What was inside this century-old Bristol school safe?

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 5/5/22

Hundreds of viewers tuned into Facebook Live on Tuesday afternoon as a crowd of Town and school officials watched professional safecrackers meticulously work on opening a safe whose contents hadn’t seen the light of day since at least the mid-70s.

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What was inside this century-old Bristol school safe?

Posted

Hundreds of viewers tuned into Facebook Live on Tuesday afternoon as a crowd of Town and school officials watched professional safecrackers meticulously work on opening a safe whose contents hadn’t seen the light of day since at least the mid-70s.

The safe, which was likely built around the turn of the 20th century according to safecracker Francesco Therisod, was widely known about in the basement of the old Oliver School building on State Street, but all attempts by Town Administrator Steven Contente to find out if had been opened any time recently came up as dead ends.

“It was exciting because there were many people anticipating nothing being in there but cobwebs, and that we were wasting our time,” Contente said on Wednesday morning.

Instead, once the safe squealed open and revealed its contents, Superintendent Ana Riley began to look over a variety of old documents and items that hearkened all the way back to the 1830s.

Items found in the safe included records, bus contracts, annual reports, registers from 1915 to 1976, school committee records from the 19th century, legal cases, records for the construction of the Bristol Junior-Senior High School on Chestnut Street, extra keys for a postage meter, and microfiche records that went back as far as the 1830s.

By far the most striking item found was a large bronze disc — a stamp plate emblazoned with a leafing-encircled horse that Contente said could likely be the original seal of the Colt School.

The Town had seen the safe in the basement during an inspection of the building that occurred following its transferral back to the town from the ownership of the Bristol Warren Regional School District.

“The bottom line is we’re not going to turn over a building or put it up for sale with a safe that’s unopened,” Contente said. “I said it’s something we’d be glad to work on.”

For about $600, the safecracking team spent a good two and a half hours trying various methods to bust open the safe. Through that process, Therisod was able to determine that the safe hadn’t been opened in quite some time due to corrosion on some of the safe’s internal mechanisms. Adding to the fact that the most recent document came from 1975, and that not even the most recent superintendents Contente contacted had any idea if the safe had ever been opened, he feels confident saying this is the first time the safe has been shown to the light of day in nearly 50 years.

“It definitely has significant historical value and those are things you have to value,” Contente said. “I think certain things in a community that are done together…it definitely interests people in their community and brings us all together.”

Contente said that they changed the combination, which had obviously been lost to time, so they could now re-access the safe, and that it will be moved to the Reynolds administration building where it will remain as a time capsule of public school documents obtained throughout Bristol’s past.

Contente said that the videos chronicling the safe cracking had already reached over 10,000 views prior to checking on Wednesday morning.

“The Town is theirs [the public’s]. It’s their property, their safe, so it was nice we were able to have all those people watching,” he said. “There’s a lot of serious business here and life brings some tragic moments, so when you can have a little bit of fun, I think it’s important to balance things out a little bit.”

2022 by East Bay Newspapers

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