Metatalktail Hour: Local Mysteries July 8, 2023 6:51 AM   Subscribe

This week, the worker owned bookstore in my city revealed that there is a mysterious old safe on the newly opened second floor of their new permanent location. (Alternate archive link if the soft paywall blocks you ). Any one who can pick the lock during their business hours can keep half the contents, or all of the contents if they turn out to be "gross or cursed." What do you think is in the safe? What do you wish is in the safe? Or what minor unsolved mysteries reside in your home/town/mind palace?

Or chat about whatever you like, politics excluded.

Topic also inspired by this post from chariot pulled by cassowaries about a mummified head hanging out in an Australian high school without a clear explanation of why. Seems like something someone would have made a note about!
posted by the primroses were over to MetaFilter-Related at 6:51 AM (53 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

A safe in a bookstore? Well, you can be sure it's not full of money!
posted by mittens at 7:06 AM on July 8, 2023 [43 favorites]

My guess is a bunch of VHS copies of footage from Geraldo opening up Al Capone’s vault.
posted by skewed at 8:20 AM on July 8, 2023 [10 favorites]

Old ledgers and some autographed books from the 1930s.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 8:35 AM on July 8, 2023 [2 favorites]

I am currently listening to the very excellent audiobook of Lone Women by Victor LaValle, so let's just say I can't help but hope no one is able to crack the safe. No way to know what burdens may lie within!

I have to mow the lawn before it rains again, but it's so humid that I will sweat out all my hydration doing even our tiny city lawn. I have eaten cheezits for electrolytes and have a jug of hibiscus cold brew tea. Wish me luck.
posted by the primroses were over at 8:49 AM on July 8, 2023 [5 favorites]

A friend's grandparent bought a used piano in Wisconsin in the 80s and later found a big stash of cash inside it. I think something close to $20K.
posted by soelo at 9:00 AM on July 8, 2023 [12 favorites]

One of the coolest moments of my life was when I macgyvered open the filing cabinet in my mother's garage with all of our family pictures inside and the key long since lost using a small screwdriver, a hair grip and the lockpicking technique from Skyrim. I'm still a tiny bit sad that no one else was there to see it.

I assume safes are somewhat more complex to crack than a shitty 90s home office filing cabinet...
posted by terretu at 9:01 AM on July 8, 2023 [18 favorites]

I still mourn the loss of Starlee Kine’s Mystery Show podcast, and hope for an ancient Egyptian curse to fall on Gimlet and their Spotify cash out.
posted by rikschell at 9:12 AM on July 8, 2023 [17 favorites]

whatever it is, I hope its cursed!
posted by supermedusa at 9:39 AM on July 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

I've heard the difficulty depends on the safe. If it's a cheap office safe, you can supposedly feel where the tumblers want to go when you turn the dial (can confirm, I have tried this on safes with known combinations.) You still have to fiddle with the exact combination and the order, but it cuts down on how long it takes. Searching "how to open [brand of safe]" will also give you the probable order of turns, if the brand is still around. There's a whole thing about it in one of Richard Feynman's memoirs and I've been hoping for a chance to try, but alas, I can't get to Baltimore.

Probably they tried all the easy stuff already, though. Might be time to call in a pro with a jackhammer. What's inside is probably an empty cash box and a pile of expired warranties for long-gone appliances. What I would like to be inside is a smaller safe.
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:12 AM on July 8, 2023 [5 favorites]

What I would like to be inside is a smaller safe.

And then a smaller one inside that one, and so on until you need a nanohammer to open them as they become microscopic. Finally the last subatomic safe is opened, and -- a blinding white light fills the cosmos as the universe-reset button is activated.

... It's probably not that, though.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:18 AM on July 8, 2023 [21 favorites]

I would also settle for a matroyshka of safes that protected a single, solitary, Cheerio.
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:19 AM on July 8, 2023 [13 favorites]

I would also settle for a matroyshka of safes that protected a single, solitary, Cheerio.

