Saturday afternoon, Aug. 5, Jerry Stewart and his son Nate showed up at the Chester Historical Society to cut open the mystery safe. You will recall this safe was thought to be the Wiggins safe lost in the 1938 Hurricane and recently found in the Williams River. Or was it a safe stolen in a robbery and then tossed in the river?
Jerry, with a saw that sounded like a chainsaw, first put in his steel cutting blade. Then skillfully Jerry made his cuts. The high-pitched whine of the saw made short work of cutting the steel boilerplate. When all four sides were cut, Jerry and Nate removed the boilerplate, exposing the concrete.
Nate then, with a three-pound hammer and chisel, started chipping away at the exposed concrete. Now, this concrete was somewhat deteriorated and crumbled easily. But after removing about one inch of thickness, Nate encountered a harder concrete beneath.
The first concrete was mixed with stone. The inner concrete was free of stone and very hard. We think this inner concrete was a fireproof concrete. Whatever the reason, this inner concrete had to be cut with the power saw.
Jerry put his stonecutting blade in the saw and Nate started cutting. As Nate cut, Jerry ran water in the cut to keep the blade from overheating. Nate neatly cut all four sides. Then, with a hammer and bar Nate started chipping away at the hard concrete. Piece by piece, chunks of concrete were removed. The dozen or so people present moved closer to see what was under the concrete. Here was a thin layer of steel.
This steel was on all four sides and formed the inner compartment. Now the excitement started to build. All Nate had to do was break through this steel to see what was inside.
When the steel was removed we were in the main compartment. It was full of sand and silt. Steve Lavoie stepped up and removed the sand with his hand, carefully screening the sand for any possible contents. Nothing was found. We stood the safe upright and with a hose Steve rinsed away the remaining silt.
What was exposed was the inside of the door and its round combination lock. That lock was brass and about four inches in diameter. As the silt was washed away, the steel 5/8” diameter locking bolts came into view.
We did find numbers stamped in the face of the brass lock. This could be a serial number. It’s a long shot but research of the serial number might produce the maker and the year the safe was made. If those records even exist.
Ok, so what do we know? We concluded whoever broke into the safe had knowledge of safes. The hole they cut in the side allowed them to gain entry into the main compartment so they could remove the contents. Someone speculated that perhaps it was an employee that had intimate knowledge of the safe. Other theories were suggested but I have to be honest and say we just don’t know.
Jerry offered to come back with his backhoe and put the safe in the historical society for us. Jerry can pick it up and slide it through our double doors, place it on a dolly so we can move it where we need it in our lobby.
We plan on placing this relic on exhibit in our lobby. Then with photos and the Journal/Shopper newspaper articles placed on the wall we can tell the story. We have an excellent collection of the 1938 Hurricane photos. These photos were donated by Rick Bates and were taken by his father, Don. Some of those photos show the hurricane damage at Wiggins and would be included in the display.
This project could not have happened without Chester native Palmer Goodrich’s P&L trucking company removing the safe from the Williams River. And it was Chester natives Jerry and Nate Stewart that cut it open. All in all, Chester boys stepped up and volunteered their services. The Chester Historical Society is appreciative of their valuable time and equipment.
It is my opinion that this is not the Wiggins safe and that the Wiggins safe is still out there waiting to be discovered. I believe this safe is from a robbery. Why do I believe this? If this was the Wiggins safe discovered in the river, it would have been almost dead center in downtown Chester. The pounding of sledgehammers would have been heard by Chester residents and the culprits would have been exposed.
I believe this safe was stolen from a business and broken into in the robber’s shop where they had privacy. When recording history it is important to not make claims of fact when it is only a theory or belief. One thing is for sure. All of those involved had one helluva good time!
This week’s old saying is from W.C. Fields. “It’s morally wrong to allow a sucker to keep his money.”