JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Two large safes sat in an old vault at city hall in Jersey City for many years, in what amounted to a footnote in the colorful, occasionally corrupt history of the municipality.
No one paid any attention to the safes — or wondered what was in them — until the city’s new mayor, Steven Fulop, decided to hire a locksmith to open them.
Theories abounded. Was it a stash of money? Old documents? Human remains? Something sinister that legendary Mayor Frank “Boss” Hague stashed away decades ago?
The mystery was solved Tuesday and it was a letdown. Inside was nothing but musty air and one power cord.
Fulop said he had imagined having an “Geraldo moment,” referring to the 1986 TV special when Geraldo Rivera pumped up a viewing audience before opening a vault in Chicago’s Lexington Hotel linked to Al Capone.
At the time, John Drummond of WBBM-TV, CBS 2 Chicago called the opening of Capone’s vault the biggest excavation since archaeologists dug up King Tut’s tomb. But the effort ended up being fairly futile, given that all workers found behind the brick-and-concrete wall was a few bottles of Prohibition-era liquor, and a lot of dirt and rubble.
Fulop imagined he would reveal — or not reveal — something for the cameras Tuesday. He even stuck his arm in each safe, making sure nothing was stashed deep inside or the safe didn’t have a false back.
“If I put something in there, I wouldn’t put an extension cord,” Fulop said.
A locksmith estimated the safes were installed sometime between the late 1930s and early 1950s, and Fulop said he thought it would be fun to put the mystery to rest. He contacted Jersey City’s surviving former mayors, but no one knew what was in the safe mainly because no one had bothered to ask.
“People would say they assumed there was money because of the nature of corruption here,” Fulop said, noting that they were talking about the `40s and `50s and not his current administration.
A spokeswoman for Fulop said the city spent between $1,000 and $1,500 to hire a Long Island locksmith, one of the few people who knew how to open such old safes. The locksmith, Elaad Israeli, said it took him about 25 minutes to open one and an hour to unlock the other.
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