If the nested safes get too small there won't be room for a little velvet pillow for the cheerio to rest on.
posted by aubilenon at 1:09 PM on July 8, 2023 [12 favorites]

nothing inside. Combination safes are manipulated, not "picked" If the outer combo lock and handles 'work' it might be opened. the tumbler head is banged up but it appears to be years ago judging by the patina. I'm guessing around 1919-1924.
I doubt the York master coms exist and the banged up tumbler suggests the com was changed. Mere manipulation would take hours even if everything works. or it might take a few minutes. what perplexus me is all the smart people working at bookstore have not researched this and tried themselves perhaps they have so good luck with that.
posted by clavdivs at 1:58 PM on July 8, 2023 [5 favorites]

My wishes:
The Big Book of Shakespeare Porn
The handwritten manuscript for Ben Reitman's recipe for coleslaw
A nice little spooky ghostlette taking a nap

My prediction:
old receipts and deposit slips
a cockroach taking a nap
posted by winesong at 2:43 PM on July 8, 2023 [3 favorites]

My locality dates back at least two thousand years, during most of which it's been fairly disreputable. I'm not sure I want to know.
posted by Grangousier at 3:29 PM on July 8, 2023 [3 favorites]

a cockroach taking a nap

"No no he's not dead, he's, he's restin'!"
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:03 PM on July 8, 2023 [3 favorites]

$215 in old bills
A locket of someone's hair, unmarked
A postcard with just enough detail to be tantalizing

My favorite real bit of spooky charm: In a building I used to work in, in one of the stairwells, there was a small locked cabinet with a glass front. Inside this cabinet, a spider had died, and some enterprising person had constructed around this spider a small memorial. I recently had a work meeting in this building for the first time in several years, and to my chagrin, it's no longer there.
posted by eirias at 4:15 PM on July 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

eirias that reminds me of the cockroach on the stairs memorial.
posted by Glinn at 4:30 PM on July 8, 2023 [2 favorites]

Because this is Baltimore, I’m going with a taxidermied raven that once belonged to Edgar Allan Poe.
posted by ActionPopulated at 5:32 PM on July 8, 2023 [2 favorites]

Oh my gosh, Glinn. The link didn't work for me but I found this. Different university, exact same spirit. Wouldn't surprise me if they were similar vintages. Thanks for sharing.
posted by eirias at 6:32 PM on July 8, 2023 [2 favorites]

eirias, that's the one, thanks for the better link!

Safe contents:

One tan envelope with 13 photos of the same woman with a lot of different people, at two different parties in the 1960s. Probably compromising, but there will not be enough context to know for sure.

A wooden cigarette box stamped with the name of the previous occupant, antique shop Early Attic, containing one torn sheet of yellowed linen paper with a stick figure drawing of two people holding hands on one side, and a coarsely handwritten recipe on the other:
2 fresh white rose petals
2 dried white tea leaves
2 wild (illegible)
tsp wildflower honey
tsp coconut oil
(illegible) wine of grapes
one inch square of human skin, (illegible - maybe "thick")

And inside an old shoe box, a partially-mummified human foot wrapped in blackened cotton, with about a one-inch square chunk missing from the heel.
posted by Glinn at 7:15 PM on July 8, 2023 [8 favorites]

The more I look at it, the more "safes" looks like it should be "saves."
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:36 PM on July 8, 2023 [3 favorites]

Jesus safes
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:12 PM on July 8, 2023 [4 favorites]

this is familiar territory. I owned a bookstore in Portland, Maine. In the Old Port, which is old and it's a port. Ships used to come in, sell their cargo to a broker, take on new cargo, etc., and that's a lot of banking. My store had a wall vault, lots of stone beneath it, too, to shore it up. Giant vault door, I had my office in there. In that vault there was a wall safe¹. In the wall safe, a small safe. After the store was burglarized the 2nd time², I had a locksmith come and figure out the combination, and we used the small safe. I was pregnant, hired a manager, and was busy having a baby and complications. The manager didn't mention that the safe was being balky until it wouldn't work. Dial would spin, the safe would not open.

I come back to work, toting an infant, and, Nope, the safe wouldn't open. Inside the safe is some cash, maybe 400 or so?, some checks, some credit card slips, because paper used to be how banking worked. Duplicated the merchant copy of the slips, the bank was able to process them. In 1987, $400 - 600 was not insignificant. Locksmith couldn't get it open, and says Call the Safe Guy The Safe Guy says he can drill a hole, and probably get it open. It's worth about 600 to me and the Safe Guy says it could take up to that much, depending on how long it takes to drill the hole. And, if he can get a hold drilled, and can't open the safe, he won't charge me.

It took him about 5 hours, and was quite the sensation, because how often do customers get to see a safe-cracking operation. He was able to drill all the way in to the safe, but could not get the mechanism to work. My money is still in there, the checks are no good. So there could be money, ledger books, or whatever. I hope they find something worthwhile.

