But on Monday, Calhoun County Administrator Ken Joiner couldn’t get the safe in storage on the second floor of the Calhoun County Courthouse to budge an inch.
No one else has been able to crack it either in more than two decades.
“I used to open this sucker every morning,” Joiner said, turning the lock on the safe that has become famous among staff at the courthouse. “It’s frustrating because I know this is the right combination.”
The safe, a 7-foot tall, closet-like Art Metal Co. fixture stuck in the corner of a storage room near the District Court’s main office, has become the center of Circuit Clerk Eli Henderson’s attention since he took office in January.
“I really want to see what’s in it because I love a mystery, and I love history,” Henderson said. “This has really got me intrigued.”
For the last several weeks Henderson and Joiner have been trying to track down the combination they think will open the doors and finally reveal what’s been hiding since the 1980s. An old handwritten note with instructions and a number found in a desk drawer in the District Court’s office matched the simple combination Joiner said he remembered when his office was in the courthouse.
But even after a half-hour of attempts Monday morning, the safe’s contents weren’t any less of a mystery than they’ve been the last 23 years.
Joiner said the safe predates his 40-year tenure as county administrator, and likely was purchased sometime in the 1930s. During courthouse remodeling in the 1970s, the safe was moved to the second floor as part of the County Commission’s chambers, where it still sits today. When the commission left the building in 1989, they left the safe behind.
Theories abound on what could be inside, with Henderson joking Monday that it could be anything from gold bars to the body of Jimmy Hoffa.
The truth is probably much more mundane. Joiner said the commission used the safe to store check receipts, most of which were likely removed when the commission left the courthouse.
“You hear all sorts of theories,” said Barbara Campbell, who’s worked in the district court for 22 years and has never seen the safe open. “Court files, evidence, money, a dead body, everybody has a question to what might be in there. We’re all just curious.”
More importantly is what could go in there, Campbell said. Because of its weight, moving the safe isn’t a cheap option for the courthouse. So until they find a use for it, it’s just taking up valuable space.
“We can always use more space to store sealed documents,” Campbell said. “This would be perfect for that.”
Joiner wasn’t the only person who couldn’t crack the safe open on Monday. After several attempts, Henderson gave a call to Bobby Gregory of Gregory’s Lock and Safe Co. to see if a professional lock-and-key man would have more luck.
“You’re going to need a drill,” Gregory said. “And it’s going to cost you about $500.”
Gregory said the safe itself probably isn’t worth a whole lot, but could potentially interest a homeowner looking for a gun safe, if the courthouse was looking to sell.
But Henderson isn’t giving up hope yet.
“If anybody thinks they can unlock the safe, than they should come on down and give it a shot,” Henderson said. “Try and save their county government some money.”
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.