Donated safe gives Marysville museum a mystery

MARYSVILLE — Nobody knows the combination anymore or even has a clue what’s inside.

A safe from the 1880s owned by Marysville’s first mayor was donated recently to the Marysville Historical Society.

“I wonder if Everett Community College offers Safe-Cracking 101?” society president Ken Cage said, as he fiddled with the safe’s combination lock.

Being able to discover what’s inside the 2,500-pound safe would be great, said Autrey Steilling, Cage’s historical society colleague.

“We should sell $5 tickets and let people guess,” Steilling said. “I would say it’s probably full of Confederate money.”

Steilling continued his joking by offering to throw a news media party, something like TV reporter Geraldo Rivera’s infamous live 1986 broadcast of the excavation of gangster Al Capone’s secret vault beneath a Chicago hotel. Instead of treasures, Rivera found only empty bottles.

The contents of the old safe in Marysville could remain a mystery forever.

Adam Benson, manager of Everett Safe and Lock, is learning what he can about the safe, which was made about 130 years ago by the Hall Co. of Cincinnati and San Francisco.

“Chances are it’s empty,” Benson said. “This hand-painted safe is more valuable left as-is. It’s in phenomenal shape.”

If Benson can’t crack the safe, the only option would be to drill it open, and the mayor’s descendants don’t want that.

Elected the town’s first top official in 1891, Mayor Mark Swinnerton bought the safe for his mercantile on Front Street.

Swinnerton left his home on the Isle of Man in the middle of the north Irish Sea and traveled as a teenager to Australia. From there he spent time in San Francisco and eventually landed in Marysville in about 1883.

Swinnerton and his wife Sarah had seven children. When Mayor Swinnerton died, the safe was given to his daughter Mary and her husband Steve Saunders. They willed it to their son Donald Saunders. When Donald died, the safe passed to the mayor’s great-grandson, Don Saunders Jr., now retired, of Marysville.

Saunders wanted to pass it on to younger family members, but the cost to ship the safe was prohibitive. It was difficult enough just to move it down the street to the historical society, but well worth it, he said.

“It’s part of Marysville’s history,” Saunders said. “The safe hasn’t been opened for more than 50 years. If the guy from Everett can’t crack it, they might be able to find somebody in a California prison with experience on old safes.”

All joking aside, Cage said, the society is grateful for the donation.

“It’s a really wonderful addition to the museum from a great family of Marysville,” Cage said.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427, gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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