¹ There were itinerant safe painters back in the day; the wall safe had a cool painting of a bulldog, the name of the original bank, and there was some detailing on all of it.
² We never lost much money, but annoying stuff, like the boombox, and it's a terrible feeling. Way in the beginning, I took the guts out of 1 old volume of Books In Print, pasted in a cigar box, and that was our secure system. Should've stuck with it.
posted by chekhov's sock at 9:46 PM on July 8, 2023 [20 favorites]

What I wish is in their safe is an original copy of the Constitution, as well as many original works of feminist writing. They could sell the Constitution and be solvent for quite a while, and publish the writing. And maybe some personal letters from some famous Balmoreans that are juicy and/or scathing.
posted by chekhov's sock at 9:49 PM on July 8, 2023 [3 favorites]

What I’m hoping for is the calling card of a dashing thief, and a bottle of her signature perfume.
posted by Kattullus at 2:34 AM on July 9, 2023 [14 favorites]

I would like: a good quality recording of a hither-to unknown autobiography by actor Gareth Thomas (Blake from Blake's 7) being read aloud by Gareth Thomas himself.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 5:32 AM on July 9, 2023 [1 favorite]

My most fun, yet unrealistic, take is that the whole thing is a police sting op to catch a gentleman safecracker. The first person who arrives wearing evening dress and a stethoscope is going to be nabbed. The whole "worker owned bookstore" thing is just a ploy to make you think it's unlikely that they're working with The Man.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 5:54 AM on July 9, 2023 [5 favorites]

There's a book called Unknown Toronto, published at least 10 or 15 years ago now so this may no longer be the case..but according to the book, Union Station has undergone so many changes of ownership and re-configurations and renovations (ok, that part is true) that there's a pneumatic tube system in the building that still operates (and the book gives one access point though I've never gone to look) and it operates only because no one knows where/how to turn it off.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:59 AM on July 9, 2023 [9 favorites]

A lost Edward Gorey manuscript.
posted by doctornemo at 12:33 PM on July 9, 2023 [6 favorites]

Speaking of local mysteries:

Here in Utah, the annual treasure hunt is on. If you’re in the area and you want to absorb a ton of UV radiation for a chance at $25K, give the clues and hints a look.

Lord knows I’m stumped, and so far, so is everyone else. Maybe I’ll just watch Rat Race instead.
posted by armeowda at 1:22 PM on July 9, 2023 [2 favorites]

Jeremy Bentham the real Jeremy Bentham.
posted by clavdivs at 2:52 PM on July 9, 2023 [3 favorites]

I know exactly what's inside: it's exactly whatever it is that your heart most desires, and once you get it from the safe, it will be everything you've ever wanted for about five minutes. You'll put it somewhere, and almost immediately forget you ever wanted it.

Best to keep it locked up.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:26 PM on July 9, 2023 [1 favorite]

it's exactly whatever it is that your heart most desires

A locked-safe mystery? Yay!!
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:38 PM on July 9, 2023 [2 favorites]

it's exactly whatever it is that your heart most desires

My heart desires BLOOD
posted by aubilenon at 11:29 PM on July 9, 2023 [1 favorite]

My heart desires BLOOD

That seems totally norm...(hand to earpiece)

Oh... *other people's blood." Uh...
posted by Ghidorah at 11:32 PM on July 9, 2023 [4 favorites]

Is it Dick Cheney?
posted by riverlife at 12:13 AM on July 10, 2023

Mod note: [btw, this post was included in the sidebar]
posted by taz (staff) at 3:07 AM on July 10, 2023 [1 favorite]

Anyway, has anyone seen "You" on netflix? I would not open any sort of vault in the basement of a bookstore.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:02 AM on July 10, 2023 [2 favorites]

Probably a cat got wedged in there, but for some reason I feel unsure about whether it’s dead.
posted by Phanx at 6:14 AM on July 10, 2023 [5 favorites]

I have opened
the safe
that was in
the bookstore

and which
you were probably
for a cracksman

Forgive me
it was mysterious
so gross
and so cursed
posted by Phanx at 6:22 AM on July 10, 2023 [7 favorites]

....Okay: at the moment, my biggest life mystery is "what the HELL is my rent."

I shall explain.

1. In February, my roommate and I got a package from our building management company with a lease renewal offer. Our lease wasn't up until the end of June, but we thought hey, maybe they're just efficient. We checked the offer - it was only a $100 and change increase. Sure, we could do that. We signed and sent in all the paperwork.

