracker would cost some $450. Another offered to split the proceeds of whatever was in the safe. “It was a gamble,” she said. “But it was also a challenge.” Tyler decided to get local experts into the act.
Turning the safe dial yielded nothing, and Tyler discovered that, to complicate matters, the safe was connected to the house’s electricity as a security measure. A sign read “Safe is alarmed," and Tyler took that seriously. She recruited two helpers from her online plea. They studied the situation and tried a few tools and techniques.
Chris Trzaska drilled a small hole, which revealed another small hole. Someone else had tried and failed to get into the safe. This suggested that someone else thought there was something good in there, too, which encouraged Tyler.
No luck on day one, so the group returned the following day and sawed the safe out of its hiding spot, disconnected it from the electricity, and pulled it out of the wall onto the floor. "That was a little scary," recalls Tyler. "We used an old easy chair we were discarding to 'catch' the safe, since we didn't want to damage the house or anyone's limbs."
The safe, which they discovered weighed several hundred pounds, still refused to open, no matter what tools were put to use. Some quick research on the iphone showed the safe was one used in WW I for gun storage. The former owner was a WWI veteran. Could there be guns in the safe?
Curious and committed now to the project, Tyler’s helpers took the safe away. They decided to collaborate with appropriate equipment for the job and the leisure of time.
In other words, they placed the safe on a driveway and hit it with sledgehammers until it cracked like an egg. (See video for details, but be advised: adult language is audible.)
The safe’s inside label read Victor Safe and Lock Company, Cincinnati OH. Next to the label, deep in the safe, were two small cards. On the back of a Christmas card was written, “Left 25, Right 60, Left 75, Safe Combination.”
The second card, says Tyler, was also a surprise. Though it was March when the safe was found, studied, detached from the power source, extricated from the wall, moved across town, and, finally, smashed with heavy tools, the words are fitting for today. Penned decades ago, on a card yellowed with age, in capital letters, the message from the past reads, “APRIL FOOL.“
Notes Tyler ruefully, “Truer words were never spoken, or stored more securely, in an electrified safe that also hid its own combination.” She laughs. "Some ghost is having a big belly laugh right now. He waited a long time for someone to fall for his practical joke."
What have you found in your house or at a sale? Kristen Tyler can help identify mystery items and Patch would love to see them. Contact her at 973.865.1173, email@example.com or post comments below.