2. In early April, we got another package from the management company. We figured that it was the co-signed copy of our lease renewal, so I just set it in my office.

3. In mid-June, we got a letter from the management company saying that "you haven't responded to our renewal offer, you have two weeks - if we don't hear from you we will start eviction proceedings." Alarmed, I went to open that package from April - and inside was a SECOND and DIFFERENT lease renewal offer, this time for a $300 increase. We quickly conferred and agreed we could pay that, but...did we need to?

4. I called the management company and they looked into it for several hours....and their explanation was, the first lease we got was sent to us by accident. it was for people who had rent-controlled apartments....and ours was not rent-controlled. So it was not valid anyway. The higher lease WAS our lease. They apologized profusely for the confusion, and said not to worry about rushing the lease back to us before the 30th. I did anyway, and they confirmed receipt on June 16th. My roommate and I thought the matter closed and started waiting for July 1st, when our new terms would start.

5. My management company distributes bills with payment coupons we need to use to pay rent. Usually they get slipped under our doors on the first of every month, but the July 4th holiday caused a delay and I didn't get the coupon until this past Friday. was for the CHEAPER amount.

....I conferred with my roommate. We decided to pay a figure in between the two, and alert the management company that "Yo....what IS our rent now?" I have a feeling that the lower amount was a computer glitch, and that next month will show the higher amount plus a balance for the undercharge this month (that's why I paid a bit in between). If it's STILL the lower amount next month, I'll talk to my roommate about setting up a savings account for us to each chip in the balance between the two figures each month; that way, if they suddenly catch their error in 8 months and say "oh crap, we goofed, please now pay us this higher rent plus 8 months' worth of undercharge" at least the money will be already there. (And if they never do, and the lower amount IS really what we are paying, we can use the money for toilet paper or something.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:56 AM on July 10, 2023 [3 favorites]



IS IT SAFE (cw: dustin hoffman having a very, VERY bad day)
posted by lalochezia at 11:30 AM on July 10, 2023 [1 favorite]

New mystery:

Empress Callipygos And The Puzzle Of The Pushy Catering Lady.

....A sales agent for a business catering company reached out to me to try to pitch their meal service - which is a common enough occurrence, since I'm listed as being the Office Manager for my company. ....Except THIS person reached out to email me AT MY PERSONAL HOME EMAIL.

I called the company back and asked to please speak to her or her supervisor to a) find out EXACTLY HOW she got enough info to find my personal email (so I can lock that shit down) and b) tell her why she REALLY SUPER SHOULD NOT DO THAT.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:11 PM on July 10, 2023

I worked for a company that had a safe in one of their (still operating) offices, that had been locked and nobody knew the combination. Eventually we found a retiree who still knew it, and got the thing open. As suggested upthread, it contained nothing but old receipts, ledgers, bank deposit slips, etc. going back about 30 years. Then the problem was how to get rid of the safe. I think we got the local police department to take it for gun storage.
posted by beagle at 1:50 PM on July 10, 2023 [2 favorites]

Henry Kissinger's soul charm. Once thrown into a volcano, he crumbles to dust.
posted by tofu_crouton at 4:56 AM on July 11, 2023 [4 favorites]

posted by Greg_Ace at 9:10 AM on July 11, 2023 [3 favorites]

Scriba Welding is in Baltimore and is Certified for structural steel erection, which means they've almost certainly got a magdrill they could use to put a good-sized hole right through the locking system on that safe, if you want to go that route.

I'd include their phone number but I dunno the etiquette on that type of thing -- but search for 'em and Google has the number.
posted by aramaic at 10:20 AM on July 11, 2023

They should put a big basket with every possible combination to the left of the safe and sell tickets for $1 to try and open it, with any successful entrant splitting the contents.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:12 PM on July 11, 2023 [1 favorite]

Sounds like a job for our robot overlords!
posted by being_quiet at 11:59 AM on July 12, 2023

A collection of cassettes of Prairie Home Companion recorded off the radio in 1988, carefully labeled.
posted by fritley at 10:45 AM on July 13, 2023 [1 favorite]

It would be hilarious if it was like millions of dollars of stock certificates, but for like Pan Am and Woolworth's.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:01 AM on July 14, 2023 [6 favorites]

Granger Taylor
posted by wats at 8:15 PM on July 14, 2023 [2 favorites]

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